Finland goes GBAD-shopping

In a long-awaited move, the Finnish Defence Forces Logistics Command yesterday sent out the RFQ for a new ground-based air defence system “with a high ceiling”. The corresponding RFI went out in 2018, and under the current schedule the procurement will be finalised before the end of 2022 and the system will become operational during the latter half of the 20’s.

For a more general overview of the current state of the Finnish high-end ground based air defences (and why we won’t acquire an anti-ballistic missile capability), I recommend that you check out my sub-chapter on Finland in the FOI anthology “Beyond Bursting Bubbles“, but the long story short is that Finland acquired the Buk-M1 in the late 1990’s as part of a deal to cover the Russian debt stemming from the Soviet clearing accounts. Unfortunately, worries about the ability of Russia to counter the system meant that they had to be retired quite soon thereafter, with the last conscripts training on the system in 2005. Exactly when (if?) the system was withdrawn is unclear, but it seems to have survived in (limited?) service past Crimea.

In any case, a replacement system was acquired under what would become the ITO12 procurement, which saw SAMP/T and NASAMS II face off in a competition won by the NASAMS. The reason behind the choice was bluntly described by then Chief of Defence, Admiral Kaskeala:

Do we buy one Cadillac or four Volvos?

In any case, the ‘Volvo’ has scored a number of successes around the world, and is generally seen as a potent system, but one that suffers from short range due to the poor performance of its AIM-120C AMRAAM missile when fired from a ground-based launcher. Janes lists it as having an estimated max range of 20 km, though this is partially offset by the launchers being able to be placed up to 25 km out from the fire direction centre (FDC). The ceiling is rather uncertain, with The Drive mentioning 50,000 feet (15,000+ meters), but on the other hand then-Finnish inspector of the ground-based air defences, colonel Sami-Antti Takamaa, in an interview in 2018 stated that the new system (which should be able to go significantly higher than NASAMS) should have a ceiling of 8,000 to 15,000 meters. There’s likely an apples-to-pears situation in the numbers above, with Takamaa referencing the effective engagement altitudes which are quite a bit below the theoretical maximum.

However, for most situations the maximum specifications isn’t as interesting as other factors. The ability to deploy the systems with the launchers dispersed, the active seeker of the missiles, modularity, and the modern C4I architecture are of greater value. However, the fact that the NASAMS would lose in top trumps against the system it replaced means that there is a gap above the coverage provided by Finnish SAMs, and one that can only be covered by fighters.

The Finnish air defence doctrine places a high emphasise on the joint aspect, with the ground- and sea-based systems supporting the fighters of the Finnish Air Force. Here a NASAMS II battery is deployed in Lohtaja during the Air Forces’ main exercise Ruska 20 earlier this fall. Source: Finnish Air Force FB/Joni Malkamäki

This leads us to the current ITSUKO-program, where throughout the focus has been on increasing the air defence capabilities at high altitude. This is interesting, as most countries discuss their different classes of SAM’s in terms of range rather than ceiling, and clearly shows which operational problem the FDF is trying to solve. Obviously, with increased ceiling comes increased range (though one shouldn’t think of the effective engagement zone as a half-sphere above ground, as the routes chosen by modern missiles and the physics involved makes things a bit more complex than that), but this is largely seen as a secondary bonus. In the earlier quoted article, major general (engineering) Kari Renko of the Finnish Defence Forces Logistics Command explained that “Increased territorial coverage means that we have more batteries operational”, and struck down the notion that a meaningful increase in territorial coverage could be achieved solely by increasing the range. In effect, this is due to the large area of Finland, which means that the difference in coverage between differently ranged systems, especially at low range, is small enough that it is negligible at the operational or strategic level.

Here it is good to remember that as none of the current systems are to be replaced, the number of operational batteries will in fact go up. This in turn means that, in the words of current inspector of the ground-based air defences, colonel Mikko Mäntynen, the “fighters will get a higher degree of freedom”. While this is all good and true, there is a nagging feeling that this might be an attempt to cover for the fact that HX won’t reach 64 fighters. Let’s hope that feeling is unfounded…

The news yesterday was that the field competing has been cut down by half. Of the ten companies that received the RFI in 2018, five are still in the competition bidding for the role as prime contractors. These are Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace (KDA), Diehl Defence, MBDA, Rafael, and IAI. Missing from the list are all American companies, as well as Swedish defence company Saab whose RBS 23 lacks the punch to compete in this race (note though that Janes gives the max altitude as 15,000 meters, again showing that 15,000 meters max doesn’t necessarily mean that your system can effectively handle engagements at 8,000 to 15,000 meters). However, it is entirely possible that Saab appears as a subcontractor in some of the bids, as their Giraffe 4A radar has had a tendency to do so in other places. Raytheon is a long-term active partner to KDA, and it is no surprise that they are confirmed to be working together with them here as well (even if rumours had hinted at them also bidding separately as a prime, presumably with the MIM-104 Patriot). Another of Raytheon’s joint programs might also show up…

Of those bidding, Diehl is without doubt the odd one out. As far as I am aware of, Diehl has nothing bigger than the IRIS-T SLS (which recently entered Swedish service as the RBS 98). Being based on a short-range IIR air-to-air missile, it suffers from a 5,000 meter ceiling (again according to Janes), leaving it even shorter-legged than the NASAMS. To be completely honest, I have no idea about what Diehl is planning to offer.

Edit 30 October: Diehl in fact has a longer-ranged version. There is quite a bit of confusion in their designations in open sources (I’ve e.g. seen SL, SLS, and SLM all refer to just different launchers firing the same IRIS-T missile, and I’ve even seen the Swedish EldE 98 referred to as SLM!). However, Diehl’s SLM is in fact a rather different missile with a seriously longer range thanks to a larger rocket and an aerodynamic nosecone that pops off once the target is within range of the missile’s IIR-seeker. This dual-mode (firing solution and early tracking being provided by radar and datalink until switching to final guidance by IIR) is rather interesting and could potentially be more difficult to spoof compared to more traditional solutions. The missile has been test-fired successfully, but the operational status seems to be rather uncertain. Thanks to f-pole for clearing things up!

KDA is the obvious favourite, being able to offer the AMRAAM-ER for the NASAMS-system. The AMRAAM-ER in essence combine booster of the ESSM and the front unit of the AMRAAM to produce a completely new missile with “50% increase in range and a 70% increase in altitude” compared to the current AIM-120C-7.

In other words, KDA can simply offer more of a system already in service with the Finnish Army, but with ability to use either the shorter-legged AMRAAM or the longer-legged AMRAAM-ER according to need. The modularity of the NASAMS also means that integrating a host of other missiles is possible, should the FDF be so inclined (spoiler alert: they’re probably not). That kind of synergy effects could very well be hard to beat, but the competition isn’t giving up without a fight.

Land Ceptor during test fires in Sweden in 2018. The time lapse shows the cold launch sequence in which the missile is flung upwards and only then actually firing. Source: Crown copyright

As noted earlier on the blog, MBDA has had a surprisingly difficult time in landing any major contract with the FDF. The obvious system for them to offer is the Land Ceptor/CAMM-ER. The missile is an operational system with the British Army and the specifications on paper seems to be a good match, but it is difficult to see it outmatching the stiff competition.

The question about what the two Israeli companies will offer is more open. Rafael is able to offer the SPYDER, which is a truck running around with a bunch of missiles on its back. It offers the ability to fire both the Python 5 highly-manoeuvrable short-range IIR-missile, but also the Derby longer-ranged missile. The overall concept is rather similar to that of the NASAMS, with a modern C4I architecture and air-to-air missiles adopted for ground-based use, and while not as prolific as the NASAMS it has scored a few export successes from serious customers such as Singapore. However, most numbers found in open sources seem to indicate that the SPYDER lacks the range and ceiling to be able to offer a meaningful improvement over the current NASAMS. This would in turn mean that the system offered is the David’s Sling, which uses a two-stage Stunner-missile (also known as the SkyCeptor). The missile is perhaps best known internationally as the PAAC-4 missile for the US Patriot-system, which is a joint program between Rafael and Raytheon to produce a significantly cheaper missile with better performance compared to the current PAC-3 that is used for anti-ballistic missile work with the Patriot battery. The Stunner is designed from the outset to be able to easily integrate into other systems, meaning that it is possible that the weapon could communicate better than some of the competition with the current systems found in the Finnish integrated air defence network. Still, it does feel that the ABM-capable is a bit of overkill in a competition against missiles such AMRAAM-ER and CAMM-ER (remember that several high-ranking officials and generals at different times have shot down the idea that Finland would be interesting in pursuing a real ABM-capability), unless the offer really is one we can’t refuse.

One of the final test firings of the David’s Sling before the system entered operational use with the IDF. Note the asymmetric nose. Source: United States Missile Defense Agency via Wikimedia Commons

IAI has a more varied, and at least on paper, more suitable range of weapons, with the BARAK-series being the logical contender. This include a range of missiles, with the BARAK-LRAD missile being the most likely version on offer here. This is part of the general BARAK MX-system, and is developed in parallel with the BARAK 8 for the Indian Navy. Crucially, IAI’s Elta-division has a large portfolio of radars (including the ELM-2311 C-MMR which was recently acquired by the FDF for use as a counter-battery radar), and as such it would be interesting to see which radars they would pair with their interceptor for the bid.

Kokkola 20 – Local defence in action

Twice each year, the Finnish Defence Forces kicks off several simultaneous local defence exercises. In accordance with their names, these are local in their nature, and “will develop local defence readiness and combat capability, as well as inter-authority cooperation in rapidly evolving situations” according to the latest presser. General Timo Kivinen, Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces, described the trends that led to the local exercises becoming a staple of the FDF’s calendar as follows:

The threat scenarios of today’s world are really multifaceted […] and when the set of available tools is wide, no single authority can handle all of them by themselves […] and for this we need inter-authority cooperation to take care of these threat pictures, and that is what we are practising here. The exercise is built with cases, and each case has one lead agency which the others then support.

The latest round featured Kokkola 20, centered around my hometown that also lent its name to the exercise. With large-scale military exercises being a rarity in Ostrobothnia these days, I naturally was determined to see what the fuss was all about.

Different authorities meet up during one of the cases taking place at the local airport. Source: Pori Brigade FB

The preparations have been going on for a few years already, with not only the FDF playing a key part, but also the local Police, other emergency services, the Finnish Border Guard, and the city itself all being among the main players. The chief executive officer of the Central Ostrobothnia and Pietarsaari Region Emergency Services Department, Jaakko Pukkinen, went as far as to describe it as the “Broadest inter-authority exercise the region has seen.” The elephant in the room was obviously the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought some additional challenges. “We train for exceptional times during exceptional times” the representative for the local police, chief inspector Vesa Toivanen, wryly noted. He was using the Finnish term “poikkeusolot”, which both describe exceptional times generally but also hold the specific legal meaning of a declared state of emergency. The sentiment was echoed by the city’s chief executive, Stina Mattila, who noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has again showed that you can never be too prepared. The third major authority sorting under the Ministry of Interior was the Finnish Border Guard. The FBG also include the coast guard as an integral part, with the latter obviously being the focus of the FBG’s presence in the region. The FBG has a set of military missions as well, and here their part of the exercise was leaning towards their “military” mission set.

The military forces taking part in the exercise in effect were made up of three different components: conscript military police units (mainly from the Pori Brigade), mobilised reserve military police units on a refresher exercise, and the local defence units (Fi. Paikallisjoukot). The Pori Brigade, being one of the country’s most important peacetime units and the “local” unit for a large part of Western Finland including Kokkola, served as the host unit responsible for the exercise.

Kokkola and this region does not constitute some kind of a military vacuum.

That’s how colonel Riku Suikkanen, second in command of the Pori Brigade and exercise lead, put it during the media event leading up to the exercise. A key part of the exercise include it being a high-visibility one, making sure that the population still feel that the FDF is there despite the drawdown in peacetime bases and training locations around the country. And as the colonel noted, the soldiers descending upon the town are no strangers.

Our daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers are those out training.

As the exact duties and setup of military police units varies with country, it can be good to shortly describe the Finnish military police force. This was done well in a recent podcast by the FDF’s own podcast series, Radio Kipinä, so those with a working knowledge of Finnish are recommended to check that out. In short, a Finnish military police is an infantry soldier that has received additional training in security and guard duty. This include a host of different skills, ranging from non-lethal ways to stop and capture an intruder to understanding the legal framework that the FDF work with when it comes to protecting its infrastructure, people, and activities. The exact skill sets vary between peacetime garrisons, all of which sport some kind of military police unit on their premises, but in general it can be noted that military police travel relatively light, prioritising operational mobility over protection, and that they often (but not always) have a better understanding of and training for combat in an urban environment thanks to their focus on infrastructure protection (the obvious outlier is the Guard Jaeger Regiment, with the whole mother unit being the FDF’s prime urban warfare centre means that their military police units are also the most highly specialised urban warriors compared to other military police conscripts). In wartime, military police units can function as part of a larger formation, in which case they would fill a light infantry role. A more traditional role that is closely related to that of security and protection duty is counter-special forces. To some extent all military police units can perform the mission, though some receive additional training in the field. For the Pori Brigade, the most notable unique feature of their military police units is that they offer dog handler training to conscripts, something that no other Finnish unit does.

Port Tower, gateway to the port area, became a centre for military activity in the first days of September. Source: Own picture

Back to Kokkola 20. With the military police playing main fiddle together with the local defence units, it meant that military part of the exercise was rather infantry heavy compared to some of the others which sported a more combined arms approach. Besides this, the question obviously arose why Kokkola was chosen to host the exercise. As such, I headed over to Port Tower, the gateway to the local Port of Kokkola, where I got to sit down together with a few other representatives of local media to ask general Kivinen some questions about the exercise. Entering the parking lot of the titanium zinc clad tower where I’ve eaten lunch numerous times, the flurry of exercise activity was immediately obvious. In the treeline (ironically enough the former grounds of the FDF’s gunsmith school) trucks and tents were set up, with small groups of soldiers having taken position at set locations to keep a watchful eye on the heavy traffic heading to and from the port. Entering the building yet more uniforms were visible, and a quick glance around confirmed that they included all FDF categories taking part in the exercise – conscripts, professionals, local and non-local reservists.

With earlier exercises having taken place in nearby Vaasa and Seinäjoki, coming to Kokkola serves dual purposes in that it both lets a significant number of FDF personnel familiarise themselves with local conditions, but it also ensure that the locals get to familiarise themselves with FDF. As could be guessed from the location of the interview, much of the discussion centred around the port. The port is able to handle capesize vessels, and is the most important port in Finland when it comes to bulk cargo as well as rail- and transit cargo, as well as the third largest general cargo port. Without discussing the details of threat scenario in the exercise, there was no hiding the fact that the port was of great interest.

In general when you think about ports they are key nodes in the logistics chain, and as such their importance in case of a serious crisis or in a terrorism related case they would be potential locations where the Finnish authorities would need a readiness to be able to react.

The general also noted that a crisis in the Baltic Sea proper would lead to an increased importance for the ports in the Gulf of Bothnia. As such, it is of interest to ensure that the different authorities can not only communicate with each other, but that they are able to share a common situational picture and coordinate their activities in case of a major crisis. The general noted that in the case of Central Ostrobothnia, the last two issues seems to be the challenging part, as while the other authorities are well-known to each other and have exercised together earlier, FDF is quite new to the region.

General Kivinen sharing a final chat with the media about local conditions after the presser had ended. Source: Own picture

This is also the reason behind the lack of heavier units, as Kivinen is happy to explain. “The Army leads the overall situation, and the Army Command have given the units responsible directions regarding the local defence exercises, and it is true that they differ from each other. There are good reasons for this, and they also might vary according to when and how we have last exercised interagency cooperation in any given area,” general Kivinen explained when I questioned about how the different scenarios are chosen. In this case, the scenario was well below the threshold of war.

In this exercise we don’t have a scenario where Finland would be facing a clear threat of a war breaking out, but there are scenarios in which military capabilities are used to support other agencies.

However, that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of bad people running around wreaking havoc. Or at least trying to.

A suspected bad guy has been brought down next to the railway line in the port area. Source: Pori Brigade FB

One of the key people involved was a long-term active reservist and instructor, who had earlier experience of red team-activities as well. Without going into details, he was happy to discuss his general role in the exercise.

The red team was tasked partly with following a realistic manuscript, but also to find areas of improvement, e.g. when it comes to how the blue forces train and how they performed. Details and nuances could be discussed later, and talking afterwards is always easy, but I have to admit that KPMAAKK [the Local Defence Company of Central Ostrobothnia] and the military police reservists from the Pori Brigade were darn good.

HX goes DSCA

One of the more anticipated milestones of the HX-process took place this week with the publication of the DSCA-notifications. These somewhat poorly understood bureaucratic processes caused some waves in the PTO 20200-tender. This time the Finnish MoD has done its best to avoid similar jumps to conclusion by media and other observers, but there has still been some less-than-helpful interpretations of what the notifications says. In short, the US regulations require that the congress is informed about important upcoming arms deals as a matter of oversight, something that happens through the DSCA-notifications. In the case of HX (and the Swiss AIR2030/NFA which made headlines a short while ago) the potential tenders are being pre-cleared, i.e. congress is notified about an upcoming potential sale. This allows for quicker turn-around if and when a contract is signed, and ensures that the supplier actually can deliver what they’ve promised. The most important points that sometimes get lost are:

  • The fact that this isn’t an order, nor are they necessarily corresponding to what is included in the final order (in fact, often they aren’t as it makes sense to clear the possible maximum amount of items in one go instead of having to go back and request a second clearance in case the requirements changes),
  • The negotiations of the HX-program is still ongoing, and as such neither the buyer nor the seller knows for certain the details of the final offer,
  • The value quoted for the DSCA-notifications usually aren’t that helpful in determining the contract value,
  • Most crucially, the notifications are ridiculously detailed in some ways, but glossing over major items in others. See “40 inch wing release lanyard” getting its own row, but “Spares” being a single line item.

To sum it up, long-term aviation journalist Gareth Jennings commenting on the AIR2030 put words to how everyone covering the process feels.

With that said, let’s jump into what information can be gleaned from the notifications.

Numbers don’t lie

The first obvious issue is the number of aircraft. With programme director Lauri Puranen on record stating that 64 aircraft seems impossible, it is noteworthy that the Lockheed Martin notification is for 64 F-35A and the Boeing has a total of 72 aircraft, made up of 50 F/A-18E Super Hornet, 8 twin-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet, and 14 EA-18G Growler. While it is still within the realms of possibilities, if unlikely, that we would see a 64 fighter buy, I don’t see how 72 could fit within the operating budget. As such, the 72 aircraft notification is a good indication for the fact that the final mix of the Boeing offer is still up in the air. 40 F/A-18E, 8 F/A-18F, and 12 EA-18G for a 62 aircraft fleet would be my personal guess.

Another place where the final offer is evidently still not set in the Boeing offer is the targeting pods (the F-35 notably not requiring one, as it has an internal electro-optical sensor based on the technology of the Sniper pod). The notification includes 32 ATFLIR, 32 Sniper (of an undisclosed version, but likely the XR), and an undisclosed number of the Litening (notable is that Finland currently uses an earlier version of the Litening-pod, the version now on offer would likely be the Litening 5). The ATFLIR was the one brought over for HX Challenge, but on the other hand the Litening was brought over hanging under an Eurofighter, so Finland has verified data on that one as well. I won’t comment on which pod would provide the best solution, as the details are A) classified, and B) I’m not familiar enough with the pod-world to say if there’s any kind of significant differences found in open sources. I will note that the ATFLIR has had teething troubles, but those seems (maybe?) to have since been overcome, and that the Litening 5 is being developed to sport a SAR-module, which is something of an unique selling point, but one likely to be of secondary value.

The single-seat F/A-18E Super Hornet getting airborne from Tampere-Pirkkala AFB during HX Challenge earlier this year. The notification confirms that if Boeing wins, the single-seater will be by far the most common version. Source: Own picture

In the same way, it can be noted that a total of 25 IRST-pods are cleared for the Hornet-bid. The Super Hornet’s IRST solution with a centre-line has been criticised for being less elegant than the integration on the competitors, though it in fact suffers from a relatively small blind spot. What is interesting is that the numbers for both the targeting pod (presuming that only one model is bought) and the IRST both are offered in numbers covering approximately half of the fleet. This is in general one of the strong points of the F-35, every aircraft gets its own ‘pod’ thanks to the sensor being internal, while for the rest budgetary restraints often causes some aircraft to be left without. Exactly how the Super Hornet operations would look is an interesting question, but one alternative could be one aircraft of a pair flying with a pod and the other with an IRST.

As noted, with security of supply being a key factor and the ability to overhaul the aircraft locally from local stocks a key item here, the spare parts packages are naturally of great interest. Here, however, we’re more or less completely out of luck, as these crucial items are reduced to the single line of “provisioning, spares and repair parts”. It is, however, notable that this is a rather different wording compared to the Swiss notifications that only include “aircraft spares”. However, there is another place where spares catch the eye, and that is on the line discussing engines. The F-35A bid lists two spare P&W F-135 engines, while the F/A-18E/F/G offer lists 22 spare F414-GE-400 (interestingly enough, here the Swiss notifications for 40 aircraft listed six and 16 respectively). Good arguments can be made for the F-35 needing fewer complete spare engines for a given fleet size, including both during peacetime (single-engined aircraft having half the number of engines compared to twin-engined ones, the more modern design potentially having longer life and more replaceable subassemblies) and wartime use (an engine damaged enough to warrant replacement likely will lead to the loss of the aircraft). However, for a country obsessing about security of supply and with the supply of spare parts being one the major questions surrounding the F-35 in the HX-programme, it does strike one as an oddly low number, and makes the question about what really is found in the spare package even more interesting.

Like the spares, the amount of supporting equipment found amongst the rows isn’t straightforward to judge. There are a number of interesting rows, including training equipment, as well as numerous test vehicles for the weaponry. Key terms are also differing if compared to AIR2030 notifications, though considering the somewhat erratic template through which the notifications are pushed it is difficult to say how much weight should be placed on these differences. Still, there’s a few interesting discrepancies, such as the inclusion of the Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN, to replace the much maligned ALIS which is on the way out) in the Finnish notification, a system that isn’t found the Swiss one. “Weapons system software” is also found in both Finnish notifications but in neither Swiss one, something that might simply have to do with the inclusion of more complex weaponry. An interesting row is found on the personnel needed to support the F-35.

U.S. contractor representatives will be required in Finland to conduct Contractor Engineering Technical Services (CETS) and Autonomic Logistics and Global Support (ALGS) for after-aircraft delivery

As noted, everything that includes the word “Global” is something of a red flag to the Finnish security of supply requirements, but at the same time it is obvious that during normal peacetime operations it makes sense to leverage the significant savings that can be found in operating what is rapidly turning out to be the next joint European fighter. However, there is little in the notification to indicate what kinds of additional steps have been taken to ensure that Finland has the required level of control over the security of supply compared to other more traditional customers. This might or might not mean something, as noted many of the crucial items in the notification doesn’t provide much in the way of details.

EW

Everyone, myself included, is obviously counting weapons cleared for sale, but let’s start with the more obscure but no less important side of things. Electronic warfare.

It is important to note that we in essence are talking of three very different platforms, something that is visible in the notifications. The electronic warfare suite of the F-35A is highly integrated into the aircraft, and as such relatively few lines are dealing with it. There’s simply a mention of “Electronic warfare system”, as well as related systems such as C4I and the “F-35 unique infrared flares” (to the best of knowledge the aircraft does not carry chaff dispensers Edit: The F-35 is in the process of getting chaff. Thanks to JoJo for flagging it in the comments!) and access to the reprogramming centre. Compared to the long list of the Super Hornet that seems a bit cheap, but that is most likely simply because you can’t buy an F-35 without getting the whole package. As such, there’s no reason to mention particular details such as the ALE-70 towed decoy for the F-35, while in the case of the Super Hornet, the corresponding ALE-55 does get it’s own row.

The NGJ mock-up together with an AGM-88E AARGM anti-radiation missile (i.e. it locks onto a radar and flies into it) under the wing of the EA-18G Growler taking part in HX Challenge. The capabilities of the NGJ will be evaluated in the US, due to sensitive nature of the capability and the need for a large testing range. Source: Own picture

Another good pointer to the fact that Boeing isn’t in fact preparing a 72 aircraft bid is the fact that only 65 pieces of the AN/ALR-67(V)3 EW countermeasures receiving sets and the AN/ALQ-214 integrated countermeasures systems are included. The more cryptic “Advanced Electronic Attack Kit for EA-18G” is more along the lines of how the F-35 is described, with a single line referring to more or less the whole package.

With an important exception.

Eight (8) Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB) sets

I’ve discussed the NGJ-MB earlier, the long story short version is that it is an extremely powerful system able to go after enemy air defences, but also enemy communication networks. On the flip side, it costs an arm and a leg, but in many ways it is a key piece of the Growler’s wartime capabilities post-2030, and getting eight systems would provide Finland with one of the best airborne escort as well as stand-in jamming capabilities in Europe. Note the reference to “sets”, which would seem to indicate that there will be a total of sixteen pods delivered, with the aircraft having one under each wing. Currently the Growler flies with three AN/ALQ-99 pods in different configurations for different bands. The new NGJ-MB replaces the two underwing units, with the third centre-line mounted one being slated for replacement by the low-band NGJ-LB. If Finland opts for the Growler, the NGJ-LB can make its entry at some point further down the line (as can the eventual high-band pod which will come yet later). However, the utility against current threats is greatest for the NGJ-MB, especially if Finland continues on with a non-stealthy force meaning that the proliferation of new low-band radars aren’t as big a threat scenario as it is for the US forces. It is also notable that the greatest criticism leveraged against the NGJ-MB so far (decreasing the range of the Growler due to high drag when the pod is active and the doors to the ram air turbine are open) is less of an issue for Finland compared to the China-scenario which is the main driver behind current USN development.

Weapons

One thing we do know, however, is that Puranen didn’t exaggerate when he talked about the comprehensive weapons packages pushing the budget. The notifications include sizeable amounts of JDAMs, both thermally insensitive HE (i.e. the stuff shouldn’t explode if your ammunition storage is on fire) as well as bunker buster rounds, GBU-53/B SDB II’s small glide bombs, AGM-154C-1 JSOW stealthy glide weapons with a secondary anti-ship capability, AGM-158B JASSM-ER long-range heavy cruise missiles, AIM-9X Block II+ and Block II respectively, as well as JSM integration in the case of the F-35A and HARM/AARGM-rails in the case of the Super Hornet/Growler. Curiously absent are the JSM and anti-radiation missiles themselves, as well as any air-to-air missiles with a longer reach than the Sidewinder.

JTAC directing a Hornet dropping a JDAM on a target that already was under artillery fire as part of last year’s KAAKKO19 exercise

The air-to-ground package is interesting, as it continues as well as expands upon the air-to-ground capabilities currently operated by the Finnish Air Force. The JDAM is a weapon currently found in the Finnish inventory in the form of Mk 84-based GBU-31V1, the Mk 83-based GBU-32, the Mk 82-based GBU-38 and the BLU-109-penetrator based GBU-31V3 (commonly known as a ‘bunker buster’). The Mk 84 and BLU-109 is a 1,000 kg class weapon, with the Mk 83 and Mk 82 being 500 kg and 250 kg class weapons respectively. It is more of the same weapons that are requested this time around, with exception that the F-35A has skipped the GBU-32 and loaded up with more GBU-38s. The Super Hornet is cleared for 102 GBU-38, 51 GBU-32, 120 HE GBU-31, and 30 bunker-busting GBU-31, with the corresponding numbers being 150 GBU-38, 120 HE GBU-31, and 30 bunker-busting GBU-31 for the F-35. Are there situations where you want a 500 kg weapon instead of a 250 kg or a 1,000 kg one? Sure, if nothing else the 500 kg provides a bit of margin with regards to accuracy compared to a 250 kg one, in particular if you go after semi-hard targets. Is it enough of a difference to say that the Super Hornet has the edge here? I doubt it, the acquisition as a whole is complex enough that the 50 JDAMs most likely won’t provide a decisive edge. However, they might indicate that Boeing feel they have that small extra wiggle room when it comes to how their package is built, something that might also be seen in the next weapon. Or not.

The JSOW is also found in (limited) numbers in the Finnish arsenal. Originally envisioned largely as a back-up plan in case the JASSM sans-ER wasn’t cleared for export, it apparently has found enough of a use as to be requested this time around as well. The notifications include 100 JSOW for the F-35A, and 160 for the Super Hornet. The JSOW is unpowered (at least for the time being), and as such is highly reliant on release speed and altitude when it comes to range. Once released the weapon pops out a pair of wings on which it glides towards the target. The basic navigation is GPS-assisted inertial navigation, but the C-1 also has an IIR seeker for terminal guidance which has given the weapon better accuracy, and the ability to strike moving ships. The two-stage penetrating BROACH warhead can also be set to a one-stage mode which is more effective against soft targets, such as ships or unarmoured vehicles. The question of maritime strike for HX has been left somewhat open by the authorities, with the aircraft required to be able to support the Navy in the maritime domain, but not necessarily through kinetic means (e.g. systems such as the Growler or the GlobalEye could certainly be of great value when it comes to supporting the Navy in the electronic warfare domain and in building the situational picture). The JSOW could potentially provide a middle-ground, providing the Finnish Air Force with an important capability the primary use of which is in the land domain, but which also could be used against enemy vessels. The JSM is on the other hand a dedicated anti-ship missile with a secondary ground attack role. Thanks to it being powered it has a significantly longer range. However, the JSM might be included as an option for another role as well, as we saw in the Dassault marketing material that it seems destined to be the SEAD/DEAD weapon of choice for the French offer. Boeing and Lockheed Martin reading different levels of importance into the maritime strike mission can obviously be one explanation, but another is that LM feel they need a powered weapon of a lighter class than the JASSM to go SAM-hunting with, and there felt that they can kill two birds with one stone (or rather, both SAMs and ships with the same missile). In any case, the JSM, if acquired, would provide a seriously improved ship-killing capability, and with the JSM being stealthy and equipped with an IIR seeker (as opposed to the radar seeker of the Navy’s PTO 2020/Gabriel V), it would create the need for an enemy to be prepared to defend against two very different kinds of threats. I am unsure how Raytheon and Kongsberg have split up the market for the JSM (again, my time at Kongsberg was spent far away from the Defence & Aerospace-division, so I have no insider knowledge of the project), but it is possible that somewhere outside the US-package there is a separate offer for 60 JSM from Kongsberg for the F-35 package, which would explain the smaller number of JSOW.

The somewhat awkwardly named GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb increment II (it is in fact renamed to StormBreaker, but that one hasn’t stuck. At least not yet) would represent a completely new capability for the Finnish Air Force, in that it is a light glide bomb that can be used to take out individual vehicles, including moving ones. The fact that it is unpowered causes the range to be dependent on release height and speed, but on the positive side the small size means a large number can be carried, and it has a seeker with no less than three modes of operating. In the words of Raytheon:

• Millimeter wave radar — provides all-weather capability and the ability to quickly detect and track moving or stationary targets.
• IIR sensor — uncooled IIR sensor provides three categories of classification capability and aim point refinement.
• Semi-active laser sensor — tracks a laser spot from the launch platform or third-party designators.

This would give the HX the ability to go after tanks or artillery positions, including moving ones, but also to provide close air support by striking individual positions designated by ground troops or other platforms. And with the small size of the weapon allowing for large numbers to be carried on each station, the notification include up to 500 live weapons for either offer. The weapon follows on the highly successful original GBU-39 SDB, and is currently cleared for the F-15E Strike Eagle and since this year on the Super Hornet.

A Finnish F/A-18D Hornet loaded with two (training) AGM-158A JASSM during exercise TOUHU17. Note the decision to use a twin-seat aircraft for the long-range strike mission, something that together with earlier self-critique about having too few twin-seaters for operational conversion led many (myself included) to speculate that a larger number of F/A-18F might be included in the offer, something the notification now proved wrong. Source: Finnish Air Force FB

The big stick, however, remains the JASSM. Finland currently operate a limited number of the original AGM-158A JASSM. This has to the best of my knowledge been completely replaced on the production line by the longer-legged (but otherwise sharing a high-degree of commonality) AGM-158B JASSM-ER, 200 of which are now being offered to Finland. This is in turn set to be overtaken by the even longer-ranged AGM-158D JASSM-XR in the next few years (the missing AGM-158C being the LRASM anti-ship version). I would not read too much into the fact that Finland is about to switch from JASSM to JASSM-ER if we end up buying a US fighter. More range is nice, but it is likely also the cheaper (or even the only) option compared to the rest of the family as the ER-production line is currently hot.

Notable is that the JASSM in Finnish service is a weapon described as having a deterrence role, a somewhat controversial notion, but one that apparently has some support in Russian doctrine. However, the low number of weapons has always been the main Achilles heel when it comes to the doctrine of heavy conventional precision-guided munitions being able to function as a deterrent. 200 JASSM-ER backed up by 100-160 JSOW are certainly numbers that are starting to be felt. Especially if the current JASSM stocks are refurbished.

This brings us on to another point. There’s some rumours going on in Finnish defence forums that the ability to employ weapons from current Finnish stocks won’t be factored into the eventual deciding wargame. While I don’t have any insight into the finer details of the wargame, I have not been able to find any support for that idea in the official communication, nor is it in line with what has been communicated earlier. The Finnish Defence Forces is (in)famous for not throwing things away that can be put to use, and Puranen has confirmed to Lännen Media that the possibility of keeping the current JASSM for use on the eventual HX-winner is being studied. While there is no requirement for the winner to be able to employ the Hornet-arsenal, considering that the stated goal of the wargame is to evaluate how well the total package offered would perform as part of the FDF and the Finnish defence concept, removing a potential benefit of one package (such as the ability to keep using the current stocks of AGM-158A JASSM or AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM after overhauling these) in the name of “fairness” does run contrary to both that aim and the nature of war, which famously isn’t fair.

To use a hypothetical example to make things really clear: the Finnish Air Force says they need 200 precision-guided free-fall bombs of a 250 kg class. Eurofighter brings 200 Paveway IV in their offer, but Boeing and Lockheed Martin knows that the Finnish Air Force already has 50 GBU-38 in their current stocks, so they offer 150 new GBU-38 and an engineer that comes over with a toolbox and some spares to ensure that the old stock is good to go for another decade or two. As the whole competition is based on the design to cost method, this allows for the inclusion of more stuff elsewhere in the package. What package would then be evaluated in the wargame? A US fighter with only three quarters of the number of light bombs compared to the competition? A hypothetical package that include 200 new-built bombs but skips on the extra? So far everything we’ve seen and heard from the Finnish LOGCOM indicate that they aren’t interested in playing games, but that they want to evaluate what is on offer. If that include continued life for some current equipment, then I am quite sure that that is what is evaluated.

In any case, there will be medium-ranged air-to-air missiles operational on any aircraft that ends up winning HX, and the options on the table for the American ones include either a separate notification and order before IOC (order in 2025 and delivery 2026/2027 would probably be the approximate timeline) or the continued use of the current AMRAAM stocks. The shelf-life left for these naturally vary highly depending on whether the weapons have been stored or flown, but with the DSCA notification for 300 missiles coming in 2008 and deliveries probably stretching out over at least a few years after that, the newest missiles are likely fit to serve into the early 2030’s if maintained and overhauled. The C-7 version of the AMRAAM is also still rather close to the state of the art when it comes to medium-ranged missiles, and is regularly carried by not only US fighters, but by the Eurofighter and Gripen as well to complement the long-range Meteor. The Meteor is unlikely to enter service on a US fighter, but that doesn’t mean that the US fighters are set to remain looking on while the Europeans (and crucially, the Chinese) have all the fun at longer ranges. When asked about the situation at HX Challenge, Boeing representatives noted that “There’s an opportunity for an advanced air-to-air missile within our offer to address that need”. Exactly what it is wasn’t said, and apparently it won’t be part of the original package. However, both the newest AIM-120D AMRAAM and the upcoming AIM-260 JATM, and possibly other parts of the more opaque LREW-program, are all possible candidates to enter the field at a later date.

One of the visitng F-35As that took part in HX Challenge airborne together with a Finnish F/A-18C Hornet. Source: Finnish Air Force FB

For the anti-radiation missiles, my personal guess is that they would be acquired as a separate package in the early 2030’s if Boeing wins. The capability is completely new to the Finnish Air Force, and with the Growler-unit busy learning the tricks of the trade I could imagine a timeline where the first few years are spent dealing with the non-kinetic methods, with the DEAD-part of SEAD/DEAD being introduced after the HX has reached FOC by 2030.

Conclusions

The notifications were largely on par with what was expected, though I will say that if the requested numbers found in the weapons packages are close to what eventually will be acquired their sheer number came as a surprise to me (and certainly explains the comment Puranen made about the difference in cost between the early calculations and the eventual budget). Even “comprehensive packages” comes in different scales, let’s just put it at that.

The large number of SDB IIs and JSOWs requested were also a bit of a surprise, and shows the expanding mission set of the Finnish Air Force is set to continue. Personally I am still a bit sad, though not necessarily surprised, about the fact that even under the current budget it was possible to squeeze in a small number of the Quickstrike naval mine/JDAM ER combination, but these are obviously possible to acquire later as well.

Some have noticed the large number of aircraft and notification price tags going over (10.6 billion EUR for the F-35 and 12.4 billion EUR for the SH/Growler), and question whether the HX budget will grow eventually (as was the case with the Squadron 2020 one). As said, the value given on DSCA notifications are usually not much to go by at the best of times, but here is a number of other issues at play as well.

Let’s begin by saying that I personally don’t believe there will be significant increases, though even an index-increase if the program is delayed with a year will be a lot of money when we’re talking about a 10 billion package. However, the crucial issue is that there is little room for increase when it comes to the eventual operating budgets, and so far there seems to be little indication that the Air Force will be allowed to increase it’s share of the annual budget, either through an increase in the defence budget or by shrinking the budgets of the Navy and/or Army.

The other issue is that this isn’t a question of the budget being a few hundred millions over 10 billion, but rather it should be remembered that a significant part of the 10 billion allocated will be spent outside the items found in the DSCA notifications. To begin with, around 700 MEur will be spent of other stuff (infrastructure, the work of the procurement agency, early training, etc.). In addition, the operations from first aircraft delivery until IOC/FOC will in part be covered by the 10 billion as the Hornets continue to fund their operations out of the Air Force’s annual operating budget. There are also infrastructure changes and possibly other significant investments that will be made outside of the contract that is covered by the notification, including non-listed equipment and equipment from third countries. As such, if one were to take the number quoted in the notification at face value, and I repeat – one shouldn’t, the question wouldn’t be if the Air Force can sneak in a budget increase of a few hundred millions, but whether they can pull off an increase of the programme value that is spelled out in a ten-digit figure. I don’t believe they can, and don’t believe they are going to try. Following the release of the notifications, Puranen also noted that they feel confident they are able to deliver the required capabilities within the current budget.

It should, however, be acknowledged that there are some worrying signs that the budget really is tight, just having two spare engines for the F-35 and no HARM/AARGM for the Super Hornet/Growler comes to mind. Even if those two items can be sorted out, the question lingers if they are only the tip of the iceberg, and what more is hidden under the surface when it comes to missing or low quantities of crucial items?

The Black Horse(s)

I have on a number of occasions stated that the outcome of the HX programme is far from certain, despite the F-35 probably being the fighter to beat. While waiting for the sprint to the finish line to start of in earnest, there are two things that probably are worth keeping in mind.

To begin with, the unlikely doesn’t equal the impossible. Betsson earlier this year placed odds on the outcome, and while I don’t condone gambling generally and in particular not with questions of national security, the odds given weren’t too controversial. At the point of Finnish tabloid Iltalehti reporting on the live odds, they were:

  • F-35 2.15 (i.e. 35 % of being chosen)
  • F/A-18E/F Super Hornet 3.00 (25 %)
  • JAS 39E/F Gripen 3.75 (20 %)
  • Eurofighter Typhoon 6.25 (12 %)
  • Rafale 9.35 (8 %)

It is easy to read 8 % as “never”, but it deserves to be remembered that this is not the case. As a comparison, if you sit down with your Monopoly board and bring out the two dice, the odds of you rolling the dreaded ‘snake eyes’ or 1-1 is just 2,78 %. Does that mean that things are looking bright for the Rafale? Not really. The reason you can remember rolling snake eyes in board games is that you have a large numbers of die rolls per game, while the HX is a single event. Granted, you still do roll snake eyes on your first roll sometimes, but it is rare. And since someone is bound to comment on it, yes, Leicester City F.C. won the Premier League.

Hornet Elephant March FinAF 2020
The Finnish Air Force earlier this summer launched over half of the 62 aircraft strong Hornet-fleet simultaneously in what was a show of strength when it comes to readiness and the ability to temporarily surge, but also a stark reminder that the country hasn’t gotten smaller since the 90’s (a trend we’d very much like to

…which brings us to our second point, which is a more serious concern for the odds favourites. Last time around the details surrounding the choice of the F/A-18C/D Hornet were largely confidential for a long time, but back in 2017 twenty-five years after the event Olli Ainola of Iltalehti got the memo circulated amongst the ministers back then released (it had been classified as ‘Salainen’ or ‘Secret’, i.e. the second-highest classification on the four-tier system). It provide a good lesson to keep in mind when discussing the expected outcome for the current programme.

Of the five contenders left (the more fanciful offer to sell Finland the MiG-31 had already been discarded at this point), two were outright disqualified as not meeting the Air Force’s requirement. These included the MiG-29 (not meeting requirements related to “avionics nor lifespan, nor the maintenance setup”) and more surprisingly the popular favourite, the F-16C/D (failing both on the technical aspect as well as on industrial cooperation). The JAS 39 Gripen and its subsystems were felt to be not mature enough, leading to unacceptable risks. This left just two of the five contenders, the Mirage 2000-5 and the F/A-18C/D Hornet, to battle it out in the end.

In short, in the early 90’s the Finnish Air Force and MoD were not afraid to disregard offers they felt weren’t up to standard, and that might have a serious effect on the outcome this time around. And note, at least based on open sources, it is the favourites that seem to have the biggest reason to worry.

F-35 has a long and troubled development history. Some questions linger on, such as the ALIS/ODIN logistics system, but on the whole the F-35A is starting to look like a highly competent multirole fighter at a nice level of maturity (especially considering that we are still ten years away from HX FOC). However, the big questions are to be found in other aspects of the tender. One major issue is the question of how and to what extent the though industrial cooperation requirements can be met considering the unique international nature of the F-35 program. Lockheed Martin’s press briefing at HX Challenge unfortunately did little to bring clarity to the question, instead causing further confusion about what might and might not be on the table.

Another serious question that refuses to die is the one regarding costs, and in particular operating costs. While comparing acquisition costs is largely a fool’s errand, the fact that none if any of the DSCA notices or reported signed contract values are anywhere close to fitting inside the Finnish budget is cause for concern. Perhaps even more damning is the Danish life-cycle cost estimates. A report out of the Centre for Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen written by Gary Schaub Jr and Hans Peter H. Michaelsen published in late 2018 (h/t Charles Forrester who drew my attention to it on Twitter) discusses the possibility of increasing the number of F-35s in Danish service, and quotes the annual operating cost of the current fleet as 70 million DKK per aircraft (or approximately 9.4 million EUR). The numbers are taken from the original authorisation to buy the F-35 (referred to as “Aktstykke 31” in the report), and as such is likely the best available open source number found for the RDAF. The Danish concept of operations is naturally somewhat different from the way Finland would operate the aircrafts, but on average I believe it is an acceptable point of reference (smaller number of aircraft and single base vs. economics of scale and dispersed operations). Toying around with numbers, if we accept the Danish annual operating cost to be a good fit for Finnish annual operating cost per aircraft (i.e. 9.43 MEur), that would mean that Finland was able to afford between 26.5 and 35.7 aircraft, depending on how you calculate (26.5 if the annual total operating cost is 250 MEur, and the MLU isn’t included in that, and 35.7 if the annual operating cost is 270 MEur + the MLU reservations spread out over 30 years).

lockheed-martin_f-35a_lightning_ii_e280985209e28099_284930561163829
Like their Danish allies, Norway is converting over to a single base for its fast jets with the introduction of the F-35A, the air defence of the northern parts of the country being handled by a QRA detachment rotating in to Evenes Air Station (outside Narvik) from the main base at Ørland. Here an aircraft of the 332 Squadron visits Bodø for an airshow in 2019, the city that used to host the two northern F-16 squadrons. Source: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons

In practice, this would mean that one of the Finnish Air Force’s two fighter squadrons would be slashed, and we’d likely see a Norwegian model in which one of the current two bases would host a QRA detachment of four to six aircraft instead. The upper boundary of that calculation also aligns with the lower limit of what long-term aviation journalist Tony Osborne of Aviation Week stated on Twitter last week, when he estimated that the eventual offer to Finland would be for “36-40 aircraft”. If correct, it would be an extremely bitter pill for the Finnish Air Force to swallow, and one that very well might prove politically unacceptable (in particular to the agrarian Centre Party that currently holds the MoD seat).

As it happens, on the Finnish Defence Forces Flag Day June 4 the Air Force launched eight four-ships of Hornets, a total of 32 aircraft to celebrate the occasion. This also provide a nice reminder of what it actually takes to cover an area as large as the Finnish airspace. And if your fleet is 40 aircraft, you don’t get to surge to launching 32 at a time…

But the F-35 is far from the only favourite that is facing some serious risks. Both the Super Hornet and the JAS 39E Gripen rests on a single major operator. One of the major talking points that the FDF and MoD has raised when asked about what issues other than straight out performance can become deciding factors is the risk of becoming the sole user:

By no means do we want to be the last and sole user.

Lauri Puranen, in Suomenmaa 2019

The US Navy has been reluctant to lock down exactly how the future of their carrier air wing will look past 2030, to the point that the US congress last month actually pounded the table and demanded a plan. The issue here is obviously that any plan won’t be out before HX is decided, and if the plan then is to scrap all Super Hornets by 2035 and go all in for the NGAD and F-35C, Finland will be left standing in the corner looking stupid. The fact that the USN is still planning on rolling more or less the whole F/A-18E/F fleet through the Block 3 upgrade program which will give the airframes a significantly longer lifespan together with the unique role of the EA-18G Growler and the likely-looking German buy does lend some credibility to Boeing’s claims of them anticipating a service life for the Super Hornet in US service significantly past 2040, but it certainly is far from set in stone.

For Sweden the situation is roughly similar, with the recent decades not instilling much in the way of trust with regards to political long-term planning for the Swedish Defence Forces. Currently Sweden has 60 Gripens on order (all of the single-seat 39E-version), which ironically enough would make Finland the world’s largest operator of the 39E/F if 64 aircraft were to be acquired. At the same time, while the aircraft is moving through the development program and meeting milestones at an impressive pace, the words that doomed the original 39A/B offer to Finland in 1992 does echo through history.

JAS 39 Gripen and in particular some of its systems are currently still at the prototype-stage, and the schedule of the project with its uncertainty factors include significant risks.

The 39E is maturing nicely, but it certainly is not yet on par with the competition. Is that an issue? Probably not, but the risk of Sweden pulling the plug on the 39E in 2040 and moving on to something else (Tempest?) is there. Especially as the next stage of long-term planning for the Swedish Air Force is only about to kick off next year.

How is it then with the two dark horses? Surprisingly well, to be honest. The Eurofighter Typhoon has a solid user base, including four major European countries having invested heavily in the system, which provide a depth that significantly improves the chances of it staying in service up to 2060 even if the FCAS and Tempest are already looming at the horizon. The Rafale has a more limited user base, despite scoring three notable export orders recently. Still, France can generally be considered a rather stable user country, and has traditionally held onto its platforms for a long time. Recent examples include the Super Étendard (retired in 2016), the Mirage F1 (retired from the reconnaissance role in 2014), and the Mirage 2000 (still happily serving on in both the ground-attack 2000D and fighter 2000-5 versions). Karl Rieder joked on Twitter when discussing the future of the Super Hornet that buying French is safer, since there’s no budget to change plans. It’s a joke for sure, but there’s also a grain of truth buried within that statement.

© Dassault Aviation - K. Tokunaga
Will 2021 be the year of the biggest Rafale export order to date? Likely not, but don’t say I didn’t warn you! Source: © Dassault Aviation – K. Tokunaga

So, will 2021 see a showdown between the Rafale and Eurofighter for the HX-prize, the rest having failed the gate checks? Probably not, though I would not be surprised if there is at least someone in the anticipated top-three being kicked out (which based on earlier information, we might know the details of in 2046). At the same time, I am certainly open for the possibility of us getting a surprise winner, and I do not believe anyone who claims they knows the outcome.

When the global becomes local

Russia paid for attacks agains US forces in Afghanistan” Finnish public broadcaster YLE headlined a week ago when the New York Times first broke the news. “Trump under pressure on Russian bounty for US soldiers” was the headline Swedish public broadcaster SVT used only yesterday. Both are representative for the general vibe of the reporting on the affair. It is seen as another step in the increased US-Russian competition, and one that will affect Trump’s ability to be re-elected this autumn. It is a frankly bizarre take on what should be one of the more significant pieces of local foreign policy news.

_DSC6214

YLE does it a tad better than their Swedish counterparts, and in the text notes that the reward covers “US and allied forces”, while SVT seems to have overlooked that part completely. What neither recognises is that two of these “allies” (or “coalition partners”, as is the more commonly used term in English) are Finland and Sweden. Sweden has approximately 25 soldiers near Mazar-e-Sharif and in Kabul, while Finland has no more than 60 soldiers in the same two locations. These are soldiers that, if they had been killed, Russian military intelligence would have awarded their killers for.

I find it hard to understand how this angle has been absent from Finnish and Swedish reporting so far.

If the reports are correct, and so far most indications seem to be that they are, one would imagine that this would require a response from the Finnish authorities at a suitably high level, i.e. either the Prime Minister’s office, the MoD, or the highest levels of the Finnish Defence Forces. However, when I raised the question on Twitter earlier this week, two different journalists stated that all questions had so far gone unanswered. I am not necessarily surprised, as there are three different issues making any Finnish reaction somewhat “problematic”:

  • The Finnish political and public discussions have never quite gotten to grips with the changed nature of the peacekeeping operations conducted in Afghanistan, first in the form of ISAF and now under Operation Resolute Support. In short, any comment about the reward being applied to Finnish soldiers as well as US ones leads to the conclusion that Finland is participating in a conflict on the same side as the US, and that is not a discussion that many Finnish politicians are keen on having,
  • Finnish national security rests heavily on having a good bilateral Finnish-US relationship, and starting to make a fuss about this would work counter to that purpose. Especially if the opposition (or Finnish media) would start asking why the US (apparently) wasn’t sharing the information with it’s coalition partners,
  • Most importantly, Finland is not keen on rocking the boat vis-a-vis Russia. It’s an unfair world, and bringing up the fact that Russia was paying people to kill our soldiers would not sit well with the Kremlin.

All these things considered, I still find it hard to believe that no official statement whatsoever has been made. The men and women of the Finnish (and Swedish) Resolute Support contingents serve in uniform abroad because we the people through our democratically elected governments have decided that it furthers our national interests that they spend their days in a significantly more dangerous environment than their home garrisons or everyday jobs. At the very least, some kind of expression of support and concern for their well-being would seem appropriate when it appears that the threat picture they face have been impacted negatively by a foreign power. This could easily be done in such a way that the question regarding whether Finnish intelligence believe the reports or not and the question about when Finland first received knowledge of the allegations are left unanswered. Even a short “We naturally have the safety of our personnel as one of our highest concerns, and continually monitor and evaluate the situation based on both own intelligence gathered and that received from partners. If the unverified reports are correct this is a serious issue,” would be a significant step up from the current “No comment”-line.

Crucially, the FDF is already facing some difficulty in finding people ready to volunteer for peace keeping operations, and only last month YLE published news about steps being taken by the government to try and mitigate these issues. I have a hard time seeing the lack of visible support to our peacekeepers currently serving aiding with that goal.

The Return of the Sako

Big news in the Finnish small arms industry this week, as Sako and the Finnish Defence Forces announced that they have signed a letter of intent “regarding research and development of a family of rifles and preparation of the procurement of a rifle system. The rifle system is intended to consist of two different system configurations including a sniper rifle for sniper use and a semi- automatic rifle for the squad’s designated marksman.” Ruotuväki then got some further details, while Seura got a comment from Sako.

The first obvious thing to note is that Sako is back to producing (semi-)automatic military rifles for the first time in more than twenty years, Sako having exited that market segment following the delivery of the last batch of the 7.62 Rk 95 TP assault rifles to the FDF in the later half of the 90’s. Since, Sako has built up quite a reputation in the defence field with the TRG-family of high-end bolt-action sniper rifles. These have proved especially popular in the form of the .338 LM chambered TRG 42 found in Finnish service as the 8.6 TKIV 2000. However, the weapon is far from the only scoped firearm in Finnish service.

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A marine sniper from Nyland Brigade taking part in the currently ongoing sea warfare exercise Lotta 20. The weapon is the 8.6 TKIV 2000, a Sako TRG 42 in .338 LM. Source: Finnish Navy Twitter

Two weapons that relatively seldom are seen but still feature in the FDF firearms guide are the SVD (7.62 TKIV DRAGUNOV) and the 7.62 TKIV 85, chambered in the closely related calibres of 7.62×54 R and 7.62×53 R respectively (the later being a Finnish derivative of the former). The Dragunov is in many ways closer to a designated marksman rifle, even if in Finnish service the designation ‘TKIV’ for sniper rifle is used. Part of the reason behind this designation is likely that until recently regular Finnish squads did not sport designated marksmen. The 7.62 TKIV 85 is a rather basic no-frills bolt-action sniper rifle, sporting an adjustable wooden stock and relatively nice optics (either the Zeiss Diavari 1.5-6 x 42 or the Schmidt & Bender 4 x 36). It’s main (sole) claim to fame is that the receivers are refurbished Mosin-Nagant ones, potentially making some of the metal rank amongst the oldest in regular service anywhere on the globe. It is these two that will be replaced by the new K 22, the Dragunov being completely phased out while the TKIV 85 is “mostly” replaced. And yes, as the designation indicates, the weapons should be ready for delivery by 2022.

The current job description of the Finnish designated marksman, locally known as tukiampuja (supporting rifleman), is:

The designated marksman is a rifleman whose assault rifle is equipped with magnifying optics. He/she is able to perform accurate fire at longer ranges than other riflemen (300-500 m), as well as being able to better discover and identify targets compared to others. The designated marksman can function as a pathfinder, assistant machine gunner, or close-in anti-tank gunner.

Jääkärijoukkuen ja ryhmän käsikirja

Internationally, the idea that at least some members of the squad need longer range fire power has quickly grown in popularity during the last two decades, with the weapons usually being either older scoped battle rifles chambered in 7.62×51 (.308 WIN) or assault rifles more or less moded to fit the purpose (in some cases this is just a case of putting a scope on an accurate rifle, in other cases free-floating handguards, bipods, and heavier barrels can be included). As the versatility of the designated marksman on the modern battlefield has become ever more obvious, the weapons have also evolved and become more tailored to the mission. While few are completely clean-sheet designs, weapons such as the M110 differ quite significantly from the run-of-the-mill ARs seeing more widespread use.

Crucially, the designated marksman is not a sniper, and that’s not only because the ranges are shorter. The designated marksman might lack the particular training associated with the things a sniper does besides shooting, but on the other hand the designated marksman is supposed to be able to travel and fight as a part of the squad. This means also being able to e.g. fight at close quarters in urban operations, making the semi-auto action more or less a must.

Going back to the description of the letter of intent, the reference to a “family” is interesting, as that easily can give the picture of two different weapons sharing some components. In fact, the two versions will be identical when it comes to the rifles themselves, but will differ in that the sniper version will feature a dedicated long-range scope as well as more and better sniper-specific kit. The rifle will come in one calibre (at least for the time being), the venerable 7.62×51.

Tukiampuja Maavoimat FB

A Finnish rifleman with an upgraded 7.62 RK 95 TP with magnifying optics, the current DMR in Finnish service. The K 22 will be a significant upgrade both when it comes to accuracy, firepower, and ergonomics. Source: Maavoimat FB

This has raised some eyebrows. Sniper rifles are frequently bolt-action due to their inherent better accuracy. This is however not a definite, as weapons such as the aforementioned M110 or the H&K PSG1 shows. The calibre is perhaps more of a surprise, as the combination Sako and .338 LM has proved very successful, and certainly gives the sniper added reach. At the same time, the .338 LM is overly heavy/powerful/expensive for a DMR that is supposed to shine at ranges between 300 and 500 meters. However, not too long ago the 7.62×51 was the most popular western sniper calibre, and by quite a bit. Especially when considering that the weapon it replaces is the 7.62 TKIV 85, buying a sniper rifle chambered in a medium rifle calibre isn’t as outrageous as it may sound.

From the earlier source, the Finnish sniper “can in favourable conditions take out individual targets from more than a kilometer away”, but it also deserves to be remembered that while the snipers usually are cherished for their very long range one shot-one kill engagements, the role include a number of other missions as well. Nevertheless, the quoted range is a serious requirement for anyone using the current 7.62 TKIV 85 or the future K 22, but keen readers will remember that in a podcast not too long ago major Tapio Saarelainen of the Finnish Army Academy noted that the 7.62 TKIV 85 has an effective max range of 500 to 600 meters, while shots in general are at ranges up to 350 meters due to the Finnish geography. That is partly a training issue, as Saarelainen notes that there simply isn’t money to fund the number of rounds he feels is needed to properly train a sniper. As such, while the K 22 kit and capabilities will be rather different from those of snipers equipped with the 8.6 TKIV 2000, it certainly seems like K 22 will have a slot to fill on the Finnish battlefield. Especially as the ergonomics are likely to be far superior to those found on the 7.62 TKIV 85, further aiding in hitting targets at longer ranges. In Sweden, where the more modern L96A1 AW is in service as the Psg 90, the snipers train out to 1,000 meters with the 7.62×51.

Sweden is interesting, as the press release about the letter of intent notes that the option is available for other countries to become involved. As noted last year, Sweden is in the process of acquiring a number of new weapons, including both a sniper rifle and a DMR. As Sweden currently lacks a military small arms manufacturer, cooperation with Finland could very well be in the cards. While security of supply is one of the driving factors for the K 22 from a Finnish point of view, helping the Finnish production line stay open might certainly benefit Sweden as well in the long run.

One of the more interesting tidbits about the rifle is found in the article by Seura. Sako is owned by Beretta, and the company has relatively recently (2015) launched a DMR-variant of its ARX-series of assault rifles, designated the ARX-200. This is in 7.62×51, and you would be excused to think that a localised version of the ARX-200 might be the upcoming K 22. However, Sako denies this, and states that the rifle will be a clean-sheet design. There is one small caveat, though:

Certainly the development takes into consideration popular solutions

While this doesn’t necessarily mean much, rumours have been going around about a Sako-made AR-style rifle for some time already. I will point out that I have no idea about the source of these rumours, but an AR-patterned rifle certainly is a “popular solution”. What Seura also noted is the fact that following the rework of the old 7.62 RK 62 to the 62M-standard(s), the lifespan of the current Finnish AK-pattern rifles is expected to stretch out to approximately 2035. As the wholesale replacement of something along the lines of 200,000+ weapons will be a massive operation that takes time, a decision about the replacement will likely have to be made within the next five years. Here, a successful semi-auto K 22 might well work as a basis for a new Sako assault rifle. At the same time, waiting for the outcome of the US NGSW program would likely be a smart move, considering the impact it will have on the field. And as it just happens, 2022 is not only the year that the K 22 will start rolling off the production line, but also when the first US Army units will start taking delivery of the NGSW weapons. Funny how that works out sometimes.

Lessons from History for the Finnish Battlefield

A tweet recently caught my attention.

The basic premise is sound and straightforward, and it is hard to argue with. It also quickly spawned a discussion about which other operations should be included, with some cases more well-known than others.

However, while I personally find the Falklands War very interesting, and while it certainly provide several universal lessons to any student of modern wars, not even an amphibious enthusiast such as myself can deny that from a Finnish point of view (or Swedish for that matter) it most likely isn’t the most relevant conflict to study. Which begs the question, which conflicts are the ones most relevant for an understanding how a war involving Finland would play out?

Having given the question some thought, I have come up with the following list of conflicts I would recommend for study. This is far from an attempt at anything resembling the objective truth on this issue, but rather at providing some food for thought. So, without further ado, here they are:

The Yom Kippur War (1973)

The Six-Day War of 1967 is often portrayed as the pinnacle of Israeli warfighting, and on the surface it’s hard to disagree – beating numerous enemies on several fronts in under a week is impressive, and the more so when looking at the prepared positions and often numerical and/or qualitative superiority of the defenders.

However, the Yom Kippur War on the other hand shows the Israeli way of war when things does not go according to plan. The war kicked off with a two-front assault on the Israelis who were caught off-guard with their reserves unmobilised, leading to a race for the Israelis to bring the brunt of their largely reservist-based Army to the frontlines before the Egyptian and Syrians had advanced too far.

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The focus on tanks in the IDF following the spectacular successes of the 1967 Six-Day War had left the Israelis with a dangerous lack of infantry and supporting arms once the modern anti-tank guided missiles and rocket launchers made their debut on the battlefield. Source: Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson’s Unit via Wikimedia Commons

Surprise is one thing. Being caught completely off-guard when it comes to enemy tactics and doctrines is another issue, and one that would cost the Israelis dearly over the coming days. In one of my all-time favourite quotes, Abraham Rabinovich in his excellent overview of the war (simply named “The Yom Kippur War”) wryly notes that:

The Arabs were now doing a lot of things the Israelis had not expected.

The best example is likely that the IDF hadn’t bothered to adress the fact that the Arab armies had superior night-fighting equipment, because based on earlier conflicts it was assumed that they wouldn’t be interested in night-time operations. The same tendency to overlook glaring issues was the reliance on air superiority to offset the lack of artillery, and severely underestimating the influence of modern anti-tank weapons on the battlefield (especially considering how tank-heavy the Israeli Army was).

In the end, however, the IDF proved why it is generally regarded as one of the premier fighting forces in the world. The higher quality of the Israeli soldiers on the individual and small-unit levels started to be felt on the battlefield, and the adaptability and daring ‘can do’-attitude that characterised the IDF throughout the organisation eventually turned the tide. The decision to not try and simply push the two Egyptian armies back over the Suez Canal, but instead strike in the seam between them, cross the canal over to the African side, and completely encircle the Egyptian Third Army (while at the same time having armoured units destroy the SAM-batteries that had been such an issue for the Israeli Air Force) remains among the most impressive post-war operations conducted by any fighting force. It was also marked by the kind of daring-bordering-on-foolhardy planning and stretching-your-luck-almost-(but only almost)-to-the-breaking-point that really spectacular military successes tend to exhibit.

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The memorial overlooking the ‘Valley of Tears’, the battlefield in northern Golan where the Israeli armoured battalion ‘Oz 77’ fought under the command of Lt.Col. Avigdor Kahalani (later brigadier general). This was part of the area identified by Lt.Col. Uri Simhoni as the most crucial part of the front, and where the Syrian breakthrough attempt was denied with the slimmest possible margin. Source: Own picture

 

One of the key features of the IDF in the Yom Kippur War was the way things just got done. When the war broke out, the command post of Northern Command responsible for the Syrian Front was lacking its commander, his deputy, chief of staff, and the division commanders. Technically that meant that one of the two brigade commanders, Col. Ben-Shoham of the 188th Armoured, was in charge. However, as he was at the front, busy commanding his brigade, the Northern Command operations officer, Lt.Col. Uri Simhoni, figured that he was the one with the best situational picture and the resources to lead the overall battle. As a result, he took charge of what was a command position reserved for a major general, and made the crucial decisions in the early hours of the war that came to shape the fighting on the Syrian front until the ceasefire. This included the decision to commit all reserves to the front from the outset to stop the breakthrough attempts, and identifying the northern flank as the more vulnerable area. To this day it is argued if the decisions were correct, but the notable thing here is that the decisions were made in a position were many other armies would have been stuck waiting without leadership.

The lessons of the conflict include the importance of the speed of decision-making, buying time to get the reserves mobilised, getting the lessons learned at the front transferred to fresh units, and the importance of not underestimating the enemy. The experiences of the war is still reflected in Israeli doctrine to this day, and the reasons behind many of the quirks of the IDF and its equipment is found in the conflict (the most obvious example being the design of the Merkava main battle tank and how it differs from other contemporary designs).

As is often the case, while you can learn from success, perhaps even more can be learned from failure. For the hypothetical “what is the one conflict to study”, I would recommend the Yom Kippur War due to its focus on facing a numerically superior (and partly better equipped) enemy, buying time to mobilise, adapting to the circumstances, the focus on mission command in the IDF, and the text-book examples of how friction affect all levels of fighting a war. However, there are a number of other conflicts that also can provide valuable lessons.

Operation Storm (1995)

When was the last time a large-scale ‘Blitzkrieg‘-style manoeuvre warfare operation was conducted in Europe? Depending on your definition, the answer may vary, but not a few historians have given it as the early days of August 1995. It was then that the young independent Croatian Army launched its last major offensive of the Croatian War of Independence, and completely overran SAO Krajina, the largest of the three regions that made up the self-proclaimed Republic of Serb Krajina.

Following the outbreak of the Croatian War of Independence the Serb regions had declared their own state (largely similar to the situation in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina). As said, the largest of its three regions was the SAO Krajina, controlling large parts of central Croatia, including roughly a third of the border towards Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as isolating Dalmatia from the rest of Croatian territory.

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The locally produced M-84, a Jugoslav version of the T-72, represented the high-end of the armour involved in the conflict. Here a M-84 of the Serb-dominated Jugoslav National Army has hit a mine laid by the Croat defenders during the battle of Vukovar. Source: Peter Denton via Wikimedia Commons

The fiercest fighting of the Croatian War of Independence had taken place within a year of the conflict, with cities such as Vukovar and Dubrovnik seeing heavy fighting before the frontline largely stabilised itself. In 1994 however, the winds began to turn as the Croatian Army was starting to be able to harvest the benefits of years of trying to form the former national guard into an effective fighting force. At the same time the Washington Agreement between the Bosnian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia made cooperation with anti-Serb forces across the Bosnian border possible for the Croatian government. The US was also shifting into a position of more openly providing support to the young Croat state, and the scene was slowly being set for a final showdown between the Croats and the Serb Krajina.

During early 1995 it was starting to become clear that the Serbian government in Belgrade was losing interest in supporting the Krajina, and the Croatian Army started moving to recapture lost territory. In May, the most isolated of the three SAO’s, that of Western Slavonia, was quickly overrun in Operation Flash. This was followed by the Croatian Army making smaller offensives to capture strategic staging positions for the all-out offensive against SAO Krajina in the summer, including a push in the south-east on the Bosnian side of the border (the creatively named Operation Summer ’95).

In early August it was then time for the big dance. Bosnian forces in the Bihać pocket tied up the few available Serbian reserves, while Croatian forces broke through weak sectors of the frontline, before continuing at speed deep into the rear of the Serbian region. The stronger Serb positions along the front were simply ignored, and were mopped up later after the strategic goals had been met. The offensive was supported by air strikes and raids behind the lines, with targets including Serbian command and control infrastructure.

The fighting was largely over in just four days, and the effects on the politics in the region were profound. The leadership of the last remaining SAO, SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia, in the northeastern parts of Croatia realised that the possibility of a Serbian authority in Croatia was largely dead, and would eventually sign the Erdut Agreement transferring the region back into Croatian hands in 1998. The capture of the North-Western corner of the Croatian-Bosnian border also meant that the long siege of Bihać ended, which in turn had a significant effect on the outcome of the Bosnian War. The Serbian population fleeing the Croatian offensive (something that was investigated by the ICJ) also had a significant effect on the internal power balance of independent Croatia.

The Russo-Georgian War (2008)

Studying Russia, really the only potential aggressor in any conflict directly involving Finland, the performance of Russian and Russia-associated units in Ukraine and Syria naturally gets much of the attention. However, there is a strong case to be made that with the exception of equipment performance (a field were several important changes have taken place in the last twelve years) the war in August of 2008 will in fact provide a better baseline from where to begin studies of the modern Russian art of war.

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Close cooperation between infantry and vehicles by Battalion Vostok in South Ossetia during the war. Source: Yana Amelina via Wikimedia Commons

Crucially, the semi-covert nature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine means that a number of high-end features are curtailed, such as the Russian air force and large-scale mechanised units. At the same time, while the Russian invasion of Georgia largely took place before the implementation of the significant reforms of the Russian armed forces, the reforms were heavily influenced by the experiences. Needless to say, when looking at where the Russian armed forces are today and where they strive to be tomorrow, it is of value to look at where they got those ideas in the first place (not unlike the Israeli experience of the Yom Kippur War).

The relative lack of English-language source material and being overtaken by the events in Ukraine and the Middle East has largely left the 2008 war as something of a niche field of study compared to the more recent conflicts. Still, in many ways it is a better representation of the kind of confrontation that is the worst-case scenario for scenario planners around the Baltic Sea.

The Continuation War (1941-1944)

Finland remains Finland, and while much has changed, the experiences during the Second World War still offer many valuable lessons. Of the different parts of the war, the Continuation War is probably the one with most relevance to a modern study, both the Winter War and the Lapland War being serious outliers in many ways.

While much has changed the effects of terrain and climate, as well as the general geography as part of the wider region still remain largely relevant. At the same time, care should be taken not to draw too far reaching conclusions, as the general danger of planning for the last war remains well-known.

Finnish contribution to ISAF (2002-2014)

While Finland remains Finland, and Finnish soldiers remain Finnish soldiers, there’s no denying that Finnish society has seen significant changes in the last eight decades. As such, the combat experiences from Afghanistan can provide valuable input when it comes to identifying the particularities of Finnish soldiers in combat today.

Alexander Karlsson CC Forsvarsmakten FS17 UAV Falken
A Finnish officer looking at the information received from a Swedish ‘Falken’ (Skylark I) light UAS during operations in Afghanistan. The close cooperation between Finnish and Swedish units during a significant part of the Finnish ISAF contribution is likely to have played a part in providing the groundwork for the rapid growth in bilateral cooperation between the countries post-Crimea. Source: Svenska Försvarsmakten/Alexander Karlsson

While Finnish soldiers have taken part in complex peacekeeping operations for the better part of the post-war period, there’s no denying that the operations in Afghanistan are unique both in that they have taken place recently with the very equipment used by the Finnish Defence Forces today, and the fact that the operation eventually evolved into a war. A far cry from the kind of mechanised peer-level conflict that could affect Finland or the general Baltic Sea region, but a war nevertheless.

Significant lessons have been drawn from the conflict already, which have had effects both when it comes to equipment but also to less visible aspects of the FDF. Still, the Finnish ISAF contribution probably remains the premier place to study how modern Finnish units behave and perform in combat, acknowledging the fact that the people chosen for peacekeeping operations and the units they make up aren’t necessarily directly comparable to the average wartime unit and reservist.

Bonus round – Amphibious operations:

It is more difficult to find operations that correspond to the fighting that would take place in the Finnish archipelago, but there are two obvious examples that comes to mind:

The fighting around the Hanko peninsula in the summer of 1941 does provide valuable lessons, especially when it comes to the importance of mobility and securing local superiority, as well as the relative weakness of the defender compared to the attacker which is something that sets archipelagic island hopping apart from normal ground operations.

For the larger operational and strategic levels, the German Operation Albion during the First World War highlights the interplay between naval units, coastal defences, and ground units operating in the littorals, and also offer timely reminders about both the utilities and vulnerabilities of fleets operating in the confined waters of the Baltic Sea. A recent episode of the CIMSEC podcast ‘Sea Control’ is a good place to get a general view of what happened in what was one of the decisive battles of the Baltic Sea theatre in the First World War.

Nenonen’s heritage, pt 4: Rockets for Multiple Purposes

Since some have asked, it deserves to be reiterated for readers who might not have followed the series from the start: this post, like all of my posts, is based entirely on open source data. I have no inside information, either through documents or other sources, about the wartime doctrine and order of battle of the Finnish forces. Where I describe these, they are based on the rather broad descriptions that are used by sources whose judgement regarding what should be open information I trust, such as the writings of reputable officers or governmental publications. For artillery specific issues, besides what is described in the officially sanctioned 100-year anniversary book mentioned in the first post, most sources are generic international (Western) artillery ones, as the same general trends affecting these can be assumed to be in play when it comes to the Finnish forces as well. With that out of the way, it’s time to get on with the last part.

Finland currently sport two very different multiple-rocket launcher systems in service: the tracked US-built M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (often abbreviated MLRS, which causes some headaches as that can also be used a generic term for all rocket launchers with more than a single rocket) and the wheeled Slovak RM-70/85 (originally built in Czechoslovakia). It should come as no surprise that neither system was bought new, but were acquired through surplus buys from Dutch/Danish- and ex-NVA-stocks respectively. In Finnish service, they are locally known as 298RSRAKH06 and 122RAKH89 in a designation system sporting calibre and year of entering service with the Finnish abbreviation for ‘rocket launcher’ (fi. Raketinheitin, RAKH) in between. The M270 in addition has the letters RS to denote it as a ‘heavy’ (fi. raskas) system, something which also makes the designation impossible to pronounce smoothly. Note that in keeping with the US designation system, the 298RSRAKH06 uses the 298 mm from “Rocket Pod, 298 mm” and not the actual 227 mm rocket diameter as the calibre designation.

GMLRS firing 2018 Maavoimat homepage
Finnish M270 in white-wash camouflage test-firing the M30A1 GMLRS AW in 2018. Source: Maavoimat homepage

The M270 isn’t going anywhere. The system is still modern and has plenty of life left in Finnish service. According to the Finnish Defence Forces’ homepage, their main mission is to support the higher tactical formations, something they usually do in the area that is the centre of gravity of the battlefield. Kesseli more clearly gives their role as handling operational fires:

For operational fire missions heavy rocket launchers, the artillery of the operational forces, electronic warfare units, sensors able to provide targeting, and those heavy batteries of the regional forces that can use special munitions, are used.

The main changes affecting the heavy launchers in Finnish service has been (and likely will continue to be) the introduction of new munitions together with internal modifications to the launch platforms to make them able to employ these new munitions to their full effect. The most recent addition was the guided M30A1 GMLRS AW (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System Alternative Warhead) which is capable of precision fires out to 80 km, where the pre-fragmented tungsten warhead provide an area-effect (especially considering that each launcher can fire up to twelve rockets in a single salvo). Finland also has acquired the unitary warhead version of the GMLRS family. For potential future upgrades, it can safely be assumed that Finland is keeping an eye on the US PrSM currently being developed. Before the decision to acquire the GMLRS was made, Finland had filed a DSCA request for the ATACMS which provided a similar 500 km range precision strike capability as the PrSM, but eventually decided against ordering the weapon due to the high cost. If the costs of the capability is brought down compared to the earlier generation, it might certainly renew Finnish interest in getting an even longer reach for the ground-based fires (however, note that while the INF is out of the window, the MTCR is still alive and might create issues once ranges start climbing over 500 km).

The lighter end of the rocket spectrum is more troublesome. As noted, Finland acquired a number of RM-70 (specifically of the Mod 70/85 version) rocket launchers from ex-NVA stocks following the German reunification. These replaced the older Soviet BM-21 ‘Grad‘, which had been fielded under the designation 122 RAKH 76 in Finnish service. You would be excused for mistaking the RM-70 for a Soviet design, as it best can be described as a Grad-launcher mounted on a Tatra T815 8×8 (yes, the same chassis that is used for the Danish CAESAR). It also fire the same 9M22 rockets as the BM-21, with a range of just over 20 km. The rockets are something of a headache due to their Soviet origin. According to Kesseli, the light batteries are used for tactical fires, which makes sense considering their limited range.

Compared to traditional artillery, the rocket launcher is nice as it provides a huge volume of fire in a short amount of time. A six-vehicle battery of 122RAKH89 is able to put 234 rockets downrange in just twenty seconds (following the firing of a single ranging rocket from each of the vehicles). The downside is obviously the lack of endurance, as once the rockets are fired the vehicles will have to pull back and reload. However, with the increased importance of shoot and scoot-style tactics, the rocket launcher seems set to keep their place on the battlefield, and the prevalence of podded solutions in modern systems has significantly sped up the loading times.

Finland is far from the only country that is invested in the 122 mm as a rocket calibre and that now is finding sourcing new rockets to be something of an issue. Some have countered this by indigenous projects, such as Poland. Poland is both upgrading their BM-21 (though the ‘upgrade’ is rather reminiscent of the ship of Theseus, as they are replacing the chassis, rockets, and FCS) and producing a new family of 122 mm rockets. The latter include the the M-21 FHD which sport a pre-fragmented HE warhead designated F-M-21 OB attached to the new Fenix engine, giving it a stated 41 km range (these are official range figures quoted by Jane’s, though some have questioned the veracity of them). In the same family a stated 36 km range cargo rocket has also been developed with the F-M-21 MK and K1 warheads with five scatterable anti-tank mines or 42 anti-tank submunitions (HEAT-FRAG) respectively, though these do not appear to have entered Polish service (at least not yet). This upgraded WR-40 Langusta will in time be accompanied by the larger HIMARS, which beat the Israeli Lynx to win the WR-300 Homar program. The Polish contract signed last year is for a battalion of 18 HIMARS (plus two vehicles for training duties), and curiously will be of a US standard and not fitted with the usual Polish C2 system for artillery.

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The current generation of Israeli rocket launchers can trace their roots to vehicles such as the MAR-240 (closest to the camera), a somewhat crude conversion mounted atop a Sherman-hull that could fire thirty-six heavy 240 mm rockets in a salvo. One particular feature of this design was that the rocket pod was stowed sideways for transport. Source: Own picture

The aforementioned LYNX is interesting, as it is the latest in a long line of Israeli rocket launchers. Israel is one of few Western countries that throughout the Cold War kept a varied arsenal that included both domestic and imported MLRS systems, including the M270. Much like the Russian arsenal, Israel has invested in a number of different sizes of rockets, though Israel has also invested considerable resources in ensuring that they all fit the same basic launcher. This means that multi-calibre systems such as the LYNX can be used to fit two 40-rocket pods of Grad-rockets, two 13-rocket pod of 160 mm rockets, two 4-rocket pods of heavy 306 mm rockets, or two 2-rocket pods of the Predator Hawk 370 mm rocket. In the smaller calibres, both guided and unguided versions are available, while the larger versions are generally all guided. Without going into detail of all possible rockets, in general it can be noted that HE, penetrator, and cargo (cluster) warheads are available in most sizes, and that the guidance usually rely on GPS supported by INS (similar to the GMLRS). The LYNX system can be mounted on a number of platforms, starting with 6×6 trucks. There has been some success on the export market for Israeli rocket systems, with the older LAR-160 having sold well mainly in South America but also seeing service in the Georgian Army during the Russian invasion of 2008. A mixed-calibre version is in Romanian service as the LAROM 160. This is in effect a conversion of the local Romanian BM-21-wannabe (Aerostar APRA), allowing it to fire both 122 and 160 mm rockets that also include the guided ACCULAR-family. However, the newest exported Israeli rocket systems are found in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in the form of the LYNX (the Kazakh version being called Naiza) and in Vietnam where the EXTRA is used for defence of the Spratly Islands.

The really neat trick on the Israeli side is that the pods are made to be able to be used on the M270 as well. Exactly to what extent this modularity works is unclear to me, but if  it really is something approaching plug-and-play throughout the series, it certainly would offer interesting possibilities for a joint-LYNX/M270-force to have a wide assortment of fireworks that could be used throughout the fleet. In essence this would create a similar situation as what is aimed for with the Finnish field artillery standardising on 155 mm as the main calibre, with a large number of batteries being able to perform either tactical or operational fires depending on what munitions they use (though they would still retain one as a main role depending on where in the organisation they sit).

Obviously the Israelis aren’t the only ones to have realised that there are a lot of flexibility to come from being able to fire different kinds of munitions, or that the 122 mm is a bit light in certain cases. Diehl and the Slovak company Konstrukta Defense converted 26 of the Slovakian Army’s RM-70s to something called RM-70 MODULAR which is able to swap out the original 40-round 122 mm launcher to a single M270-style 6-round 227 mm pod (the designation MORAK is also used, though my understanding is that this refers to the more general modernisation program of the vehicles). The system isn’t actively marketed, and it is questionable if it would make sense from a Finnish point of view as making the 122RAKH89 able to fire 227 mm rockets wouldn’t necessarily be of great utility in their current role of providing tactical fires (though the new FCS might be nice).

K239 Chun-Mu ROK Army FB
The Chun-Mu firing a light 130 mm rocket. Even with these low-tech weapons the system offer significantly superior performance to the RM-70. Source: ROK Army FB

Another artillery-happy country that has developed their own answers to the question is South Korea. Their sledgehammer is the Chun-Mu, which sports a modular design mounted on the back of an 8×8 truck, capable of carrying two at a time of the following pods:

  • eight 239 mm HE-rockets with 80 km range and GPS/INS guidance. The warhead is able to be set to delayed action, giving the 4 meter long rocket a certain capability in penetrating hard targets (concrete),
  • eight 227 mm rockets, range up to 45 km. Presumably these are from the M26 family of unguided rockets used by the M270,
  • twenty 130 mm unguided HE-rockets, with the K33 having a maximum range of 36 km and the K30 having a maximum range of 30 km.

It isn’t clear to what extent the system is compatible with the M270, many sources seem to agree that it can accept the MLRS pods while Jane’s is a bit more careful and just notes that they “in appearance are very similar to the 227 mm (12-round) MRL, also deployed by South Korea.” It seems safe to assume that while the high-end systems such as ATACMS and GMLRS might not be integrated at this point in time due to the domestic 239 mm rocket filling that role, the basic pod design and M26 rockets can be used. Whether the modularity works both ways, i.e. if the Korean pods could be integrated onto the M270, is more uncertain.

For those wanting something different, Hanwha has also made a light MLRS system that hasn’t been accepted into service. This is a 70 mm system mounted on the back of a KIA KM45 4×4 light truck, either sporting 40 or 32 launch tubes (the 32-tube one having a faster rate of fire at 4 rds/s). The system feature two different rocket engines, with the standard Mk4 having a range of 8 km, being improved to 10.4 km when using the K223. The warheads include HE, dual-purpose HE (armour and personnel), as well as a cargo rocket with nine submunitions against soft or lightly armoured targets. Guided versions are reportedly also in development. The concept is interesting in a world where military systems tend to just grow in size and weight, as it offers short-ranged tactical fires in a 4.2 ton package (including loaded rockets). However, it is difficult to envision a role for a system with such a limited range and small warhead on the modern battlefield, and it seems set to remain a curiosity (or niche capability at best).

MEFEX 2014
US Marines with Delta Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, fire a reduced-range practice rocket from a HIMARS at a joint combined live-fire exercise March 28, 2014 in South Korea. Source: US DoD/Cpl Lauren Whitney via Wikimedia Commons

As discussed when it comes to tube artillery, having heavy tracked vehicles operating together with units not normally associated with tracked behemoths is bound to cause issues. As such, the need for a wheeled platform was evident in the homeland of the M270 as well The answer was the M142 HIMARS which was developed during the 90’s, with the first deliveries taking place in 2001. Both the US Army and Marine Corps have used the system to great effect in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, where it has built up a reputation especially for long-range pinpoint strikes with guided missiles. In essence, the system is a 6×6 wheeled truck with a single pod from the M270-family. While this obviously means it only has half the firepower compared to a M270, this is balanced by the higher (strategic and operational) mobility, as well as having a generally lighter logistics chain due to being truck-based. Granted, while this is a benefit compared to the M270 when discussing a replacement for the Finnish 122RAKH89, it doesn’t set it aside from competitors such as the Chun-Mu and the Lynx. What does however, is the fact that it is a US-built product making it a given buddy to accompany the M270. Exactly to what extent the two systems sync together is unclear to me, but a safe guess is that synergies are at least not worse than for the non-US competition when it comes to questions such as C2 and supporting equipment. The heavy US investment in the system, especially if the USMC is cleared to go forward with their plan of converting serious numbers of tube artillery battalions to HIMARS, also ensures that it will stay relevant and up to date for the foreseeable future. On the flip-side, the single-pod design and reliance on US munitions means it doesn’t have the firepower and flexibility of the Chun-Mu or the LYNX. However, it should be noted that it is notably lighter and smaller than both the modern competition as well as the 122RAKH89.

For once, the FDF has actually has quite a few routes open when it comes to replacing old ex-NVA indirect fires. Depending on the state of the trucks themselves, modernisation certainly might be an option with different options covering everything from new non-Soviet rockets and minor changes to the FCS up to basically outfitting them to LYNX standard. If, however, the trucks themselves are also starting to show their (considerable) age, a tender for a new platform is likely to see a three-way battle between the LYNX, Chun-Mu, and HIMARS. Which one is the favourite would depend on the future role of the light rocket launcher batteries in Finnish doctrine, and as we have seen earlier as well the Army isn’t necessarily looking for one-to-one replacements for aging systems. The question of optimal calibre, few guided rockets per salvo versus classic massed fire of unguided ones, and not at least cost to procure and operate the systems, will all come into play. The unique capabilities and role in Finnish doctrine of the light multiple-rocket launcher does however mean that we are unlikely to see the 122RAKH89 retire without a replacement.

Nenonen’s heritage, pt 3: The Heavies

While the light howitzers might be numerous, there’s no denying that it is their larger counterparts that are supposed to do the heavy lifting, especially in the key sectors of the battlefield. Up until some fifteen years ago, the mainstay in the Finnish heavy brigade artillery was something designated 152 H 88. This was in fact the common name for a modernisation program that had been applied to a number of different WWII-era howitzers, that had been refitted with a new 152 mm L32 barrel and generally brought up to speed. Two of these were the Soviet 152 mm obr. 1937 howitzer (ML-20) and the 122 mm obr. 1931/37  field gun (A-19) that shared the same carriage, while the third was based on the German Immergrün, the 15 cm sFH 18. In total, well over 120 were modified, being designated 152 H 88-37, H-31, and H-40 respectively. In the early 90’s they got company from a similar number of 152 mm D-20 howitzers (152 H 55) bought from ex-NVA stocks, solidifying the Soviet 152 mm as the mainstay of Finnish heavy indirect fire.

6-tuumaisilla on kiirettä.
The 152 H/37, as the original 152 mm obr. 1937 was known in Finnish service, firing on its former owners during the Soviet summer offensive of 1944. 63 years later the last guns would finally be withdrawn from Finnish service. Source: SA-Kuva

The impact of the large artillery buys from the recently unified Germany can hardly be overemphasised. The total number of field artillery pieces grew by 25 % (the number of rocket launchers tripled), the first self-propelled guns arrived in the form of the light 2S1 and the heavier 2S5, and crucially the ratio of heavy to light batteries shifted. 42 % of the Finnish batteries were heavy following the introduction of the large number of D-20s, and the number of batteries per brigade grew to six (i.e. a regiment with one heavy and one light artillery battalion, both with 18 guns). The ratio of heavy to light batteries continued to rise as the decade went on. However, and this was a key factor, as the millennium changed, almost a third of the Finnish heavy batteries consisted of brigade artillery equipped with old Soviet 152 mm howitzers with a range of approximately 16 to 18 km. While they still could provide tactical fires, they were largely unable to perform operational fire missions. Their weight also made mobility, never a strong suit of towed artillery, abysmal. What finally broke the camel’s back was the fact that the shelf-life of the rounds were starting to run out. Finland usually bought packages of artillery that included rounds and other necessary equipment, and the NVA rounds were starting to run out of time.

First to go was the 152 H 88, which was retired in 2007, which it has to be said was not a bad run for a number of guns developed seven decades earlier. In recent years the 152 H 55 has also been struck from record, leaving a total gap of approximately 200 to 250 heavy howitzers compared to twenty years ago. As noted, the material was old and sported a short range, and at the same time there has been a drawdown in the number of infantry units that needed support. Still, the loss of firepower was felt.

An even bigger loss was the 130 K 54 (M-46). The gun was one of the stars of the Soviet Cold War arsenal, being known for it’s range and accuracy. The ability to send a 130 mm  HE-shell over 27 km was no mean feat for a gun that entered production in 1951, and it played an important role in Finnish service as a counterbattery and operational fires weapon. The last of the nine battalions delivered to Finland were retired a short while ago, leaving just a single heavy Russian weapon in service.

152K89 täyspanos late 2019 Marko Leppänen
A 152K89 of Kainuu Artillery Regiment during a live-fire exercise late last year. When firing with a full charge such as here, the gun is capable of flinging out the standard OF-29 HE-FRAG round to over 27 km. Picture courtesy of Marko Leppänen

The 152 mm 2A36 Giatsint is probably better known in it’s self-propelled version 2S5 (a battery of which was found in Finnish service, but is since retired), and 24 are found in Finnish service as the 152K89. In Soviet service these replaced the M-46 as a higher-level asset for roles such as counterbattery fire. However, the 152 mm is a “difficult” calibre for Finland as the 152K89 is the sole weapon using it, and these guns are also on their way out once the ammunition reaches the end of their shelf-life.

To understand what this all means we must go back to the first post of the series that discussed the role of the different guns and their fire missions. In short, Finland has lost 13 heavy batteries handling tactical fires, and another 9 heavy batteries (one of which was self-propelled) handling operational fires and counterbattery missions, with a tenth over-strength operational fires battery soon to join these. As noted, the situation is not as bad as it looks, as the capabilities of the majority of outgoing equipment were quite poor and developments in related fields have improved the quality of fires overall. However, somewhere there is bound to be a gap, and the Finnish Defence Forces wants to plug it.

To begin with we have the K9 order, which will bring 48 top-notch self-propelled heavy howitzers into Finnish service. It’s hard to overstate the impact these will have on Finnish indirect fires, especially in the higher end of the spectrum. The K9 (possibly 155PSH17, though I can’t remember seeing that designation in official FDF sources) will be organised into heavy armoured howitzer batteries, which are a completely new unit type. The fact that they are 48 would seem to indicate two battalions of 24, finally giving the Army the elusive eight-gun battery that is able to perform the shoot-and-scoot carousel where one battery is constantly on the move while two fire (or then there is just a few extras to cover for when some vehicles are on maintenance, but twelve spares for 36 regulars sounds a bit much).

Another key part of the significantly increased operational fires relative to when the 130K54 and 152K89 were first brought into Finnish service is the 41 M270 heavy rocket launchers (officially designated 289 RSRAKH 06). The range and varied munitions they can bring to bear is in a class of their own in the Finnish arsenal.

 

The K9 being dressed up according to Finnish doctrine and customs.

Together, the K9 and the M270 quite nicely cover the gap in operational fires left by the 130K54 and the 152K89. At the same time, the 132 Finnish-built towed 155 mm guns (about two-thirds of which are the older 155K83-97 with the L39 barrel and the rest being the newer 155K98 with L52 barrel and APU) are also able to do operational fire missions, so there doesn’t seem to be too much of gap in the higher end of the indirect fire capability (especially once the air-to-ground capability of the Hornet-fleet and the upcoming HX-fleet are added to the equation, though they will probably have no shortage of wartime missions so the ground-pounding will probably be somewhat limited).

Side note: at this point someone might ask if one really should do OSINT on the number of own artillery pieces. The answer is that the FDF report them to the world as part of the OSCE’s Vienna Document undertakings, so this isn’t really OSINT as much as basic googling-skills

The problem then is the tactical fires, which as we have now seen largely rest with the to-be-retired 122H63 light howitzer, the Finnish-built 155K83-97 and 155K98, and a limited number of  122 mm RM-70 rocket-launchers (122RAKH89, also from ex-NVA stocks). The exception is the mechanised and heavy motorised (tracked) battlegroups which have a total of 74 self-propelled light howitzers in the form of the 2S1 Gvozdika (122PSH74) for their tactical fire support. The number nicely matches the reported 2+2 battlegroups all getting a battalion of 18 guns each. There has been speculation that the first K9s would replace the 122PSH74, but that seem unlikely for a number of reasons. To begin with, the role of the 122PSH74 is squarely tactical fires, it is in essence a mobile D-30 that provide some cover to the crew. Granted if the battlegroups have the equipment, their artillery batteries could be allocated operational fire missions, but permanently allocating the most powerful guns available to the Finnish Army to individual reinforced battalions does not seem to guarantee the greatest use of them, and fits poorly with the concept of modularity found in the Finnish artillery doctrine. It should also be noted that the unit type is described as “completely new”, and that then-MoD Jussi Niinistö in his official blog clearly mentioned that they are to replace towed equipment.

These are replacing towed artillery that is becoming obsolete and retired during the next decade [the 2020’s]

In addition, it rhymes poorly with the relatively recent modifications to bring up at least part of the 122PSH74 fleet to the new 122PSH74M-standard, which is described in Panssari 2/2014 as including a serious overhaul of the communications equipment as well as various C2-systems, all meant to increase the speed of operations (the upgrade also feature a light-machine gun on the roof of the vehicle, as the importance of being able to fend of enemy infantry has grown with the increased fragmentation of the battlefield).

122PSH74M Pohjoinen 18 Maavoimet FB
122PSH74M firing during exercise Pohjoinen 18. Source: Maavoimat FB

It is important to note exactly how different the two self-propelled guns are. The 122PSH74 tips the scale at 15.4 tons and has a footprint of 7.3 x 2.9 meters, while the K9 weighs in at 46.3 tons with a footprint of 12.0 x 3.4 meters (hull length being 7.4 m). While the 122PSH74 isn’t exactly an off-road jeep, the light gun vs. heavy gun comparisons certainly are at play here as well as for their towed counterparts, with the operational mobility being quite a bit simpler to handle when you need a trailer rated for 16 tons compared to one rated for 45+ tons.

So then we are back to a situation where there are a number of modern 155 mm guns (and some heavy rocket launchers) handling the operational fires and a large number of light guns being responsible for tactical fires. With the light ones being on their way out, bringing us back to the questions asked in last post.

The light guns, including both 122H63 and 122PSH74, currently make up something between 75 to 80 % of the total force (depending on how many K9 have arrived and whether you count the 152K89 or not). Using current equipment, as discussed in the last post the towed 155K83-97 could trickle down to cover up the 122H63-gap, and the 155K98 could continue to provide firepower for the operational brigades. However, there is still a few places were things are looking thin:

  • The four battalions of 122PSH74 that support the mechanised and motorised battlegroups,
  • The reduction by perhaps 85 % in the number of guns supporting regional and local troops following the withdrawal of the 122H63,
  • Whether the towed 155K98 really is the weapon of choice for the operational brigades.

The answer to the first is probably more K9s, at least partly. Finland has an option for more vehicles, which would simply continue deliveries after the current batch of 48 vehicles have been shipped. How many is an open question, as another four battalions (especially if they are 24-gun strong) seem prohibitively expensive. Getting two battalions (i.e. another 48 guns) for the two mechanised battlegroups might be doable.

Conscript driver training oct 19 PSPR FB
The first conscripts started training on the K9 Moukari last year, replacing the 122PSH74 as the training platform at the peacetime Jääkäritykistörykmentti (Jaeger artillery regiment). Note the sheer size of the vehicle compared to the crew. Source: Panssariprikati FB

And that leaves two motorised battlegroups and either the operational brigades or the regional units needing more firepower. Looking at the requirements, getting a new towed piece (or transferring the 155K98) to the motorised battlegroups likely doesn’t cut it. The same can probably in all honesty be said for the operational brigades. At least once it is clear something new has to enter the organisation at some level, one can do worse than insert the new stuff at the top and let the old cascade down.

 

Which brings us back to everyone’s favourite emperor-acronym, Nexter’s CAESAR (CAmion Equipé d’un Système d’ARtillerie). The idea is rather simple, and there is something very Finnish about of marrying what is in essence a tested gun (the towed TRF1) to a truck chassis to give the gun shoot-and-scoot capability. I discussed the system at length in an earlier artillery post, so without rehashing everything again:

  • It is a proven design, including having seen combat in harsh conditions,
  • It offers the firepower expected from modern 155 mm L52 systems,
  • The ability to relocate on it’s own wheels adds significantly to both strategic and operational mobility,
  • The French decision to over time let the CAESAR replace all 155 mm systems in service (i.e. the tracked AUF-1TA and the towed TRF1) means that there is a long-term commitment from France to keep the production line (as well as modernisation programs) up and going.

This combination, including the last part, is important, as surely someone will point out the benefits of the Israeli ATMOS, the Mandus Group BRUTUS, and the Swedish Archer. The ATMOS is most closely related to the CAESAR when it comes to the basic concept, while the Archer is a more high-end system with it’s 21 pre-loaded rounds in the magasin. The BRUTUS is the bigger brother to the 105 mm Hawkeye we discussed last time around, and sport a low-recoil 155 mm howitzer which allows the carrier platform to be smaller (and the company to make the obvious #IdesofMarch-jokes). All systems, including the Archer as was shown at DSEI last year, are modular and to a certain extent carrier agnostic. While the differences between the systems are small enough that it will come down to how their respective strengths and weaknesses are evaluated rather than to one of them being objectively better than the rest, for some there isn’t the kind of long-term commitment to the projects by the host countries as is enjoyed by the CAESAR, while others are just now entering service/being tested.

The general drive towards wheeled platforms for artillery is interesting, and something that Watling spent quite a bit of time on in theRUSI report:

However, for every eight [tracked] AS90 howitzers, there are a further six command and support tracked vehicles in the battery, a tactical group of at least five vehicles and the necessary CSS [combat service support] to maintain the guns, repair them when they throw tracks, or recover them when damaged. An Armoured Infantry Brigade meanwhile includes 56 Challenger 2 MBTs, while the brigade also needs to move bridging equipment, its infantry fighting vehicles and CSS assets. The British Army has between 71 and 92 HETs [M1070F tank transporters] available.

[…]

There is a trade-off between wheeled systems, which can self-deploy and have significant strategic mobility, versus tracked platforms, which retain much greater tactical mobility, especially in wet and uneven terrain. It is important to note that the differences between these platforms are declining […] This has led the IDF – despite fighting in a small area – to conclude that the operational reach of wheeled artillery is disproportionately valuable to the tactical mobility of tracked guns. It must be noted that they face a much less significant counter-battery threat, and therefore can have less protection. Wheeled platforms, however, require fewer specialised CSS elements and can therefore move with a smaller logistical tail. As a result, they reduce the overall number of chassis needed to deliver an effect.

What Watling doesn’t mention in the quote above is that this translate directly into money. The difference between the new-built Danish CASESARs coming in at 2.7 million Euro per piece compared to the Finnish ex-ROK K9s at 3.0 million Euro a piece isn’t huge, usual caveats about these not being apples-to-apples comparisons apply (though this is also a good time to point out what a good price PVLOGL got). However, the difference in operational costs most likely are very different (no-one’s going to release anything resembling comparable figures for those, so this is an educated guess based on training requirements, maintenance needs, weight, supporting vehicles/heavy loaders, …). The decision to use a truck-based resupply solution for the K9s also make the argument of the superior tactical mobility of tracks compared to wheels somewhat less persuasive.

One interesting aspect of the CAESAR is the difference between the baseline French (and earlier export) versions, and the latest Danish vehicle that is mounted on the significantly larger classic Tatra T815 8×8 compared to earlier 6×6 carriers. This gives the vehicle not only significantly better off-road mobility, but also a larger number of rounds being carried on the gun (30 being the new standard as opposed to 18 on the French 6×6 version. This can be further increased if a lower number of charges are carried), a new protected cabin (STANAG 4569 Level 2a/2b), and the munitions handling system seen in action in the video above. A new muzzle velocity radar and a thermal imaging sight for direct fire are also fitted.

Sisu E15 TP-L Leguan bridge Saber Strike 18 - Maavoimat FB
You don’t always need tracked platforms, as the Sisu E15 TP-L Leguan bridge layer shows here at the Saber Strike 18. Source: Maavoimat FB

The CAESAR is in many ways the epitome of the kind of good-enough system that the Finnish Defence Forces likes. Especially in cases where the rest of the unit also runs largely on wheels, the tracks and size of the K9 is making things somewhat complicated. An interesting comparison is the Leguan-bridge, which the Finnish Army uses on the Leopard 2-chassis for heavier units and mounted on a Sisu all-terrain truck for lighter ones. There’s no doubt that a CAESAR, or another wheeled self-propelled gun, would feel right at home in the Satakunta Artillery Regiment of the Pori Brigade.

To sum it up, in such a scenario the Army would eventually post-122 mm howitzers (~2030) sport a tube artillery consisting of 48 K9 dedicated to higher-level operational fires, 36 K9 for supporting two mechanised battlegroups, 72 to 108 wheeled SPGs (four to six batteries) for supporting the other operational battlegroups and brigades, and 130-ish Finnish-built towed 155 mm guns to provide the heavy hitting power of the regional troops. The bottom end would then need further 120 mm mortars or a new light gun, as per the last post.

charlie_battery2c_1st_battalion2c_12th_marine_regiment2c_fire_an_m982_excalibur_round_from_an_m777_howitzer
Marines with Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, fire an M982 Excalibur round from an M777 howitzer during a fire support mission in Afghanistan in 2011. Source: USMC via Wikimedia Commons

And just when things started to look quite straightforward – wholesale K9-introduction is too expensive while no-one builds a basic towed gun anymore, let’s go wheeled – there suddenly just might appear the possibility for another cheap surplus buy, as the USMC proposes that they get rid of the majority of their tube artillery. Provided that the suggestion passes through the political hurdles (something that is far from certain) and that the equipment isn’t just mothballed for future use, it might suddenly mean that there is 96 surplus M777A2 towed howitzers up for sale. And there aren’t necessarily too many interested buyers.

The M777 is one of those modern towed howitzers that are built to be as light as possible, which is reflected in the price. 2009 the USMC bought a batch of guns (together with the Canadian Army the total order was 63 M777A2) for 1.9 million USD per gun. If, and this is quite a big “if”, the whole or better part of the 96 gun batch eventually are sold as surplus, they would nicely make up the replacement for the heavy brigade firepower lost with the short-ranged 152 mm howitzers. Buying more towed artillery at this point certainly does sound like something of a step back. However, swapping out the 152H55 for the M777 would certainly still be an improvement when it comes to mobility, based on the simple fact that the M777 weighs in at 4,100 kg, well below the 5,700 kg of the 152H55 (and just above a quarter of the 16,000 kg of the longer-ranged 155K98). The M777 with it’s L39 can also throw unassisted HE projectiles out to 24,700 meters compared to the 17,400 meters of the 152H55, which though still short of the 27,000 meter range of the 155K98 would provide a serious boost in brigade-level firepower. Swapping towed howitzers to (lighter) towed howitzers would also be a relatively simple change in the OOB.

MVH1 2015 Maavoimat FB
Even when it comes to towed heavy artillery, not all are created equal in terms of mobility and ease of handling, something that is often forgotten in the towed vs. self-propelled debate. Source: Maavoimat FB

In this scenario, the domestic 155K98 and 155K83-97 would be used by the operational brigades, with the M777 replacing the outgoing regional brigade artillery and possibly a handful of the most important of the 122H63 batteries. This still leaves the question of a 122PSH74 replacement open (self-propelled heavy mortars, anyone?), and is dependent on the highly speculative possibility of a cheap buy of the better part of the USMC guns that might be retired in the near future. However, the underlying conclusion is that there is bound to be a gap in firepower somewhere, and I would be highly surprised if there are no new 155 mm systems that enter Finnish service within this decade.

Nenonen’s heritage, pt 2: The Curious Case of the Light Gun

Looking purely at numbers, the most important Finnish artillery piece is the 122 mm D-30 (or 2A18 as the GRAU-designation goes), 471 of which are found in the Finnish arsenal. Finland was amongst the first waves of export customers when the then brand new light howitzer was acquired in the early 1960’s. At that time it was seen as a brigade-level asset and constituted the first modern post-war artillery system of the Finnish Army. The gun came with a host of new capabilities, including the ability to fire at very steep angles of attack, giving it significantly greater capabilities in urban terrain, as well as the innovative base that allowed a full 360° firing arch, the latter especially useful when using the gun in the direct firing role to fight of any enemy’s that might have been able to sneak up on the gun position from an unexpected direction.

122H63 Maavoimat FB Henri Hakulinen
122H63 being fired. Source: Maavoimat FB/Henri Hakulinen

Things have changed, however, and today the venerable light howitzer is relegated to the battalion support role. Here it soldiers on, the 122 mm being the sole Soviet-era calibre not to be counted amongst the “difficult” calibres that the FDF has been trying to replace for quite some time already. It looks like the current schedule is that “at least part of the towed 122 H 1963 howitzers” will stay in service towards the end of the decade. However, while the gun currently handles “fire support of infantry and jaeger brigades as well battlegroups”, especially in the case of the regional and operational units time is running out. 15,400 meter range just doesn’t cut it for a towed system if one tries to keep maintaining mutually supportive coverage of a number of moving companies and battalions according to the current Finnish infantry doctrine.

Before discussing possible replacements, one need to remember why the Army has light guns to begin with, as on the surface everything is better in 155 mm. The answer boils down to a number of factors. One is undeniably cost. The 122H63 was and is cheap. It’s cheap to acquire, cheap to operate, and fire cheap rounds. This ties in with the logistical footprint, as the rounds are smaller, a significantly larger number of rounds can be ferried around for any given volume and weight compared to 155 mm. Granted the effect per round is smaller, but in several fire missions, especially when doing suppressive fire, the number of rounds available counts more than the size of the individual bang. As current Finnish artillery doctrine dictates that the guns need an abundance of rounds stored in the forward gun positions, this is an area where the smaller 122 round shines.

Overall, it is seldom recognised just how big a difference the smaller size makes for the whole logistical chain. It’s not just that the gun is smaller, but the vehicle towing it can be smaller as well (or, alternatively, go places where it couldn’t with a heavier towed cargo). The ammunition supply train can be lighter throughout, either translating into more rounds carried per supply run or by having lighter vehicles do the runs. This further brings down the operating cost, and yet again contributes to a smoother logistical flow, which is felt also indirectly in issues such as mobility (in the sense of where one can go with the battery and still have an adequate supply train).

The issues are, however, obvious. The short range was already mentioned, and while the upper end of the spectrum has seen significant leaps in firepower through the improvement of both the guns and the rounds they fire, similar developments have been largely absent in the lower tiers of the artillery. In part this is driven by the simple fact that it makes sense that new technological developments are first introduced in the higher-end systems, from where they usually then trickle down. However, this trickling down has been curiously absent, leaving systems such as the 1970’s vintage British 105 mm gun L118 (M119 in US service) as amongst the most modern guns in service. One reason is likely that several of the benefits of the light gun over the heavier ones – ease of handling, affordability, and lack of complexity – run contrary to developments such as longer barrels and auxiliary power plants. Developments in rounds, including both guidance and sensor kits as well as sub-munitions, are usually size-restricted in that the “extras” are of the same size regardless of whether you try to squeeze them into a 122 mm shell with a 14 km range or into a 155 mm one with 30 km range. Crucially, that leaves less room for the exploding stuff that is supposed to provide the effect, so while it isn’t necessarily impossible to create guided light gun rounds, their drop in effect compared to ‘dumb’ HE-rounds in their calibre is significantly larger than what is the case for 155 mm rounds.

Regardless of the reason, the fact is that the gap in firepower between light and heavy systems is widening both in absolute and relative terms. And as several countries struggle with having a harder time funding and manning their armed forces in general (and with the artillery arms being no exceptions) the light guns have in many cases struggled to justify their existence (especially when it comes to upgrade and acquisition programs).

Nothing of this is particularly new, but rather the trend has been going for quite some time. The Finnish Army has been able to kick the can forward through the large starting number of 122H63s, relatively recent surplus buys in the 90’s, and allowing the retirement of the most worn ones as the total number of batteries has shrunk. Still, everything has an end, and there simply isn’t an obvious replacement.

As noted, buying a new towed gun to replace like-for-like is difficult even without considering the value of a towed gun on the battlefield of 2040. That’s because there are extremely few offerings. Denel of South Africa produced a technology demonstrator 105 mm gun called Light Experimental Ordnance (LEO, with a series produced gun being designated G7) that started test firing in 2001. The system is probably the most impressive weapon of its class, sporting ranges of 24,600 meters with standard ammunition while keeping a light total weight. The main issue is that it is not a ready operational weapon, and Denel has been open with the fact that quite a bit of work remain until it can be one. Coupled with the somewhat uncertain future of Denel and the South African arms industry in general, these are likely factors that significantly lowers any potential Finnish interest in acquiring the system.

m-56-33_105mm_-_partner_2019_-_1
The M56-2, also designated M56/33, at a trade show last year. The external resemblance to the classic 10.5 cm leFH 18/40 (105 H 33–40 in Finnish service) is evident. Source: Srđan Popović via Wikimedia Commons

Another of the very few countries that offer modern-ish towed guns is Serbia, which politically isn’t the first choice for a major Finnish arms contract, but still might be doable. While they offer a number of upgraded versions of the D-30 and the US M101, they also sport a domestic 105 mm howitzer which in the newest version is designated M56-2. The weapon traces it’s lineage to concepts found in the German leFH 18/40 (yes, this sounds bad, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds), but fitted with a new L33 barrel it can push HE-rounds some pretty impressive distances downrange. Besides the basic US-pattern ammunitions, a number of longer-ranged rounds exist. These include a boat-tailed round with 2.85 kg of TNT and a maximum range of 15 km, and a base-bleed round capable of putting the same amount of TNT at a target 18 km away. The standard M1 HE-round has a maximum range of 14.5 km, with a new locally developed charge.

I would be, and I can’t stress this enough, highly surprised if the M56-2 would enter Finnish service. At the same time, this comes with the caveat that it wouldn’t be the first procurement decision to surprise me, and if the Army decide that they just want a basic (if crude) solution they can drop into the current organisation, there aren’t that many alternatives.

ISAF Soldiers Fire a 105mm Light Gun
The 7 Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, fire their 105 mm L118 in support of patrols from the 3rd Para near Kajaki, Afghanistan, in 2008. Note the Selex ES LINAPS mounted on top of the barrel close to the breech. Source: Sgt Anthony Boocock, RLC/MOD via Wikimedia Commons

The obvious alternative instead is the British L118/M119 105 mm light gun. Despite it’s age, it is still quite a bit younger than the D-30, and, crucially, in service with a number of Western countries that have spent time and resources on keeping it up to date. It does beat the D-30 in the number game as well, being shorter and slightly narrower in transport configuration, having a faster rate of fire, and a longer range. With a combat weight of just under 2,000 kg, it is also quite a bit lighter than the D-30 than tips the scale at around 3,200 kg (somewhat depending on configuration). And while I decried the lack of great innovations on the scale we’ve seen amongst the heavy hitters in the start of this post, there’s no denying that the latest versions of the L118 is vastly superior to those rolling of the assembly lines in 1975.

A key part of this was the US upgrades to M119A2/A3-standard, (the A3 differing from the A2 in having a digital fire control system that uses “90% of the software derived from the 155 mm M777A2”) as well as an MLU-project and the fitting of the Selex ES LINAPS artillery pointing system (yes, really) on the UK guns. The LINAPS is mounted on the barrel and include an integrated INS/GPS system, a large touch-screen to control the software, an odometer keeping track on the distance travelled, and a muzzle velocity radar. In essence, it is a small computer that keeps track on where the gun is, where it is pointing, and then tells the crew where to shoot in order to hit the target they want to shoot at. In essence, this is roughly similar to what the new FCS of the M119A3 does, and what both does in the field is that they allow the crews to start shooting (and hitting) significantly quicker than what has been the case earlier when the position of the gun has been decided by external means.

The nicest part about the L118/M119 is without doubt the sheer number of units, with over 1,100 guns having been produced (though observant readers will note that a Finnish one-for-one replacement of 122H63 would mean increasing the total number of L118/M119 production with 43%, further highlighting just how unique the Finnish artillery park is). The status as the de facto standard light gun in the Western world means that there are ample upgrades and improvements being offered for it, including both for the gun itself and for the rounds it fire. The UK version has a stated max range of 17,200 meters with HE-shells and charge “Super” (15,300 meters with charge number five), while the US has adopted the M1130 HE FRAG with base-bleed as their standard HE-round going forward. This South African Rheinmetall Denel Munitions developed round is capable of reaching out to 17,500 meters. The airmobility and widespread use, including in a number of export countries, means that even if the regular Army units of the US and UK were to start replacing the system, it would still have a considerable user base for years to come.

Operation IRAQI FREEDOMReleased 10 August 06 by Major Bren Workman IO for the 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Division
The nice thing about light guns is that their rounds are light, as demonstrated here by the loading of a 105 mm round into a M119A2 of the 320th Field Artillery, 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. The 101st is one of at least three US Army divisions (together with the 82nd and 10th) that are likely to continue to use light guns for the foreseeable future. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Keith W. DeVinney via Wikimedia Commons

But is another towed gun really what is needed? This is a surprisingly hard question to answer, and more so for the light guns than for the heavy ones. As noted, much of the benefit of the lighter platforms stem from the fact that they are small, cheap, and lack the complexity of the larger ones. Sticking the gun on a vehicle can easily defeat the purpose of having light guns. This is especially true for tracked platforms, as they will add not only the complexity of a vehicle, but the added complexity of tracks and the need for a transporter, adding several layers of maintenance and manning requirements that especially the less prioritised units of the Finnish Army can ill afford.

For a wheeled platform, the trade-off isn’t as bad. In theory at least, the towing vehicle can be replaced (though depending on the setup, a truck might be needed for ammunition and crew transport), leaving the same number of wheeled platforms in the unit as before. The platform also is likely to be of roughly the same size and mobility as the current tower, meaning integration is easier than for a tracked one. The big benefit is obviously the survivability that comes from being able to quickly move in and out of firing positions, which is a big benefit, especially in more contested sectors of the front.

Finland’s new best friend when it comes to artillery, the South Korean company Hanwha Techwin, has the EVO-105 which in essence is a 6×6 truck featuring an M101 105 mm howitzer on top. Despite the somewhat archaic outlook, it is actually just on the verge of entering service. For the standard M1 HE-round the maximum range is 11,300 meters, which can be described as lacklustre. However, there is a remedy as the company also has an upgraded version of the weapon itself on offer, designated KH178. Changing out the baseline M101 to the KH178 with a L34 barrel it is possible to achieve ranges of up to 14,700 meters for the M1, or 18,000 meters using rocket assisted projectiles. The KH178 is an old upgrade program dating to the 80’s, and unless a really nice deal can be had on surplus howitzers coming from the large South Korean stocks, there is little use in getting the towed version. On the EVO it is marginally more interesting, but truth be told this isn’t the most elegant solution out there, and since it’s unlikely to be the cheapest, it is likely not a serious contender.

m09_105mm_sph_02
The M09 sporting the 105 mm M56 howitzer. Another light gun truck that is extremely unlikely to ever enter Finnish service. Source: Srđan Popović via Wikimedia Commons

Our aforementioned Serbian friends pushes a number of different configurations through the Yugoimport brand, including putting the M56 into an armoured turret and calling it the M09, as well as putting different derivatives of the D-30 on truck chassis in both turreted and unprotected configurations. The idea of putting D-30’s on truck to give them mobility is widespread, and if Finland decided to go down that road Serbia just might be a possible partner (though in that case the Finnish version would probably be based on a domestic, or Swedish, chassis). At least it makes more sense than Sudan and the Khalifa

Political considerations effectively take out a number of other designs as well. China and Russia are obviously both still very much in the business of both towed and self-propelled guns of all classes, including in western calibres for export purposes, but neither country won’t receive any RFI’s any time soon. One company that probably will, however, is Mandus Group.

The Hawkeye is a soft-recoiling 105 mm gun mounted on a M1152A1 HMMWV, giving the light gun a significantly smaller platform than the 6×6 used by most other examples. Early versions shown used the M102, but a more recent demonstrator has been fitted with the M119. This could potentially be a really nice way of handling the need for light fires, marrying a tried-and-tested 105 mm gun to a tried-and-tested chassis, offering high mobility and a small logistical footprint. The shorter range compared to the current 122H63, just 11,600 m with the standard M1 HE shell (it can reach 19,500 meters with a M193 HE RAP), it partially offset with the higher mobility.

The big deal here is obviously that no-one has bothered buying the concept, at least not yet. And a Finnish launch order for a few hundred Hawkeyes doesn’t seem likely. We are quickly approaching the space where the only current Finnish indirect fire system comes into play.

The Patria NEMO is a 120 mm turreted mortar system, and while mortars aren’t exactly light guns, they do offer a number of qualities on their own. The NEMO is the lighter single-barrelled brother to the AMOS that is currently in service in limited number with the Finnish Army, and could potentially be integrated into a number of different platforms (8×8 or 6×6). While the range is shorter, typically just over 10,000 meters, the mortar shells does offer more explosives thanks to their thinner casings (3.1 kg in the case of the MEHRE round marketed for AMOS/NEMO use). The advantage of turreted mortars is also that they allow for direct-firing as a self-defence option. There is also a clear logistics chain for mortars already in place, and adding more towed and self-propelled mortars might provide the lo-hi mix needed to fit inside the (limited) funds available to replace the 122 mm howitzers.

Because lets face it – there’s likely not a one-size-fits-all solutions to the retirement of the 122H63. Some units will likely see their light batteries converted to towed heavy mortars, while for others that simply won’t cut it and something heavier hitting and/or more mobile will be needed. I would not be surprised if a number of L118/M119 are bought at some point, but their number likely won’t be anything near 470. If so, these would likely occupy the middle ground, being used in light battalions for some of the regional forces, with a number of towed mortars acquired to the less lucky ones. If mobility is seen as an absolute requirement for a future mid-range system, a 120 mm mortar on the back of a truck is probably the answer. Hawkeye and NEMO would be nice, but I just don’t see the money for any major buys of these (though the possibility of acquiring them in small numbers for prioritised battlegroups as was done with the AMOS remains, see e.g. my ongoing grievance about the lack of a boatmounted indirect fire system for the coastal jaeger battlegroup).

122H62 suora-ammunta Marko Leppänen
The crew of a 122H63 practising direct firing. The possibility to use the gun for close-in-defence against enemy vehicles or infantry is one of the benefits that a towed gun have over mortars, though the weight this factor should have in evaluating the systems is questioned. Picture courtesy of Marko Leppänen

One of the issues occupying the minds of the Finnish artillery planners is also the inability of light guns to fire special munitions, including precision guided shells and dedicated sensor-fused anti-tank munitions such as BONUS II. If this capability is to be rolled out wider, either more heavy battalions are needed, or mixed battalions with one heavy and two light batteries will start to appear among the infantry brigades.

Which brings us to one last interesting example. Singapore, another country known for their domestic artillery production, used to rely on the Nexter (formerly GIAT) 105 mm LG1 light gun for their light fires up until this side of the year 2000. These have however been replaced by the lightweight ST Kinetics Pegasus, a towed 155 mm gun sporting a L39 barrel and an APU to move the system into firing positions. While acquiring a new-built towed 155 mm gun with a L39 length barrel does sound like an anachronism in a world of self-propelled L52-systems, it is important to remember that the comparison here is with the towed 122 mm. The Pegasus has all the niceties expected of a modern 155 mm gun, including a powered ammunition loading system allowing for a burst of three rounds in 24 seconds (or a sustained rate of 4 rounds/min for three minutes, after which it drops to one round every half minute) and as mentioned an APU. The gun has an interesting design, sitting on a box-shaped base when in firing mode rather than using a split tail, further adding to it’s compact nature. The L39 barrel does suffer a bit when it comes to range, but at 19,000 meters for a standard HE shell and 30,000 meters for a base-bleed HE it’s still vastly superior to any light guns out there. The weapon is designed to be able to fire “all kinds of 155 mm projectiles and charges”, a key detail as it is the last piece of the puzzle to convert the Singapore artillery to an 155 mm-only force (following the towed 155 mm L52 FH-2000 and L39 FH-88 as well as the self-propelled Primus).

Singapore Artillery conducts the first live-firing of the Pegasus during Exercise Thunder Warrior Singapore MoD
Two Pegasus during live firings at Exercise Thunder Warrior. Note the low position of the breech as the gun is resting on the base plate. Source: Singapore MoD

The Pegasus might not be the answer to the Finnish artillery needs, as while I haven’t been able to find a quoted price for it, words like ‘lightweight’ and ‘titanium’ are usually indicators that it won’t be cheap. However, the general idea of shifting 155 mm guns down in the hierarchy to replace light batteries might well be part of the eventual solution. The obvious candidate here is the 100+ of the older 155K83-97 which is a Finnish-built rather conventional L39 gun. In mixed batteries with either a new light gun or those 122H63 that are in best condition, 48 of the heavier guns would give six battalions an eight-gun heavy battery, giving them a serious increase in firepower (mixed battalions probably would require at least the heavy battery to be eight-gun to allow it to be used for independent fire missions).

There’s obviously just a few problems:

  • The issue with finding firing positions for dispersed eight-gun batteries,
  • The added logistical complexity of mixed-calibre battalions,
  • The fact that 48 heavier guns would replace just ten to twenty (very generously calculated) percent of the soon-to-be-retired 122H63-force,
  • The fact that something then would need to replace at least part of the 155K83-97 in their current role to free them for the move to the current light battalions.

The first two have so far stopped mixed battalions from appearing in the Finnish OOB, while the third point goes back to the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution. The fourth is rather complex, and we’ll get back to that one.