Review: Höstsol & Höstregn

Prominent Swedish blogger Lars Wilderäng (Cornucopia?) made something of a splash amongst the Swedish defence community when he released his first novel Midvintermörker in 2011, widely hailed as the best Swedish techno-thriller since the Cold War. This was followed by the final part of the two-book series, before Wilderäng temporarily left near-future wars for other topics. Last year he finally returned to the battlefield with the book Höstsol (ISBN 9789176795439), which received it’s finale earlier this year with Höstregn (ISBN 9789176795842).

As with the earlier series, the books describe how an escalating crisis eventually evolves into war, and how the Swedish Defence Forces and general society respond to the challenge. In typical Clancyesque fashion the narrative follow a number of persons at different positions whose lives are affected by the war in one way or the other. The characters enter and exit the story throughout in varied fashions, and with the exception of a handful of the main cast most remain rather flat to the reader. The decision is understandable, this is a story about a major war, and to try and tell too many stories in-depth at once would quickly have made the books twice as thick as they are. Less well-developed side-characters feels like a fair trade-off to keep the number of pages manageable.

More disturbing is that especially in Höstsol a number of characters feel somewhat dumbed down. Yes Pjotr, you already mentioned that the whole of Gayropa is occupied by fascists, there’s no need to reiterate it at every turn. The portrayal of Swedish media is also a bit over the top in my personal view. These are largely the same issues that I disliked the most about Midvintermörker’s finale Midsommargryning, and they are especially tiresome as Wilderäng clearly is capable of writing interesting characters, Misja and major Bergäng being prime examples.

But to be honest these aren’t books read for the depths of the character gallery, but for the vivid portrayal of how a modern society copes with war, and for possible scenarios leading up to one. While not the first one to raise the topic, Midvintermörker was likely the single most important factor in popularising the ‘Gotland-scenario’, and in the same way Höstsol creates an interesting and plausible scenario for how a crisis involving Sweden could come about. Most fascinating here is the work performed to mask the beginning operations as something other than war, and while I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, Höstsol’s strength lies largely in the questions raised around the politics and how ‘hybrid’ scenarios could be adopted to a Swedish context.

If much of Höstsol is a slow build-up to disaster, by Höstregn the reader is already in a full-blown shooting war. While the policy questions and study of international relations might not be as interesting, the quicker pace of Wilderäng’s war story makes the book the more enjoyable one from a thriller point of view. Still, there’s really no use in treating the books as two independent works, as the story is a direct continuation to the point that they need to be read together.

I am somewhat torn about my final verdict. I still feel that Midvintermörker is Wilderäng’s strongest foray into the techno-thriller genre, but Höstsol is (by now at least) considerably more thought-provoking from a national security point of view. There is a tendency in both Finland and Sweden to have a rather sharply defined view of what wars are and how they start, and Wilderäng’s latest works serve as (enjoyable) reminders that by now we should have learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to Russian military planning.

Recommended.

A Northern Battlefield

Following the ongoing debate over at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Science’s blog regarding what role infantry could have in fighting a mechanised attacker in Norrland, a Twitter-exchange erupted following a comment to the end of who the mechanised attacker would be? Surely the Russians would have better things to do with their mechanised units than to try and capture vast expanses of forests, fells, and bogs? The question deserves a closer look, as the answer by default holds significant importance to the defence planning of not only Sweden, but Finland and Norway as well.
Norrland is not of interest to the Russians due to anything found there (no, not even the Kiruna iron ore), Russia has enough undisturbed wilderness of its own. But the region is very interesting due to the proximity to the Kola Peninsula.

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Finnish Jaeger Brigade units out in the field during exercise in the northern parts of the country. Source: Finnish Defence Forces

The Kola Peninsula, and more generally the Murmansk-Arkhangelsk-Naryan-Mar area, are of immense strategic importance to Russian defence planning due to their role as the sole route from where to break out into the Atlantic to intercept the transatlantic supply lines of NATO, as well as providing the basing area for the majority of the Russian strategic nuclear forces. In particular the Russian second-strike capability is centered around the ballistic-missile submarines of the Northern Fleet (though a limited number is also found in the Pacific Fleet), and they would take up position in the Barents Sea from where they would fire their missiles in case of an all-out nuclear attack on the USA. In addition, the shortest airborne route between the US and Russia passes over the Arctic, meaning that the area plays a role in long-range aviation as well.
This leads to the Cap of the North (or Sápmi) being the left flank of the Russian strategic deterrent and the frontline of any attempt at stopping the US from reinforcing Europe. Geopolitics plays an interesting role as well, as Norway is the sole NATO country in the region. While it is highly unlikely that Norway or other NATO forces would try and attack the northwestern corner of Russia due to the risk of escalating a conflict into full-scale nuclear war, Russia could conceivably want to push the frontline westward. As far as Russia is concerned, for the moment there is no real strategic depth to protect their bases. The Norwegian town of Kirkenes lies only 150 km from Severomorsk, the main base of the Northern Fleet. This is well within firing range of the MGM-140 ATACMS used by the US M270 MLRS and M142 HIMARS systems. And once the front is being pushed westwards, the question where to stop remains open. Capturing e.g. Narvik and Bodø would significantly hamper the ability of NATO to recapture Norwegian territory, while at the same time providing forward bases from which to operate against the transatlantic supply lines (compare German plans for submarine bases in Norway during WWII, rendered utterly insignificant by the fall of France).

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Map of northern Europe, giving a somewhat different perspective of the region compared to the usual projections. Source: Google Maps

But Norway is a tricky battlefield. The country is relatively narrow and heavily mountainous, handing a relative small defending force near-perfect conditions to defend against a more numerous attacker.

Which makes flanking tempting.

There are three possible ways to flank the Norwegian Army, either by amphibious and/or airborne landings, or by marching through Finnish Lappi and Swedish Norrland to reach (or threaten) the Norwegian coast.
Now, cutting through Finland and Sweden to reach the Atlantic coast is no simple endeavour, the shortest way from Severomorsk to Narvik is a nice even 1,000 km, passing through Sodankylä, Pajala, and Kiruna, before following the Iron Ore Line to Narvik, the northernmost railway in western Europe. The roads are of varied quality, and getting any kind of a workable supply line through the region will be a challenge. The railroad networks are a chapter of their own, with the Finnish tracks not being connected to the Russian ones north of the Vartius-Kostamus crossing, and there being a gauge break between the Finnish and Swedish railroads.
However, the most distinguishing feature of the region is the sheer amount of real estate. Combined with the fact that for none of the involved countries, with the possible exception of Norway, will the northern theatre be their main front. While a Russian offensive undoubtedly could allocate more forces than the opposition, it is still highly doubtful if they would be able to muster a large enough number that they could lay down a solid frontline and protect the rear areas and supply lines. As such a likely scenario is that the Russian spearheads would be able to make some impressive mileage while battling bigger and smaller skirmishes, while the real decisive fight will be a drawn-out one between security forces and smaller Finnish and Swedish units blowing bridges and targeting enemy supply units.

Jyvälahden valtaus 3.1.1942: Viestimiehet kirkasjohdon kimpussa.
Finnish communication specialists at work following the battle for Jyvälahti, near Uhtua, in January 1942. Source: SA-Kuva

This is not without precedent as the fragmented battlefield is nothing new to northern Europe. In January 1942 two Finnish battalions (1,900 men in total) infiltrated 75 kilometer through enemy territory to May Guba, burned a major supply depot, and skied back to own lines with a total loss of 3 killed in actions and 10 wounded (in addition to scores of frostbitten soldiers). During the whole of the Continuation War large parts of the frontline north of Lake Onega were if not fragmented then leaking, and as it is likely that the main Finnish and Swedish units will be concentrated towards the population centras in the southern parts of their respective countries, a return to the same scenario would not be unlikely in case of an armed conflict.

Ska Moder Svea svika broderfolket?

Charly Salonius-Pasternak och Robin Häggblom, om att de svenska politikernas brist på ansvarstagande för försvaret riskerar samarbetet med Finland och äventyrar stabiliteten i Östersjöregionen (länk).

Sveriges försvarsförmåga har förbättrats genom konsekvent arbete i Försvarsmakten och genom att fördjupa internationella samarbeten. Förbättringen kommer dock (också enligt Högkvarterets egen bedömning) att raderas ut om politikerna inte avsevärt höjer försvarsanslaget i närtid.

Detta kommer i sådana fall att försämra Sveriges säkerhet, påverka samarbete med Finland negativt och på sikt öka de säkerhetspolitiska spänningar i Östersjöregionen.

I praktiken har detta förbigåtts i den svenska valdebatten. Från finländsk horisont är det svårt att förstå hur en central angelägenhet för staten så totalt kan hamna i skymundan i valet till den svenska Riksdagen.

Det svenska försvaret behöver enligt ÖB Micael Bydén ett minimum av 18 miljarder kronor i tillskott mellan 2018 och 2021. Därefter måste försvarsbudgeten mera än fördubblas för att Sverige (jmf utredningen Försvarsmaktens långsiktiga materielbehov och ÖB:s framtidsstudie Tillväxt för ett starkare försvar) ska kunna erhålla en försvarskapacitet som möjliggör försvaret av riket – och då tillsammans med andra.

Men om försvarsförmågan minskar gör det Sverige å ena sidan till ett mer intressant objekt att utsätta för militära påtryckningsmedel och, å andra sidan, till en mindre intressant samarbetspartner.

När det gäller den regionala stabiliteten är rädslan för ett återskapande av försvarsvakuum runt Sverige det enskilt största problemet. Knutet till detta är oron för att även när Sverige ökar sin försvarsförmåga, såsom det har skett de senaste tre åren, är försvarspolitiken och dess finansiering så oförutsägbar att samarbetspartners inte kan förutse hur hållbar försvarsförmågan egentligen är.

Om den förstärkta försvarsförmågan sjunker igen hägrar en ond cirkel som börjar med för låga försvarsanslag. Detta ökar i sin tur behovet av internationellt samarbete (dock med Sverige som en klart “mer lättviktig partner”) och särskilt med fokus på internationella övningar som ger utrikes- och försvarspolitiskt kapital, men där Sverige inte har råd att delta med mer än symboliska resurser.

Samtidigt minskar dessa kostsamma internationella övningar ytterligare tillgängliga medel för daglig verksamhet, något som på sikt ytterligare minskar försvarsförmågan.

Ett axplock som tyder på att denna onda cirkel redan gör sig gällande, finns i Officerstidningen nr 5 2018. För att spara pengar har Markstridsskolan som bland annat står för simulatorträning, valt att inte delta i arméns stabs- och sambandövning (Assö).

I något skede måste då Nato – garanten för militär stabilitet i regionen – omvärdera vilken relation försvarsalliansen ska ha till Sverige. En möjlighet är att Sverige ansöker om medlemskap i Nato, något som dock skulle innebära krav på en markant ökad försvarsbudget.

De svenska politikerna kan också offentligt, eller i skymundan, komma överens om att erbjuda ökad tillgänglighet för Nato (och sannolikt USA) när det gäller svenskt territorium och resurser (till exempel underrättelseinformation). I gengäld skulle Nato:s medlemmar fylla vakuumet – det vill säga ge de facto försvarsgarantier. Detta skulle också öka Sveriges beroende av USA, något som i nuläget med Trump för en mindre förutsägbar säkerhetspolitik än förr.

Kravet på att Sverige deltar ännu mer i Nato:s försvarsövningar skulle sannolikt öka, och möjligen skulle Sverige avkrävas ett klargörande av den ensidiga svenska solidaritetsdeklarationen, så att Sverige förbinder sig att stödja Nato:s försvar av alliansens medlemmar i Östersjöregionen (främst Baltikum). Det skulle innebära att Sveriges de factosuveränitet och utrikespolitiska manöverutrymme minskar.

Om den svenska försvarsmakten inte tillförs mer resurser kan man i Finland börja ifrågasätta värdet av finländsk-svenskt försvarssamarbete. Detta är ju något som står och faller med tillit och genuin ökad samförsvarsförmåga. Tillit byggs genom skapande av täta informella nätverk mellan alla nivåer av respektive försvarsmakt och ökad kunskap om hur krigstida förband på kompaninivå och uppåt kan uppträda tillsammans. Det är en tröskelhöjande samförsvarsförmågan som byggs igenom offentliga och stora bilaterala övningar som till exempel respektive flygvapens övningar under 2017.

Båda delarna kan äventyras om den svenska försvarsmakten inte har råd att delta i kvalificerad övning med finländska soldater.

Även om det svensk-finländska försvarssamarbetet inte har byggts eller borde byggas på gemensamma anskaffningar av materiel, går det att slå fast att om den svenska försvarsförmåga raseras kommer det att påverka sannolikheten för att Gripen väljs som nästa jaktplan för Finland.

Ur totalförsvarssynvinkel är en viktig faktor att Finlands försörjningslinjer hotas om Sverige inte klarar att skydda svenskt territorialvatten från Öresund till Skärgårdshavet. Om inte betydande budgetmedel anslås kommer dock nödvändiga nyinvesteringar i svenska flottan att skjutas på framtiden – och detta i ett läge när ett antal av ytfartygen och ubåtarna håller på att falla för åldersstrecket.

Flottans (och flygvapnets) nyinvesteringar säkerställs dock troligen av politikerna på grund av industripolitiken, något som dock sannolikt lämnar försvaret med för få användare av dessa system.

Extern säkerhet (nationellt försvar) är en grunduppgift för en stat, och något som bara staten kan organisera. Oviljan hos svenska politiker under en lång rad regeringar att “betala för vad de har beställt”, ger en signal om att Sverige inte tar försvaret av det egna land seriöst; man talar gärna om framtiden, men när det gäller svenska försvarsförmågans långtidsåteruppbyggnad – speciellt arméns – är de närmaste åren kritiska.

Tyvärr implicerar det att politikerna antingen inte bryr sig om eller alternativt inte litar på den militära ledningens bedömning. Ingendera utgör ett bra utgångsläge i en krissituation.

Om inte den nu hotande nedgången i försvarsförmågan åtgärdas, finns en allvarlig risk att Sverige kommer att förlora utrikespolitiskt manöverutrymme samtidigt som Försvarsmakten blir tvungen att än en gång anpassa sig till att endast ha en begränsad roll i försvaret av svenskt territorium. Uppkomsten av ett försvarsvakuum skulle också ha allvarliga konsekvenser för stabiliteten i Östersjöregionen.

Det krävs raska och meningsfulla beslut gällande det svenska försvaret, om Moder Svea inte vill svika sina grannar och sin identitet som ett solidariskt land.

CHARLY SALONIUS-PASTERNAK är äldre forskare vid Utrikespolitiska institutet i Helsingfors.

ROBIN HÄGGBLOM är analytiker i försvars- och säkerhetspolitik och driver försvarsbloggen Corporal Frisk.

The Swedish Wartime Army

The Swedish Army is probably as poorly understood as the Finnish one. Having been a large conscription/reserve-based force during much of the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War period, it then suffered from a strategic timeout and shrunk to a shadow of its former size and capability due to a focus on expeditionary missions. Today it is back in its former role, with homeland defence as the core mission. The order of battle is however markedly different from what it used to.

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Soldiers of the 71. motorised battalion in their AMV during exercise Aurora 17. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A few words about geography and doctrine (especially for our Finnish readers). For an enemy coming from the east there are two ways of getting into Sweden: either through crossing the Finnish-Swedish border at the very northern parts of the country, and the slowly fighting your way down to the southern parts of the country where the majority of the population lives, in the process crossing through heavily forested terrain and bridging a number of rivers, some of rather significant size. The other option is through an amphibious and/or airborne assault directly at the Swedish heartland. While the threat has diminished following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, this option promises quick gains at the risk of having vulnerable supply lines stretching over the Baltic Sea. As such having rapidly deployable forces which at short notice can get to a landing zone before the enemy is able to consolidate his gains is a core focus.

This has led to the adoption of a largely professional force, though it should be noted that well over a third of all personnel serve part-time (GSS/T), and as such will require mobilisation in wartime. Issues with recruitment have meant that conscription has again been activated, though this is a far cry from the general conscription of old, with only a few thousand entering service annualy. In short, a case can be made that both the fully professional nature of the force as well as the change that the reintroduction of conscription has brought are often overstated.

The classic Swedish adage Meet – Engage – Break has been replaced with a more limited set of goals (from the Perspektivstuide 2016-2018):

The requirements of the Defence Forces have been operationalized in the perspective study to military strategic objectives. These are:

  • Deny an opponent opportunities to achieve his goals with actions below the threshold of an armed attack,
  • Break the offensive power of an attacker in an armed attack,
  • Regardless of the conflict level, promote regional stability.

The Brigades

The main striking power comes from two armoured (or heavy mechanised) brigades, simply designated 1. Brigaden and 2. Brigaden (though confusingly the headquarters when treated as independent units are numbered 3. and 2. brigade headquarters respectively). It is important to note that these are highly modular, and while in practice the main fighting elements are taking part in exercises according to a rather stable OOB which is described on the official Swedish Defence Forces homepage, the lack of any tactical headquarters at the level above brigade places additional responsibility upon the brigade headquarters. As the official line is that the Swedish Defence Forces should be able to meet simultaneous enemy offensives in two different areas, in practice this would mean that a single brigade headquarter could bear responsibility of coordinating and leading the combined effort to meet and defeat an enemy offensive. This means that a single brigade headquarters is designed to able to command up to ten battalions, a force well above that of any traditional brigade combat team.

In normal operations, 1. Brigaden is made up of a headquarters and the 191. and 192. armoured battalions from I 19 Norrbotten regiment in Boden together with the 72. armoured battalion and 71. motorised battalion from P 7 Södra Skånska regiment at Revingehed. The motorised battalion operate the Patria AMV as Patgb 360. For indirect fire support one of the two artillery battalions, either the 91. or the 92., also operates with the unit. It should be noted that this causes something of a logistical headache upon mobilisation, as Revingehed and Boden are at opposite ends of the Swedish map, with the trip (by road) measuring just over 1,500 km.

Similarly, 2. Brigaden include the two armoured battalions 41. and 42. and the 2. brigade headquarters from P4 Skaraborg regiment. For a motorised unit, the 12. motorised rifle battalion from the Livgardet (Life Guard) regiment is available. These are organised along the same lines as the 71. with the AMV, but being based close to the Swedish capital of Stockholm they have a special focus on urban combat and the defence of the capital. As such, the ultimate use of the 12. is likely depending upon the nature of the battle, and the modular structure of the forces makes it likely that if the situation would so require the 12. would be kept as a detached unit in Stockholm and the 71. would be used by the brigade having the greater need for motorised infantry.

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CV 9040 and Strv 122 training together in Gotland. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

The armoured battalions each have two armoured companies with Strv 122, a Swedish modification of the Leopard 2A5 featuring additional armour protection and local combat systems. When entering service in the late 90’s it was the most advanced Leopard variant in service (some would go as far as the most advanced main battle tank in service at the time), but a lack of upgrades have reduced their effectiveness somewhat. An unspecified upgrade program updating 88 vehicles was finally launched in 2016, with this blog detailing some of the expected changes.  The 41., 42., 72., 191., and 192 are officially designated as mechanised battalions due to historical reasons, though in practice most officers will refer to them as armoured battalions.

The CV 9040 (locally designated Strf 9040) is an interesting variant of the well-known CV 90-family. Sweden being the home of the vehicle, their vehicles are of the first generation (Mk I). The outstanding feature is the 40 mm L/70 main gun, which makes them the heaviest armed western IFV, with all export customers having opted for either 30 or 35 mm main armaments. All battalions sport two mechanised companies of CV 9040 with infantry. A number of specialised vehicles based on the chassis are also available, including dedicated recovery and artillery observers variants, as well as a SPAAG variant in the form of the Lvkv 90 sporting the same 40 mm Bofors gun but with a radar and associated fire control systems for anti-aircraft work.

The sole organic indirect fire support in the battalions are towed 120 mm mortars. To get added mobility and protection the battalions are set to receive BAE Mjölner twin-barreled self-propelled 120 mm mortars on CV 90 chassis starting next year.

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The complete wartime 91. Artillery battalion during exercise Vintersol 2018. Source: Mattias Hellgren/Försvarsmakten

The brigade level 91. and 92. artillery battalions each have 12 wheeled Archer 155 mm SPG. This is a very modern system, which sports excellent operational mobility thanks to being truck-mounted, and comes with all the expected goodies such as CBRN protection and a 52-calibre long barrel. Both are trained and mobilised by the A 9 Artilleri Regiment in Boden.

These 24 Archers are the sole non-mortar artillery currently active in the Swedish Defence Forces. However, an additional 12 Archers are mothballed in the strategic reserve (sv. Förbandsreserven), and a further 12 are owned by the Swedish Defence Material Administration FMV who is trying to find an export customer for these. These 24 are from the cancelled Norwegian order, and are being upgraded to the same standard as the operational ones.

Detached units

However, to say that the Swedish Army is two brigades strong would be a serious misnomer. A number of detached units are available which add serious capabilities. One of these is the Army Ranger Battalion (193. Ranger Battalion in wartime), discussed in an earlier post, which is used against the enemy’s critical vulnerabilities deep behind their lines.

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Airborne soldier from 31. battalion during exercise Våreld 2018. During the exercise two reduced squadrons, in total 221 soldiers, were airlanded by UH-60M helicopters with enough supplies for 4 days of combat behind enemy lines. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A key unit is K 3 Livregementets Hussarer (the Hussars of the Life Regiment), the last Swedish unit to use the ‘K for Cavalry’ designation (and in line with this a company in the unit is designated as a squadron). The unit consists of two battalions, one of which is the airborne 31. battalion with the other one being the 32. Underrättelsebataljonen (Intelligence battalion).

The 31. is the airborne unit of the Swedish Army, and is usually seen in close cooperation with the UH-60M Blackhawks of the 2. Helicopter squadron of the Air Force’s Helicopter Wing. The unit is a rapid reaction force, being able to quickly deploy to take and hold terrain. In supporting roles it also operates a number of ATV’s, which can be air transported with the unit and provide an added measure of mobility for supporting functions such as transport of heavy goods or wounded soldiers.

The 32. is a high-level intelligence gathering unit, which include diverse capabilities such as the paratrooper squadron/company, UAV-units, and traditional jaeger units which can be inserted either overland, by helicopter, or parachuted. The common denominator is that they all operate in small units, often squad-strength, to gather intelligence at the high-tactical or operational level. As a secondary capability they can also direct fire support, either from ground based or airborne systems.

The Swedish special forces unit SOG is also based at K 3 in Karlsborg.

Edit 11 June 2018 1900 GMT+2:

A number of readers pointed out a few glaring omissions when it came to detached units (security, support, and MP units had been left out due to space restrictions):

The sister unit to the 12. motorised is the Livbataljonen (The Life Guard Battalion). While it handles ceremonial duties in peacetime, in wartime it would function as an infantry battalion dedicated to the defence of key sites in the greater Stockholm region. As such much of the focus in the peacetime training is dedicated to urban warfare.

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P 18 – half a battalion and an imposing ram called Harald in the defence of Gotland. Source: Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten

A few years ago the Swedish Defence Forces suddenly reestablished itself on the island of Gotland (with regular forces, HV had been there all along). To begin with this so called Stridsgrupp 18 (Battlegroup 18) has been handled by rotating in mechanised units from the regiments on the mainland (at the time of writing it is P 4 which handles this), and my impression was that even with the reestablishment of P 18 Gotlands Regiment this was set to continue for the time being. However, the currently 17 soldiers strong regiment will in the immediate future start recruiting their own personnel, with the aim of establishing half an armoured battalion (one tank and one mechanised company) of contracted soldiers. When this is done, P 18 will also take over the responsibility of creating the wartime SG 18 from their own forces instead of borrowing them from the mainland.

Amfibieregementet

The marine regiment Amf 1 is another unit that in wartime would mobilise infantry-style units outside of the regular brigade structure as part of its 2. battalion. In this case, the unit consists of three infantry companies (204., 205., 206.,) which are light infantry able to use both trucks and CB 90 assault craft for transports, and which operate the manportable version of the HELLFIRE missile in an anti-shipping role (local designation Rb 17). Compared to their Finnish colleagues, the anti-shipping role has greater importance, as the archipelago is the first line of defence and not the right flank when meeting an attacker coming from the east.

The elite unit of Amf 1 is the 202. Kustjägarkompaniet, the coastal jaeger company, which is the intelligence gathering unit of the battalion. The unit should not be confused with the similarly named Kustjägarkompaniet (or the wartime coastal jaeger battlegroup) of the Finnish Navy, which is a marine infantry unit more closely related to the 204., 205., and 206. companies.

Hemvärnet

The size of the Swedish Army is the most often maligned feature of the current force structure. Even with the activation of a second brigade post-Crimea, the lack of manpower and area coverage is often seen as lacking. The argument however overlooks the fact that there are 40 infantry battalions of the Hemvärnet, the Home Guard.

Joel Thungren Försvarsmakten Skåne HV
Soldiers of the Hemvärnet dismounting during an exercise in Skåne. Source: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten

The main mission of the HV is outlined in the official Handbok Hemvärnet 2016:

HV units should be able to:

• Guard an area or object
• Protect an area or object
• Protect a transportation (on land, and for some battalions, at sea)
• Monitor
• Harass (auxiliary task, which can be solved after allocation of resources and extended training activities)
• Delay (auxiliary task, which can be solved after allocation of resources and
extended training activities).

HV units should be able to operate in all types of terrain, including urban environment and under all visibility and weather conditions. The unit should be able to solve tasks throughout the day. This refers primarily to the region in which the unit has its own main operating area.

It should be mentioned that HV is completely interoperable with the regular Army units, employing the same command and communication equipment and principles, as well as adhering to Army-standard working methods at all levels. Upon mobilisation, the first sub-units should be operational within hours and the main parts of a unit should be operational within 24 hours. The majority of the units are best described as light infantry equipped for basic defensive operations. However, several specialised units are either regional or national resources, such as those tasked with CBRN-protection, reconnaissance, or engineering missions.

The equipment level varies. Much of the equipment was made available for HV when it becomes surplus to the regular force. However, due to the post-Cold War drawdown some high-end systems have been transferred to HV-use. In the most extreme cases, this includes capabilities such as coastal mining with HV’s CB 90 light assault crafts. In peacetime the force is regularly used in assisting other authorities when they need manpower, e.g. when fighting forest fires, but they have also been called up during the Red October submarine hunt when foreign underwater activity took place in Swedish waters.

From a Finnish point of view, the most eye-catching omission is the extremely low levels of indirect fire support. Only after 2015 has HV gotten their first 120 mm heavy mortars, and the total force amounts to four mortar platoons spread out over the country. The low quantity of indirect fire units is however in line with the general Swedish force composition.

Summary

All in all, the rumour of the Swedish forces quantitative demise are vastly overstated. With five and a half armoured battalions, two motorised battalion, an airborne battalion,  an infantry battalion, a marine infantry battalion, an army ranger battalion, and no less than forty home guard battalions it might not be the force of the Cold War, but it certainly is a force to be reckoned with.

That does not mean that the Army doesn’t face a number of issues, almost all of which boil down to either problems with manpower shortages and lack of funds. The manpower shortage include both recruitment and retention issues, and is having an effect at all levels from soldiers to officers. The lack of funds have been getting worse, with a number of important upgrades or acquisition programs having been postponed or cancelled, leading to a situation where many of these now are becoming urgent. At the same time, many of the recent high-profile moves such as the acquisition of the Patriot air defence system and the reestablishment of the P 18 Gotland regiment have been taking place without further funding having been provided to cover for these. The lack of modern medium-range air defences (until the Patriot is operational) and low number of indirect fire units stand out, but in the immediate future the bigger problem is how the lack of funding will negatively affect the everyday work of the units. Many officers have voiced grave concerns that next year their units will face serious cuts in training if the budget isn’t increased significantly from the sub-1% of GDP where it is currently at.

Of Helicopters and High Costs

The NH90 was supposed to become the gold-standard of military transport helicopters, utilising composite structures and high-tech avionics to provide a modern workhorse for the airlift needs in a host of European countries.

Almost immediately the grand vision hit rough waters, with significant teething troubles and delays. A chapter in itself was the joint Nordic helicopter program, which eventually ended up with the different countries all going more or less their own ways. In the end, Denmark and ordered the larger AW101 (ex-EH101), Norway got both the AW101 and the NH90 NFH (naval version), while Finland ordered the NH90 TTH and Sweden opted for two modified versions of the NH90, designated HKP 14E and 14F locally.

Choppers
Swedish HKP 14E visiting Kuopio, Finland, in 2016. Source: Own picture

In addition to the “baseline” teething troubles experienced by the project as a whole, the Swedes in a highly-publicised move decided that they wanted a higher cabin. This lead to a significant redesign, which brought added costs and delays. In the background also loomed persistent rumors that the evaluation made by the Swedish Defence Forces had been won by another contender (the Sikorsky S-92), and that the NH90 had been bought due to political considerations.

While the Finnish helicopter program also suffered delays, at one point forcing the once-retired Mi-8’s back into service, the Finnish Army rather quickly regained their footing. In part thanks to the delays, Patria was negotiated to take a bigger role in the overhaul of not only the Finnish but also of foreign helicopters, and by not requiring all documentation and systems to be fully operational immediately, the Army was able to phase the NH90-fleet into use at a relatively fast pace (still years late compared to the original plan). One of the breakthrough moments was the major exercise Pyörremyrsky 2011, which saw a formation of 9 helicopters perform an airlift operations. A first, also by international standards.

In the meantime Sweden was still suffering from issues with regards to the localisation, and the attitude towards incomplete or temporary paperwork was not as forgiving. To make matters more urgent, like in Finland, Sweden was also in the process of retiring their earlier helicopters. In this case, the retirement of the Hkp 10B (Super Puma) meant that the forces in Afghanistan would be without a MEDEVAC helicopter for the foreseeable future, something which was deemed unacceptable. To solve the issue an urgent order for 15 UH-60M Blackhawk was placed in 2011 as a stop-gap solution. Influenced by the troublesome HKP 14 program, the helicopters were ordered according to US standards, with one of the chief programme executives being rumoured to have summed up the order with “I don’t care if it reads ‘US ARMY’ on their sides, just get them here!”.

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Swedish HKP 16 (UH-60M Blackhawk) in joint operations with the ground elements of NBG 15. In an ironic twist, the Finnish detachment to the battle group was a NH90 MEDEVAC unit. Source: Alexander Karlsson/Försvarsmakten

The new Blackhawks provided stellar service in Afghanistan, and once the operation winded down they were integrated into the Swedish Air Force’s Helicopter Wing as part of the medium lift capability of the defence forces. By all accounts the helicopters, locally designated HKP 16, have performed well, and the deal is a prime example of something acquired outside of original plans quickly finding its place in the greater scheme of things. At the same time the transport version HKP 14E was slowly getting introduced into service, but still the critique didn’t let up. The marine version HKP 14F (not to be confused with the international naval version NH90 NFH) was being delayed further until 2015, and entered service both without any kind of anti-submarine torpedo as well as without a working data link to relay information to and from other units.

NH 90 on show
Finnish NH90 during an aerial display in Vaasa in early 2018. Source: Own picture

The latest blow came when it was clear that the Air Force had looked into mothballing all nine HKP 14E, due to the extremely high operating costs, over 19,000 EUR per flight hour. At the heart of the issue lies accounting. The majority of the costs does not come from fuel, but from fixed costs such as yearly overhauls. The high cost means that the Air Force prefer to use the Blackhawks whenever possible, as they sport a flight hour cost one-fifth of that of the HKP 14 . This in turns leads to even lower usage for the HKP 14, further pushing up the cost per hour. To make matters worse, there is speculation that part of the fixed costs are depreciation, i.e. accounting for the fact that the value of the helicopter diminishes per year. A handy tool when it comes to calculating investments in regular companies, a not-so-handy one when it comes to defence budgets.

This is in stark contrast to the Finnish numbers, where the flight hour cost is on a steady downwards trajectory. For 2017 the budgeted flight hour cost was 15,900 EUR, while for 2018 it is down in the neighborhood of around 10,000 EUR. This was confirmed by colonel Jaro Kesänen, Commanding Officer of Utti Jaeger Regiment which is home to the Helicopter Battalion. Speaking as a private citizen, Kesänen noted in a non-formal Twitter exchange that the NH90 is an appreciated asset in the Finnish Defence Forces and that the flight hour cost is within the range envisioned when the helicopters were acquired. Notable is that in the case of Finland the NH90 is the sole transport helicopter available to the Defence Forces (though a limited number of Border Guard helicopters can also be called upon by the authorities), and the caveat should be made that rarely does the Finnish Defence Forces openly voice negative opinions about their own systems.

In the last weeks two major reports on the future of the Swedish Defence Forces have been released. The first was SOU 2018:7 which looked at the long-term needs for new equipment to the Swedish Defence Forces (also known as “Wahlbergs review”). The review looked into mothballing either all HKP 14 or only the army cooperation HKP 14E to make budgetary saving. The conclusions presented was that few to none savings would be made if the HKP 14E was retired, and in case all HKP 14 were retired this would have too large negative effects in the maritime domain. The second report was the Defence Forces’ outlook at how to expand up until 2035 (known as PerP). The report only deals with the Helicopter Wing in passing, and does not mention individual systems. What it does note is identify the need to grow the organisation and its capabilities, in part due to the need for airmobile units. As such, the career of the HKP 14 seems set to continue in the Swedish Defence Forces. Time will tell if it will grow into a beautiful swan, or whether it is destined to stay the ugly duckling of the Helicopter Wing.

A Little Something about “Jägare”

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good one! // Jägarchefen

Return to Gävle

 

Readers of the blog will remember the Gävle-incident in July, when Swedish media reported that an unidentified object had been recorded by a survey vessel in the port of Gävle. Back then I argued that the likely culprit was a swimmer delivery vehicle from the Swedish Defence Forces. The case then more or less died down, with the Swedish Defence Forces eventually issuing a (half-hearted?) denial that they had operated in the area at the time.

Today the story resurfaced after Swedish media published news about a private report detailing that the incident should be classified as a “serious intentional violation”, and that foreign underwater activity had taken place in the port. The two authors of the report are a far cry from your everyday happy blogger, and consist of Nils-Ove Jansson (former deputy chief of the Swedish military intelligence agency MUST and with work experience in naval intelligence analysis) as well as Nils Engström (retired naval officer). While they are unable to determine the nationality of the intruder, they point to “certain similarities” between the pictures and Triton-NN, a Russian SDV. The report has been sent to the Swedish Defence Forces and the Port Authority of Gävle.

What makes the whole thing more interesting is the comment by the Swedish Defence Forces when confronted with the findings. To Swedish Daily SvD they point to their own investigation, which they “are confident in”, and conclude that there are “no indications of this being foreign underwater activity”.

Note choice word “foreign”.

Naturally, it is possible (even likely) that there are details not mentioned in the media abstract of the report (which certainly would make for interesting reading), but when one put the pieces together it does seem that we have a situation where:

  • Two independent experts have confirmed the presence of underwater activity in Gävle,
  • The Swedish Defence Forces denies it is the work of foreign special forces,
  • We know from before that the Swedish Defence Forces has a policy of not commenting on issues dealing with how their own special forces train or operate.

As such, I would still argue that the most likely explanation is a Swedish SDV with associated special forces either training or performing a live mission in the port.

The sources are found here and here (both paywalled), with a shorter version for free here.

Video of the JFD SEAL Carrier being demonstrated during DSEI this month. The class is in use by the Swedish special forces.