2017 in Review

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.

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!

Otherwise on the blog, the Finnish Army developments have been in focus, with the most popular new post and second most viewed over all being a look at artillery developments published in January, with the post on Finnish readiness units also scoring extremely well. The major Swedish exercise Aurora 17 and Finnish participation there also drew interest, with another guest post from Sweden, Herr Flax discussing the value of Patria AMV in a conventional war against a near-peer or peer adversary, also getting close to a 1,000 views.

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.

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Giving my comments on the Gävle submarine-incident at a gas station in Tornio, something I certainly didn’t expect when starting blogging a few years ago.

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!

And last but not least, a happy new year!

Happy New Year 2017

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.

The Blog

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!

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Some of the highlights from 2016.

The top-ten posts published 2016 were the following:

  1. Kaliningrad and the Suwałki Gap – a look from the other side
  2. TKRB – Coastal Defense in Swedish
  3. Estonia Leads the Way
  4. Back in Control
  5. The Attack on Swift
  6. An Analysis Flawed
  7. Air and Sea Traffic in the Gulf of Finland 6 October
  8. Squadron 2020 – Made for the Finnish Coastline
  9. A Visit to the Griffin’s Nest – The Plane
  10. A Visit to the Griffin’s Nest – The Pilot

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.

MPK / Keski-Pohjanmaan koulutus- ja tukiyksikkös foto.
Frisk went live, picture from my first defence lecture which I held in Kokkola last year. Source: Jouko Liikanen

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.

Update to the Blog

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!