Advent Calendar #14: Walking on Sunshine

In Finland the Border Guards occupy an interesting place in the total defence concept. In peacetime, the FBG reports to the Interior Ministry, as does the Police. However, come a crisis, and the FBG would mobilise into wartime units which differ from the peacetime organisation and transfer over to the FDF. As such, it is possible to do your conscript service in the FBG, though seeing the conscripts one would be forgiven for not realising they belong to a civilian agency.

The ‘basic’ Rajajääkäri, border jaeger or border ranger, are trained at two companies, one in Lappland in Ivalo and one in Northern Karelia in Onttola. It is conscripts from the latter that in the picture above are seen marching through the wilderness of Koli. The rajajääkärit are trained as light infantry with reconnaissance as their main mission, and as such a premium is placed on the ability to operate in small units over long distances with everything one needs carried on one’s back. Picture source: Pojhois-Karjalan Rajavartiosto’s Twitter

Advent Calendar #13: Naval Aviation

Today we have a brand image, released by the Coastal Fleet today and showing FNS Tornio cooperating with a H215 Super Puma of the Finnish Border Guards. This individual, OH-HVP, is one of two new Super Pumas of the AS332L1e-version that were bought in 2015 to replace outgoing Agusta Bell AB412, and were followed by the FBG’s three older Super Pumas being retrofitted to the same standard. While the Finnish Navy lacks any aviation capabilities of its own, it regularly trains with rotary-winged assets of both the Border Guards and the Finnish Army, as well as with the two maritime patrol aircraft of the FBG and the fast jets of the Finnish Air Force. The importance of cooperation with the Finnish Air Force seems set to increase, as under the HX-programme one of the five key capabilities is cooperation with the Navy (possibly including kinetic anti-ship missions). At the same time, the Navy is exploring the possibilities of starting to use unmanned air systems, which is seen for example in the inclusion of a small hangar aboard the new Pohjanmaa-class corvettes. While the Navy still is tight-lipped about the potential role of any upcoming UAS, it does seem natural to first expect them to be used as an additional sensor, possibly giving longer range compared to the vessel’s own sensor suite and allowing the vessel to stay silent in the EW-domain. Picture source: Rannikkolaivasto Twitter

Advent Calendar #11: Under a Distant Sky

While Finland never switched the majority of the forces to light expeditionary ones, international operations still plays an important role. With the increasing complexity of many modern operations, such as ISAF/Resolute Support in Afghanistan and Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, the training for all personnel being sent out has also increased in complexity and in the level of professionalism. The key unit here is the Pori Brigade, which hosts both the Crisis Management Centre providing training before missions, as well as the Finnish Rapid Deployment Forces (Fi. SKVJ) which trains conscripts in the basics of international operations. In essence, if a conscript plan on becoming a peacekeeper or otherwise serving abroad as a reservist, FRDF is the main way to get there. Here a convoy of FRDF rolls out during training. Picture source: Pori Brigade Twitter

Advent Calendar #10: Dispersed Operations

The Finnish use of road bases for the air force is well-known, but while the concept sounds simple on paper, there’s quite a few things that need to come together for it to be effective. The eyes of the air traffic controller proper, which can be situated elsewhere, is runway guard (Fi. Ratavalvoja) that ensures that runway is safe and free from obstacles. In peacetime this include checking for wildlife, people, and vehicles that shouldn’t be on an active runway, while in wartime assessing battle damage and repairs is also part of the tasks. Picture source: Ilmavoimat / Anne Torvinen

Advent Calendar #9: Arriving Somewhere

Logistics is never the most sexy of topics, and maritime logistics is no exception. Still, there’s no denying its importance. The Finnish Navy has downsized the number of general cargo vessels with ro-ro capabilities over the past few decades, while at the same time also disbanding a number of island-based garrisons. Still, there’s the occasional need to move more than just backpack-sized equipment, and with the slow change from a largely open-topped fleet of Uisko 200/300/400-series landing crafts to the covered Jurmo- and Jehu-classes for light transport the ability to move e.g. ATVs in the archipelago is diminishing. At the same time, the Pansio-class mineferries which have an important secondary transport role will also start to become more heavily tasked as tenders following their MLU and the upcoming withdrawal of the mineships. Interestingly, Sweden is (again) looking at creating mobile sea-based logistics capabilities, potentially opening up for collaboration on some of the least sexy platforms of either Navy. One can only hope that the budget for the replacement of the Kampela-class vessels, most of which have already been retired, haven’t been eaten up by other projects. Picture source: Merivoimat FB

Advent Calendar #8: Mountain Rangers

While Sweden and Finland largely share the same climate and geography, one distinct feature that Finland largely lacks is the higher alpine zones, including glaciers. In Sweden these can be found in the Scandinavian mountains close to the Norwegian border. While it is possible to traverse most of the Swedish wilderness with “regular” subarctic skills, the Swedish Army does feature a single platoon out of the Army Ranger Battalion (AJB, soon to become K4 Norrland Dragoon Regiment) trained as specialists in mountain warfare. The unique 12. Bergsjägarpluton (12. Mountain Ranger Platoon) spends a lot of their time in some of the most demanding wilderness found in the Nordic countries. Here members of the platoon are seen traversing both peaks of Kebnekaise (Giebmegáisi), the two highest peaks in Sweden. Picture source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

Advent Calendar #7: Urban Snipers

A member of a sniper team takes part in the FDF course for fighters in urban terrain at Santahamina, home of the Guard Jaeger Regiment. This is Finland’s premier unit when it comes to military operations in urban terrain, being situated on the island of Santahamina just outside of Helsinki. Among the particularities of the unit is also the Sports School of the FDF, where professional athletes serve their conscript duty (athletes in wintersports do their service in the Kainuu Brigade, but still sort organisationally under the Sports School). As 19 year olds are usually in an important stage of their career, and as being good at sports is no excuse for skipping service in Finland, the Sports School gives the opportunity of service starting in April or October instead of the usual January/July cycle, as well as training throughout their service time. In return, the FDF will use the fact that athletes have a good fitness to train them in different recce roles. Picture source: Guard Jaeger Regiment Twitter

Advent Calendar #6: Independence Day

6 December is Finland’s independence day, so we will head back in the archive. Pictured is a mortar crew of JR 13 at the frontline at Yandeba (also spelled Jandeba), a small tributary to the Svir (Fi. Syväri). JR 13 spent the better part of the Continuation War here on the Olonets Isthmus northeast of Lake Ladoga, along the frontline that roughly followed the river. The regiment was one of two regiments fully made up by Swedish speaking Finns in the Continuation War, the other being JR 61, and was also home to a company of Swedish volunteers following the disbandment of the Svenska Frivilligbataljonen (Swedish Volunteer Battalion) after the fighting at the Hanko peninsula had ended. My grandfather served with the unit’s mortars, both as a forward observer and as part of the mortar crew, for the better part of the Continuation War until he was wounded at the battle of Tali in June 1944. Picture source: SA-kuva

Advent Calendar #5: Local Defence

The largely volunteer-based Local Defence Troops plays an important role in the Finnish total defence system, in providing motivated troops with local knowledge spread throughout the country (with the exception of the Åland Islands). The majority of these are organised in light infantry units, that can perform protection and guard duties, as well as liaisons to other FDF units. In return, they provide an opportunity for reservists without a wartime unit to get back into uniform and into refresher exercises. Here a picture from a local range a few years ago. Picture source: Own picture

Advent Calendar #4: Canine in Hiding

One of the rarer structures found in the FDF, this is the inner frame for a temporary doghouse. The idea is then to wrap it with a tarp, after which it is camouflaged with tree branches or other suitable material in the summer, while in the winter it would be covered with snow. This ensures that the sleeping dog is harder to spot. An entrance is left through digging a hole under one of the lowest branches. Picture source: Kainuun prikaati Twitter