So today the blog turned eight. Time flies when you have fun – or as is the case for this particular blog, when you get to watch the most tense security environment Europe has seen for a generation or two from a front row seat.
I would like to take time to thank all of you readers! It certainly wouldn’t be the same without you. As to who exactly “you” are, the majority of you last year came from Sweden, with Finland being a rather close second, followed by USA, France, the UK, Germany, Norway, Canada, and Australia quite a bit further down the list. A special shout-out to my single readers in Madagascar, Sint Maarten, Congo-Brazzaville, Turkmenistan, Timor-Leste, Gabon, the Falklands, Guyana, Mayotte, Kiribati, Tajikistan, St Lucia, and Bhutan (no guessing how many are correct and how many are creative VPN-users).
The number of page views rose nicely (38%) compared to 2020, with everything HX obviously being a big fan favourite. The most read post was still not HX-related, but my take on AUKUS. This was followed by a bunch of HX-related material, before it was time for two posts on another acquisition program: the new sniper rifles for Finland (and probably Sweden). My interview with brigadier general Frisell and colonel Norgern of the Swedish Defence Material Administration was without doubt the post that featured the most unique details of any blog post last year – HX is studied in such a detail by more or less the whole Finnish media landscape that few details can be said to be really breaking.
A big shift visible last year was that the number of comments jumped from a rather steady baseline that in fact hasn’t changed much despite the growth in readership over the year. 304 in total in 2020, to a whooping 1,174 in 2021. While I welcome the discussion and have received quite a few hints and correction through the comments over the years, the amount at this stage is slowly starting to reach the point where more moderation might be required than I have time for. For the time being the comments stay open, though I am going to have to make some kind of decision on the future of the comments at some point during the not-too-distant future.
I would like to end with a big Thank You to the large number of people who in one way or the other have helped me during the past year with answering questions, giving hints, and generally being nice people! You are too many to mention all, but I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the people involved in different aspects of HX – including both Finnish authorities, manufacturers, and other.
That was all for this anniversary post. Normal posts will continue soon, and unfortunately I have a feeling that the situation in Europe will provide plenty of topics during the upcoming year.
As has become my own little tradition, I publish my year in review on the blog on the anniversary of the first post and not around the new year. Today’s that day, so happy sixth anniversary to myself!
2019 was in many a challenging year for me personally, but the end of the year also saw me come up with a clear plan for how to move forward from here. Without going into details, I am currently in a much better place than I was a year ago.
Naturally this also had some effects on the frequency of my blogging, which declined compared to year before. The year was also the first that the annual readership declined, both measured in views and visitors. The key reason is quite easy to find, as while the baseline is still healthy (the monthly median was actually higher in 2019 than 2018), the year lacked the kind of single hit post that has given the blog a boost earlier years by drawing in people from outside the regular readership. To look at things from the bright side: as these usually are tied to some less than pleasant development in the region (such as the Airiston Helmi-case of 2018 or the earlier sub-hunts), it isn’t just a bad thing that last year’s month-to-month viewership was more stable than earlier year.
2019 was also the year I tried to monetize the blog by running generic adds on it. Let’s just say I’m not thrilled about the cost/reward ratio, but I have yet to decide if I will continue with them or take them down again.
As for who the readers are and where they come from, there’s no major surprises. Search engines and Twitter still dominate the referrer-stats, with the largest forums being Finnish Maanpuolustus.net and Estonian Militaar.net, with Swedish SoldF.com coming in as third. A newcomer was Hungarian HTKA.hu, which was a pleasant surprise to see! Land topics seems to be of particular interest to our Hungarian friends. As for where people read Corporalfrisk.com, Finland and Sweden are unexpectedly in a class of their own (with Finland being largest by a healthy margin this year), followed by the USA, the UK, Norway, France, Germany, Canada, and Australia in that order.
The most popular new post of 2019 was The True Face of the Baltic Fleet, which despite being published in the later half of the year got quite a nice readership. HX in general and GlobalEye in particular was another very popular topic, and of the older posts Gabriel 5 (PTO 2020) did very well. A number of interesting trips also fit into my calendar last year, including going back to Germany for the first time in a decade when I visited the first ever AMBLE, getting to speak at the FOI workshop on Russian A2/AD capabilities in the Baltic Sea region in Stockholm in December (proceedings should be out soon!), and finally receiving the Naval Reserve Medal of Merit at the Finnish Naval Academy during the Maritime Defence Day held there.
Today I had the great honor of receiving the Finnish Naval Reserve Medal of Merit for “exemplary work in promoting voluntary reservist activities in the field of maritime defence”. The ceremony was part of the Maritime Defence Day #meripp2019 at #Suomenlinna. pic.twitter.com/piTXP8mn72
For 2020, the focus of the next few weeks will obviously be on HX Challenge. Unfortunately, with Corporal Frisk being just a sideshow, I won’t be able to skip work for all five media days, but I will attend one or possibly two in person, and will obviously report on any new (or not so new) details that emerge from the rest of them as well. Next up is Rafale, and it will be really interesting to see what message they bring! Following that, HX is likely to be on the back burner for the next year and a half, as few major twists are expected to take place before the eventual announcement of the winner in 2021. However, that doesn’t mean that the blog will be empty, as there are quite a few other interesting projects in the pipeline that I hope to be able to share with you all during the first half of the year, most of which are naval related.
As always, a big thank you to all of you readers! You are what make this blog! Oh, and did seriously no-one of you (especially you Swedes) catch the Easter egg in Weapons & Ammunition?
19 January 2014 I officially launched my blog and associated Twitter-handle. The world was rather different back then, this being before both the Russian invasion of Crimea and the spectacular rise of ISIS. This was also before the official launch of both the HX and the Squadron 2020 program. Suffice to say, it’s been quite a journey so far!
This is true in the literal sense of the word, as the blog has been the reason for my first ever visits to Estonia, Scotland, and, not to forget, Motala. But perhaps even more fascinating has been the people I have gotten to learn to know and the knowledge I have been fortunate enough to glean from them. I am a strong believer in the idea that to develop you need to surround yourself with people that are smarter than yourself, and I am happy to say that the blog has enabled me to do just that. This is true both for in-person meetings as well as on Twitter. The ability to ask questions directly to experts in varied fields is without doubt one of the strengths of Twitter as a medium, and I will gladly admit that many of my most successful posts would not have been possible without the feedback from a number of different people, including scholars, officers, and numerous other professionals and enthusiastic laymen. Many of you I am happy to count among my friends, regardless of whether we’ve ever met or not. A big thank you to all of you!
While my goal with the blog has always been to influence discussions on the topics I write about (and partly because I think it is fun to write down my musings!), what I have come to find out is that it has been a good influence on myself as well. Writing about topics I find interesting are a great way to force oneself to learn more and stay up to date. If you go back to my earlier posts you will see that there are topics I see differently today, and some where I have changed my mind completely (BMD capability for Squadron 2020 is one of those). Turns out few things are as efficient for learning as when you try to teach others.
But writing has also been challenging at times. Dealing with topics of national security demand a careful balance between the need for operational security as well as openness and public discussion. This is something where I believe that it is impossible to have a template solution for all situations, and with posts such as the one on the Finnish wartime army order of battle I have spent quite some time thinking about how, if at all, to cover the topic. The feedback I have gotten over the years seems to confirm that I’ve struck a good balance.
A few notes on the blog this year and going forward.
The blog has grown year for year, and last year was no exception, with the number of views and visitors increasing 50% and 40% respectively compared to 2017. Last year’s most popular post was by far that regarding Airiston Helmi, which almost could compete with the evergreen Spitfire vs Bf 109. A surprise hit was the review of GMT Games’ Next War: Poland, which is an excellent board game. Go ahead and check it out if you haven’t already! As for where the traffic came from, social media and search engines reign supreme, but an interesting development is that Estonian Militaar.net now is the second largest forum when it comes to directing traffic to the blog, having passed Swedish SoldF.com.
Keen readers might have noted that the advertisements are back. This is another decision I have been contemplating for quite a while, but in short while this in many ways still is a hobby of mine, I also strive to make sure that Corporal Frisk – Analysis and Consulting isn’t loss-making. The decision to monetize the blog is one additional step to ensure that this is the case.
As a final note, the blog roll is updated for the first time in 5 years! It now includes a couple of new-comers, including entries in Finnish, Swedish, German, and English, while some older ones have had to stand aside.
2017 is rapidly approaching its end, and a short look back (and forward) might be in order. Contrary to some earlier years, it is hard to name a single transformative event when it comes to national security. Instead, it has been a roller coaster ride of smaller ones, some more absurd than the others.
I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…
Some would prefer the metaphor ‘dumpster fire’ to ‘roller coaster ride’, and I don’t blame them. Still, the apparently dysfunctional US government has not caused any major disasters (e.g. nuclear war or breaking up NATO) so far, though there certainly are quite a number of possibilities still left unexplored in that regard. In my personal calendar, I will mark down 2017 as the year I went from not not expecting to see nuclear weapons used in anger during my lifetime to believing a war on the Korean peninsula involving nukes to be more likely than not. I don’t believe either side wants war, but the strong US rhetoric, whether honest or not, is certainly preparing the ground for possible misinterpretations and muscle-flexing which eventually leaves little room for backing down. As I have discussed earlier on the blog, the talk about the DPRK regime being ‘crazy’ is probably not helping either…
Closer to home, the single most notable incident was the midget submarine that entered Gävle harbour and was caught red-handed by a survey vessel. The blog post on the initial findings became the fourth most read post of 2017, and landed me a surprise interview on Swedish national TV. The port also featured in the third most viewed post of the year, which was my translation of Jägarchefen’s excellent post A Picture in Moscow (Swedish original here). Interestingly enough, I later during the year ran into the translated post being used as a source for a briefing I attended, and needless to say I was very happy to see that the materials posted on the blog have real-world effects other than sometimes causing minor controversies on Twitter!
Over all, I must say I am very happy with how the year played out on the blog. The number of views grew with a nice even 30% compared to 2016, and while that is a somewhat lower tempo than the earlier years it is still a healthy number. Most importantly, I am very happy that the two Swedish guest posts rank as high as they do, indicating that the blog is bringing quality texts from the Swedish defence debate to Finnish and international readers, while my personal texts on Finnish matters receive nice numbers of views from Sweden. This indicates that the blog is bringing topics of interest from one country to the other, something which was one of my main goals when I first launched the blog back in the early days of 2014.
On a personal level, getting to visit RAF Lossiemouth as part of the Finnish media delegation and getting up to speed on the Eurofighter was a great experience. Similarly, getting to see the Kaivopuisto Airshow and being invited to the following reception at the British Embassy afterwards are fond memories. More recently, getting the opportunity to be a panel speaker at the Estonian Defence Forces’ Psychological Defence Course was a great honour, and it was also a very interesting event to attend. Getting to follow the Air Force practicing dispersed operations at my local airfield was also great. The one thing I am sorry I missed was the Navy holding its main Navy Day event in nearby Vaasa, as I had to call in sick that day. Well, looking forward to the centennial celebrations next year!
For 2018, I will strive to make some changes to the focus of the blog and how I work. The travel opportunities I have had have been nothing short of awesome, but I have reached the point that I will have to scale down on the travel work I do due to other commitments, and instead focus more on local opportunities. As such, I hope to be able to write more on the volunteer work done at the grassroots, and catch the opportunities to cover exercises such as the IPH-series in nearby Lohtaja. In addition, expect more on the HX and Pohjanmaa-class (ex-Squadron 2020, ex-MTA 2020) where significant developments are scheduled for next year. In 2018 I will also continue with the monthly reviews, which have offered an opportunity to do something a bit different on the blog, with the review of Harpia’s Russia’s Warplanes being the most popular one.
I would also like to thank a host of different people whom I have met and/or had the opportunity to discuss a host of interesting topics with during the year that was, including officers, journalists, and a host of ‘ordinary people’. Some of you are off-the-record, some on-the-record, but I am very thankful for the advice, insights, and comments you have offered. Thank you!
2016 saw several major trends continue in a generally deteriorating direction, leaving the world a more unpredictable place than it has been for at least the last two decades. Some have already predicted the end of the western world as we know it, and indeed 2016 was the year when most things seemingly went Putin’s way. For those of us believing in democracy and the Westphalian principles of sovereign nation states, the world is a scarier place today than it was a year ago.
Still, while the exact course this change has taken may come as a surprise, change in and of itself isn’t. Looking back at history, few alliances the size of NATO have lasted even this long, and the post-Cold War order, to the extent it can be argued to still exist, is already well into its third decade. That we would see a global political status quo while at the same time maintaining that our daily lives otherwise change at an ever greater pace is indeed an unlikely scenario.
The only question then is whether this shift is indeed happening right now, and how it will play out. As noted, Putin is currently on a roll (though this should not mean that the average Russian is), but it should also be remembered that Russia has benefited from the post-Cold War state of things. The more pro-Kremlin NATO-states have functioned as a moderating force vis-a-vis the more wary ones (largely those having first-hand experience of the Soviet yoke), and the Russian seat as a permanent member of the security council has ensured that the Kremlin is included at the table during all major diplomatic negotiations.
If the current nightmare scenario would come true, and NATO would experience a significant split, one of the more likely scenarios is a reforming of smaller alliances by countries which share the same outlook on national threats in general and the Kremlin in particular. These ‘non-moderated’ alliances would be smaller, but their greater cohesion would also mean that their response time would be faster and that their unity would be harder to manipulate. As such they would be a new kind of adversary for Putin, and one which the current Russian campaign would be ill-suited to meet.
On the flip side, as Russia lacks both the economic and conventional military muscle to warrant any kind of superpower status, its claim to greatness rests largely on two things: history and nuclear weapons. If its historical benefits are blunted, e.g. with the security council becoming less relevant due to a shift away from law-based international order, the only thing remaining is the nuclear threat. If we would see a shift to the smaller NMA’s described above, this would cause a real risk of proliferation to counter what would otherwise be a highly asymmetrical threat scenario in case none of the current NATO nuclear states would join the ‘Wary’-faction.
For Finland, a re-aligning of alliances might provide interesting opportunities, but it still would not cover the basic fact that the defence forces in their current form lack funding. In my opinion, the recent talk about increasing the wartime strength is premature, as it seems doubtful that the defence forces would be able to properly equip even the current force according to the needs of the modern battlefield.
For the blog, 2016 was a good year. The readership expanded, with especially the later half of the year having brought in new readers. This also opened up new opportunities, including the visit to Saab’s factory in Linköping, attending a number of HX-related briefings during the Tour de Sky ‘16 air show in Kuopio, and visiting the Maritime Defense Day at Suomenlinna. I also had the opportunity to participate in a number of other interesting discussions and exchanges of ideas both in real life and over other channels. Together we (hopefully) become wiser. Thank you!
Some of the highlights from 2016.
The top-ten posts published 2016 were the following:
In addition, two older blog post scored high. My old post on Spitfire vs. Messerschmitt Bf-109 ranked between Kaliningrad and TKRB, while A Ground-based Air Defence System for Finland would also have made the top-ten. As seen, the top posts are somewhat surprisingly tilted towards the later part of the year, with developments around the Baltic Sea being of great interest to the readers of the blog. In addition, HX and Squadron 2020 also continues to draw readers, with the earlier part of the year having seen a focus on the former and the latter half having seen some passionate debate regarding the future of the navy. I must confess that it amuses me that the Spitfire vs. Messerschmitt post gets the amount of traffic it does. To begin with, direct comparisons seldom make good pieces of text, and while the blog usually gets most of its traffic on topics that aren’t as well covered in English, either due to region (HX, Baltic Sea, …) or due to being recent developments (Attack on Swift), there isn’t really any lack of texts on the subject of Spitfires and Messerschmitts. The GBAD-post is another special case, as people usually link to it to provide a source when quoting costs for modern SAM-systems, something which is a bit ironic as I can’t find the French document I used as a source for the SAMP/T cost quoted in the post…
For the visitors, most found their way to the blog through Twitter or search engines, with Facebook being a distant third. After this, the numbers drop sharply, with Reddit grabbing the fourth spot. Of military forums, Finnish Maanpuolustus.net was the most popular one, followed by Estonian Militaar.net and tank-focused Tank-net.com before Swedish SoldF.com. Blogs also provided some nice amount of traffic, with Uusimaanpuolustus and GripenBlogs standing out, in that order. For the countries, it long seemed like the Swedes would dominate amongst the readership this year, but the developments in Squadron 2020 meant that in the end, Finnish readers bagged 735 page views more than Swedish. These two reigned supreme, with the USA coming in at roughly a third of their numbers, followed by the UK. Norway then narrowly beat Estonia for the final spot in the top-five.
All in all, Corporal Frisk will continue to produce analyses and report defence and security related issues in 2017. There will be more HX (stoked for Seinäjoki Air Show next summer!), more corvettes, and more indirect fire. There will also be a third lecture on 25 January, this time in Kalajoki. Do head over to MPK.fi and sign up if you haven’t already, it promises to be a lot of fun with people from different parts of Finland.
After just under two and a half years, the time has come for the blog to receive a facelift. This coincides with me registering a one-man company under the name Corporal Frisk – Analysis and Consulting, through which I will be managing the blog as well as any related freelance work. The impact of this for the average blog reader will be fairly limited; however you might want to update your bookmarks to reflect the new https://corporalfrisk.com/ address (the old .wordpress.com will still work just fine though).
Any feedback you have regarding the outlook and functionality of the new blog theme is welcome, either in the comments, or by email! And thank you to my father-in-law for his permission to use his shot of FNS Tornio as the new header picture!