2017 in Review

2017 is rapidly approaching its end, and a short look back (and forward) might be in order. Contrary to some earlier years, it is hard to name a single transformative event  when it comes to national security. Instead, it has been a roller coaster ride of smaller ones, some more absurd than the others.

Some would prefer the metaphor ‘dumpster fire’ to ‘roller coaster ride’, and I don’t blame them. Still, the apparently dysfunctional US government has not caused any major disasters (e.g. nuclear war or breaking up NATO) so far, though there certainly are quite a number of possibilities still left unexplored in that regard. In my personal calendar, I will mark down 2017 as the year I went from not not expecting to see nuclear weapons used in anger during my lifetime to believing a war on the Korean peninsula involving nukes to be more likely than not. I don’t believe either side wants war, but the strong US rhetoric, whether honest or not, is certainly preparing the ground for possible misinterpretations and muscle-flexing which eventually leaves little room for backing down. As I have discussed earlier on the blog, the talk about the DPRK regime being ‘crazy’ is probably not helping either…

Closer to home, the single most notable incident was the midget submarine that entered Gävle harbour and was caught red-handed by a survey vessel. The blog post on the initial findings became the fourth most read post of 2017, and landed me a surprise interview on Swedish national TV. The port also featured in the third most viewed post of the year, which was my translation of Jägarchefen’s excellent post A Picture in Moscow (Swedish original here). Interestingly enough, I later during the year ran into the translated post being used as a source for a briefing I attended, and needless to say I was very happy to see that the materials posted on the blog have real-world effects other than sometimes causing minor controversies on Twitter!

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

Over all, I must say I am very happy with how the year played out on the blog. The number of views grew with a nice even 30% compared to 2016, and while that is a somewhat lower tempo than the earlier years it is still a healthy number. Most importantly, I am very happy that the two Swedish guest posts rank as high as they do, indicating that the blog is bringing quality texts from the Swedish defence debate to Finnish and international readers, while my personal texts on Finnish matters receive nice numbers of views from Sweden. This indicates that the blog is bringing topics of interest from one country to the other, something which was one of my main goals when I first launched the blog back in the early days of 2014.

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

On a personal level, getting to visit RAF Lossiemouth as part of the Finnish media delegation and getting up to speed on the Eurofighter was a great experience. Similarly, getting to see the Kaivopuisto Airshow and being invited to the following reception at the British Embassy afterwards are fond memories. More recently, getting the opportunity to be a panel speaker at the Estonian Defence Forces’ Psychological Defence Course was a great honour, and it was also a very interesting event to attend. Getting to follow the Air Force practicing dispersed operations at my local airfield was also great. The one thing I am sorry I missed was the Navy holding its main Navy Day event in nearby Vaasa, as I had to call in sick that day. Well, looking forward to the centennial celebrations next year!

For 2018, I will strive to make some changes to the focus of the blog and how I work. The travel opportunities I have had have been nothing short of awesome, but I have reached the point that I will have to scale down on the travel work I do due to other commitments, and instead focus more on local opportunities. As such, I hope to be able to write more on the volunteer work done at the grassroots, and catch the opportunities to cover exercises such as the IPH-series in nearby Lohtaja. In addition, expect more on the HX and Pohjanmaa-class (ex-Squadron 2020, ex-MTA 2020) where significant developments are scheduled for next year. In 2018 I will also continue with the monthly reviews, which have offered an opportunity to do something a bit different on the blog, with the review of Harpia’s Russia’s Warplanes being the most popular one.

I would also like to thank a host of different people whom I have met and/or had the opportunity to discuss a host of interesting topics with during the year that was, including officers, journalists, and a host of ‘ordinary people’. Some of you are off-the-record, some on-the-record, but I am very thankful for the advice, insights, and comments you have offered. Thank you!

And last but not least, a happy new year!

MISU – the Green Cat

‘Tis the season, and as such everyone gets some Christmas presents. Such as a new 6×6 armoured personnel carrier.

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The Protolab PMPV ‘MISU’. Photo: Tero Tuominen (@TeroTweet)

The Finnish Army has a large number of Patria (ex-Sisu) XA-180/200 series of armoured personnel carriers. The PASI has become something of a trademark for Finnish forces, both in-country and on peacekeeping missions abroad. These have been supplemented by the modern and heavier AMV, which have been acquired in limited numbers. In addition, the mechanised units rely on CV 9030’s and the older BMP-2, which are about to get an upgrade. The rest of the infantry will have to make do without armoured protection, travelling by trucks.

The PASI are currently undergoing a limited MLU-program, with the latest order for more vehicles coming this week. The MLU is largely about keeping the vehicles running rather than improving their value on (the roads leading up to) the battlefield. As such, the end of the line is slowly approaching, especially for the older vehicles in the series, with those now being upgraded set to serve “into the 2030s”. The PASI MLU is part of a larger program aimed at improving the mobility of the Army, and in particular the first rate “operational forces” (also labelled manoeuvre forces). The likely home of the PASI amongst the operational forces is the three wartime readiness brigades. These are motorised infantry units that are to be the ‘fire brigades’ of the Army, using their operational mobility to quickly move to the key areas of the front. There, they will throw their weight and firepower behind the regional forces already present to create the centre of gravity and win the decisive battles. However, how they will do this in practice after the retirement of the PASI has been an open question.

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A Pasi in action during large-scale exercise UUSIMAA 2017. Source: Maavoimat FB

Naturally, introducing the AMV as a wholesale replacement to the XA would be the easy solution. The AMV is battle-proven, enjoys a very good reputation, and retains both operational and tactical mobility without sacrificing protection. The downside: it costs an arm and a leg. For an infantry-heavy army such as the Finnish one, the costs quickly becomes prohibitively high.

Enter the Protolab PMPV, known as MISU amongst friends. The PMPV is 6×6 MRAP, built with cost and ‘good-enough’ rather than ‘best’ as the guiding principles. The first prototype was built a few years ago, but aside from showings in a number of Finnish vehicle magazines and TV-shows little was heard of it until it was again brought to the headlines by the MoD announcing that four pre-production vehicles of a slightly modified design will be bought by the army for trials in field conditions during 2018 to 2020.

The stated aim is to evaluate whether the MISU can fulfill “future needs” of the Finnish Army. In practice, this refers to the abovementioned withdrawal of the PASI. While the MISU might not live up to the AMV, it still does offer some interesting features compared to the PASI. While the standard load is ten soldiers in the rear compartment and two crew members in the front, it is also able to be configured to take up to 10 tons of cargo, in essence doubling as a protected truck. When doing work as an APC, the soldiers sit high enough that they are not in contact with the floor, enhancing survivability in case of mines or IED’s. Another protective feature is that the front wheels are situated under the extended nose, meaning that any traditional mines will detonate well in front of both the driver cabin and the crew compartment. Traditional MRAP design features such as a heavy V-shaped bottom is also fitted, and while not primarily aimed at combat duty a RWS with a heavy machine gun can be fitted to the roof. The vehicle is also airportable by a C-130 Hercules, and there are ready mounting spots for appliqué armour in case the basic outfit isn’t enough. The vehicle is designed with a “structural top speed” of 110 km/h, though to be fair I am not quite sure if it actually can do this in current engine configuration with any meaningful payload.

Will the MISU eventually replace the PASI? It is not impossible, there has been something of a resurge in interest internationally with regards to cheaper 6×6 designs compared to the 8×8’s which reigned supreme for a while. There might also be an interest in broadening the domestic manufacturing base by not directing the order to Patria and their associates. I wouldn’t be surprised if a successful field trial was followed by an order for a battalion or so of MISU’s to replace the oldest PASI’s. If that proves successful, a follow-up order to replace the PASI is certainly within the realm of possibilities, possibly together with another batch of AMV’s.

Permanent Waves

This morning Finland’s (and the Nordic countries’) largest daily Helsingin Sanomat published what they claim is the first of a series of articles dealing with Finnish military intelligence. This is not in itself strange or unheard of, as Finland is set to receive new legislature regarding intelligence gathering aimed at both foreign and internal targets. The issue which has caused significant waves is that it is based on an “extensive material” including Secret and Top Secret documents, the two highest classifications in the Finnish four-stage classification system.

No, there’s not a link to the article. That’s an editorial decision on my part.

This has naturally caused quite an outrage, including comments from both major-general Ohra-Aho (chief of military intelligence), minister of defence Jussi Niinistö, and president Sauli Niinistö.  The National Bureau of Investigation (Fi. Keskusrikospoliisi) has also started two investigations, regarding both the leak itself as well as against Helsingin Sanomat regarding if classified information that may damage Finnish national defence and security have been illegally published or shared with the general public.

My understanding is that both are prosecuted according to Finnish criminal law’s chapter 12 ‘Crimes related to treason’, 7§ ‘Disclosure of State Secret’, which cover both publishing and transferring such information that is classified or “of the nature that its disclosure is likely to cause serious damage to Finland’s national defense, security, foreign affairs, or the national economy”.

The article itself is surprisingly thin on new information. While technically everything about the Signals Research Center (Fi. Viestikoekeskus) is indeed secret, as confirmed by the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court a number of years back, in practice it is usually identified as the Finnish Defence Forces main SIGINT/ELINT unit. The other major pieces of ‘news’ in the piece, such as that of Russia being seen as the main possible adversary, is not new either. Neither is it news that the Finnish intelligence community would like the new legislation to include allowing interception of computer traffic under certain circumstances.

It should be remembered that Finland lacks any kind of clear-cut legislation regarding what the military intelligence is allowed to do, and as far back as 2013 when the work on the new legislation was started, then-chief of defence general Puheloinen expressed a wish for a law regarding military intelligence, as it would provide parliamentary oversight and rules for what the service could and couldn’t do, and thus provide increased transparency. This push from within the service to get away from the current case of “we figure it out ourselves” to a proper legal framework is completely overlooked in the article, which instead wants to focus on the fact that the law would likely give broader intelligence gathering authority to the service.

Helsingin Sanomat naturally defends the publication with calls for added transparency, and that the Finnish public should be allowed to know “at least as much” as foreign intelligence services about Finnish intelligence gathering (though the citizens right to know comes with a price tag, as the article is paywalled).

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The managing editor Mäkinen also claims that the documents have been treated with the proper care, a statement which falls on the simple fact that the handling of Secret/Top Secret papers require every event to be logged, copies need to be traced, and they can’t be transferred outside the networks set up by the authorities, just to mention a few of the requirements (the short way to look at this is that it is illegal to run around with confidential material unless you are entrusted with them).

Another defence brought up by the paper is that the details given are of such a mundane nature that they won’t damage Finnish security. Indeed, much of the use made of the material is just namedropping memos and dates to dramatic effect without any proper analysis, and much of the acquire material seems to be rather old. However, while I am inclined to reluctantly agree when it comes to the information itself, Mäkinen doesn’t seem to realise the bizarre Catch-22 this throws their decision to print the article into. If the information gathered from the classified material is of such little value, why then break the law to publish it?

It certainly is possible to make a good, proper, article on Finnish military intelligence based on open sources and interviews. It might even be called for in light of the current debate on what by now is likely one of the most thoroughly prepared pieces of legislation in Finnish history. However, the feeling one gets from the current attempt by HS is largely one of cheap tabloid stories, trying to sell a story thin on anything substantial by sprinkling it with the allure of Top Secret-information.

I’ll leave the last word to Helsinki mayor and legal professional Jan Vapaavuori: ”

I learned as a young assistant in the 90’s that leaking confidential papers may get you fired, but leaking secret papers will get you to the courtroom.”

Guest Post: Accuracy of Freefall Aerial Bombing

Topias Uotila @THUotila is an active reservist and a student of warfare and security politics. Image: Excerpt with freefall aerial bombs. Original.

Accuracy of Freefall Aerial Bombing

It is said that freefall bombing is inaccurate, but that’s a very inaccurate thing to say – all pun intended.

Introduction

This article estimates with two methods how accurate modern freefall aerial bombing is. The methods don’t meet scientific standards, as the intent is rather to find a good rule of thumb for, for example, defense planning. We come to a conclusion that for bombs dropped from a non-harassed modern bomber at high altitude, for example over 5000 meters, a reasonable rule of thumb for CEP is 50 meters. The article consists of a literature study and an OSINT piece verifying the former.

My interest in the subject started when I gathered a crude dataset of different air launched weapons with, for example, ranges, carrying aircraft, weather requirements and accuracy. Most of the data is listed right on Wikipedia, but the accuracy of modern freefall bombing efforts was very elusive. It was unclear whether this is due to secrecy or the complex dependencies of accuracy to multiple variables.

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Most of the easy to find material handles the Second World War, but even then, the measures were more about mission success in total rather than accuracy of the bombing run.

Aerial Bombing

If you drop a stone, it will hit the point directly beneath it. But if you drop a shaped bomb from a freely moving airplane in conditions with varying wind and air pressure, calculating the point of impact becomes increasingly hard. If the wind and pressure conditions change during the flight path, calculating the trajectory beforehand becomes downright impossible. In reality there are even more sources for variance. Manually choosing the time of release is error prone, as is flying the aircraft at a constant level path and even the bombs may not be uniform or released at exactly the same moment. Sometimes dispersion is also sought after. It’s better to have eight bombs hit different parts of an area target than a single point.

To give an understanding of how much these variables affect the accuracy, let’s stop for two data points. During World War Two it was estimated that a three-degree change in heading at release lead to a 200-meter deviation at impact and a flight speed deviation from calculated of just a couple of kilometers per hour led the bombs astray for tens of meters.

Despite the complexities, I believed it has to be possible to have at least a statistical estimate of bombing accuracy or alternatively an accuracy function with a couple of the most important explaining variables, for example, drop altitude. These didn’t seem too secret, so I suspected that by asking on Twitter I would get at least mediocre sources. Naturally, I got more than I bargained for. To verify these further, I suspected I’d need to do some calculations of my own. Enter video footage from Syria, where Russia has used massive amounts of freefall bombs. I focused on a case study of two popular show reels of UAV recorded videos. The first video has likely one Su-25 run and one Su-24 run and the second video was presumably several Tu-22M3 only missions. The latter video was especially interesting as, since the plane type is a bomber, the strikes are certainly all from a relatively high altitude. My assumption is from 5.000 to 8.000 meters. By happenstance, Tu-22 is also the plane type I was most interested in to begin with.

Literature Study

During the past years USA has replaced almost all free fall bombs with JDAMs. The JDAM is a kit that is installed onto a conventional bomb. It makes the combination many times as expensive, but doesn’t differ in explosive or fragmentation potential. Conventional bombs cost a couple of thousands and a JDAM kit about 26.000 dollars. Thus, the JDAM has to be better in some other way. While there are a few possibilities, it’s relatively safe to assume the JDAM is more precise. With GPS the JDAM achieves a 5-meter CEP and without it a 30-meter. Thus, we get a lower boundary for the CEP of freefall bombing. If freefall bombing would be as accurate as a JDAM, JDAMs wouldn’t be used.

The Russian solution to the same need is the SVP-24, which is not an addition to the bomb, but rather a bombing computer added to the airplane. Thus, bombing with SVP-24 fulfills the definition of freefall bombing. Some Russian sources claim that they can achieve GPS guided JDAM level accuracies e.g. 3 to 7 meters with the SVP-24 in ideal conditions. They further claim, that even in battle conditions the accuracy would be on the level of 20 to 25 meters. While it is unclear if these accuracies mean the CEP, weaker accuracy measures are seldom used. Thus, these are very challenging claims to achieve. Personally, I find them hard to believe, but at least they add to our understanding and confidence of the maximum freefall bombing accuracy estimate.

Interestingly the same source estimates that bombing without such a computer has accuracies between 150 to 400 meters. Here, the high end, for a change, feels intuitively too large, as it corresponds to the maximums estimated in World War Two.

So, let’s look at that more historic data and begin from World War Two. The earliest estimate gives us a figure that only forty percent of the bombs hit a circle with radius of about 450 meters. This was before 1944 when the CEP was even introduced as the standard way of measuring accuracy in the US. When the new measure was introduced, the CEP accuracy had already improved to around 300 meters from the altitude of 5.000 meters using the B-17 and B-24 bombers.

One major invention behind accuracy improvement was likely the Norden bombsight. We can find a lot of data for it starting from testing in the 1930s. From an altitude of 1.200 meters a CEP of 11 meters was achieved in training. From higher up, they managed to achieve a 23-meter CEP. And when the set-up was moved to actual war, Air Corps achieved a 120-meter CEP from the altitude of 4.600 meters. Still zooming out and taking into account the whole attack, the bombs ended up on average 300 to 400 meters from the intended targets varying especially by unit and bombing altitude. Ending up on average 300 meters from the target is the practically the same thing as a 300-meter CEP – perfectly in line with the earlier measure for the B-17 and B-24.

During the war this inaccuracy made dive bombing an interesting choice for all belligerents. The Germans trained their crews for a CEP of 25 meters compared to 50 to 75 meters for level bombing. Both of these measures were expected to at least double in the heat of the battle. American efforts for dive bombing were on a similar level. As these figures for level bombing can roughly be stated as a CEP of 100 to 225 meters, they are a lot better than the ones presented for the Norden bombsight in the previous sources. This is likely due to combat being more challenging than what the bombing schools estimated.

The next data point that we have is a US estimate on the capabilities the Soviets could develop by the mid-60s. It’s a pretty safe assumption these are close to or slightly better compared to their own capabilities during the time of the writing. The best thing about these estimates is that they are presented as a function of bombing altitude making us able to draw that function.

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How accurate could the Soviets become by the mid-60s?

To summarize, the visual bombing improves with lower altitude a lot more than radar directed bombing and the best estimated accuracy is about 122 meters from an altitude of 3.000 meters. This gives us a total estimated range for CEP of 120 to 900 meters with CEP more than doubling when the altitude doubles.

Fast forward another decade to Vietnam and the bombs dropped by the F-105s achieved a CEP of 111 meters. This was when the airplanes were not shot at. The CEP increased to 136 meters under anti-aircraft artillery fire. Another report gives the A-1 a 90-meter and the F-4 a 150-meter CEP, when bombing from 600 meters of altitude. The difference is attributed to the faster speed of the F-4. The accuracy reverts back to World War Two levels of 300 meters during the night time or during adverse weather conditions. Yet another source states both this huge variance and my research problem painstakingly clearly by saying that the daily accuracy average ranges from 30 to 300 meters depending on tactics, target and weather. With radar bombing they managed to control some of the variance and get the accuracy to about 150 meters. The surprising thing is that this was considered as good as dive bombing accuracy, although the figures from World War Two for dive bombing already looked better.

Finally, the book “The Precision Revolution” gives a direct estimate of 61 meters for the CEP of US freefall bombing in 1990. Haven’t personally read the book, but Tuomo Rusila pointed this out in the previously mentioned Twitter discussion. It is good to keep in mind how dominant the US was in Iraq. However, it is quite probable, that the technology and techniques did improve dramatically from the Vietnam era. The rate of improvement has probably slowed down since the 90’s. Both due to diminishing marginal returns, but also due to the diminishing importance of freefall bombing.

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Summary of the data found in the literature study. There’s a lot of variance.

In conclusion, it’s difficult to believe any modern freefall bombing would achieve a lower than 25-meter CEP and on the other hand it seems quite proven that a 60-meter CEP can be achieved. Everything is naturally highly dependent on the conditions, skill and technology used.

OSINT

Next, we’ll compare these figures to what Russia has documented for us in Syria.

 

For the first strike, that I’m presuming to be done by a Su-25, we can identify three points of impact. The distances between the points range from 102 to 257 pixels in my original. At the same time, what I believe is a truck, is about 18 pixels long. If the truck is 8 meters in reality, the distances between the impacts are 45 and 114 meters. Calculating an exact CEP is not very fruitful with only three impact points. This is the only one of the strikes that I have currently geolocated and it’s at 36.407257°, 37.153259°. Looking at the distances Google gives, we get a rough validation for my estimates and subsequently proof that the truck is quite close to 8 meters.

In the second strike we can identify six points of impact. Using the road width as a reference point with presumably approximately 6 meters of width, we get a 68-meter distance between the furthest separated points of impact. However, looking at the location of the buildings, it’s likely that the aim point is close to the center of the frame or to the left from it, so all of the impacts are to the right and up from the aim point. I’m assuming this strike was carried out by a Su-24.

Let’s move on to the next video.

In the third strike, we finally see that in reality the CEP doesn’t describe how several freefall bombs behave, if dropped from the same airplane. Naturally, they do not disperse circularly, but elliptically. Before jumping to conclusions, it’s good to note that the second highest impact point is struck the last and noticeably later than the others. This is also why you can’t yet see an explosion in the still frame. Thus, it isn’t clear that the bombs would disperse a little, but are just spread out due to the movement of the dropping airplane and sequential release from the bombing shaft of the Tu-22.

Unfortunately, this image has no terrain features I could recognize and measure against. But since the explosions looks comparably the same size as in the other strikes and the different freefall bombs used by Russia shouldn’t differ much in that sense, I’m inclined to believe this strike has about the same dispersion as the others.

The next two images are from a large strike against an area target. Since the images are from two different segments of the video, it’s possible they are not even from the same day. At least one can’t see some of the smoke from the first segment in the following one. In addition to these images, there were several other runs on the target. While in the case of an area target, dispersion might be sought after, it’s notable how large the dispersion is. The building marked with the red line in both images is in fact quite huge. This can be seen from the following zoom in.

My estimate is that it should be at least 40 meters in length, which makes the distances between the individual explosions in each of the bombings to be at least 100 meters and up to 300 meters.

Fifth strike is again hard to measure due to lack of measurable features. The lines might be trenches making them about 1 meter wide. Again, the dispersion feels to be on a familiar level. The actual target of the strike might be some pillboxes or sandbag fortifications.

In the final strike we have another area target with low accuracy. Again, this may be intentional. However, the building in the middle looks like some kind of an industrial hall, which should be at least 20 meters in length. In the image it is 55 pixels long. As the maximum distance between two impact points is 629 pixels, these are then approximately 229 meters apart. As we have at least eight impact points, it’s finally somewhat meaningful to also approximate the CEP for this particular strike. We can fit half, i.e. four of the impact points, within about 80 meters of an imaginary aim point somewhere in the average of these impacts.

Conclusion and Discussion on Errors and Further Studies

Looks like in the videos the Russians aren’t quite achieving the 61-meter CEP USA claims to have achieved in 1990. The equipment may be worse, the dispersion may be intentional or USA might have inflated their accuracies. However, it’s clear there’s no magical 3-meter accurate SVP-24 in play. I’m still inclined to believe that the Americans’ achievement could be surpassed now almost 30 years after. Also, as it is better to be safe than sorry in the context of defense planning, I’m advocating a 50-meter CEP as a good rule of thumb for freefall aerial bombings.

Whole different question is then how accurate you need to be? Depends not just on the bomb, but also on the target. If you don’t score a direct hit on a tank, it’s going to be very difficult to harm it. If you get within tens of meters from an unarmored fellow standing upright, he’s pretty much dead. Fragments from a modern bomb can fly for hundreds of meters, but it’s always also random whether you get hit by one. Then again, the attacker might deploy a cluster or an incendiary bomb, making the calculation totally different.

There were several sources of error and inaccuracies in this study that would need to be eliminated for a scientific article. The sources in the literature study may be motivated to lie in either direction, but especially the OSINT-part would benefit from more analysis. First of all, the Russians are certainly selecting only successful mission videos to publish. Second, several of the frames are so tight that far away misses are outside the camera angle. Like mentioned, we’d need to know the aim point to estimate not just the relative dispersion but the actual deviation and CEP from the target. I’m pretty sure, we can’t assume the UAV camera crosshairs are pointed at the target point. These errors mostly make the strikes look more accurate in this study than they are in reality.

Third area of errors is the level of effort I personally put into the analysis. In many of the strikes it looks like there are more impacts close to each other that might be discerned with a frame by frame analysis. Taking these into account would generally improve the CEP. Also, I could’ve used real math in finding out the weighted averages of the impact points instead of just measuring the maximum distances between them. Similarly, real OSINT geolocation could’ve been used in finding out the real dimensions of the distance reference features. These errors could change the end result in either direction. Unfortunately, I could find only one of the strikes from the Bellingcat database of geolocated Russian strikes in Syria. Also I didn’t quickly find anything on Google Maps around Palmyra matching the second video.

In conclusion, I suggest using the mentioned 50-meter CEP in your work as a rule of thumb. It’s a conservative estimate from the defender’s viewpoint. However, if you still need more accuracy in accuracy estimates, please go on with the research and let me know of your results, too!

BYOT (Bring your own turret)

The Patria AMV continues its run as the greatest Finnish defence export success since, well, the Sisu/Patria XA-series it replaced. Latest in the run is an agreement with Slovakia, which aims to procure 81 vehicles based on the latest AMVXP version equipped with a locally-manufactured unmanned turret, the Turra 30. The Turra isn’t new to the AMV, as a joint Slovak-Polish project in the form of the Scipio concept married the Turra 30 to a Polish Rosomak back in 2015.

The agreement now signed covers a “testing phase in Slovakia, and after the Slovakian test period the vehicle will be tested in Finland during this winter”, following which the eventual procurement decision will be made. However, the interesting part is that Patria’s land business unit’s president Mika Kari stated that the aim is “a new version of an amphibious AMVXP integrated with Turra weapon system fulfilling requirements of both Slovakian and Finnish Defence Forces”.

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Finnish Patria AMV with a remote weapons station sporting a heavy machine gun. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

The proper armament of modern wheeled armoured personnel carriers is an evergreen debate, which has been up here on the blog as well. One school argues for equipping them with heavy weaponry, which allows them to become infantry fighting vehicles in the vein of tracked compatriots such as the classic BMP-2 or more modern M2 Bradley and CV90. Others see this as a waste of money and added weight (i.e. loss of mobility), and argue for keeping them as “battle taxis” instead, allowing the infantry to reach the battlefield at speed while staying protected from shrapnel and light weapons. So far the Finnish Defence Forces has stuck with not arming wheeled platforms with anything heavier than heavy machine guns, while the tracked BMP-2 and CV9030 are able to stay in the fight and support their dismounted infantry with 30 mm rounds.

Slovakia apparently wants to go another route, and the Turra is able to bring a 30 mm gun backed up by a 7.62 mm machine gun and anti-tank missiles, either of western or Russian design (the combinations being Mk 44 Bushmaster II/FN Minimi/Spike or 2A42/PKT/9M113 Konkurs respectively). There is nothing out of the ordinary with this, but what is interesting is the reference to the “Finnish requirement”.

So far there has been no official requirement from the Finnish Defence Forces to get an upgunned AMV, nor have any money been allocated for such a deal, and frankly one would believe there are more pressing demands/better returns on investment (aka more bang for buck). As such, the promised winter testing and vague talk about fulfilling Finnish requirements does feel like marketing talk.

The big question is if Finland eventually would decide to buy an upgunned AMV, either for homeland defence or in small numbers for international operations, would the Turra 30 be the right choice? On paper it is a nice piece of kit, but it is hard not notice the fact that it is entering a very crowded market. For heavy firepower, the AMV has so far been fielded operationally with the Leonardo HITFIST turret in Polish service, the Denel MCT-30 in South African service, the Slovenians use the Elbit UT30 on their AMV’s, and it is currently being evaluated for the Australian Land 400 program with the BAE E35 mounting a 35 mm gun. There is also the more exotic marriage of a BMP-3 turret to a lengthened AMV-hull, which provide coaxially mounted 100 mm and 30 mm guns, a light machine gun, and the ability to fire ATGM’s. In short, everyone wants to integrate their own solution to their autocannon requirements, really putting the ‘M’ in ‘AMV’ to the test.

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Of these, the obvious choice for a Finnish requirement would be the BAE-Hägglunds E-series turret, which is in essence the one fitted to all export CV90’s, and then in the slightly lighter E30-form with the 30 mm Bushmaster and not the heavier 35 mm favoured by a handful of countries. This would allow for significant commonality with the Finnish CV9030-vehicles, and while the AMV and CV9030 aren’t expected to serve in the same unit, spares commonality has never hurt.

The Turra 30 might certainly be a very capable system, but in the case we suddenly end up with it in Finnish service, it is hard to see it as anything but a poorly veiled case of industrial offset commitments.

Meripuolustuspäivä 2017 – Maritime Defence Day

The annual Finnish maritime defence day jointly arranged by the Navy and the Naval Reserve took place in Turku this year, and with a record-breaking audience. The program followed the established form, with lectures on the state of the Navy and the Reserve, as well as a panel discussion on current topics. On the whole, the Baltic Sea has become more important strategically and militarily over the last decade, but the current year has so far been relatively calm when compared to the last few ones.

Vice admiral Veijo Taipalus, commander of the Finnish Navy. Source: Own picture

As readers of the blog all know by now, the Navy is living in exciting times. The Pansio-class MLU is finishing up, after which the focus will shift to the MLU of the four Hamina-class fast attack craft. As has been reported earlier, the vessels will gain a serious anti-submarine capability in the form of light torpedoes. The big problem is still their lack of endurance and a room for growth, and I haven’t seen an answer to whether the needed ASW sensors and weaponry can be carried together with a full complement of missiles. The limited ice-going capability also won’t be going anywhere, which nicely brings us back to Squadron 2020 and it’s design.
 

Some ask if it’s too big for our archipelago.

It isn’t.

The noteworthy thing about the project was in many ways the lack of any spectacular news, in that everything seems to be fine. The acquisition enjoys broad political support, and is moving on according to schedule. This in turn means that the upcoming year will bring quite a number of interesting developments, with a number of key contracts awaiting awardment as well as procurement decisions to be made. Bigger news was perhaps last week’s speech by the chief of defence, general Lindberg, who noted that the Navy’s identified need was for six to eight vessels. Still, I won’t be holding my breath for a political decision to increase the size of the project.

The coat of arms of Pohjanmaa, here seen on the walls of Heikkilä sotilaskoti, will soon grace the first SQ2020-vessel. Source: Own picture

In the mid-term, the last fixed coastal guns are closing in on their due date. The 130 TK is a highly advanced weapon for it’s class, with a surprisingly high level of protection thanks to being embedded in the granite of the Finnish archipelago. Still, there’s no way around the fact that their fixed positions hamper their survivability. Following their eventual retirement there will be a gap between the long-range surface-to-surface missiles of the ongoing PTO2020 procurement and the short-range RO2006 (Eurospike-ER). Exactly how this firepower gap for intermediate range and/or targets of medium size will be solved is still open, though it was noted (without further details) that there are some “impressive capabilities” found amongst modern anti-tank missiles. Might this be a reference to the Spike-NLOS as a replacement for the 130 TK? The quoted range of “up to 30 km” isn’t too far off from that of the 130 TK.

Like the rest of the defence forces, the Navy is placing ever bigger importance on international cooperation. Sweden, being the main partner, received considerable praise, but also the increased cooperation with other Baltic Sea States was noted, with Estonia being singled out as a partner of growing importance. Next year’s main focus is obviously the major international exercise Northern Coasts, or NOCO18, which will be hosted by Finland during the autumn.  Turku is the main base of operations, and will also host the main event earlier next year when the Navy celebrate its centennial.

Second after readiness, NOCO is the main focus of the Navy at the moment.

For the Naval Reserve, things are moving on in a steady but unspectacular fashion. The umbrella organisation itself celebrated 20 years in 2017, though several of the member organisations outrank it in seniority. Oldest is the Rannikkosotilaskotiyhdistys, responsible for the soldiers’ canteens of the Navy, coming in at a respectable 99 years.

Rannikkosotilaskotiyhdistys has saved the day for many a young conscripts with a cup of coffee and a munkki (sweet doughnut). Their work for maintaining the morale of the troops should not be underestimated. Source: Own picture

Originally modelled after the German Soldatenheim, the Finnish sotilaskoti have been around since the very early days of independence, and the naval branch got deservedly decorated for their stellar service to the Navy and its servicemen and -women.

In the end, it’s probably good that we haven’t got anything more exciting to tell you about…

Until next year!

Review: 2017 War with Russia

When I first heard of this book last year, I was immediately thrilled. A senior officer with recent insight into NATO’s inner workings writing a modern-day techno thriller of all-out war in the Baltic states, this was bound to be a great read! Right?

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The preface promised great things as well. The author reflects upon the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how this transformed the European security order. At the time, he was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), in short NATO’s number two military officer in Europe, offering a unique insight into how this monumental moment was viewed from inside the organisation.

As my fellow commander and I watched, we all knew who those vehicles belonged to and who was operating them. But proving it was another thing […] and we couldn’t even consider doing anything to counter it as Ukraine was not a member of NATO.

Unfortunately, the preface is probably the strongest part of the book in my opinion. My understanding is that this is sir Shirreff’s first book, and unfortunately the storytelling of the novel is not up there amongst the classics of the genre. The general outline is interesting, but when it comes to execution many of the characters and attempts to flesh out the story feels like cliches we’ve all seen before.

But while the hero might be predictable, all women beatiful, and all British politicians scheming and uninterested in national security, the book retains one undisputable quality which kept me hooked to the end: this is likely the best non-academic look into the inner workings of NATO available at the moment. While reading the book, I constantly reflected upon what the retired general is trying to tell his audience, and how much of the thoughts expressed by the characters at the strategic level reflect those found at Number 10, in the White House, and Casteau. Perhaps even more interesting is the picture painted of Putin’s personality, presumably mirroring rather closely how his personality is seen amongst the higher echelons of NATO. Certainly sir Shirreff is leaving some things out to maintain OPSEC and putting his own personal spin on others, but at the same time the purpose of his writing does shine through and is nicely summed up in the subtitle: “An urgent warning from senior military command”. I appreciate that by putting this warning in the form of a novel, he achieves two things he would otherwise not have done: reaching new audiences, and being able to “go for it” in a way he would not have been able to if he had written a non-fiction text.

In the end, I don’t regret spending a few euros to get the Kindle-edition of the novel, and I did highlight quite a few passages when reading. If you belong to the (arguably not huge) group of people interested in national security and related questions, you might very well find it an interesting read. But as a novel, I would unfortunately not recommend it. However, if you are still interested in what general sir Shirreff has to say (and I highly recommend that you do), head over to Youtube where a number of interesting interviews and speeches are found, such as this one by the Brookings Institute.