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.

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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.

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.

A Little Something about “Jägare”

While the Finnish and Swedish armed forces in general are rather similar, the languages they speak differ. And not only in the obvious difference between Swedish and Finnish (and Swedish), but key words and phrases differ as well. While the difference between engineers (ingenjörer) and pioneers (pioneerit) is largely quaint and shouldn’t cause too much trouble, the word jaeger (jägare/jääkäri) is another matter completely. In the Finnish Defence Forces the word has several different, sometimes slightly contradictory meanings. My personal rank is that of a jääkäri, which simply translates to private. But it is also used to describe different kinds of infantry, such as mechanised (panssarijääkäri), rangers (erikoisrajajääkäri), or urban (kaartinjääkäri). Historically, it has also described the original Finnish jääkärit trained in Germany during WWI.

In Swedish the word has much narrower use, describing ranger-style army special forces. However, there has also been a significant shift in both the mission and tactics used compared to the pre-2000 Swedish jägare, so when Swedish defence blogger Jägarchefen wrote a post describing the modern Arméns Jägarbataljon, I asked for permission to run the translated version as a guest post.

Comment

An interesting discussion took place on Twitter 10FEB2018, a discussion I followed from the side. Part of the discussion came to focus on how airmobile and ranger units could be used in an armed conflict. Airmobile units I will happily leave to the professional officers of the 31. Battalion to recount. However, it might be suitable to describe how today’s, sole, ranger battalion would operate in, i.e. Arméns Jägarbataljon (AJB, the Swedish Army Ranger Battalion), the wartime 193. Ranger Battalion.

The, unfortunately, stubborn picture in the Swedish Defence Forces in general and in the Army in particular regarding how the rangers fight is based on how the Norrlandsjägarbataljon’s (NjBat’s) and Jägarbataljon syd (Jbat Syd) would have fought during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Their battle would take the form of direct action followed by a decisive battle behind enemy lines. In other words, the battalions were given a geographical area, which was further divided into company-, platoon-, and squad areas. Within these the so called direct action would take place, simply put different forms of ambushes against predetermined targets such as supply vehicles during a prolonged time. The battle would then transform to interdiction once the divisions of the Swedish Army would launch their all-out offensive aimed at destroying the enemy formations. During this interdiction-phase the ranger battalion would stop all enemy movements within their given area, and thereby support the main corps-level effort.

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A ranger squad from the Ranger Battalion in terrain typical to Northern Sweden. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

The overarching thought with NJbat and Jbat Syd was partly to ‘tax’ the predetermined targets, and partly to create a threat that the enemy would need to allocate resources to counter, thereby reducing the units available at the actual frontline. Together, this would allow for own combat units to, possibly, achieve numerical superiority in their battles.

This idea is unfortunately very much alive in schools, centras, and commands. In different kinds of wargames the symbol for ranger battalion is often placed in a number of squares on the map, where it then spends the rest of the time while the tactics is played out elsewhere. In principle this is correct for the tactics of days gone by, but in no way corresponding to today’s sole ranger battalion. Today’s ranger battalion is in no way tied to a certain geographical area as NjBat or Jbat Syd were, but is instead used where the capabilities of the unit provides the greatest benefit to the common fight.

How does the operations then benefit the common fight? Before solving more complex missions, i.e. those on high tactical, operational, or strategic levels, a thorough analysis of the coming enemy is always conducted. Own vulnerabilities are always identified, so that they can be protected, but also the vulnerabilities of the adversary is mapped out. These include so called critical vulnerabilities, which might have to be influenced. Obviously, the adversary will in some cases, like us, be aware of his vulnerabilities, while in other cases, like us, he will be unaware of these. If he is aware of his critical vulnerabilities, he will naturaly allocate resources to protect these.

If these critical vulnerabilities are influenced they will create ripples, which makes other parts of the enemy vulnerable. An interesting fact, which often but not always hold true, is that the critical vulnerabilities found deep within terrain held by the opposing force usually create bigger ripple effects if influenced than those closer to the frontline. It is these targets, critical vulnerabilities deep behind enemy lines, that today’s Swedish Ranger Battalion is set to work against. This also means that the targets might be highly prioritised, and that the enemy might allocate sophisticated and sometimes extensive resources to their protection.

As such, today’s sole ranger battalion is miles apart from its predecessors. The unit isn’t tied to specific geographic areas, but is used deep behind enemy lines against the critical vulnerabilities that have been identified as having the potential to affect the outcome of the battle. How the battle is fought and with what unit size is not defined in set doctrinal rules, but rather decided on the basis of the specific target in question (the critical vulnerability). It follows that the unit isn’t meant to be used in the role it’s often wargamed in in schools, centras, and commands, i.e. direct action along roads during prolonged times.

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All Swedish rangers get basic mountain warfare training, provided by the officers of the dedicated Mountain Platoon. Source: Jimmy Croona/Försvarsmakten

A secondary effect of influencing the critical vulnerabilities is that the enemy will have to allocate resources to protect their rear areas, perhaps in even larger numbers than before. This is due to the fact that it isn’t possible to predict where and how the rangers will operate in the same way as earlier. This will indirectly tie down resources to counter the threat and create a more beneficial numerical situation along the frontline, in addition to the direct effect on the critical vulnerabilities.

I will argue that the lack of this knowledge means future higher level officers, and to a certain extent current ones, will fail to understand how a highly capable instrument should be used in their planning and in the conduct of the battle. An instrument that in my opinion can play a part in deciding the outcome of the common fight.

Finally, it should be noted that this post is written in a very general way to not disclose strengths, weaknesses, or tactics. As such, no classified information is touched upon in this post.

Have a good one! // Jägarchefen

Beyond NASAMS

In the shadow of the HX-fighter competition, the state of the ground based air defences in Finland has again appeared in the headlines. The short story is that in the mid-90’s Finland acquired the Russian Buk-M1 air defence system as part of Russia paying off the Soviet balance of the clearing accounts. However, while the system certainly is competent, questions soon arose if it was wise to operate a high-tech system which the main adversary had built? Especially as knowing the exact capabilities of the radar and missile is of crucial importance when it comes to defeating radar-guided missiles.

By the mid-00’s training new conscripts on the Buk stopped, and the system was phased out (never trust a Finn who says something is retired, the last conscripts who trained on the system most likely had another ten years in the reserve, during which they were assigned to a wartime unit operating the missiles, giving a ‘real’ retirement date around 2015) and replaced by the NASAMS II.

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The launcher of the NASAMS, sporting six canister mounted AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. Source: Maavoimat FB

The NASAMS is a controversial system in Finnish service. Not because it is bad, it is very much amongst the most modern ones available, but because it is of significantly shorter range than the Buk it replaced. Most crucially it has a ceiling of around 10,000 meters, meaning that most modern fighter aircraft can simply operate above this. This isn’t necessarily as big a drawback as it is often portrayed to be. Operating above 10,000 meters place high demands on sensors and weapons if you are to hit anything, and it means that you are easily spotted by air surveillance radars, meaning that the advantage of surprise is long gone by the time the target is overflown.

Still, this has left Finland without a long-range surface-to-air missile for the first time since the late 70’s, and talk about the need for something heavier has been going since the decision to procure NASAMS instead of Aster. The big question is what?

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An Iskander TEL raising one of its missiles into firing position. Source: Vitaly Kuzmin/Wikimedia Commons

One issue which has been raised is the defence against ballistic missiles, i.e. missiles which are fired at a high angle, fly up to significant heights, and then ‘fall’ down at extreme speeds to hit a target. The Russian 9K270 Iskander-M is the embodiment of this threat, and comes equipped with either a conventional warhead (usually quoted at around 500 kg, but possibly with an option for a heavy penetrating warhead above 1,000 kg) or a nuclear one. The big improvement of the Iskander compared to the 9K79 Tochka U it replaced is the significant improvement of accuracy, which for the Iskander is quoted at a circular error probability of below 10 meters (i.e. half of the Iskanders will land within 10 meters of the intended target), meaning that it can reliably be assumed to hit individual buildings or bridges. As such, many has voiced the opinion that Finland need a system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.

…and it is in the crossroad of these ideas that we find some of the most common misconceptions, which warrant a slight detour before looking at the latest developments.

To begin with, the ballistic missile threat is not new to Finland, nor is the associated A2/AD-problem, but these have been a part of the Soviet/Russian arsenal for decades. Even with the improved accuracy of the Iskander, it is not a war-winning weapon, as the limited number of missiles available and the rather limited damage caused by a single hit makes it impossible to take out dispersed targets. In other words, while it is possible to hit the command centre of a unit, it is not possible to wipe out the unit itself. The Iskander also needs target information before launch, meaning that it is best used against stationary targets.

Another issue often overlooked is how hard it is to shoot down a ballistic missile. Crucially, while a modern long-range air defence system can sport ranges of over 100 km against air targets (at high altitude, at lower altitude the earth’s curvature creates shadows), the corresponding ranges when trying to intercept a ballistic missile approaching at very high speed and steep angle are significantly shorter. While the exact performance is secret, some sources state that the maximum range is a few tens of kilometers, creating a significant problem with regards to how to base air defence batteries to be able to protect a certain target. The implications of this is that a single battery might have a hard time defending both the Upinniemi naval base and central Helsinki, depending on the parameters of the intercept.

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A Patriot battery from the US Army deployed in Sweden during exercise Aurora 17 last autumn. Source: Astrid Amtén Skage/Forsvarsmakten

As such, it is no surprise that Finnish officers are focusing on dispersion and hardening strategic targets instead of acquiring anti-ballistic missile capabilities. This is in marked contrast to Sweden’s decision to acquire the Patriot. Here, while the decision is not yet finalised, the ability to field the PAC-3 missile (or potentially the upcoming PAAC-4/Stunner/SkyCeptor) to take down ballistic missiles has played a key role. However, the capability doesn’t come cheap, as the total price tag of approximately 1 to 1.2 billion Euro will buy three to four batteries, each with a single radar and three to four launchers. However, the amount and types of missiles acquired will also play a huge role when it comes to cost, and the preliminary request, described as being “generous in size”, lists 200 PAC-3 (for anti-ballistic missile use) and 100 PAC-2 for use against aircraft, for an additional 1.5 billion Euro. The exact kind of combat management system involved will also play a role, as it seen in the case of the 8.6 billion Euro Polish deal for a comparable number of firing units (four batteries with four launchers each, with 208 PAC-3 missiles) as the Swedish order.

All things considered, any kind of anti-ballistic missile coverage is probably outside of the scope of the Finnish Army’s wishlist, with the focus being solely on the ability to shoot down aircraft at longer and higher ranges than what the current equipment is capable of. However, even within these bounds, there are still a significant number of different options available on the market. With this in mind the Logistics Command has now issued a Request for Information to “around ten” companies. Interestingly enough, the interview with brigadier general Renko, deputy chief of the Logistics Command, says that he would like the new missile to be part of the current NASAMS systems. At the same time, he notes that this is not purely about introducing a new missile to old launchers, but that there needs to be more batteries out in the field to improve coverage.

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This unremarkable looking little truck is the Fire Distribution Centre (FDC), the ‘brains’ of the NASAMS II. Source: MKFI/Wikimedia Commons

The obvious choice which has figured in reporting is the AMRAAM-ER. Where the basic NASAMS uses the same AMRAAM missile as found on e.g. the Finnish F/A-18 Hornets, the AMRAAM-ER marries the basic AMRAAM seeker (with improved steering code) to the engine of the ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile), giving a significant increase in both range and ceiling (50 and 70% respectively according to Raytheon). This means that both goals of the RFI could be met by buying more NASAMS batteries, and having both baseline and ER-versions of the AMRAAM in service. The big problem for the AIM-120 AMRAAM is that it is something of a victim of its own success. It is operated by a stunning 37 countries, meaning that no small amount of Russian research is likely going into how to defeat it. Especially if the AMRAAM will continue to be a key part of the Finnish airborne air defences as well, which is likely to be the case unless Rafale takes home the HX-competition, it might be good to ask whether all air defence eggs should be placed in the same basket?

At this point it should be remembered that one of the key points of the NASAMS is its modularity. It is unclear exactly which parts are integrated into the Finnish NASAMS systems, e.g if our ITO 05 (RBS 70 BOLIDE) are able to plug into the NASAMS’s Fire Distribution Center (FDC), something which Kongsberg claim is possible. However, if the Army really likes the current AN/MPQ-64F1 Improved Sentinel radar and associated systems, another missile could potentially be integrated into it. It is hard to see the reasoning behind this, and I am tempted to believe that the journalist misunderstood the general, who instead expressed a wish for the new system to be part of the current Finnish integrated air defences, i.e. sharing the same air picture as well as command and control structures.

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A French SAMP/T launcher being readied. Picture from Swedish exercise Aurora 17 last year. Source: Astrid Amtén Skage/Forsvarsmakten

If we assume this is what the Logistics Command means, it opens up a vast number of possibilities. One is the very same SAMP/T-system which competed (and lost) against the NASAMS ten years ago. The SAMP/T, also known as ASTER, is the closest competitor to the Patriot, and is also available both with “normal” and anti-ballistic missile missiles. As was the case last time around, both it and Patriot will probably be judged to be too expensive (although the Swedish deal is controversial at it turned out the SAMP/T offer was 150 million Euro cheaper than the Patriot one).

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The launcher of the Israeli SPYDER-MR system. Source: Pritishp333/Wikimedia Commons

However, below the high-end Patriot and SAMP/T there are still plenty to choose from. MBDA, the company behind SAMP/T, offers the CAMM-ER and ASPIDE 2000, and while information is somewhat scarce, both are likely superior when it comes to range and height compared to the baseline AMRAAM. Saab has the SRSAM BAMSE, which offer an altitude coverage of 15,000 meters, and the benefit of operating on a different wavelength, Ka-band as opposed to X-band, than the NASAMS, making it harder to jam both at the same time. Israeli company Rafael offer the SPYDER-MR featuring their Derby-missile with a range of 50 km and a ceiling of 16,000 meters. A more exotic (and highly unlikely) option is the Japanese Type 11 missile system built by Toshiba, of which very limited information is available. Still, it does look like it could potentially fit the bill, and during the last years Japan has opened up for potential arms exports. South African Denel Systems has a number of different versions of the Umkhonto, the basic IR-version of which is currently in service with the Finnish Navy. Some of the more advanced concepts might be able to compete with the baseline AMRAAM, though it is doubtful if they will have enough reach to satisfy the demands of the current RFI. Still, Denel does offer a ground-based launcher, and is probably included amongst the companies receiving the RFI.

The winner of the eventual RFQ which is to follow the current RFI is likely found amongst those mentioned above. The defence forces would like to sign a deal in 2020, and notes that this is tied to HX and Squadron 2020, as all three programs play significant roles in the overall air defence of Finland. If e.g. the CAMM in its sea-going version is adopted for SQ2020, it might increase the chances for CAMM-ER being adopted as the ground-based solution. In the meantime, it does feel like the AMRAAM-ER is the favourite, with the big question being whether relying too much on a single missile seeker for both air and ground-based is too high a risk compared to the synergies it would give?

And as it happens, Kongsberg and Patria a week ago announced that they will open a Missile Competence Centre in Tampere, specifically mentioning their work NASAMS in the press release. Funny how these things come together sometimes.

MISU – the Green Cat

‘Tis the season, and as such everyone gets some Christmas presents. Such as a new 6×6 armoured personnel carrier.

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The Protolab PMPV ‘MISU’. Photo: Tero Tuominen (@TeroTweet)

The Finnish Army has a large number of Patria (ex-Sisu) XA-180/200 series of armoured personnel carriers. The PASI has become something of a trademark for Finnish forces, both in-country and on peacekeeping missions abroad. These have been supplemented by the modern and heavier AMV, which have been acquired in limited numbers. In addition, the mechanised units rely on CV 9030’s and the older BMP-2, which are about to get an upgrade. The rest of the infantry will have to make do without armoured protection, travelling by trucks.

The PASI are currently undergoing a limited MLU-program, with the latest order for more vehicles coming this week. The MLU is largely about keeping the vehicles running rather than improving their value on (the roads leading up to) the battlefield. As such, the end of the line is slowly approaching, especially for the older vehicles in the series, with those now being upgraded set to serve “into the 2030s”. The PASI MLU is part of a larger program aimed at improving the mobility of the Army, and in particular the first rate “operational forces” (also labelled manoeuvre forces). The likely home of the PASI amongst the operational forces is the three wartime readiness brigades. These are motorised infantry units that are to be the ‘fire brigades’ of the Army, using their operational mobility to quickly move to the key areas of the front. There, they will throw their weight and firepower behind the regional forces already present to create the centre of gravity and win the decisive battles. However, how they will do this in practice after the retirement of the PASI has been an open question.

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A Pasi in action during large-scale exercise UUSIMAA 2017. Source: Maavoimat FB

Naturally, introducing the AMV as a wholesale replacement to the XA would be the easy solution. The AMV is battle-proven, enjoys a very good reputation, and retains both operational and tactical mobility without sacrificing protection. The downside: it costs an arm and a leg. For an infantry-heavy army such as the Finnish one, the costs quickly becomes prohibitively high.

Enter the Protolab PMPV, known as MISU amongst friends. The PMPV is 6×6 MRAP, built with cost and ‘good-enough’ rather than ‘best’ as the guiding principles. The first prototype was built a few years ago, but aside from showings in a number of Finnish vehicle magazines and TV-shows little was heard of it until it was again brought to the headlines by the MoD announcing that four pre-production vehicles of a slightly modified design will be bought by the army for trials in field conditions during 2018 to 2020.

The stated aim is to evaluate whether the MISU can fulfill “future needs” of the Finnish Army. In practice, this refers to the abovementioned withdrawal of the PASI. While the MISU might not live up to the AMV, it still does offer some interesting features compared to the PASI. While the standard load is ten soldiers in the rear compartment and two crew members in the front, it is also able to be configured to take up to 10 tons of cargo, in essence doubling as a protected truck. When doing work as an APC, the soldiers sit high enough that they are not in contact with the floor, enhancing survivability in case of mines or IED’s. Another protective feature is that the front wheels are situated under the extended nose, meaning that any traditional mines will detonate well in front of both the driver cabin and the crew compartment. Traditional MRAP design features such as a heavy V-shaped bottom is also fitted, and while not primarily aimed at combat duty a RWS with a heavy machine gun can be fitted to the roof. The vehicle is also airportable by a C-130 Hercules, and there are ready mounting spots for appliqué armour in case the basic outfit isn’t enough. The vehicle is designed with a “structural top speed” of 110 km/h, though to be fair I am not quite sure if it actually can do this in current engine configuration with any meaningful payload.

Will the MISU eventually replace the PASI? It is not impossible, there has been something of a resurge in interest internationally with regards to cheaper 6×6 designs compared to the 8×8’s which reigned supreme for a while. There might also be an interest in broadening the domestic manufacturing base by not directing the order to Patria and their associates. I wouldn’t be surprised if a successful field trial was followed by an order for a battalion or so of MISU’s to replace the oldest PASI’s. If that proves successful, a follow-up order to replace the PASI is certainly within the realm of possibilities, possibly together with another batch of AMV’s.

Little Green Tanks

An unidentified foreign aircraft touches down at Oulunsalo Airport. As the Finnish Border Guard personnel close in on the now parked aircraft, the situation escalates. A firefight erupts, leaving one border guard wounded and causing a hostage situation. Soon some of the mysterious intruders spread out and try to take over the control tower at the airport. The local border guards realise that the situation is getting out of control, and call for support. The Army and the police (arriving in a borrowed Pasi APC) manage to turn the table, first evacuating the casualty and then storming the tower.

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Soldiers taking positions before storming the control tower. Note the use of two-way simulators, showing that the enemy is supposed to shoot back. Source: Maavoimat FB

This is a textbook example of so called hybrid war, the kind of operation that has occupied western military thinkers since the Russian invasion of Crimea in the early days of 2014. The scenario described above was the one used for local defence exercise OULU17 in March 2017. The sudden appearance of little green men in unsuspecting locations deep behind the borders have rightfully been seen as a new(ish) threat which require new solutions to counter efficiently.

But what if the counters are in place? If the defence forces have the required units on standby, establishing superiority over a handful of soldiers cut off from their homeland is far from an impossible task. Of course, landing more little green men is a possibility, but sooner or later you reach the point when you just have to ask if the whole “hybrid” thing is really worth it compared to a traditional all-out strategic strike?

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The Finnish readiness units taking part in the local defence exercise KYMI217. Note winged arrow-patch of the readiness units and the dismounted tanker. Source: Maavoimat FB

The Finnish hard-counter has been the creation of the Army’s new readiness units (Fi. valmiusyksiköt), as well as an update to Finnish laws earlier this summer, meaning unmarked military units entering the country are nowadays treated as criminals, and the local police will arrest any survivors of a scenario such as the one described above.

The readiness units were born out of the realisation that the Army’s dependence on mobilising reserves to counter a rapidly developing situation might simply not be fast enough, and that the professional Erikoisjääkärit special operations forces at Utti Jaeger Regiment might not have the numbers to deal with an incursion. Finnish law does allow for the use of serving conscripts for live missions, provided that they have adequate training for the mission at hand (this in itself constitutes a reinterpretation of earlier laws which took place post-Crimea). The issue comes down to the fact that the majority of Finnish privates serve the minimum time of just short of half a year. Combined with the fact that new conscripts enter service twice annually (in January and July) there are clear time gaps during which there are no adequately trained conscripts (roughly the first and third quarters). In many cases your run-of-the-mill company designed to work as a part of a bigger unit on the conventional battlefield might also not be ideally suited for independent operations of the kind required here.

Enter the readiness unit, a unit in which volunteer conscripts get training in additional weapons systems, advanced small unit tactics, urban operations, and heliborne insertion/extraction. The service time is 347 days (the longest possible for conscripts), and the units are lead by regular professional staff.

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Different authorities combine to take care of a mass casualty incident during exercise KAJAANI17. Source: Maavoimat FB

What is interesting is that while much of the focus has been on their role as light airmobile force to provide fire support to the police in case of little green men popping up on the Åland Islands, the fact is that they are indeed fully functioning army units. This includes the full range of weaponry in use by Finnish infantry, such as anti-tank missiles, but also support from other branches such as armoured units.

The armour is an especially interesting case, as both Leopard 2A4’s and CV 9030’s played a prominent role during exercise KYMI217 recently. Readers of the blog will remember that the Army transferred a number of older 2A4’s from the Armoured Brigade to other units last year following the introduction of the 2A6. Ostensibly, these were mainly meant for OPFOR duty and to provide an in-house ability to train combined arms operations, but it is also clear that they provide the capability to quickly raise armoured units in different geographical areas.

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A presumably ‘local’ Leopard 2A4 during exercise KYMI217. Source: Maavoimat FB

If the readiness units represent the high-end when it comes to meeting a hybrid war, the lower end of the spectrum include the local units (Fi. Maakuntajoukot and Paikallisjoukot). While the local forces take a longer time to mobilise than the readiness units and feature older and lighter equipment, they provide geographical coverage throughout the country (with the exception of the Åland Islands) and enough firepower to be able to quickly take up the fight with any enemy forces suddenly appearing behind the lines, and thus buy time until the cavalry arrives (which could very well be a readiness unit).

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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 training range. Picture courtesy of Jouko Liikanen

To sum it up, far from just being light fire brigades to take down little green men, the readiness units are equipped to be able to counter the whole spectrum of modern military threats. When also including the local forces, the Finnish Army is able to field a layered approach to any threat which might appear suddenly and in unexpected locations, be they hybrid or traditional.

No Country for Old Tanks

The expression ‘Tank country’ desrcibes an area suitable for armoured warfare, and in particular for tanks. The image this usually stir up is that of open fields, with slowly rolling hills.

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Quintessential tank country, German units on the move during Operation Zitadelle (Battle of Kursk). Source: Federal German Archives via Wikimedia Commons

This idea is however somewhat oversimplified, as major Mikkonen of the Finnish Armoured Brigade explained in the Defence Forces’ podcast (Finnish). In open areas tanks are able to bring their mobility and good optics to bear on the enemy. However, it is often forgotten that a tank in open country is visible to the enemy as well, and it is generally easier to spot a 65 tonne steel beast than an infantry squad lying in a ditch with their ATGM (ask the Israelis). Another factor is that of air superiority, you don’t want to park your tanks out in the open if the enemy control the skies. If the enemy is able to field more tanks than your force (or more firepower in some other suitable way), meeting them out in the open fields might also not be recommendable.

So what do you do if your tanks aren’t able to deploy out in the open fields? You put them somewhere where they are hard to spot (especially from the air), somewhere where the enemy isn’t able to make use of their numbers, where the distances are short enough that ATGM’s won’t be able to use their range advantage, and somewhere where own infantry is able to make sure that enemy infantry isn’t able to get in close. In Finland, that would generally be a forrest. In other places, a city would do as well.

Traditionally, it has been held that tanks better stay out of cities. Incidents such as the destruction of Russian motorised units and their armour support during the first battle of Grozny has added to this idea. A closer look at the history of armour in urban warfare gives a more nuanced picture, with the protection offered by heavy armour proving quite useful in urban operations. The most famous example is probably the ‘Thunder runs‘ of the 64th Armoured Regiment into downtown Baghdad, but also e.g. Israeli experiences in Gaza seem to trend towards the usage of heavy armour (both tanks and heavy APC’s) for combat operations in urban terrain. Operation Protective Edge saw no less than three armoured brigades deploy units to the strip.

Why is any of this relevant? Well, the British contribution to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence include a single tank troop (currently from the Queen’s Royal Hussars) of three Challenger 2 MBT’s, a number so small that very relevant questions have been asked about if they really can make an impact. Then this happened.

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Source: Royal Tank Regiment

AJAX, the first squadron of the Royal Tank Regiment, suddenly showed off a number of Challenger 2’s painted in the iconic Berlin Brigade-camo, a patchwork of  differently sized fields of white, brown, and (a slightly blueish) grey with straight horizontal and vertical demarcations.

The camouflage dates back to the 1980’s, when the British Berlin Brigade was deployed in Berlin with their Chieftains finished in the then standard bronze-green camouflage. The officer in charge of 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards tank squadron felt this to be out of place, and inspired by the dazzle paint schemes of sea wars gone by he started looking for a suitable answer.

Long story short, he noticed the light shades of buildings together with small patches of shade and an abundance of straight lines in a modern city, and started designing a camouflage around this phenomenon. While close up the pattern looks like something out of a circus it improved with range, as the major behind it explained: “50 to 60 yards was the minimum, as you got further away the target almost disappeared at 100 yards.”

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The original Berlin Brigade pattern on the British Chieftains. Source: US DoD picture via Wikimedia Commons

So why then does this (arguably useful) monstrosity resurface almost thirty years after the reunification of Berlin? The Facebook-post by RTR is open with the fact that the paint job is “part of an ongoing study into proving and improving the utility of Main Battle Tanks in the urban environment.” The RTR also notes that further modifications will be made, specifically mentioning the fitting of BEMA dozer blades (an acronym for Blade, earth moving attachment). The BEMA has been available for the Challenger 2 for quite some time already, but in practice seeing one fitted has been rare.

This seemingly rather ordinary study becomes really interesting when tied in with the question of defence of the Baltics. While three Challengers won’t be of much use when trying to stop a Russian mechanized brigade out in the fields of Estonia, being deployed in support of light infantry within the country’s cities might prove to radically increase both the survivability of the EFP tank troop and their usefulness (though urban fire support might not be the kind of Blitzkrieg the tankers had in mind when they signed up for the job). The (in)famous RAND report predicting the fall of the Baltic countries within three days did include the caveat that “quality light forces, like the U.S. airborne infantry that the NATO players typically deployed into Riga and Tallinn, can put up stout resistance when dug into urban terrain”, but also noted that “the cost of mounting such a defense to the city and its residents is typically very high [and] whether Estonia’s or Latvia’s leaders would choose to turn their biggest cities into battlefields—indeed, whether they should—is, of course, uncertain.”

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Challengers taking part in exercise Sabre Strike -17 in Estonia in June this year. Source: Mil.ee

We don’t know if the British/Estonian battle plan is to park urbanized Challengers in the side alleys of Tallinn to ambush Russian armour columns at short range, but it certainly is a possible scenario. One interesting data point is also the fact that the Challenger is the last western MBT to feature a rifled main gun, in the form of the L30A1 55-calibre. This choice, which has serious drawbacks when firing the APSFDS rounds which are today’s standard anti-tank rounds, is due to the British preference of firing HESH-rounds for both anti-tank and general high-explosive work. These high-explosive squash head rounds are filled with plastic explosives, which upon the round impacting on the targets spreads out on it’s surface, before detonating and sending a shockwave through the target.

While the HESH isn’t really up to par with destroying modern armour, one of the places where it does outshine other kinds of tank rounds is for destroying buildings and fortifications. As such, putting the Challengers to fight in an urban environment would be a classic example of playing to the strengths of an otherwise outdated technology.

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Soldiers of the Estonian Kuperjanovi jalaväepataljon practicing urban operations. The battalion is attached to Estonia’s 2. Infantry brigade, destined for operations in the central/southern parts of the country. Source: Kuperjanovi jalaväepataljon FB-page