The European Fighter, Pt. 2

25 years ago Finland was looking for an air superiority fighter to replace the ageing J 35 Draken and MiG-21Bis which dominated the ranks of the air force. As is well known, the choice fell on the F/A-18C Hornet, which for the first two decades served solely in the air-to-air role (officially designated F-18C by the Finnish Air Force). But the times they are a-changin’, and with MLU2 the multirole potential was finally brought into play in the Finnish Air Force as well. This also means that for HX to meet the matching set of capabilities, it must be able to fulfill different roles, including air-to-air, air-to-ground, ISR, maritime strike, and stand-off precision strike. The last is treated as a unique requirement by the Finnish Defence Forces, as it requires a completely different setup compared to ‘ordinary’ air-to-ground missions.

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A crew chief from the Finnish Border Guard’s AW119 Koala watches as an Italian F-2000 Eurofighter touches down in Finland for the first time ever. Source: Own picture

However, while the aircraft will certainly occupy a host of roles, there’s little question that air defence still is and will remain the core mission of the Finnish Air Force. The ample availability of indirect fire, coupled with the planned acquisition of more accurate and longer-ranged munitions for both barrel and rocket artillery, means that there are several ways to kill anything moving on the ground. But even with the upcoming GBAD program, getting proper air defence coverage at medium and high altitudes is another issue. Here the teamwork between air and ground-based systems is a must, and HX will be the air component at least past 2050.

This suits the Eurofighter consortium just fine. While the marketing slogan might be that it is “a platform for any weapon, any mission”, it is clear that the concept owes much to the requirement of an air defence fighter that emerged a number of decades ago. This is most visible in the thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15, well above both the F-15 and the F-16, which together with the aerodynamically rather clean design gives the aircraft an edge over the competition when it comes to raw speed and altitude performance. Over Syria and Iraq, Typhoon packages handle deconfliction of the air space by simply transiting above the rest of the aircrafts operating in the area, using their speed and endurance to quickly transit between holding areas and targets.

The speed is and obvious benefit in the QRA role as well, a key part in the life of both the Finnish as well as for the partner nations. This is where the Typhoon really shines. Being airborne in just over 1,000 feet (305 meters), the fighter is supersonic within two minutes from scramble. Importantly, even a light air-to-air load includes four semi-recessed Meteor and two ASRAAM or Iris-T, with the full load of six Meteors and two short-range missiles (or four plus four) already starting to put hurt into the arms budget of most air forces if more than a handful of fighters are to be launched. Compared to the current full F-35 load (including external stores) of four shorter-ranged AIM-120C AMRAAM and two AIM-9X, that is a significant difference both in quantity and quality (the F-35 is slated to receive upgrades to the capacity at some point in the future).

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Part of the German delegation watches as the Finnish F/A-18C Hornet solo display passes above. Source: Own picture

Meanwhile, the Typhoon is proving to be no hangar queen (Germany being the exception, but that is a reflection of the readiness of the German Defence Forces as a whole). The preceding Italian Typhoon rotation to BAP which took place in 2015 sported a 99,4% availability rate, and during the recent NATO Tiger Meet the Eurofighter had the best mission availability rate of all involved fighters. As test pilot Paul Smith puts it:

If you put fuel and weapons on it, it just keeps flying.

The combination of large amounts of advanced weapons carried, long-ranged sensors, and a significant endurance (further improved by the large drop tanks routinely carried on stations 3 and 11) means that the aircraft in high-end exercises often is the first aircraft in and the last aircraft out. The semi-recessed Meteors and light outer stations (no. 1 and 13) also mean that even in a heavy air-to-ground load, the aircraft has four long-range and two short-range air-to-air missiles to defend itself or other parts of the airspace.

But while the fighter has a clear air-to-air pedigree, recent upgrades has made it a true multirole platform. The British Typhoons have currently been hard at work employing the light Brimstone anti-vehicle/low-collateral damage missile and the Paveway IV laser/GPS/INS-guided 500 lbs (230 kg) bomb over Iraq and Syria. The Brimstone is carried on triple launchers, while the Paveway IV can be carried on single- or twin-launchers, leading to an impressive amount of weapons a single aircraft can bring to the battlefield. Instead of the Paveway IV, the German Air Force carry the corresponding GBU-48 Enhanced Paveway II.

However, Finland has never seen the prime role of the Air Force as being that of quashing large amounts of enemy armour, so the Brimstone might not be high on the wishlist. More interesting are the cruise missiles of the aircraft, with BAE Systems marketing both the Storm Shadow (used by RAF in the recent Syrian strikes) and the Taurus KEPD 350 (integrated onto the German Typhoons). Both are very much the kind of weapon that will be acquired to fill the void left by the AGM-158 JASSM. The really interesting weapon is however the SPEAR 3, which is currently in flight testing on the Typhoon.

Outwardly, the SPEAR looks rather like the Brimstone, but while the Brimstone has a rocket engine to boost it up to speed after which it coasts along until hitting something, the SPEAR is a cruise missile with pop-out wings and a small turbojet. This gives it significantly more range and the ability to fly at low altitudes, and while the Brimstone is a AGM-65 Maverick replacement and Storm Shadow is a JASSM replacement, the SPEAR is something completely new. The low weight (100 kg) and triple racks means that they can be used in larger numbers compared to the ‘silver bullet’-role that traditional cruise missiles occupy. At the same time, their stand-off range and smart attack modes (such as synchronised attacks from multiple directions) means that they can reach targets which earlier would have been considered too far away or too well defended. The warhead might be too small for hardened buildings, but will nicely take out vehicles, light buildings, and small vessel (or disable elements of capital ships).

Good examples of these kinds of sub-strategic targets are command posts, air defence radars, and high-value vehicles (armoured or soft-skinned). To further highlight the interest from the Finnish Defence Forces for this kind of ability to “shape the battlefield”, as the BAE Systems marketing line goes, it is notable that the targets for the Finnish JASSM living firings earlier this year were shaped suspiciously like Russian Iskander ballistic missile launchers or long-ranged SAM-launchers. While the cost of JASSM likely make it prohibitively expensive in a SAM-busting role, the SPEAR would be highly efficient. RAF is already planning on taking up the SEAD/DEAD role with the Typhoon/SPEAR-combination. The flexibility of the weapon would mean that the SPEAR would provide the Finnish Defence Forces with a SEAD, anti-armour, and anti-ship capability in a single stroke. All of these are mentioned as capabilities which the Finnish Air Force is looking at for HX, but which might prove too niche for dedicated single-role weapons.

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The dream – at least for BAE Systems and their partners. Source: Own picture

But from where does a small country such as Finland get adequate targeting data for long-range cruise missile strikes? Here the Eurofighter consortium plays one of their unique selling points, in that the varied partner companies sport a large number of different capabilities, one of which is the Airbus Intelligence Defense and Space-division. This is one of the prime suppliers of satellite imagery, including synthetic-aperture radar ones. BAE Systems notes that a Finnish Typhoon-buy could include an unspecified satellite intelligence package. This shines an interesting light on one of the more curious air show-tweets made by any of the HX-contenders.

The European Fighter, Pt. 1

So BAE Systems had a problem. They had managed to create some buzz in Finnish media by bringing the Eurofighter Typhoon to the Finnish capital last summer and taking part in a major airshow there. However, the fact that BAE Systems is the lead of the HX-marketing program was starting to give the picture of the aircraft as being a British fighter. And with the whole Brexit-mess ongoing, the idea of investing in closer ties with Britain might not sound tempting to the Finnish public. Something had to be done to bring the “Euro” in the “Eurofighter” firmly into view of the Finnish public.

Enter the main Finnish air show of 2018. Lockheed-Martin brought a mock-up, Saab two JAS 39C (one flying and one static) and a 39E mock-up, Dassault three Rafale (two flying and a spare), and Boeing brought two EA-18G Growlers (one flying and one static).

Eurofighter brought six Typhoons, with five aircraft (representing all four partner nations) on static display, and one for the RAF flying display. In addition both BAE Systems and Airbus had their own stands next to each other, with one of the two Spanish Eurofighters parked in front of them.

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The Spanish Air Force operates their Eurofighters alongside their EF-18 Hornets, which are currently upgraded to a standard close to the US F/A-18C/D. As such, the Spanish experience will likely be studied closely by the Finnish Defence Forces. Source: Own picture

Raffael Klaschka, former Luftwaffe Typhoon-pilot and current head of marketing for Eurofighter GmbH, flew in from his office in Munich to attend the air show. And the message is clear: The Eurofighter is a core air defence system for Europe, with almost 500 aircraft responsible for the air defence of half the population of the European Union, and it is set to remain that way past 2050. That includes the time after the Future Air Combat System is rolled out, as the Eurofighter representatives are keen to point out that the FCAS is much more than just a new stealth fighter, being a complete concept which will include an important role for the Typhoon as well (a similar point was raised by Dassault with regards to the future of the Rafale).

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Raffael Klaschka began his career in the German Air Force as a F-4F Phantom II pilot, before converting to the Eurofighter. However, he also has experience from the F/A-18 Hornet, no doubt valuable knowledge when dealing with the HX. Source: Own picture

Another issue which was heavily emphasized in the discussions in Tikkakoski was that a Finnish Eurofighter-buy would effectively land Finland many of the benefits enjoyed by the original four partner nations. This includes full access to all aircraft systems and subsystems, as well as representation amongst the partners at the Munich headquarters. “There’s no closed black boxes for European partners,” BAE Systems test pilot Paul Smith notes, a clear reference to a number of transatlantic systems where sealed black boxes have to be shipped back to the manufacturer for maintenance. For the HX-programme where security of supply and an indigenous industrial base able to support the aircraft in peace and war has been one of the main themes, this is exactly the message the Finnish Defence Logistics Command wants to hear.

And the good news doesn’t end there. “Finland will get the E-scan, the very latest version of the E-scan,” Paul assures the gathered crowd of journalists. He refers to the AESA-radar which is currently being flight tested on the Typhoon. Next to him he has a full-scale cutaway model of the nose, with the PIRATE IRST-sensor and the E-scan, together with a number of black boxes representative of the units driving the sensors. “Size does matter” is another of the lines pushed by the company, as the Typhoon has ample room for growth both when it comes to power output for subsystems as well as the physical size of the sensors.

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The German two-seat Eurofighter from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 “Richthofen” which attended the air show. Source: Own picture

However, while the fighter is a decidedly European in build and concept, the Typhoon is fully interoperable with US fighters. This goes beyond just sporting a NATO-standard Link 16, but the Typhoon has shown to be a plug-and-play asset in stateside Red Flag-exercises where several of the partner nations have ‘fought’ both with and against the best US assets, including both F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning. While some of the more spectacular accounts are disputed,  it is clear that the Typhoon has emerged as a both flexible and highly valued multirole fighter to BLUFOR, and one that indeed is able to be seamlessly integrated into any NATO-led coalition out there.

F-35 taking aim on HX

F-35 is in many ways the fighter to beat in the HX-program, having been chosen by both Norway and Denmark, and sports a perfect record in all fighter programs where it has competed (though in a number of cases not without controversy). This fits Lockheed-Martin perfectly, as the company representatives are confident in their fighter.

The way you operate the F/A-18 today, you can operate the F-35 tomorrow

That’s the response from Mark Pranke, the Finland F-35 Campaign Manager, when I raise the ever present question if the stealth fighter really can operate from road bases in subarctic conditions. He goes on to describe how the stealth coatings earlier known for being extremely maintenance intensive have taken quantum leaps when it comes to robustness. The aircraft is designed for a lifespan of 8,000 hrs in all versions (in other words, the harsh naval requirements likely sets the standard for operating environment), and Lockheed-Martin are already confident that it can handle two, likely even three times that.

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The EOTS (Electro-Optical Targeting System) is one of the core sensors of the F-35. Here seen on the full-scale mock-up. Source: Own picture

However, stealth is not the only unique selling point of the F-35 if you ask Billie Flynn, Lockheed-Martin’s longtime test pilot (who also happens to have considerable CF-18 Hornet experience from the Canadian Air Force, including as commander of the Canadian Hornets in Operation Allied Force). In his words, sensor fusion increases the pilots situational awareness with “orders of magnitude”, and is the second defining feature of the fifth generation. Notably, major general (eng.) Renko of the Finnish Defence Logistics Command downplayed the importance of stealth when faced with the question at the presser following the release of the RFQ, and instead labelled significant improvements in sensors and sensor fusion as the defining feature of modern fighters, and went on to note that all HX-candidates have them. Flynn doesn’t quite agree.

We do sensor fusion, the others have sensor correlation

The way F-35 presents information from a multitude of sensors covering an area stretching hundreds of kilometers in all directions is nothing less than a “paradigm shift” according to Flynn. “AWACS would gather data we get everyday with the F-35”, he explains. He gets backed up by Yung Lee, Director International Business Development Northern Europe, who notes that “more sensors means more data”. Looking forward, the company expects that intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) will be an important role for the aircraft in the future, thanks to its advanced sensor suite.

The F-35 full-scale mock-up at the Finnish Air Force 100 year anniversary air show. Source: Own picture
The F-35 *almost* visiting Finland for the first time, here in the form of the full-scale mock-up at the Finnish Air Force 100 anniversary air show. Source: Own picture

And if Renko isn’t necessarily impressed by stealth (at least not openly), Flynn maintains its importance on the modern battlefield. “It’s not Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility” (a clear comeback in Saab’s direction), but it makes the aircraft difficult enough to see that it allows the F-35 to operate with impunity, and the best measure of its importance is the results at Red Flag.

Best we ever did [with earlier fighters] was 2:1, now we are 20:1 [in air-to-air kills]

Looking forward, the plan is for the fighter to go through so called tech refresh cycles every fourth year, where both hardware and software are renewed to keep the F-35 up to date. The funding for the research and development is largely covered by the US, with Finland only having to fund the new hardware (mainly increases in processing power). This way of working harnesses the power of economics of scale to produce a common baseline for the aircraft, with local changes mainly coming down to different weapons, threat libraries, and mission data files. While the approach saves money, it also leaves Finland with relatively limited possibilities to influence the developments of the program as a whole. But as said, Lockheed-Martin is confident that they have the right model for Finland. And the slot is available. “Deliveries to the partner nations will largely have finished by 2021,” Pranke notes. “We will have no problem fitting in a Finnish order.”

The path forward for HX

The preliminary request for quotations for the HX-program is now out, and the process is kicking into the next gear. The manufacturers will have about three-quarters of a year from when it was sent out before they will have to return their answers early next year. However, what happens after that is the really interesting part.

The offers will be evaluated according to a stepped ladder of requirements, where all stages except the last one are of the go/no-go nature. If the preliminary bid doesn’t meet the requirements of a step it is back to go and the negotiation table (note, this is where the ‘preliminary’ comes into the process), and the Defence Forces will discuss with the manufacturer how their bid can be tuned to meet the requirements so that an updated bid can pass the step and move on to the top of the ladder. The goal is not to shake down the field, but to get the best possible offer from all five companies when it is time for the final and legally binding offers.

The first requirement is maintenance and security of supply. The supplier will have to present a plan for how the aircrafts are able to keep operating both during peacetime and in war. This will require plans for in-country spares and training for maintainers.

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The unique and highly centralised maintenance model of the F-35 Lightning II has raised questions whether the aircraft can meet the requirements for security of supply for militarily non-aligned Finland. Source: Jonas Selim / Forsvaret

Moving on from here comes the life-cycle costs. The project is receiving a start-up sum of up to 10 Bn Euros, but after this is used up the operating costs of the system will have to be covered under the defence budget as it stands today. In other words, the cost of training pilots and ground crew, renewing weapon stocks, maintaining the aircrafts, refuelling – everything will have to be covered by a sum similar to that used for keeping the F/A-18C Hornets in the air. Naturally this ties in to the first requirement, as an aircraft requiring vast amounts of spares and maintenance will have a hard time meeting both the security of supply and the LCC requirements at the same time.

Industrial cooperation will then be the third step. 30% of the total acquisition value will have to be traded back into the country, as a way of making sure that the necessary know-how to maintain the aircrafts in wartime is found domestically (and as such this requirement ties into the two earlier requirements). Notably, current sets of rules require that the industrial cooperation is indeed cooperation directly related to the HX-program. Sponsoring tours of symphonic orchestras might buy you brownie points, but not industrial cooperation.

Following these go/no-go criterias comes wartime performance. This is the only requirement which will be graded. The Defence Forces will run a number of simulations of how the aircraft would perform in different missions and scenarios, gather information from the field, and possibly do flight trials. All of this will then come together to give a picture of how a given aircraft would perform as part of the greater Finnish Defence Forces in wartime.

Yes, wartime performance as part of the whole FDF is the sole factor that will rank the aircrafts in the acquisition proposal put forward to the MoD by the Finnish Defence Forces.

Coalition forces refuel over Iraq between airstrikes against ISIL
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, both Australian and US birds, have been busy flying missions over Syria and Iraq as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, making it one of the more combat proven competitors. Source: U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz via Wikimedia Commons

“But wait!” I hear you say. “Doesn’t economic considerations count for anything?”

Yes, indeed they do. Wartime performance require more than just 64 aircraft. If you can squeeze the price on the aircraft and its maintenance costs, the pilots will be able to receive more flight hours, and the Defence Forces will be able to stock more advanced weaponry (the low stocks of which is identified as a key issue in the latest Puolustusselonteko). Thus a cheaper aircraft allows the Defence Forces will provide more room for other things, which in the end make it more dangerous to the enemy.

Having received the acquisition proposal from the Defence Forces, the MoD takes over, and their job is to bring in the national security policy aspect into the equation. The national security evaluation coupled with the evaluation of wartime performance is then used to create the final acquisition proposal made by the MoD and put forward to the then government (i.e. the one which will take over following the next parliamentary elections). The final decision will then take place in 2021.

That the MoD will make a national security evaluation is interesting as it leaves room for politics overruling the wartime performance (though likely only to a certain extent). At first glance this would seem to favour the US contenders, however the situation might be more complex than that, thanks to the law of diminishing marginal utility. To what extent would a fighter deal actually deepen the already strong Finnish-US bilateral relations? There are already eleven confirmed export customers for the F-35, and a double-digit number of countries have bought into other US fighter programs as well, so would Finland’s inclusion (or absence) from that group be noticed in Washington? The US is also already Finland’s premier arms exporter (2015 numbers, unfortunately I didn’t find newer ones), and while this in parts comes from weapons for the Hornet-program, a number of other potential deals are on the horizon.

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The Wide Area Display is one of many features which makes the JAS 39E Gripen a quantum leap over the older C/D-generation. But how will the wartime performance of the relatively light fighter measure up against the larger competitors? Source: Own picture

The Swedish offering has understandably not gathered quite the same number of export customers, but here as well even without a fighter deal the bilateral Finnish-Swedish cooperation is reaching levels that make one wonder whether significant improvements are possible? Geography and shared history also seems to dictate that the relation would survive Gripen failing to secure the HX order (though Charly might disagree). The benefits of operating the same aircraft is obvious when it comes to interoperability, but for political benefits it is doubtful how much 10 Bn (in the short term) actually would buy.

Enter France, a European powerhouse with an army still measured in divisions, a permanent seat at the UN security council, a nuclear strike force, a rather low threshold for military interventions, and a marked disinterest in what takes place on the northern shores of the Baltic Sea. The Finnish fighter order would be a big deal for Dassault, accounting for 40% of the total number of Rafale’s exported (96 firm orders to date plus 64 aircrafts for HX). It is also eye catching that a large percentage of the whole sum would go to France, compared to the larger amounts of foreign content in the Eurofighter Typhoon and the JAS 39E Gripen.

© Dassault Aviation - S. Randé
Dassault Rafale, a French take on the Eurocanard. Picture courtesy of © Dassault Aviation – S. Randé

10 Bn Euros would not buy Finland a French expeditionary corps brimming with Leclercs in case of a Russian invasion. However, they just might ensure that Paris starts paying more attention to what happens in the European far north, courtesy of increased exchanges of people, experiences, and arms deals. If Finland would face an attack, having France as a political ally in Brussels and in the UNSC would be significant, even if the support would stop short of a military intervention. Another element is that as Washington is proving to be a more unreliable ally, the importance of the EU security cooperation is bound to increase (though granted from a low level to a somewhat less-low one), and with “the other European power” (Germany) showing limited appetite for anything resembling a confrontation with Russia over eastern Europe, the role of France in the greater Finnish security picture seems set to increase.

While Finnish security policy is famed for being slow in altering course and likely to favour trying to cash in further political points with Sweden or the USA, the question deserves to be asked:

Might it just be that we would gain more by having this investment go into our relationship with France?

The Swedish Wartime Army

The Swedish Army is probably as poorly understood as the Finnish one. Having been a large conscription/reserve-based force during much of the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War period, it then suffered from a strategic timeout and shrunk to a shadow of its former size and capability due to a focus on expeditionary missions. Today it is back in its former role, with homeland defence as the core mission. The order of battle is however markedly different from what it used to.

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Soldiers of the 71. motorised battalion in their AMV during exercise Aurora 17. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A few words about geography and doctrine (especially for our Finnish readers). For an enemy coming from the east there are two ways of getting into Sweden: either through crossing the Finnish-Swedish border at the very northern parts of the country, and the slowly fighting your way down to the southern parts of the country where the majority of the population lives, in the process crossing through heavily forested terrain and bridging a number of rivers, some of rather significant size. The other option is through an amphibious and/or airborne assault directly at the Swedish heartland. While the threat has diminished following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, this option promises quick gains at the risk of having vulnerable supply lines stretching over the Baltic Sea. As such having rapidly deployable forces which at short notice can get to a landing zone before the enemy is able to consolidate his gains is a core focus.

This has led to the adoption of a largely professional force, though it should be noted that well over a third of all personnel serve part-time (GSS/T), and as such will require mobilisation in wartime. Issues with recruitment have meant that conscription has again been activated, though this is a far cry from the general conscription of old, with only a few thousand entering service annualy. In short, a case can be made that both the fully professional nature of the force as well as the change that the reintroduction of conscription has brought are often overstated.

The classic Swedish adage Meet – Engage – Break has been replaced with a more limited set of goals (from the Perspektivstuide 2016-2018):

The requirements of the Defence Forces have been operationalized in the perspective study to military strategic objectives. These are:

  • Deny an opponent opportunities to achieve his goals with actions below the threshold of an armed attack,
  • Break the offensive power of an attacker in an armed attack,
  • Regardless of the conflict level, promote regional stability.

The Brigades

The main striking power comes from two armoured (or heavy mechanised) brigades, simply designated 1. Brigaden and 2. Brigaden (though confusingly the headquarters when treated as independent units are numbered 3. and 2. brigade headquarters respectively). It is important to note that these are highly modular, and while in practice the main fighting elements are taking part in exercises according to a rather stable OOB which is described on the official Swedish Defence Forces homepage, the lack of any tactical headquarters at the level above brigade places additional responsibility upon the brigade headquarters. As the official line is that the Swedish Defence Forces should be able to meet simultaneous enemy offensives in two different areas, in practice this would mean that a single brigade headquarter could bear responsibility of coordinating and leading the combined effort to meet and defeat an enemy offensive. This means that a single brigade headquarters is designed to able to command up to ten battalions, a force well above that of any traditional brigade combat team.

In normal operations, 1. Brigaden is made up of a headquarters and the 191. and 192. armoured battalions from I 19 Norrbotten regiment in Boden together with the 72. armoured battalion and 71. motorised battalion from P 7 Södra Skånska regiment at Revingehed. The motorised battalion operate the Patria AMV as Patgb 360. For indirect fire support one of the two artillery battalions, either the 91. or the 92., also operates with the unit. It should be noted that this causes something of a logistical headache upon mobilisation, as Revingehed and Boden are at opposite ends of the Swedish map, with the trip (by road) measuring just over 1,500 km.

Similarly, 2. Brigaden include the two armoured battalions 41. and 42. and the 2. brigade headquarters from P4 Skaraborg regiment. For a motorised unit, the 12. motorised rifle battalion from the Livgardet (Life Guard) regiment is available. These are organised along the same lines as the 71. with the AMV, but being based close to the Swedish capital of Stockholm they have a special focus on urban combat and the defence of the capital. As such, the ultimate use of the 12. is likely depending upon the nature of the battle, and the modular structure of the forces makes it likely that if the situation would so require the 12. would be kept as a detached unit in Stockholm and the 71. would be used by the brigade having the greater need for motorised infantry.

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CV 9040 and Strv 122 training together in Gotland. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

The armoured battalions each have two armoured companies with Strv 122, a Swedish modification of the Leopard 2A5 featuring additional armour protection and local combat systems. When entering service in the late 90’s it was the most advanced Leopard variant in service (some would go as far as the most advanced main battle tank in service at the time), but a lack of upgrades have reduced their effectiveness somewhat. An unspecified upgrade program updating 88 vehicles was finally launched in 2016, with this blog detailing some of the expected changes.  The 41., 42., 72., 191., and 192 are officially designated as mechanised battalions due to historical reasons, though in practice most officers will refer to them as armoured battalions.

The CV 9040 (locally designated Strf 9040) is an interesting variant of the well-known CV 90-family. Sweden being the home of the vehicle, their vehicles are of the first generation (Mk I). The outstanding feature is the 40 mm L/70 main gun, which makes them the heaviest armed western IFV, with all export customers having opted for either 30 or 35 mm main armaments. All battalions sport two mechanised companies of CV 9040 with infantry. A number of specialised vehicles based on the chassis are also available, including dedicated recovery and artillery observers variants, as well as a SPAAG variant in the form of the Lvkv 90 sporting the same 40 mm Bofors gun but with a radar and associated fire control systems for anti-aircraft work.

The sole organic indirect fire support in the battalions are towed 120 mm mortars. To get added mobility and protection the battalions are set to receive BAE Mjölner twin-barreled self-propelled 120 mm mortars on CV 90 chassis starting next year.

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The complete wartime 91. Artillery battalion during exercise Vintersol 2018. Source: Mattias Hellgren/Försvarsmakten

The brigade level 91. and 92. artillery battalions each have 12 wheeled Archer 155 mm SPG. This is a very modern system, which sports excellent operational mobility thanks to being truck-mounted, and comes with all the expected goodies such as CBRN protection and a 52-calibre long barrel. Both are trained and mobilised by the A 9 Artilleri Regiment in Boden.

These 24 Archers are the sole non-mortar artillery currently active in the Swedish Defence Forces. However, an additional 12 Archers are mothballed in the strategic reserve (sv. Förbandsreserven), and a further 12 are owned by the Swedish Defence Material Administration FMV who is trying to find an export customer for these. These 24 are from the cancelled Norwegian order, and are being upgraded to the same standard as the operational ones.

Detached units

However, to say that the Swedish Army is two brigades strong would be a serious misnomer. A number of detached units are available which add serious capabilities. One of these is the Army Ranger Battalion (193. Ranger Battalion in wartime), discussed in an earlier post, which is used against the enemy’s critical vulnerabilities deep behind their lines.

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Airborne soldier from 31. battalion during exercise Våreld 2018. During the exercise two reduced squadrons, in total 221 soldiers, were airlanded by UH-60M helicopters with enough supplies for 4 days of combat behind enemy lines. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A key unit is K 3 Livregementets Hussarer (the Hussars of the Life Regiment), the last Swedish unit to use the ‘K for Cavalry’ designation (and in line with this a company in the unit is designated as a squadron). The unit consists of two battalions, one of which is the airborne 31. battalion with the other one being the 32. Underrättelsebataljonen (Intelligence battalion).

The 31. is the airborne unit of the Swedish Army, and is usually seen in close cooperation with the UH-60M Blackhawks of the 2. Helicopter squadron of the Air Force’s Helicopter Wing. The unit is a rapid reaction force, being able to quickly deploy to take and hold terrain. In supporting roles it also operates a number of ATV’s, which can be air transported with the unit and provide an added measure of mobility for supporting functions such as transport of heavy goods or wounded soldiers.

The 32. is a high-level intelligence gathering unit, which include diverse capabilities such as the paratrooper squadron/company, UAV-units, and traditional jaeger units which can be inserted either overland, by helicopter, or parachuted. The common denominator is that they all operate in small units, often squad-strength, to gather intelligence at the high-tactical or operational level. As a secondary capability they can also direct fire support, either from ground based or airborne systems.

The Swedish special forces unit SOG is also based at K 3 in Karlsborg.

Edit 11 June 2018 1900 GMT+2:

A number of readers pointed out a few glaring omissions when it came to detached units (security, support, and MP units had been left out due to space restrictions):

The sister unit to the 12. motorised is the Livbataljonen (The Life Guard Battalion). While it handles ceremonial duties in peacetime, in wartime it would function as an infantry battalion dedicated to the defence of key sites in the greater Stockholm region. As such much of the focus in the peacetime training is dedicated to urban warfare.

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P 18 – half a battalion and an imposing ram called Harald in the defence of Gotland. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A few years ago the Swedish Defence Forces suddenly reestablished itself on the island of Gotland (with regular forces, HV had been there all along). To begin with this so called Stridsgrupp 18 (Battlegroup 18) has been handled by rotating in mechanised units from the regiments on the mainland (at the time of writing it is P 4 which handles this), and my impression was that even with the reestablishment of P 18 Gotlands Regiment this was set to continue for the time being. However, the currently 17 soldiers strong regiment will in the immediate future start recruiting their own personnel, with the aim of establishing half an armoured battalion (one tank and one mechanised company) of contracted soldiers. When this is done, P 18 will also take over the responsibility of creating the wartime SG 18 from their own forces instead of borrowing them from the mainland.

Amfibieregementet

The marine regiment Amf 1 is another unit that in wartime would mobilise infantry-style units outside of the regular brigade structure as part of its 2. battalion. In this case, the unit consists of three infantry companies (204., 205., 206.,) which are light infantry able to use both trucks and CB 90 assault craft for transports, and which operate the manportable version of the HELLFIRE missile in an anti-shipping role (local designation Rb 17). Compared to their Finnish colleagues, the anti-shipping role has greater importance, as the archipelago is the first line of defence and not the right flank when meeting an attacker coming from the east.

The elite unit of Amf 1 is the 202. Kustjägarkompaniet, the coastal jaeger company, which is the intelligence gathering unit of the battalion. The unit should not be confused with the similarly named Kustjägarkompaniet (or the wartime coastal jaeger battlegroup) of the Finnish Navy, which is a marine infantry unit more closely related to the 204., 205., and 206. companies.

Hemvärnet

The size of the Swedish Army is the most often maligned feature of the current force structure. Even with the activation of a second brigade post-Crimea, the lack of manpower and area coverage is often seen as lacking. The argument however overlooks the fact that there are 40 infantry battalions of the Hemvärnet, the Home Guard.

Joel Thungren Försvarsmakten Skåne HV
Soldiers of the Hemvärnet dismounting during an exercise in Skåne. Source: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten

The main mission of the HV is outlined in the official Handbok Hemvärnet 2016:

HV units should be able to:

• Guard an area or object
• Protect an area or object
• Protect a transportation (on land, and for some battalions, at sea)
• Monitor
• Harass (auxiliary task, which can be solved after allocation of resources and extended training activities)
• Delay (auxiliary task, which can be solved after allocation of resources and
extended training activities).

HV units should be able to operate in all types of terrain, including urban environment and under all visibility and weather conditions. The unit should be able to solve tasks throughout the day. This refers primarily to the region in which the unit has its own main operating area.

It should be mentioned that HV is completely interoperable with the regular Army units, employing the same command and communication equipment and principles, as well as adhering to Army-standard working methods at all levels. Upon mobilisation, the first sub-units should be operational within hours and the main parts of a unit should be operational within 24 hours. The majority of the units are best described as light infantry equipped for basic defensive operations. However, several specialised units are either regional or national resources, such as those tasked with CBRN-protection, reconnaissance, or engineering missions.

The equipment level varies. Much of the equipment was made available for HV when it becomes surplus to the regular force. However, due to the post-Cold War drawdown some high-end systems have been transferred to HV-use. In the most extreme cases, this includes capabilities such as coastal mining with HV’s CB 90 light assault crafts. In peacetime the force is regularly used in assisting other authorities when they need manpower, e.g. when fighting forest fires, but they have also been called up during the Red October submarine hunt when foreign underwater activity took place in Swedish waters.

From a Finnish point of view, the most eye-catching omission is the extremely low levels of indirect fire support. Only after 2015 has HV gotten their first 120 mm heavy mortars, and the total force amounts to four mortar platoons spread out over the country. The low quantity of indirect fire units is however in line with the general Swedish force composition.

Summary

All in all, the rumour of the Swedish forces quantitative demise are vastly overstated. With five and a half armoured battalions, two motorised battalion, an airborne battalion,  an infantry battalion, a marine infantry battalion, an army ranger battalion, and no less than forty home guard battalions it might not be the force of the Cold War, but it certainly is a force to be reckoned with.

That does not mean that the Army doesn’t face a number of issues, almost all of which boil down to either problems with manpower shortages and lack of funds. The manpower shortage include both recruitment and retention issues, and is having an effect at all levels from soldiers to officers. The lack of funds have been getting worse, with a number of important upgrades or acquisition programs having been postponed or cancelled, leading to a situation where many of these now are becoming urgent. At the same time, many of the recent high-profile moves such as the acquisition of the Patriot air defence system and the reestablishment of the P 18 Gotland regiment have been taking place without further funding having been provided to cover for these. The lack of modern medium-range air defences (until the Patriot is operational) and low number of indirect fire units stand out, but in the immediate future the bigger problem is how the lack of funding will negatively affect the everyday work of the units. Many officers have voiced grave concerns that next year their units will face serious cuts in training if the budget isn’t increased significantly from the sub-1% of GDP where it is currently at.

Review: EMB-314 Super Tucano – Brazil’s turboprop success story continues

The toucan is back! Now sporting a Canadian turboprop and significant combat potential.

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As was the case with the original EMB-312 Tucano which was followed by the EMB-314 Super Tucano, Harpia Publishing’s volume on the Tucano is followed by a volume on the Super Tucano.

Compared to the first generation Tucano which was a trainer with secondary light attack capability, the Super Tucano is quite a different beast, sporting wing-mounted heavy machine guns and quite a bit sportier performance in effect making it a light attack aircraft also being able to function as an advanced trainer. After it’s introduction in Brazilian service where it replaced the Tucano in both the advanced training role and for combat operations over the Amazonas, it has went on to generate significant interest around the world amongst countries looking for a cheap aircraft for COIN or the air surveillance mission. In the later role, the aircraft has already scored a number of air-to-air kills against light aircraft operated by smugglers refusing to obey instructions, while both FARC and islamist insurgents in Africa and Afghanistan have been on the receiving end of the Super Tucanos ground-attack capability. Another interesting version is the Chilean modification in which they have fitted a third multi-function display, to effectively create a cheap lead-in trainer for the country’s F-16’s.

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The book follows the same pattern as the original one, starting with discussions on a number of different concepts for a high-performance combat derivative of the Tucano. After this follows the development of the eventual EMB-314 Super Tucano, and entry into Brazilian service. This includes both training, air display team, as well as combat operations in the jungle. Following this the export customers are discussed in alphabetic order, until the book ends with the current US OA-X light attack competition.

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The book is a real gem. I liked the original book, and I absolutely love this one! The original had some issues with the proofreading and editing, but I am glad to say that this one is both well-written and -edited. The colour artwork is also extremely nice, and include quite a number of striking paint schemes, from both Brazil and abroad, some of which are displayed with typical armament. While most are sideprofiles only, a single Afghan aircraft is displayed in a four-view colour profile. It’s also an excellent modeller’s reference, not only thanks to the large amount of colour photographs and profiles, but especially thanks to detailed discussions about differences between operators (whose got which radio set mounted, what armaments is used, are there bolt-on armour, …). A small omission is that as several of the weapons carried are rather exotic to the non-Brazilian reader used to always reading about the same variety of GBU’s and Sidewinders, a short section describing the properties of the different weapons in the arsenal would have been nice.

One of the very few editorial issues I found: a series of red semicolons. A mildly amusing flaw rather than a real nuisance.

The biggest downside is that the book is too contemporary. Compared to the EMB-312 book’s 256 pages, this one comes in at just under 100 pages. This is only natural, considering the much longer history of the former aircraft, but the fact that the Super Tucano very much is a contemporary product also means that already has there been deliveries which aren’t covered in the book. OA-X which has the potential to be a huge gamechanger for the EMB-314 is also an ongoing project, ending the book on something of a real-world cliffhanger. Still, if I can choose between getting this book now and not waiting a decade or two for the “ultimate volume”, I won’t think twice about it. The book includes lots of interesting details, and I will likely return to re-read a number of chapters in the not too distant future.

Highly recommended!

The book was kindly provided for review by Harpia Publishing.

The Finnish wartime Army

Edited some details 26 May 2018, 21:30

Edited brigade count 27 May 2018, 22:00

Welcome to the Finnish Army, sporting seven brigades and a 280,000 strong reserve.

Except neither is really correct.

The peacetime brigades (and brigade-sized regiments) are training units and would not deploy in the field in wartime, though they will oversee the mobilisation of the wartime units. The reserve is also around 900,000 strong, though the wartime strength to be mobilised is indeed the more oft-quoted 280,000. However, less well understood is the force composition. Note: this whole post is based on open sources which are linked throughout. As the details of the topic is surrounded by secrecy and due to the rapid pace of recent developments in the Finnish Defence Forces, some figures are potentially obsolete.

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Motorised infantry during exercise UUSIMAA17. Source: Maavoimat

The two main documents describing today’s wartime force is the Finnish Security and
Defence Policy 2012 which established the ‘current’ organisation (with a wartime strength of 230,000), and the later Government’s Defence Report 2017 which raised the strength to the current level. The former (FSDP12) describe the strategy:

The Army is the most important service in active defence and decisive battles.
Ground defence will hold up and gradually wear down the adversary, retain
control over key military areas, repel attacks, protect society’s vital functions
and targets and, ultimately, defeat the aggressor

To perform their mission the force is divided into three tiers (descriptions from GDR17):

  • Manoeuvre or Operational forces create the centre of gravity of the defence and fight the decisive battles
  • Regional forces are used for creating regional defence coverage
  • Local forces participate in battle and provide security, surveillance and support to the manoeuvre and regional forces in their area and assist them in maintaining contact with the other authorities.

In addition some units are left outside of this organisation, being allocated directly to higher command and/or supporting functions distributed according to need. These are e.g. the Border Guard’s border jaeger and special border jager units, which are light infantry units specialising in operations behind enemy lines including intelligence gathering. Other capabilities are some high-end support functions, such as the certain artillery and air defence units.

The regional forces is your run-of-the-mill troops. These would be manning the frontlines, and while not necessarily featuring the latest when it comes to equipment nor being prioritised when it comes to deciding which units take part in refresher exercises, they still retain a certain amount of mobility to be able to follow the movements of the fighting. The key units here are three infantry brigades which are to be mobilised in wartime, and in addition the Navy will create three coastal battle groups (FSDP12). One of the notable changes which have been implemented is that the size of the infantry units have been increased throughout the ladder. The infantry yearbook of 2013 provides a breakdown of a typical regional infantry battalion. Starting with the squad, it has been increased from eight to nine, with the platoon sporting three squads and a small staff including a transport section and artillery observers to number between 36 to 44 personnel. Both the individual squads and the platoon have also received more firepower in the form of added support weapons. The important change, however, comes at the ladders above, and include the shift from three to four platoons per company, and from three to four companies per battalion. The key driver here is to make the infantry units more resilient to losses. In other words, it is expected that the level of casualties in a future war will call for bigger units than has been the case up until now to make them able to maintain their combat ability. For its indirect fire needs, a battalion will have 12 heavy 120 mm mortars and 18 (towed) field guns/howitzers.

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Reservists of Keski-Pohjanmaan Maakuntakomppania (the local volunteer company of central Ostrobothnia) stretching their legs during exercise PAUHA16 at the Vattaja exercise area. Picture courtesy of Jouko Liikanen

The local forces is a relatively new feature of the Finnish Defence Forces. A key factor is the increased fragmentation of the battlefield, meaning that it is not necessary clear where the frontline runs. Especially of concern in northeastern Europe is the emphasis placed by Russia on airmobile movement, both by special forces, VDV, and the marine infantry. This has further worsened what has traditionally been the Finnish achilles heel, in that Finland is a relatively large but sparsely populated country. To avoid having to dispatch regular units to guard rear areas potentially very far from any fighting, the local defence forces Maakuntajoukot were created. These are voluntary units, generally companies tied to the region in which they are recruited. The voluntary and regional nature means that they are cheap, staffed by people that know each other from training together on a regular basis, and in wartime they would fight in terrain they know. This also makes them excellent for the envisioned liaison role between regional/operational forces and other authorities. On the flip side, their equipment needs are furthest down the pecking order, and the generally older personnel means that the physical fitness isn’t necessary on par with that of the younger reservists (though contrary to other reserve units there are yearly fitness tests which needs to be passed).

The tip of the spear is then made up of three readiness brigades, two mechanised battle groups, two motorised battle groups, and one special forces battalion (FSDP12). Edit 26 May: In a recent Jane’s interview Lt.Gen. Toivonen refers to the mechanised and motorised battle groups as one mechanised and one motorised brigade respectively, indicating that they have the chain of command ready to operate jointly as well.

Edit 27 May: Another possibility is that one of the readiness brigades have been axed, likely the one set up by KAIPR, which would leave KARPR as the mechanized one and PORPR as the motorised one, and the battle groups as independent units.

The Navy will also mobilise one coastal jaeger battle group, which is the sole Finnish unit destined for offensive operations in the archipelago. This means it uses boats to get around, with the exception of the organic heavy indirect fire (120 mm mortars towed by trucks).

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The jaegers of Kainuu Brigade in action during exercises a few years ago. Source: Maavoimat FB

The brigades are not copies of each other. One is to be mobilised by Porin prikaati (the Pori Brigade), and will be wheeled with a core of the Army’s 60 Patria AMV 8×8 APC’s (as well as the 120 mm AMOS mortar version of the same vehicle) backed up by older XA-series 6×6 APC’s. Another will be set up by Karjalan prikaati (the Karelia Brigade), and will in turn be a tracked unit sporting the CV9030 as the main IFV. The chief difference between these two are obviously that the wheeled brigade sports better operational mobility and is better suited to the more open terrain towards the southwestern part of the country, while the tracked units sports better off-road mobility and vehicle mounted firepower. The final brigade is mobilised by Kainuun prikaati (the Kainuu Brigade), and is built for the wilderness dominating the northern parts of Finland. As such, it sports an unique mix of wheeled vehicles and tracked all-terrain vehicles. When fully mobilised a readiness brigade will sport a complement of around 5,600 personnel and 900 vehicles. To put this into perspective, the three peacetime units  each train around 4,000 conscripts a year (in two batches) and hold between 500 and 700 full-time personnel. While the core of the wartime brigades are trained by their peacetime homes, several supporting functions such as air defence units are trained by other brigades and attached upon mobilisation.

The mechanised battlegroups are armoured battalions reinforced to be able to conduct independent operations. A rather detailed TOE from a number of years back is found at the Armoured guild’s homepage, and a somewhat updated version is also found in a presentation made by the Panssariprikaati (Armoured Brigade). Coupled with knowledge of the recent acquisitions and upgrades, it is possible to make a quite detailed picture of these elite units.

Following the (ongoing) introduction of the Leopard 2A6 into service, these will sport two armoured companies (totalling 29 Leos) and two mechanized infantry companies with BMP-2M (50 vehicles). In addition, the unit has its own engineering company (including Leopard 2L bridging tanks and Leopard 2R mine-clearing tanks), air defences (including Marksman 35 mm SPAAGs on Leopard 2A4 hulls), as well as mortars and self-propelled guns. In total the battle groups will have 200+ armoured vehicles, another 350 wheeled vehicles, and almost 2,300 personnel. This is the armoured fist of the wartime Army.

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MT-LBV and -LBu are still important vehicles for specialised roles in the mechanised battle groups and as the mainstay vehicles for the motorised battle groups. Here two vehicles in action during exercise ARROW18. Source: Maavoimat FB

The motorised battle groups are roughly modeled according to the same mould, but their three infantry companies travel in the venerable MT-LBV. A crucial change compared to the older TOE’s, is that the motorised units have received Leopard 2A4 following the introduction of the 2A6, which means they now have organic tank support, with a single company per battlegroup. The battle groups can be used either together with the other readiness units, or then independently. While it can be used on the offensive, compared to the other units it is especially well-suited for “active defence“. For those who want to understand how the Finnish Army want to execute active defence, the official Defence Forces YouTube-channel has an illustrative video (English subtitles) depicting a battalion out of the PORPR readiness brigade defending against a mechanised enemy.

But what about Finland’s older tanks? The T-72M1’s have all been scrapped over a decade ago, following the acquisition of the Leopard 2A4’s. However, the even older T-55M’s still survive in limited numbers, mainly for use as training vehicle for units needing to train with or against tanks, such as mechanised infantry or anti-tank units. However, with the arrival of the Leopard 2A6 freeing up the 2A4 to the training role the days of the T-55 are limited, although they do still appear at exercises every now and then. A number of engineering versions also live one, mainly the BLG-60M2 bridging version and tanks equipped with the KMT-5M mine rollers, but here as well the increased number of Leopard 2L and 2A4’s with Urdan mine rollers will likely be felt.

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A Leopard 2A4 fitted with Urdan mine rollers taking part in exercise ARROW16. The mine rollers provide a level of mine clearing ability while maintaining the combat ability of the 2A4. Source: Maavoimat FB

Following cannibalisation and conversions to supporting vehicles the number of operational Leopard 2A4’s are likely somewhere between 80 and 100, and together with potentially some T-55’s the remaining ones are grouped into independent armoured companies. These can then be distributed according to need, though it is safe to assume that the readiness brigades will receive the bulk of them. The heavily forested nature of Finland means that combat distances are usually short, which can prove troublesome both for anti-tank missiles and for trying to maneuver large armoured units. The theory is that this makes smaller armoured units effective in the anti-tank role, though naturally any notion that dispersed armour would be effective usually causes heated debate. “Man schlägt jemanden mit der Faust“, und so weiter.

This leaves one odd bird, namely the newly created Readiness Units (Fi. valmiusyksiköt). These are the mixed battle groups made up of currently serving conscripts and professionals which are to be able to take to the field immediately and buy enough time for the ‘proper’ wartime units to mobilise. What will happen after that is a bit unclear, and as far as I am aware of this has never been publicly discussed. Likely the companies will be integrated into the brigades mobilised by their parent units, though it can be questioned whether they will be able to immediately transfer into the regular chain of command or whether they will have taken such losses in the initial onslaught that they will have to be sent back for replenishment before they can be transferred to a brigade.