An outstretched hand

Yesterday the news spread that the largest reservist organization in Finland, Reserviläisliitto, offered to help Sweden re-build their Army again. This has caused a number of different reactions, ranging from surprise to outright glee.
To begin with, a short recap of what Mikko Savola actually said: Sweden made huge cuts in their defense during the post-Cold War years, and the invasion of Crimea caught them with their “pants down”. Now they are urgently looking for ways to rebuild “the kind of abilities needed to fight a conventional war”.

Swedish soldiers of the 191. Mechanised Battalion moving a heavy mortar during exercise Vintersol 2016 held in northern Sweden last winter. Source: Jesper Sundström/Försvarsmakten

This include a return to general conscription, which last week’s report on how to solve the personnel question advocated. The proposal is now being discussed in the higher echelons of Swedish politics. However, rebuilding dismantled capabilities will take years, and as such the situation is “somewhat along the same lines” as when Estonia had to rebuild their defense forces from scratch following their restoration of independence.
In this work, Finnish reservists played an important part by providing instructors and consultants. Savola believes that there is “ample know-how” amongst the Finnish reserve that would benefit the Swedish Defense Forces, as well as volunteers for similar training and consulting arrangements that were set up in Estonia.

Savola’s proposal is no doubt made with the best of intentions, with the goal of strengthening general security in the Nordic region within the framework of Finnish-Swedish defense cooperation. Unfortunately, the basic premises are wrong.

To begin with, Sweden is not going back to general conscription. The report in question isn’t ready yet, and certainly wasn’t published last week. The most likely outcome seems to be a mixed system similar to that of Norway. In any case, the professional Swedish Army is here to stay.

Finnish reservists taking part in a voluntary training day at their local firing range. Source: own picture

Neither has the Swedish Army lost their focus on how to fight a conventional war, the armed forces having placed ever greater focus on national defense especially since the drawdown in Afghanistan started. Currently it is a competent force, though small and lacking in key support functions. This, however, will not be solved by anything else than the Swedish government providing additional funds to the defense budget.

I wholeheartedly agree that further deepening of cooperation is a great way of strengthening both our countries’ defense forces through the exchange of ideas and experiences as well as increased interoperability. Including the active reservists of the Finnish Defense Forces and the Swedish Home Guard in these kinds of exchanges would also be most welcome. The proposal by Savola is however unsuitable to the current situation, mainly due to the fact that there seems to be a basic misunderstanding regarding the current and future state of the Swedish Army.

MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 3. Cooperation

The following is part three of three, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Part one (published Thursday) dealt mainly with the Swedish plans, with part two (published yesterday) focusing on the Finnish MTA2020, and part three trying to wrap it up. As mentioned, I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

Takanen stopped short of saying that Sweden and Finland would pursue a joint design, only saying that they are “exchanging information about possible co-operation”. As an unrelated issue, he also denies any rumors that Finland would be interested in buying Visby-class corvettes, noting that they are too expensive.

An interesting detail is found in the legislative documents covering the blast test conducted on the decommissioned nameship of the Helsinki-class fast attack craft in 2010-11.

The blast test were made in cooperation with German and US authorities, and part of the deal was of such a nature that in Finland it fell under legislation as opposed to the armed force’s jurisdiction. This means that the tests are rather well described in open sources (including these document in Finnish/Swedish [1], [2], [3]). The testing took place in the Örö test and training range west of Hanko in the Gulf of Finland, and included detonating TNT and PENO plastic explosives charges, ranging in size from under a kilogram up to and including a “full size sea mine” (or several?).

The aim was to study the aluminum construction and its durability, with a focus on battle damage. Aside from the live fire tests, simulations and laboratory experiments were also included, and in the documents it is stated that “for Finland, the project forms part of the MTA2020 study”.

This is the interesting part, as it seems like the Finnish MTA2020 is drafted with an aluminum hull, while the L10, as far as I know, is a traditional steel hulled ship with an aluminum superstructure. Most probably the Swedish ship is considerably larger than what Finland has in mind (~6 000 t compared to ~4 000 t?).

There exists the possibility that the connection between MTA2020 and the test were mainly a clever idea from someone in the navy to be able to transfer funds from one budget to another without the politicians making a fuss about it (presumably from Merivoimien materiaalilaitos to Merisotakoulun tutkimuskeskus)… Note that this is pure speculation, the only thing that might point in this direction is the fact that for a support ship operating in the Indian Ocean, a steel hull would seem a more traditional choice (depending, however, on the overall size of the vessel).

So, what is left then to cooperate about, if the two classes are built of different materials, in different sizes, and to different specs?

Quite naturally, different systems and sub-systems can be rather similar, even though the platform themselves are differing. These include replenishment stations, flight facilities, weapons, and so forth. However, perhaps aside from outright joint acquisitions, the sharing of information which Takanen mentions might be of even greater importance.

Thus, while the projects seems to be heading their own ways, this “cross-border brainstorming” might in the end lead to better ships for both navies.

MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 1. Sweden

The following is part one of three, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Part one deals mainly with the Swedish plans, with part two (published tomorrow) focusing on the Finnish MTA2020, and part three (published Saturday) rounding off the whole thing. Note that I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

One of the major ongoing projects for the Finnish Navy is the Monitoimialus 2020, or MTA2020. The project name literally means “Multipurpose ship 2020”, and is set to replace both the larger mine ships of the Pohjanmaa (single ship, decommissioned last year) and Hämeenmaa (two ships) classes, as well as the Rauma-class fast attack crafts (four boats).

There are a number of interesting aspects here, not at least because the defence forces have been relatively silent about how the MTA2020 is coming along. However, some pieces of the puzzle became a bit clearer earlier this week when HS published an interview with the C-in-C of the navy, Rear Admiral Kari Takanen (English version here).

The new(?) information in the article is that Finland is eyeing cooperation with Sweden, who has an ongoing project to replace its ageing fleet of support ships, namely HMS Trossö (A264) and rebuilt mine ship HMS Carlskrona (P 04).

Sweden – L10

The Swedish project has had quite a number of twists and turns, and it is possible that I have missed some of them, but here’s a short recap.

Originally the class, codenamed ‘L10’, was to be a delivered by 2017, but the purchase of 15 UH-60M Black Hawk as Hkp 16 in 2011 meant that the budget for L10 was drastically reduced, and the delivery of one of the ships will be after 2020. This in turn meant that HMS Carlskrona was sent for another refit, having all mine rails and associated equipment removed to facilitate the modification to a full-blown support ship. This was done as the support ship HMS Visborg (A265), another converted mine ship, had to be retired before the two new L10 ships were delivered.

The specifications of the new ship are (almost) as uncertain as those of the MTA2020. Originally the displacement was stated at about 8 000 tons, but it seems to have been reduced to 6 000 tons.  Hangars and full flight facilities for two helicopters were also mentioned, but their current status is unknown.

The Royal Schelde (now part of Damen Shipyards Group) Enforcer-design have been mentioned as a possibility, but most probably without the well dock facilities. The Enforcer is operational in three different classes, namely the Dutch and Spanish LPD classes Rotterdam and Galicia, and the British Bay-class LSD lacking the hangar facilities. However, the ships are all displacing 13 000 tons or more, and as such are far larger than the projected L10.

Norway – LSV

At one point, a joint Swedish-Norwegian project was discussed. However, last summer the Norwegians went ‘all in’, and ordered two (from a Nordic perspective) huge 26 000 ton logistics and support vessels from Daewoo. These will be based on the BMT-designed Tide-class replenishments tankers currently being built for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

Puheloinen and NATO

The Finnish Chief of Defence*, General Ari Puheloinen, held the opening speech at the 208th National Defence Courset his week (20.1). The speech was widely reported in Swedish media with the headline: “Finnish C-in-C says no to NATO”. To put this statement into context, a recent study (14.01) showed that a majority of the Finnish officers supported the idea of Finland joining the alliance, with the higher-ranking officers (Colonels and above) being more in favor than the lower ranks.

The speech is found in its entirety on the Finnish Defence Forces home page in the form it was given (mostly in Finnish, with a brief ending paragraph in Swedish).

Puheloinen begins by talking about the defence cuts that are taking place, and the consequences they have had to date. He praises “his” personnel, and talks about the need to reform the defence forces as the organization changes. He also takes care to point out that the number of Generals is being lowered correspondingly, and that Finland has a rather low ratio of higher officers compared to other countries.

After this more or less expected introduction, he restates his point from a national defence course held back in 2012: If the defence budget is not raised by 2015, Finland will no longer have a credible defence by 2020. This is where he mentions NATO, once in the whole speech. “Being a member of NATO would not solve this challenge.” (fi. “Naton jäsenyys ei ratkaisisi tätä haastetta.”), after which he moves on and continues to note that neither will collaboration amongst the Nordic countries. However, Puheloinen states, we should still cooperate even if we didn’t experience financial troubles, as it has several benefits. The Finnish-Swedish relationship has received much attention recently, and is brought up as a prime example of this kind of work. In Puheloinen’s view, it is important that it is based on common needs and interests, and that both the contribution and benefits are shared equally by both participants. In spite of our differences, he strongly believes that fitting areas of collaboration will be found.

However, he also warns against expecting that all joint projects will bring financial savings, and cautions that although joint procurements are often brought forward as possible examples of collaboration, they are in fact amongst the hardest to coordinate (for an excellent summary of recent joint procurements by the Swedish armed forces, read this excellent post by Skipper).

To sum it all up, he ends by noting that “Through collaboration between Finland and Sweden it is possible to achieve good results, but it will require time, patience, being ready to move forward one small step at a time, and being prepared to make compromises.”

I noted with delight that he also brings up the importance of reservists, and that the training of these will again be brought up to the “appropriate” level.

I believe that interpreting Puheloinen’s statement as being a no to NATO is to read too much into the single sentence. Rather, I believe it is a reminder to our politicians that joining NATO will not make the need for defence spendings go away. I personally think it is a good speech. Puheloinen manages to take up several current issues in a short time, and he continues his custom of honestly and clearly speaking about the needs of the defence forces, in spite of the no doubt considerable political pressure to accept further cuts.

*Contrary to what some Swedish sources stated, Gen Puheloinen is in fact not the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, a position held by the President of Finland.