Midget Submarines at Kalbådagrund

The following chain of thoughts started when a strange place name appeared in a blog post by Swedish defence blogger Jägarchefen. Further research led to a theory, the reasoning behind which is detailed below.

The CIA file

The open archive of CIA FOIA files include a large number of documents dealing with Soviet vessel movements in the Baltic Sea. Most of these are rather unspectacular, doing little but dispelling the idea that intelligence work is anything like a Bond-adventure. There are however exceptions, like file number CIA-RDP80-00810A007600280010-0, dated 13 October 1955.



‘Kalbod Shallows light’ likely refers to Kalbådagrund lighthouse southeast of Helsinki, where a caisson-type lighthouse was erected on a dangerous shoal in 1952. Here, a flotilla of 10 to 12 midget submarines passed by under tow in the evening of 27 May 1955. But where did they come from, and why were they outside of Helsinki in 1955?

The War Trophies

In the closing years of World War II the surface units of the German Navy faced pressure from ever increasing numbers of Allied aircraft and naval ships. The logical answer was to start using the submarine force also for missions closer to shore. This called for smaller vessels, capable of manoeuvring in the more confined waters of the Atlantic coastline.

Probably the most successful of the host of different craft created was the Typ XXVII B, better known as Seehund. The 12 meter (~40 feet) long submarine had a crew of just two man, and as opposed to most midget submarines it wasn’t fitted for operations with limpet mines or divers, but was armed with two G7e torpedoes, the standard weapon of the German submarine force. As the submarine was so small, these were strapped on externally. They were sighted through a fixed periscope, located in the forward part of the tower.

Source: Uwe Ernst/Wikimedia Commons

The Soviet captured a number of these vessels, though exactly how many remains unclear. Some sources claim that only a very limited number was in use[1], but most list a significantly larger force. The British Royal Navy’s Director of Naval Intelligence in 1952 commented that the Soviet Navy “acquired some 50-70 ex-German, Italian and Japanese midget submarines after the war, but it seems likely that they have produced their own post-war version, which, from reports, seems to incorporate parts from the design of all above. There are also reports which indicate training in midget S/Ms in the Soviet Navy at the present time.”[2] The CIA is also looking at a similar number, stating that the Soviet Navy had “at least 70 midget submarines” in service in November 1953, of which around 20 are ex-German Seehund vessels, the rest being an “improvement on the previous type and made use of German SEEHUND plans”. These Soviet improved Seehunds were built after 1947. Notable is also that CIA has no information “regarding specific bases for these submarines”, but they also concede that they can be operated from “any existing base”, or from a properly equipped support ship.[3]

Other sources support this picture. The Swedish intelligence service was also on the trail, with the so called T-office reporting in 1946 that “On pier in Kronstadt harbour lies some midget submarines, probably ex-German”. Russian naval historian Vladimir Shcherbakov notes that the Seehunds “were used rather intensively”. Swedish historians von Braun and Gyllenhaal puts the confirmed number of complete Seehunds captured as “at least two”.[4]

But how did the Soviets manage to build up a sizeable force from war trophies and modified designs?

The Shipyard

The majority of the Seehunds were built at Schichau-Werke in what was then Elbing in East Prussia (today the Polish city of Elbląg). The yard escaped relatively unscathed during the war and the immediate post-war, and in 1947 it was one of few factories listed as being in service, having just delivered the first new built vessels postwar (these being torpedoboats).[5] In the same year, it was reported that Soviet (and Polish) companies tried to recruit former “technicians, employees, and workmen” of the yard in East Germany. Most refused, but “a certain number” accepted and left for East Prussia, presumably to work at the former Schichau subsidary at Contienen, which had produced parts for submarines and minesweepers during the war. The Contienen yard as well was reported to have seen relatively little damage during the war, and escaped dismantling after the Soviet forces occupied it.[6]

In 1949, the operations at Schichau-Werke in Elbing was reported to have risen back to 80 percent of its wartime capacity. Around 120 German prisoners of war were still employed as “skilled workers”, pointing to the fact that the earlier attempts to recruit workers hadn’t produced enough volunteers. The yard featured a modern welding current distribution system, and an expansion program of the yard was planned, the aim being to double the capacity by spring 1951. Interestingly, the CIA file reporting this includes a comment that the recent information “essentially confirms” other information on the shipyard, and that “it appears likely that no vessels other than small submarines are now being constructed there”.[7]

To remember is that during the last six months the yard was in operation during the war, the number of Seehunds produced in Elbing seems to have been over 100. If the CIA report was correct, even at 80 percent production the yard would have built 50 new vessels in a matter of months. But where did they go?

The Peninsula

When the Continuation War ended, amongst the Soviet demands was one which prime minister Paasikivi described as “horrendous”. The Porkkala peninsula was to be leased to the Soviet Union for 50 years, i.e. until 1994.

Detail of the map from the armistice agreement showing the area to be leased to the Soviet Union. Note Helsinki in the upper right corner. Via Wikimedia Commons


This replaced the earlier deal under which the Soviets had leased the Hanko peninsula further west after the end of the Winter War, and included a very favourable transit agreement. Under this, the Finnish customs authorities had no right to inspect the cargo holds of trucks or trains transiting  between the naval base and the Soviet mainland. Soon it became apparent that foul play was involved, as sometimes the trucks could make the trip in four hours, while sometimes the time on the road stretched to up to ten hours. A SIGINT station for listening to Finnish radio communications was created at the Majvik mansion, today a meetings and convention hotel, and suitably located on top of a large hill close to the shore. In the early 1950’s the station was manned by 24 NCOs and four officers, working in three shifts to maintain a constant surveillance of the Finnish radio networks. The station was not part of the naval base’s chain of command, but instead reported directly to the intelligence section of the Leningrad Military District in all matters.[8]

In addition to being a naval base, the most well-known vessel of which was the monitor Vyborg (former Finnish coastal defence ship Väinämöinen), the base also played a significant role as an intelligence hub. A number of arrests were made and dead drops uncovered in connection to the transit traffic mentioned above, including that of air force captain Martti Salo of the aerial photography unit in Tikkakoski. It appears that the main responsibility for intelligence gathering in Finland was placed upon GRU, likely in part due to the heavy use of the military trucks travelling to and from Porkkala.[9]

Amongst the most important units of the bases was its intelligence unit. In a report covering the third quarter of 1945, the unit had not only counted and identified the nationality of all vessels sailing  past the base (1 371 vessels in total), they had also, as a collaborative effort between the “officers of the base’s staff and units situated in Finland”, gathered information and systematically categorised this into a file covering multiple aspects of Finland, including:

  1. Much information on the Pansio naval base
  2. Information on the Army and Coastal Artillery units located in the Turku region
  3. A description of the oil depot being built in Naantali
  4. A description of Finland’s coastal defences
  5. Information regarding the Finnish coast guard and all its bases

The information gathered also went down to the individual level, covering 96 Finnish officers, including their service records and personal evaluations.[10]

The continuous building of trenches and bunkers as well as the naval activity came to an abrupt halt in 1955. In September, Khrushchev suddenly informed Finland that the base would be returned. This doomed the heavily fortified base, and all defensive works were demolished, including the almost-finished command bunker Los which stretched over 100 meters through the mountainside. The personnel, numbering over 15,000, was transferred away, as was the tens of naval vessels and small crafts that were stationed there.

But did the intelligence gathering extend to other methods as well?

The Theory

My theory is that the convoy sighted on an easterly heading south Helsinki in May 1955 indeed did consist of Seehund-type submarines (either ex-German or modified new-builds). I further believe that they were in transit from Porkkala naval base to Kronstadt, either due to a unit transfer (possibly due to having received early notice of the upcoming closure) or after a finished exercise/mission.

In other words: in addition to the surface and land-based units known to have been stationed there, Porkkala played host to a unit of midget submarines in the first half of the fifties.

These have been either exercising or permanently stationed there. Considering the unique nature of the Finnish archipelago, it isn’t far-fetched to conclude that any exercises held there were made with an eye towards either the Finnish or Swedish coast. Furthermore, considering the extensive intelligence work done by the GRU out of Porkkala, it is likely that the submarines would have participated in covert intelligence gathering against Finnish targets. Especially as the intelligence work is known to have in part been directed against naval and other coastal sites

Are there alternative explanations? Certainly. The submarines might have been misidentified barges, or they might have come from Tallinn and turned north to get around heavy weather. However, the most likely explanation in my opinion is that the vessels were transiting from Porkkala to Kronstadt:

The sketch captures the general outline of the Seehund well, including the approximate location and general shape of the conning tower and the location of the fixed periscope. Riding high would be explained by the lack of torpedoes, which are unlikely to have been carried during transit.

It is assumed that the Soviet Navy operated a number of Seehund-type submarines, including of an improved design. The Soviets did capture one of the main production sites of the Seehund, and this resumed operation relatively soon after the war, with part of the workforce being German. The ability to produce the improved design appears to have been there.

The Seehunds were sighted in Kronstadt, as well as in other parts of the Baltic Sea during the time frame in question.

Porkkala held an important dual role as a naval base and intelligence gathering hub. The later was led by GRU, with some units being directly subordinated to the Leningrad Military District. Amongst the targets for the intelligence gathering operation were Finnish Navy, Coast Guard, and harbour locations. Using midget submarines for covert intelligence gathering would fit that pattern.

The location in the northern half of the Gulf of Finland also seems more likely for a unit coming from a Finnish port than from a location on the southern shore of the Gulf.


A special ‘Thank you’ to Jägarchefen and Lars Gyllenhaal!

[1] http://www.hisutton.com/Secret%20History%20-%20the%20Soviet%20submarine%20gap.html

[2] Register No. P.D. 054/52

[3] CIA file CIA-RDP80-00810A002800340004-3

[4] All quotes in paragraph from: J. von Braun and L. Gyllenhaal, Ryska elitförband och specialvapen, 2nd edn., Stockholm, Fischer & Co, 2016

[5] CIA file CIA-RDP82-00457R001100020007-4

[6] CIA file CIA-RDP82-00457R000800070004-6

[7] CIA file CIA-RDP82-00457R003300540006-7

[8] J. Leskinen, ‘Porkkalan tukikohta 1944-1956’, in J. Nieminen (ed.), Porkkala – Tapahtumien keskellä, Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulun Sotahistorian laitos, 2009

[9] K. Rentola, ‘Porkkala ja tiedustelu’, in J. Nieminen (ed.), Porkkala – Tapahtumien keskellä, Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulun Sotahistorian laitos, 2009

[10] L. Amirhanov, ‘Neuvostoliiton Porkkala-uddin laivastotukikohta kylmässä sodassa 1945-1956’, in J. Nieminen (ed.), Porkkala – Tapahtumien keskellä, Maanpuolustuskorkeakoulun Sotahistorian laitos, 2009

HX Trumped

The HX-program is moving forward, and several of the programs have seen significant changes, in many cases caused by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s new resident.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Things are looking up for the ‘Rhino’ (or ‘Super Bug’ if you want) for the moment. The Kuwaiti deal is finally looking like it could secure a second export order for the aircraft, and the Canadians seem like they could actually lease or buy  a small amount as a stop-gap to cover for the cancelled F-35 buy. This move has been discussed for years, but in the last year it has moved from speculation to government policy.

But the twist that has caused most buzz is without doubt the announcement that the new US leadership has ordered a review of the carrier-based version of the F-35C against the Advanced Super Hornet concept. While I find it unlikely that the ‘all-inclusive’ most advanced form of the Advanced Super Hornet would be ordered, this review will likely provide an updated concept (with price tags) that can be employed for future (more limited) USN updates as well as for export drives such as the HX.

Boeing, somewhat surprisingly, has kept a low profile in Finland. It remains to be seen if this will change with this summer’s air shows.

F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 has been under quite some pressure following the tweets of President (then elect) Trump, who was happy to trash the cost of the program.

Lockheed Martin quickly recovered their posture (though not their stock price), and explained that they will certainly look into this, and that they have a plan ready to reduce costs further.

Now, it is uncertain to what extent Lockheed Martin and (especially) Trump are honest and to what extent they simply figured out that this theatre is just what they need. It is no secret that the unit price of the F-35 is on a healthy downward trend following the troubled early years of the program. It is also no secret that Lockheed Martin has been pushing for larger block buys, as these would make it possible for the company to achieve higher efficiency in their production lines. This is an excellent opportunity to enlist the support of the White House for the larger block buys, and in the meantime the president can happily boast about getting a better deal by getting the low-rate lots cheaper than his predecessor. Win-win, at least until some troublesome aviation journalists starts looking it…

Regardless of the politics behind it, the F-35A is now officially and for the first time below the 100 million USD threshold. This came as part of the LRIP 10 agreement, and Lockheed Martin indeed thought it prudent to credit ‘President Trump’s personal involvement’ with accelerating the negotiations and sharpening Lockheed-Martin’s focus on driving down the price. Despite the recent issues with the landing gear of the F-35C carrier-based version, the F-35A version is moving forward and meeting milestones according to plan, and the above-mentioned F-35C review against the Advanced Super Hornet will likely result in yet another paper explaining the need for stealth and sensor fusion on the modern battlefield. In other words, the mid- to long-term prospects for the F-35 look good, perhaps even slightly better than they did before Trump got involved.

Eurofighter Typhoon

In January BAE (finally) launched their official Finnish Twitter-account, quite some time after BAE Systems Belgium got theirs. On the whole, BAE has significantly heightened their profile, and isn’t the least bit shy about the fact that they thinks the Typhoon would be the best answer to the needs of the Finnish Air Force.

While BAE still hasn’t explained exactly why they think that’s the case, they have been happy to announce that the acquisition could be funded through the UK Export Finance.

What is often forgotten is that the Typhoon does indeed have an impressive service record in the harsh semi-subarctic climate of the South Atlantic, having been responsible for the air cover of the Falkland Islands since 2009. Of note is that while the aircrews assigned to RAF Mount Pleasant have been rotated, the aircrafts haven’t. The original four aircraft maintained a constant 24/7 QRA flight for over five years, before finally being relieved a while back. Honouring the traditions of the Hal Far Fighter Flight based in Malta during World War 2, the Typhoons wear tailcodes matching the names of the Gladiators of the original flight.

Dassault Rafale

Eight months ago I sat and listened to a presentation by a representative of Dassault, who happily explained the value of the fighter and (almost) all of its subsystems being French. I smiled and nodded politely, thinking to myself that while I understand the value of this from a domestic point of view, I am unsure whether this is a plus or minus in the case of HX. My worry was based on the sometimes volatile state of French politics, especially compared to the relatively stable state of US ones.

Let’s just say I have revised that opinion.

While France certainly has their share of pro-Russian politicians of different colours, Donald Trump has very efficiently demonstrated that the political risks associated with buying French is no larger than buying from the US.


Saab JAS 39E Gripen

The first flight of the ‘Dash Eight’ prototype is still some time away. Though this was originally slated for Q4 2016, representatives of Saab are adamant that the program as a whole is still on track, and that the delay is due to moving around different parts of the test and development program.

While this might be true, and not flying for the sake of just flying might be the proper decision from a program point of view, this is still something of a PR-loss for Saab, who has been pushing the “on time and budget” narrative. 2017 will be an important year for Saab’s new fighter.

Seinäjoki International Air Show 2017

Contrary to what usually is the case, the Finnish Aeronautical Association’s air show will receive some competition for the Finnish aviation crowds, in that another major air show will take place in Helsinki the day before. Still, the organisers are clear with that they try to get as many HX-competitors attending as possible, and that they hope to see them “both in the air and on the ground“. Last year the JAS 39C Gripen was flying, with the Eurofighter Typhoon being found on static display. Hopefully this year will bring some new players to the Finnish airspace.



And so it seems the Houthis have scored perhaps their most spectacular success to date.

Normal disclaimers apply, we do not currently know that the video is real, but as this is in line with the earlier demonstrated capability of the Yemeni rebels to launch successful attacks against shipping, I am prepared to tentatively accept the video as real until more evidence surfaces (it always does).

The first shot of the vessel, showing its starboard side. Note long and thin mast, tilted rear part of the stack, and Crotale-launcher on rear superstructure, all of which are characteristic for the Al Madinah. Note also helicopter on deck.
The vessel in the video is a Al Madinah class frigate. Four of these 2,000 ton (2,600 fl) frigates were built by French yard CNIM in La Seyne for the Saudi Navy during the first half of the 80’s, having been entered service between 1985 and 1986, and undergoing a major refit in France between 1995 and 2000. The crew consists of a total of 179 persons. The vessel is largely defenceless against modern anti-ship missiles, the sole air defence being an 8-shot Crotale launcher (with reloads) and two 40 mm Bofors guns (mounted amidships with relatively poor firing arches).

Based on the video, the attack seems to have followed the same modus operandi as the attack on Swift. If this is the case, the missile is most likely an Iranian-supplied C-802/Noor fired from a truck-based TEL, with the vessel having been tracked by shorebased radars and potentially shadowed by smaller vessels (note that the opening clip shows the vessel from starboard, while in the later clips it is travelling in the opposite direction). As said, this is based on the assumption that the attack seems to be modelled after the one on Swift, the short clip here gives very little to go after.

Still from the video, showing the moment of impact. Note that it is well to the rear and below deck-level.
The single missile seems to have impacted the very rear of the vessel. This has likely destroyed the stern-mounted 533 mm torpedo tubes, variable depth sonar, and the helicopter pad, but should not be a fatal strike if the watertight compartments are properly secured and the ensuing fire is brought under control. It is however entirely possible that this has caused damage to the hull which would cause the propeller shafts to become misaligned, significantly reducing or completely ending the ships ability to move under her own steam. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a picture of the Al Madinah showing the hull below the waterline, and thus we can only guess the location of the propellers and their supports.

The frigates sport a helipad capable of handling the Saudi Navy’s AS.365 Dauphin-2, and the vessel seems to have had a helicopter aboard during the attack.

Iranian-made Noor/C-802 anti-ship missile being fired. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Erfan Kouchari
On the whole, while this is certainly one for the history books, successful anti-ship missile attacks are surprisingly rare considering their level of proliferation, in operational terms it won’t affect the Saudi-led war. The frigates have a very limited effect on what is for all practical purposes a land war, and while the damaged frigate is likely to need a significant overhaul (if the shaft line has been damaged it might be deemed uneconomical to return to service), the long term impact boils down to two questions:

How will this affect the Saudi naval expansion program? The long-winded modernisation program is centred around the so-called LCS-frigate, but also includes smaller 2,600 ton vessels. The need for modern warships with a solid self-defence capability might suddenly become more urgent in the minds of the Saudi leadership.

The other question is Iran. The missile was certainly not something made in the basement of a local warlord, but has been imported from abroad, most likely from Iran. An Iranian supplied weapon has now put a major Saudi surface vessel out of action, and quite likely caused losses amongst its crew. How will Riyadh react to this?

With the eyes of the world on Syria (and Trump), Yemen is steadily shaping up to be the tinderbox that might cause a major regional war.

*’Vampire’ is the brevity code for a hostile anti-ship missile.

Update 31 January 2017:

A Saudi press release on the incident has been published, which contradicts the version above by claiming the attack was made by three ‘suicide boats’, one of which impacted in the stern and leading to two dead sailors. The RSAF would then have chased of the other two (the frigate does feature Link 11 for communicating with aircraft).

I find this version somewhat hard to believe. To begin with, the opening video does seem to show a missile, and not another boat. Secondly, while the frigate lacked missile defenses, it has perfectly adequate weapons to fend off three boats,  including deck guns and small arms of the crew. This is especially true given the longer reaction time available in the case of a boat versus a missile closing in. Naturally, the ship might have been at low readiness and been caught by surprise, but some kind of reaction would seem logical. The only vessel besides the frigate on the video is also the camera platform, which apparently got away.

All in all, while I don’t completely rule out the Saudi version, I still believe a missile to be the more likely version.

One ‘intermediate’ version would be that the closing vessel(s) would have fired an anti-tank missile, which would have caused a fire and potentially a secondary explosions amongst the torpedoes.

Update 06 February 

A leaked video claiming to show the flight  deck at the moment of impact has appeared, showing a white vessel approaching and then detonating. The video seems to be real, it featuring an AS365/565 on the helicopter deck, painted in the colors used by the Royal Saudi Naval Aviation, and the camera angle is the expected one for a camera watching the flight deck.

There has also appeared pictures showing the frigate entering port. The vessel sports the pennant number 702, identifying it as the lead ship of the class, ‘Al Madinah’, with visible damage being very light, and consistent with an external explosion caused by a light craft VBIED. Most likely the vessel will be back in service within weeks, as opposed to months.

‘The Best Artillery in Europe’

There are several new developments when it comes to heavy indirect fire in the Finnish Army since I last visited the topic, so here’s a brief overview, including some BONUS-content:

K9 Thunder

The planned procurement of the Korean K9 Thunder self-propelled gun is moving forward. Perhaps the greatest talking point so far has been the discrepancies between reports in KoreanKorean and Finnish media. While Finnish media talks about ‘tens of guns’ for a price tag of ‘100 million Euros or slightly above’, the Korean media is more specific, and mentions 48 guns valued at 400 million US Dollars (375 million Euros), including technology transfer. While the number of guns certainly could be correct, the difference in price is rather staggering…

Contrary to my speculating last time around, the K10 resupply vehicle is not set to be included in the deal. However, Estonia has been invited to join in the procurement. The country has declared their intent to equip their mechanised brigade, the 1. Jalaväebrigaad, with self-propelled artillery. Estonia and Finland has bought defence equipment together before, and a joint buy might be a good way to put some additional pressure on the price.

The first K9 Thunder on Finnish soil attended trials at Rovajärvi firing range last year, as part of the Join Fires Exercise (MVH 2016). The preliminary contract is expected to be signed this spring.

Lost & Found

That the Finnish artillery park has been large is no secret. Exactly how large is.

In an interesting turn of events, the latest reform of the Defence Forces suddenly increased the number of Finnish artillery pieces, 120 mm mortars and up, with about 900 pieces.

This statement, widely presented by the press as Finland hiding information from OSCE, deserves some further comments. Yes, it is certainly not in the spirit of the Vienna Agreement, though part of the explanation lies in the known omissions of the document. The document only covers systems in units down to brigade/regiment level, meaning that those artillery systems deployed in independent battalions and companies, such as the Finnish local defence units, aren’t included. The same goes for the Navy/Marines, which also is outside of the agreement. A third potential issue is stored guns which are again assigned a wartime task, and as such are re-entering the document.

The more interesting part than speculating how it was done is why, and especially why the guns were brought back into the document. There are clearly some high-level signalling taking place.

For those keeping count, the current artillery park is shown as 698 heavy mortars, 18 AMOS self-propelled mortars, 34 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers, 471 light howitzers, 76 130 mm field guns, 156 152/155 mm heavy howitzers/field guns, and 113 MLRS.

The best artillery in Europe

The planned purchase of K9 does not take place in a vacuum, but is one part of the larger plan for upgrading the artillery. The aim, as explained by Inspector of Artillery colonel Pasivirta, is to get the best artillery found in Europe, and with some margin.

First firing of the 155 mm BONUS Mk II ‘smart’ anti-tank round at MVH 2016. Source: Maavoimat.fi

This includes already made steps, such as the introduction of the BONUS anti-tank round. The round has a range of up to 35 km, and once over the target area two sub-munitions are ejected. These are equipped with sensors, and search for armoured targets. If a suitable target is found, it is destroyed by a shaped-charge punching through the roof of the vehicle, normally the most lightly armoured part. The first firing in Finnish service of this highly potent artillery round took place at the above-mentioned MVH 2016 exercise.

The bigger headline was the announcement that the service is looking into counter-battery radars. These makes it possible to locate the position of firing units, and in some cases even to alert own troops in the enemy’s target area that enemy artillery is heading their way. The acquisition of such as system, Saab’s ARTHUR and ELTA’s ELM-2084 comes to mind, would certainly raise the deadliness of the Finnish artillery, and makes perfect sense.

More puzzling was the tweet issued by the official Finnish MoD Twitter-account. Where the colonel talks about a swift (though not rushed) procurement program with an RFQ coming out this spring, and the system being operational by 2020, the author of the tweet (grumpily?) claims that the ‘Defence Forces have wanted the radars for 30 years, but the acquisition hasn’t even been cleared for an RFI’.

I have now idea what that was about.

Article 546 – Finnish officers under pressure

There is something missing in the Finnish defence and national security discussion since a week ago.

The new YlPalvOhj 2017 (general statutes of service for the Finnish Defence Forces) entered into service on the 1 January, and included an updated article on the participation of soldiers in public discussions (own translation).

546. Professional soldiers and the students in training by defence forces for military duties should also otherwise abstain from interfering in issues related to party politics and be wary of connecting the defence forces to these.

How this sweeping statement is to be interpreted is open to question, but the fact is that a number of active-duty officers have decided to publicly freeze their accounts, and it is unclear how many others have decided to keep a lower profile to avoid overstepping the blurry line. Clear is that both the Finnish Officers’ Union well as MP’s from different parties have reacted, and asked for clarity. An official clarifying letter has been issued, but it doesn’t really seem to clarify things.

Instead of sorting out what “party politics” mean in a country with a multi-party parliamentary system, the answer has been to try and distinguish between statutes (which bear legal implications) and recommendations (the breaking of which does not cause any consequences, neither “officially nor unofficially”). Article 546. should apparently be treated as one of the later, and as such it is purely a recommendation. This is in all fairness about as ridiculous as the explanation that the recommendation stems from a wish to maintain the internal cohesion by keeping the officers outside the increased polarisation of general society.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that this is anything but an attempt to silence the budding tendency of more officers to participate in discussions on social media, something which has been openly encouraged by the current chief of defence, general Lindberg. I firmly belive this to be contrary to the interests of the defence forces as a whole, since open discussion benefits the defence forces through developing the public understanding on questions related to national security, and most likely increases the internal cohesion of the forces by creating public forums where professionals from different parts of the organisation can meet and discuss. This is something of a new phenomenon in Finland, where traditionally soldiers have kept a very low profile in any public discussion. If you are kind you might say that this comes due to traditions rooted in the experiences from other countries where the defence forces have become political factors. If not, you might say it is another example of the long shadows finlandisation still casts.

Stamp from a time when it wasn’t suitable to mention NATO. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Posti- ja telelaitos

A number of high-ranking politicians, including former FM Tuomioja and current MoD Niinistö, have publicly called out statements by officers as being out of line. It does seem that this political pressure have finally made its way into the written instructions of the defence forces, and into a document which generations of officers have grown up seeing as, regardless of what the clarifying letter says, a written order and the leading scripture for proper behaviour.

This is worrying to say the least, and not only a question about our soldiers enjoying freedom of speech like the rest of us. The wider implications are also apparent. It would seem strange that the gray eminence behind this would have simply wished for the removal of the officers from the public discussions, as this would remove those with insight into the practical aspects of ‘hard’ national security (and foreign politics through international missions for that matter). Rather probably, there is a more general wish to silence the discussion as a whole. National security is an important topic, and one which has become even more so following the recent developments in Europe and further abroad. It is also a major cost when it comes to our tax money, and it feels strange that a fact-based and well-mannered discussion on the related issues, large and small, would be a problem to our politicians. To ban professionals, either directly or through recommendations (i.e. chilling effects, as major Mashiri bluntly described it), from participating in a discussion because they might voice opinions differing from the current political leadership is not in public interest. And in all honesty: if you can’t stand someone arguing for a viewpoint opposite of yours, might it be that it isn’t them arguing that is the problem?

Someone should be ashamed of themselves.

An Analysis Flawed

The post is also found in a Finnish translation made by James Mashiri on his blog Somesotilas.

Finnish daily Iltalehti published an analysis regarding the Squadron 2020-program, and like most analyses, if your baseline data is incorrect, your conclusion is likely to go wrong. This is what happened here as well.

The analysis is a hodgepodge of correct information leading to false conclusions, unrelated anecdotes, strange non sequiturs, and plain wrong information, all being presented in a package that is more akin to an opinion piece directed against the Navy and the leadership of the Defence Forces. While any major shipbuilding program for the Navy will lead to a number of more or less ill-informed pieces on the “but Panssarilaivat“-subject, this is a particularly poor example of the genre. Some of the most glaring errors:

  • Claiming that the Finnish steel-hulled corvette would be related to the US aluminium-hulled patrol vessels of the LCS-program
  • That this relation would cause any issues the LCS has to carry over to the corvettes
  • That stationing Bastion anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad(!) would make the Finnish ships “easy targets”
  • Claiming that the A2/AD-bubble in Kaliningrad creates an impenetrable “steel dome” (see earlier post)
  • That recent developments in radar technology (“spotting seagulls at long ranges”) is a disruptive event that makes stealthy warships useless
  • That the vessels would be “effortlessly” distinguishable against the horizon
  • That the Finnish coastal defence ships ate the whole defence budget prior to WWII, and was the reason the Army had to go to war under-equipped (see earlier post)
  • That the ships are big to be able to cope with deployments on the high seas during international missions (see earlier post)
  • Claiming that the Navy wants to lay mines on the high seas (certainly not the case, see page 15)
  • That it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of the vessel before launch, due to expected teething troubles (this is an insult to all engineers in the marine industry)
  • That corvettes, sporting a heavy battery of surface-to-air missiles, would need more air cover from the Air Force’s fighters than the current fast attack crafts, or the host of other high-priority targets being found in the southern parts of country (see earlier post)
  • The article brings up Patria’s recent concept of a containerised version of the NEMO-mortar system, apparently in an attempt to show that missiles can be land-based, overlooking the fact that there actually are truck-based system in service in the Finnish Defence Forces (as opposed to containerised mortars), and that these and the warships are seen as supporting and not replacing each other (see earlier post)
  • That the whole of the Baltic Sea could be closed by Russian missiles bringing down the Øresund Bridge (not the case, the amount of rubble would be relatively minor relative to water depth and easily cleared)
  • The deal would likely overheat the Finnish shipyard industry and hurt the competitiveness of the Turku yard (utter rubbish, the closure of the Rauma yard cost 600 persons their job, with the re-started RMC having created around 450 jobs, and crucially within a short enough time-span that retraining hasn’t been a major factor)
  • That the NATO-countries bordering the Baltic Sea sports a vastly larger fleet than the Russian Baltic Fleet (see earlier post), making the Finnish ships redundant, somehow forgetting that we’re not a NATO-member (and that the inlet to the Baltic Sea was supposed to have been cut)
  • That the new Finnish Katanpää-class mine countermeasure vessels are failures (see earlier post) and lack any meaningful role in a future war (see earlier post)

The final conclusion is that the Navy doesn’t need the new corvettes, which are useless, and now we must hope that the politicians overrule the admirals to force a time-out and re-evaluation of the future needs of the Navy. As is evident from the links above, the arguments he bases this assertion on are either false, misunderstood, or completely irrelevant for Squadron 2020. Most have been addressed on the blog before, but a few deserve a closer review.

The LCS – an unrelated vessel for an unrelated mission

The text makes a big deal about the fact that the Squadron 2020 is based on the US Littoral Combat Ship, and the issues faced by that project.

The major issue here, is the fact that the notion that the two projects would be in any way related is completely false. The secondary issue is that the article completely overlooks the planned role for the LCS.

The LCS came about largely as a result of the withdrawal of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. These were the smallest ocean-going combat vessels of the US Navy, and this lead to an increased demand for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. It was quickly recognised that for a number of the missions these high-tech destroyers were overkill, and a smaller (i.e. cheaper) solution had to be found for flag-waving and patrol missions where asymmetric threats was the main thing to worry about. The problem for the LCS, and especially for the Freedom-class, is that they look like full-blown corvettes or light frigates, but are in fact large patrol ships (‘PS’, according to the USNI Ship Designation System). This means that they are not to be seen as one-for-one replacements for the earlier frigates, but to take over some low-end missions from larger surface vessels at a low(ish) cost. However, they have received a far share of critique for being lightly armed and having less ability to withstand combat when compared to the 1970’s OPH-frigate. This has in turn lead to demands for increasing the weapons load and resilience of the ships’ systems, to make them true corvettes/light frigates. An upgraded ‘LCS-frigate’ is also offered for export, and Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in this design.

Army 25th Combat Aviation Brigade earns deck landing qualifications abaord Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS-3)
USS Fort Worht (LCS-3), looking too much like a proper warship for its own good. Source: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy/MCS 2nd Class Antonio P. Turretto Ramos

Long story short: that the new US patrol vessel isn’t as damage resistant as combat vessels doesn’t have anything to do with the new Finnish corvette.

Anti-shipping missiles in Kaliningrad – Come again?

The article claims that the new Finnish vessels will be sunk as soon as they appear at sea, because the Russians have created their A2/AD-fortress around Kaliningrad, including basing the K-300P Bastion-P in the exclave.

I do not understand the leap Ainola does here. The Bastion can’t reach anywhere near Finnish waters from Kaliningrad, so despite the fact that it is a matter of serious concern for the Poles and Lithuanians, and to a lesser extent the rest of the Baltic states and Germany, it doesn’t affect Finland directly. In other places, he sternly states that the southern parts of the Baltic Sea is none of Finland’s concern, but the tactical picture there apparently is? Especially out of place is the mention of Kaliningrad, as fired from Russian territory bordering the Gulf of Finland, the system covers roughly all Finnish waters east of Hanko.

As mentioned earlier, the Bastion is a potent weapon, but far from a ‘silver bullet’. It still needs targeting data, and the high speed is something of a mixed blessing, as it creates lots of heat for passive shipborne sensors to pick up and presumably also has an adverse effect on the final stages of target acquisition and interception.

Radars, seagulls, and jamming

Radar technology has made huge progress in recent years, but in all fairness, it isn’t a question about finding a seagull at range. To begin with, radar-cross sections can be widely detached from the area and volume of an object (ask the B-2 Spirit). In addition, there is the major issue with how to discern the relevant radar returns (i.e. ships) from irrelevant ones (i.e. seagulls). This isn’t anything new, and modern radars are very good at processing the myriad of returns. However, in the same way, modern countermeasures are very good at hiding these relevant returns. It is a continuous game of hide-and-seek, and while details are classified, it is safe to say that any kind of disruptive leap has not happened. Especially when you throw in the Finnish archipelago.

An example of a seagull-spotting radar, the Giraffe AMB. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Duch.Seb

The alternative

What would the alternative then be to the four corvettes? It is safe to say that this has probably been looked into by the Navy, and as mentioned I have discussed the question in my earlier post on why the increase in hull size is needed, but a short recap is in place.

One issue that is often glossed over is how radically the threat picture changed for the Finnish Navy with the end of the Cold War. The Navy has two ‘hard’ main missions in case of war: protecting Finnish shipping lanes and covering the southern flank. During the Cold War, any Soviet flotilla could rapidly depart the Estonian coast, and in a matter of hours have crossed the narrow Gulf of Finland to launch an amphibious assault to threaten major Finnish cities and installations, including the capital. With Estonia re-establishing its independence, this threat has decreased radically. The 336th Naval Infantry Brigade which is the main striking force of the Baltic Fleet is also based in Kaliningrad and not Kronstadt. However, while the threat of amphibious assaults have diminished, the threat to shipping has increased. This is due to the increased dependence on imports following the general trend of globalisation in society as a whole, and for the defence forces in particular. Also, the striking power of submarines and especially aircrafts have increased. This threat requires more than a number of shore-based missile launchers. It require constant presence, and a readiness to counter surface, sub-surface, and airborne threats.

Would it be possible to meet this without corvettes?


Would it be cheaper, and more efficient?

Probably not.

Finland could continue down the current road, featuring smaller, basically single-role warships. But getting four hulls (3D-capability and a mineship) for every corvette would not be cheaper, and would certainly lack the tactical flexibility offered by the corvettes.

Would it be possible to replace some of the roles with other systems?

It might be. Shore-based missile batteries can take over part of the air- and anti-shipping tasks, though these would lack some of the operational flexibility provided by the highly movable corvettes. The sub-hunting role is harder, with helicopters being the obvious choice. However, helicopters have their limits. They are excellent at locating and attacking a target when its presence and general area has been determined, usually by a shipborne system, but are poor tools when it comes to escorting ships, due to their relatively short endurance. One alternative would be to follow the Norwegian example, and buy a squadron of maritime patrol aircraft. 5 Boeing P-8A Poseidon for the RoNAF came in at around 1.1 billion Euro, so getting a meaningful number wouldn’t be cheap. Operating costs are hard to compare between aircrafts and corvettes, but it is safe to say getting the infrastructure (and mountain of sonobuoys needed) would effectively burn through any ‘excess’ money saved by scrapping the corvettes. A smaller aircraft might do, but it’s hard to see that this would cause any savings given the increased demand for shore-based missile systems that would follow this approach. And seriously, if you are concerned about the survivability of a corvette in the Baltic Sea, a converted airliner probably won’t fare better…

Boeing P-8 Poseidon, ranking ‘High’ on the Coolness-scale and ‘Low’ on the Bang-for-buck-in-Baltic-Sea-scale. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Trevor Hannant

While it is no secret that I have voiced opinions about how the Navy, especially at the start of the program, handled its public relations and how the project was marketed to the broader public, there is really no excuse for an experienced journalist to produce an analysis so basically flawed as has been the case here. I am confident the Navy will rise to the challenge, and provide the information needed for our politicians to make the right choice and approve the crucial program that is Squadron 2020. If anything, Finland need more, not less, corvettes than planned.

James Mashiri also made an excellent overview of some of the articles and press releases related to the program. Note that most are in Finnish. 

The Articles and Press Releases related to this post (newest to oldest)

Other articles related to Squadron 2020

The Defence Forces, Ministry of Defence, and other authorities

BMP-2M going for fifty

Few post-war armoured vehicles can rival the fame of the BMP-1/2 family. While the tanks of the Soviet armoured groups changed rather dramatically during the cold war, the classic lines of the BMP was a mainstay of the operational manoeuvre groups poised to fight their way through the Fulda Gap from their introduction in the mid-sixties up until the fall of the Soviet Union, and onwards to this very day.

US educational poster from the Cold War showing the Soviet ‘Big 7’. Note the BMP-1 being described as providing “Mobility, firepower and troop protection excellent by U.S. standards”. Source: DoD via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t hard to realise how this came to be. The vehicle was the first true modern infantry fighting vehicle, being able not only to transport the infantry to the battlefield, but to stay in the fight and provide supporting fire to the infantry squads once they had dismounted. As was typical for Soviet armoured vehicles, it featured a very low profile and proved to be both rugged and reliable. It was also one of the first combat vehicles to offer full NBC-protection, meaning that it could (in theory at least) fight its way through chemical weapons and radioactive fallout likely to be encountered on the battlefield of WWIII. The introduction of the modernised BMP-2 solved one of the main issues with the BMP-1, namely its outdated 2A28 73 mm low-pressure gun. This weapon sported comparable performance to the SPG-9 recoilless-rifle (video from Ukraine showing its use), but the continued increase in protection of NATO AFV’s and longer range of their weapon systems meant that it became increasingly doubtful if the BMP-1 would 1) be able to close within firing range and 2) whether the HEAT-round would cause any significant damage.

The solution was to fit a larger turret with a more modern weapons suite, the main weapon now being the 30 mm 2A42 autocannon, with heavy anti-tank firepower being provided by the 9M111 Fagot (PstOhj 82) and 9M113 Konkurs (PstOhj 82M) SACLOS-guided anti-tank missiles. The missile system could also be dismounted for use by the infantry squad carried. A number of other changes, most relatively minor, were also made, and so the ultimate Soviet IFV was born.

An infantry tank near ruins of Donetsk International Airport. Ea
The original BMP-1 still soldier on in many parts of the world. Here a vehicle takes part in the fighting over Donetsk International Airport in Ukraine two years ago. Source: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Finland bought both BMP-1 and BMP-2 in significant numbers, these being the most advanced and modern vehicles available to transport and support our panssarijääkärit in battle. The original TOE had the infantry units riding in the BMP-1, which due to its smaller tower fit a full squad of eight in the rear compartment, while the recon infantry and anti-tank units rode in the BMP-2, which only allowed for six passengers. But even the most successful of designs will not last forever. By now, the BMP-1 (with exception of specialised vehicles based on it) has been retired, and the BMP-2 has seen some modest modifications. These include the removal of the anti-tank missile system (due to the shelf-life of the missiles expiring), and the fitting of lighter side skirts made of sheet metal instead of the original flotation devices. The BMP has also been complemented by the significantly more modern Swedish CV9030 in service, and more than one observer probably expected the BMP-2 to slowly follow its bigger brother the T-72 into the melting pot, with more CV9030’s to replace it. This, however, was not to be.

Back in 2013, the Finnish authorities ordered technology demonstrators from two Finnish companies. The goal of this project was to see if the BMP-2 could be modified to meet the demands of the modern battlefield. Two key areas were the ability to operate at night without the use of the active infra-red searchlight, and reducing the heat signature of the vehicle. The original layout of the BMP means that the hot exhaust gases are blown straight upwards, a solution not uncommon in the days before thermal sights became commonplace. This, however, leads to a very high heat signature.

After comparative trials, the configuration suggested by Conlog Oy was chosen as the basis for the new BMP-2M/MD. A brief note on the designations: the current project feature two different communication suites, with the resulting vehicle being designated either -2M or -2MD depending on which of these are fitted. As this difference is purely internal, all updated IFV’s are usually referred to as simply BMP-2M, a designation also used for a number of other BMP-2 modernisation packages around the world. The modernised vehicle was first displayed to a wider audience at a special demonstration showing off a number of the Army’s newest fighting vehicles in August 2015, at the same time that the first Finnish Leopard 2A6 was unveiled. Externally the main difference is the Berberys-R multi-spectral camouflage from the Polish company Miranda. In layman’s terms, this is a highly advanced camo net, reducing not only the visual footprint, but the heat, IR, and radar signature as well. The net comes in pre-cut pieces, and allows for full movement of the turret and all other movable parts.

The modernised BMP-2M showing of its Berberys camouflage system, new sights atop the 30 mm gun, raised wire-cutter, and the storage boxes mounted externally on the rear part of the hull. Source: Maavoimat

The BMP-2M feature a number of other changes as well. To further reduce the heat signature, the exhausts have been routed through a side-mounted exhaust port, and angled downwards for better shielding. Crucially, the night-vision suite is completely revamped, and both the gunner and driver have access to new displays which allow the vehicle to safely drive and fight during the dark hours. Other new equipment include a new anti-air sight, which allows for a higher efficiency when engaging helicopters and other low- and slow-flying targets. A number of external storage boxes have also been mounted on both the turret and on the rear part of the hull. The later cover the firing ports for the infantry squad carried in the passenger compartment. The value of IFV’s having firing ports for the rifles have however always been questioned, as the added firepower is marginal and the firing ports becomes potential weakspots in the armour. A single port remains, which is to be used by the squad’s light machine gun. The value of the added storage space for the soldiers can hardly be overestimated. The low profile of the BMP-2 means that it has always been a cramped vehicle, and the amount of personal equipment carried by the infantry soldiers has risen steadily during the last decades. Now part of this, including e.g. the bulky anti-tank mines, can be carried in the external baskets.

A Polish BMP-1 (local designation BWP-1) demonstrates the cramped nature of the low BMP-1/2 hull. To add to crew comfort, there are fuel tanks inside the rear door. Source: Polish DoD

Amongst the other changes the cushioning of the seats have been improved, new command and communications systems have been fitted (an important update which the defence force naturally doesn’t give out much details about), a new wire cutter is installed, and there is now heating in the passenger compartment.

Added together, do these modifications bring the trusty old ‘Bemari‘ up to the same standard as the CV9030? Certainly not! But the real selling point, as usual, is cost. For somewhat over 35 million euros, the army will get about one hundred modified BMP-2’s. The same sum would barely give ten brand new CV9030’s. The BMP-2M won’t be the best IFV around, but it will be adequate, and is now going to serve into the 2030’s, over fifty years after the original BMP-2 rolled off the production line. Not bad for a family of vehicles first envisioned in the late 1950’s!

Sources for this post: MoD, Conlog, Reserviläinen, Iltalehti, PSPR