Naval Air Defence – The Finnish Way

One of the signs of spring in Kokkola is the arrival of a small flotilla of naval vessels to the local port. Seeing the Finnish Navy operating in the northern parts of the Gulf of Bothnia is uncommon, as all three main formations and the Naval Academy are based along the southern shores of the country. What brings the Navy here is the spring edition of IPH, the twice annually held air defence exercise where the Navy join the Army and Air Force in practicing the whole chain of modern ground-based air defences. This starts with creating situational awareness for the air defence network, and ends with the use of appropriate weapons systems engaging the targets. This year, minelayer FNS Uusimaa (‘05’) lead fast-attack crafts FNS Tornio (‘81’) and FNS Hanko (‘82’) into the port of Kokkola on 17 May for approximately a week of intensive exercises.

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FNS Uusimaa (‘05’) at dusk. Source: @JHggblom

Contrary to a number of other navies which operate dedicated air defence ships, air defence isn’t one of the Finnish Navy’s core tasks. Rather, the ability to protect the own vessel and nearby ships is needed to be able to perform other tasks, including escorting merchant shipping but also naval missions such as mining. Currently, the two Hämeenmaa-class minelayers and the four Hamina-class FAC all feature the same Cassidian TRS-3D radar and a VLS-battery of eight Umkhonto-IR (local designation ITO 2004) short-range IR-homing missile. As noted, half of the Navy’s ships with an air defence capability took part in IPH117.

But the air defence mission starts long before the missiles are let loose. The naval vessels, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, play a significant role in peacetime air policing. The TRS-3D are respectable sensors in its own right, and on the vessels they are backed up by other systems and sensors which make the vessels able to make considerable contributions to the Finnish air picture. The Navy maintain alert vessels 24/7 as part of their policing of Finnish maritime areas (as has been demonstrated), and an added benefit is that these are able to contribute sensor data regarding air movements as well. Here, the older Rauma-class and the Border Guard’s flagship VL Turva are also able to lend a hand, as while they aren’t armed with SAM’s, they still sport search radars (TRS-3D in the case of Turva, while the Rauma-class is equipped with the Saab Sea Giraffe 9GA 208, a relatively old iteration of the Giraffe-family).

There are a number of features which make the Navy punch above its paper stats when it comes to contributing to the air defence and air surveillance network. One is the fact that the vessels are further south than any radars found on the mainland. This is especially valuable for any air traffic coming from the direction of the Baltic Sea, where the Navy can be assumed to be the first one to pick up any movements. Another thing is the mobility offered by the platforms, with the ships being able to travel at speed, up to 30 knots (55 km/h) for the Haminas, while constantly emitting. Compared to ground-based radars which need to be lowered for travelling and set up again at their new location, this eliminates the gap in information that takes place when changing position. The other is the high readiness of the Navy compared to the Army’s air defence units. The vessels not only bring their complete sensor package with them. They also bring the command central, battle management tools, and firing units with them. The vessels need to be able to not only fight as part of an integrated air defence network, but they also need to be able to solve any of their missions independently in case communications with higher command suddenly goes down. This means that the vessels are able to not only see what is up in the air, but also to take independent action against any threat at a moment’s notice.

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FNS Tornio (‘81’) left and FNS Hamina (‘82’) right. Source: Own picture

Being able to actually shoot down anything naturally requires that they are sailing around with the missiles loaded, something which the Navy does not comment upon. One of the benefits of the VLS is in fact this ambiguity, as an external observer is unable to tell how many weapons are carried (the same is the case with internal carriage on fighters, feel free to ponder upon this as an issue for HX).

From an air defence point of view, the six Umkhonto-equipped vessels are in effect mobile surface-to-air missile batteries with their own search radars (though with a very limited number of missiles), maintained at a high level of readiness and staffed (almost) exclusively by professionals. This makes them well-suited as counters to a Crimea-style coup attempt, where they together with the Air Force would counter airborne movements in the opening stages of a conflict before the ground based batteries have had time to mobilise and set up.

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FNS Uusimaa (‘05’) firing an Umkhonto-IR short-range surface-to-air missile during IPH117. Source: Merivoimat

The introduction of Squadron 2020 will further strengthen the Navy’s role in the joint air defence network. New radars and sensors, and getting access to mounting them higher as a benefit of the larger vessel size, will offer better situational awareness, and while the exact surface-to-air weapon fit is still undecided, it seems highly likely that the missiles will be of a greater number and capability than the current vessels have. What is also often forgotten is that while the overall number of surface combatants will go down from eleven to eight, the number of air defence capable vessels will in fact go up from six to eight.

While the Navy might see air defence as something of a necessary evil, something that one needs to do to be able to perform the core missions, that doesn’t mean it is a mission taken lightly. Compared to mining operations where time is calculated in hours and days, air defence is a question of seconds and minutes. The demanding nature of it means that it needs to be trained properly, and nowhere in Finland is the training environment better than in the Bothnian Gulf during the last weeks of May. The importance placed on the mission is seen by the fact that the Navy dispatched three vessels for a week, vessels which barely have time get back to Pansio for a quick turnaround before heading out to sea again as part of this spring’s main coastal defence exercise, exercise MTH-17 Lyydia.

Flotilla 2020 – A Strategic Acquistion

The Finnish corvette program is steadily moving forward, and it is nice to see that the Navy is also becoming more open regarding the project. A while back the Navy published a 20-page long document which in quite some detail went through the background of the project, and how it ended up with four multipurpose corvettes being the vessels of choice for Flotilla 2020. This was followed up by a four page article by captain (N) Valkamo, the Navy’s Assistant Chief of Staff / Plans, published in the personnel magazine Rannikon puolustaja (fi. Defender of the Coast). The latter provide a good overlook over the project, including the background research and some further nuggets of information compared to the longer text.

While the program seems to enjoy broad support amongst the Navy (unsurprising) and politicians, it continues to be something of a hot topic amongst parts of the general population and other service branches. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that both texts place a heavy focus on the solid groundwork made before the decision to focus on four multipurpose corvettes was made.

First, the nature of the future naval battlefield was predicted, and yes, that include the presence of K-300 Bastion anti-ship missile system. After this, the question of how to cost-effectively solve the missions of the Finnish Navy in this threat environment was looked into, including a number of different configurations with vessels of different sizes and roles and in different combinations. Unsurprisingly, it was concluded that due to operational and tactical flexibility as well as economic factors (including both acquisition and life-cycle costs) a single class of multipurpose vessels was preferable over numerous different designs specialising in one or two roles and operating together. I’ve earlier discussed the issue of trying to coordinate different ships into a working unit, ensuring that the right one is always in the right place. A metaphor could be the merger of light, medium, heavy, infantry, and cavalry tanks as well as the tank destroyer into the jack-of-all-trades Main Battle Tank. Other alternatives that were looked into was transferring whole or part of the missions to air- or ground-based systems, but this was also deemed impossible to implement cost-effectively. Especially as e.g. mining require vessels out at sea in any case.

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An infographic depicting the timeline for all major surface units, including scheduled service date, MLU, decommisiong, as well as roles and capabilities. Source: Finnish MoD

This then caused the slight growth in size compared to the current mine ships, as the vessel needs to be able to fit numerous weapons and their sensors, as well as maintaining the crew complement and provisions needed for prolonged stays out at sea during escort or surveillance missions. Something which hasn’t been widely discussed is the need for speed. While the light fast attack crafts have impressive sprint speed, their ability to transit a high speeds over longer distances isn’t stellar, especially if you encounter adverse weather. In the same way, while a Ferrari might be faster than a Land Rover on the Nürburgring, the roles would quickly be reversed if they set off on a bumpy dirt road through the Finnish forests. The larger size does also allow for the ability to operate in ice, as well as better resistance to combat damage due to compartmentalisation.

Still, the size won’t grow too much. Partly because larger vessels aren’t an end in itself, and partly because both acquisition and life-cycle costs grow with the hull size. The Navy also face an issue with having a limited number of crew members with which to man the vessels. All of these factor in, and has lead to the current design. Importantly, keeping the total length around 100 meters and the draft low means that the vessels can use the current naval infrastructure in the Finnish archipelago, including the current network of secondary bases and the extensive network of inshore waterways.

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The 7 meter long and 900 kg heavy 1:15 scale hull model is pushed through the ice as part of the test program. Source: Finnish MoD

The hull form has been finalised, and scale test have been performed with an eye on different requirements. These include both resistance, manoeuvring, and ice-going capability. In addition, the new propeller design has been tested in full scale on the Navy’s auxilliary FNS Louhi. As was expected, the vessels will have a drop of MEKO-blood in them, as the concept has been fine-tuned by German design bureau MTG-Marinetechnik GmbH.

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FNS Hämeenmaa (02) showing the 57 mm Bofors Mk I. Source: Puolustusvoimat

For the weapons and sensors, the RFI resulted in a number of suitable packages being identified, all fitting within the budget. One of these will then be chosen, with the (foreign) main supplier being responsible for providing an integrated warfighting capability (sensors, weapons, C3I, battlefield management, and so forth). One interesting change which I did not expect was the renaming of the anti-ship missiles from meritorjuntaohjus (sea-defence missile) to pintatorjuntaohjus (surface-defence missile), with the Navy’s new missile being slated to become PTO2020. It is possible that this change reflects the secondary land-attack capability many modern missiles have. The PTO2020 program is handled as its own program as it is destined for both the updated Hamina, the corvettes, and the land-based launchers. As such it is not included in the 1.2 billion Euro price tag of the corvettes, as is the case with the new light ASW-torpedo which will be acquired as part of the Hamina MLU.

In addition to these systems, several systems will also be transferred from the Rauma- and Hämeenmaa-classes, as well as from the already decommissioned Pohjanmaa. These include the deck guns, towed arrays, decoy launchers, mine-laying equipment, and fire control director. The deck gun is an interesting issue, as the Rauma is equipped with the Bofors 40 mm, of which there are four, while the Hämeenmaa feature the 57 mm Bofors Mk I, a considerably more suitable weapon for a corvette. Still, the Mk I is quite a bit older than the corresponding 57 mm Bofors Mk 3 which is found on the Hamina, and as we all know there are only two Hämeenmaa vessels in service. However, it is possible that there are more guns in storage, as the two scrapped Helsinki-class vessels as well as the Pohjanmaa also had a single 57 mm Bofors Mk I each, and the Finnish Defence Forces is famous for not throwing away something that might prove useful further down the line. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the current guns mounted on the Hämeenmaa-class are these recycled Helsinki-class guns… In any case, I expect to see the 57 mm Bofors L/70 mounted on the corvettes, and probably upgrade to a Mk 3-ish standard in order to be able to fire smart ammunition remotely.

The decoy launcher is more straightforward, as both classes feature the modern Rheinmetall MASS. The towed arrays currently in service are the active Kongsberg ST2400 variable-depth sonar and the SONAC PTA passive sonar. Very little information is available on the latter, but it is understood to be a rather conventional system well suited for littoral operations with both narrow- and broadband waterfall displays. As the current number of arrays has been quite small, and as the Hamina will also take up the ASW-role as part of their MLU, it is entirely possible that more arrays will be acquired. It is also unclear if all corvettes will get both active and passive arrays, or whether they will be limited to either mode of operation.

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The scale model shown by Saab at Euronaval 2016, featuring a Giraffe 4A and a 1X above it in the cut-outs. This combination of shrouded rotating radars (the cut-outs are for illustrative purposes only) gives both long-range search capability and short-range tracking of rapidly closing targets. Photo: Saab, used with permission

Interestingly, the fire-control sensor is the Saab CEROS 200 radar and optronic tracking fire control director. This will likely strengthen Saab’s already strong offering, as they already have a tried solution for integrating the CEROS into their 9LV combat managment system, together with their RBS15 MK3 missile and Sea Giraffe radars. The 9LV is already a familiar product to the Finnish Navy, and it would come as no surprise if Saab would be the prime contractor for systems integration. Other companies likely in the running include Atlas Elektroniks (prime contractor for the ongoing Pansio-class MLU), Kongsberg (best known for the NSM anti-ship missile, but has a wide portfolio of naval products), and Raytheon (sporting strong references).

MTA 2020 – The Corvette is Taking Shape

The Finnish Navy celebrated its yearly Navy Day (fi. Merivoimien vuosipäivä) last week on the 9th of July, the date being that of the (Second) Battle of Svensksund, outside of modern-day Kotka, where a Swedish (Finland being part of Sweden back then) fleet in 1790 defeated and routed a stronger Russian fleet to turn the tide of the otherwise rather unsuccessful Russo-Swedish War of 1788–90. As part of these celebrations, Counter admiral Takanen, the CO of the Navy, gave a few further details on the status of the MTA 2020 project for new surface vessels.

Let’s begin with a short recap: a few years ago the Finnish flagship FNS Pohjanmaa was retired, the ship having functioned as a dual-purpose minelayer/training vessel. The two similarly sized minelayers of the Hämeenmaa-class (displacing 1,000 t), FNS Hämeenmaa and FNS Uusimaa, as well as the four fast-attack craft of the Rauma-class are all set to follow suit sometime around 2025. The minelayers can, aside from laying mines, act as command vessels for flotillas and have a limited anti-air and anti-submarine tasking, something which was demonstrated when FNS Uusimaa drove away an underwater intruder outside of Helsinki earlier this year.

Finnish Minelayer FNS Uusimaa. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

The Rauma-class are traditional FAC’s, dating from the early 90’s. The small 215 ton vessels feature up to six Saab MTO-85M (RBS15 Mk3) anti-ship missiles, a small number of mines, or a towed array to search for submarines with. They are also armed with anti-submarine rockets, as is the Hämeenmaa-class. The aluminium-hulled vessels are starting to show their age, and they were temporarily removed from service earlier this year due to hull cracks. FNS Naantali has now been modified to cure these, and is back in service. If the modification is a success, the other three vessels will also be modified.

Both Finnish FAC-classes next to each other: FNS Rauma in front and FNS Hamina behind. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

The retirement of these seven vessels would leave the Finnish Navy with four FAC of the slightly larger (235 t) and vastly more modern Hamina-class. These vessels are equipped with four MTO-85M anti-ship missiles, and eight ITO 04 (Denel Umkhonto) surface-to-air missiles, and have a limited mining ability. In other words, a replacement for the outgoing vessels is sorely needed.

The MTA 2020 has been in the plans for quite some time, but very limited information has surfaced so far. The interview with Takanen published in Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat is the most detailed look into the project we have had so far.

The vessels, of which there will be four, will be corvettes of around 90 meters in length. The former Soviet-built Riga-class frigates (1,260 t, called ‘Uusimaa’-class in Finnish service) was mentioned by the Admiral for size-comparison. As such, they will be amongst the longest combat ships ever to have served in the Finnish Navy, and provide a quantum leap in capability and endurance compared to current vessels.

Riga-class frigate FNS Hämeenmaa in 1982. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Rabbesandelin

The armament will consist of “modern anti-ship missiles”, as well as lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes. This will be the first time the Finnish Navy operates torpedoes after they were banned during negotiations post-World War II. Edit: The Riga-class was equipped with a tripple-torpedo tube for 533 mm torpedoes during the beginning of their career. Thanks to Mikko Laaksonen for pointing out! As the vessel will be designed to counter surface, sub-surface, as well as airborne threats, it is safe to assume it will be equipped with modern surface-to-air missiles, despite this not being explicitly mentioned in the article. The choice of anti-ship missile is currently being studied.

The vessel will feature the ability to lay mines, and will be built from steel. They will be designed to be able to operate around the year in Finnish conditions, i.e. including in ice, as well as in the warmer climate of international operations.

Currently, the closest vessels in operation with regards to size and capability are the German K130 Braunschweig-class of corvettes, based on the MEKO A100-concept. These corvettes, displacing 1,840 t and measuring 88.75 m in length, feature four RBS15 Mk3 for anti-shipping work and two 21-round SAM-launchers for the RIM-116 surface-to-air missile. Aft they are equipped with flight decks capable of handling helicopters up to the size of the NH90 (currently in use by the Finnish Army), but no hangar for storing these during operations. Two notable differences from the Finnish specification is the lack of anti-submarine capability and ice-going capability. The price for five vessels is given as 1.2 billion Euros (~240 million per vessel). An interesting comparison is the four vessels of the class that Israel has bought, which will be locally known as the Sa’ar 6-class. These will be bought from Germany but have their final outfitting, including installation of armaments, done in Israel, their price tag as delivered from Germany will be around 430 million Euros for four vessels (~107 million per vessel). This goes to show that on a modern warship, the better part of the cost is not the vessel itself, but the combat systems.

Braunschweig-class corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein at the degaussing range in Wilhelmshaven. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Ein Dahmer

What then to make of this new information? The number of vessels, a reduction in hulls almost by half, is a disappointment. Still, considering the cost of the program, it could have been far worse. The striking capability of the navy as whole will get a marked increase both in absolute and relative terms, but that doesn’t mean that the four vessels can be everywhere at once. On the plus side, the Finnish south coast is short, measuring roughly 450 km from the eastern border to the western (maritime) border with Sweden, so with the range of modern sensors and weapons a single squadron can control (or at least contest) a rather large portion of that sea and air space. Sub-surface threats on the other hand still require the vessel to be in close contact to locate and attack them, especially in the demanding conditions of the Baltic Sea, so the number of vessels will have a larger impact on the capability to conduct simultaneous ASW-operations, although the introduction of torpedoes is a marked improvement in this field.

With regards to the anti-shipping missiles, a connection can be drawn to the HX-contenders, many of which feature different anti-shipping missiles. It would seem logical that the same missile that the eventual HX-plane might be equipped with would also be the choice for the navy, in the same way that the Navy currently operates the same missile from ships and trucks (MTO-85M), as well as having the same short-range missile as the Army (RO2006/PstOhj 2000, Eurospike-ER and -MR respecitvely). The time schedule for the MTA 2020 might however be too tight for these considerations.

Red April – The Harmaja Subhunt

Finnish territory apparently was intruded upon yesterday and today (27-28.04.2015). It is only logical to compare this to the so called Red October-incident that took place within Swedish waters last autumn, and while I am aware that others have already done so, I decided to have a go at it anyway.

The Intrusion

First a recap of the events: Yesterday an underwater listening station picked up a “loud and clear” sound that indicated the presence of underwater activity outside of Harmaja, at the outskirts of Helsinki. The vessel on call, mine ship FNS Uusimaa, was called to the scene. Sometimes later, the second vessel on call, fast attack craft FNS Hanko, was alerted, and the Finnish border guards were informed. The border guards responded by sending the patrol vessel VL Turva. Of note is that the most competent ASW-ships in the Finnish navy, the Rauma-class fast attack crafts, are all temporarily out of service since February, due to hull cracks. Of the three vessels involved, only Uusimaa can be said to have a serious anti-submarine capability, with Turva not being armed in peacetime and Hanko lacking in search equipment.

VL Turva, the brand new flagship of the Finnish border guards. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Cha già José

Still, contact was renewed around 01:30 in the early hours of today (28.04.2015), and after the “underwater object” had been tracked for around an hour and a half, the Commanding Officer of Uusimaa decided to fire warning charges. These are not depth charges per se, but rather small handheld charges that detonate underwater, their aim being to tell the submarine “We know you’re there, and we don’t like it. Please move on!”

At around 03:00, six charges were dropped by Uusimaa, the result of which was that “no further warnings, or depth charges, were needed”. In other words, the underwater object left Finnish waters. Later today the naval vessels left the scene of the operation, while the border guards have started an investigation into the incident. The investigation includes going through all acquired material, and may take weeks. Obviously, major parts of the investigation will probably never be released to the public, due to the sensitive nature of the information, e.g. the location and capabilities of the underwater listening stations.

To note is that so far the nature of the “underwater object” has not been confirmed, but a small submarine seems to be the most likely culprit. However, this gives Finland and Sweden an opportunity to “compare notes”, and check if it was the same intruder, and what can be learnt from these two incidents.

Similarities

To begin with, the obvious case is that both non-aligned nations in northern Europe have seen their waters intruded upon by an unknown nation within the time span of less than a year (curiously enough, none of the NATO-states have reported the same thing). In both cases, it happened during the interregnum after parliamentary elections. In Finland’s case, today was the day Juha Sipilä officially got the mission to form a government.

If this is a message aimed at scaring Finland away from NATO by a show of force, I believe it will fail. Most probably, it will not have any major effect on the Finnish opinion, and in the case it does, it will most probably only give the pro-NATO side a small push forwards.

FNS Uusimaa (05). Suorce: Puolustusvoimat
FNS Uusimaa (05) firing ASW rockets. These are the probable weapon of choice if the order to destroy the intruder would have been issued. Suorce: Puolustusvoimat

In both cases, the navy responded in force, and was rather open with information about the event (and in both cases, the press was happy to fly over the area with their helicopters to provide live feeds). I would especially like to express my appreciation of the open and straightforward communication with the public that the navy initiated, something that has not always been the case.

The Differences

There are, however, notable differences. First and foremost, while the Swedish operation was deep inside Swedish waters, the Finnish contact was on the edge of Finnish territory. This meant that the Finnish operation was of a very different nature, with the main aim seemingly being to chase away the intruder. As far as I know, there was never any use of either alert or depth charges during the Swedish operation, which might be an indication of the Finnish vessels acquiring a better fix on their target (the other alternative is that the Swedish vessels were trying to fire for effect, which naturally requires a higher degree of target identification than alert charges).

An interesting detail is that while the Finnish navy described similar incidents as “rare”, with the last two taking place in 2004, the Swedish navy stated that similar incidents had indeed taken place earlier. Edit 29042015: Finnish officials today confirmed that with “similar incidents”, only incidents when alert charges were dropped are counted. They refused to comment on the issue whether underwater intruders were as rare. No exact numbers exist from either country, but the question whether this was a one-off incident, or whether someone will start testing Finland’s defences more often remains open for now.

A noteworthy feature is the reaction of Russian media. When Sweden started their subhunt, it took a few days for Russian national media before they got their propaganda machine going and started to create new theories. In this case, the news reports started coming instantly from Russian sources. RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov, who commented, negatively, about “reports of alleged appearances by Russian submarines in the territorial waters”. So far, no official Finnish channel has identified the object as a Russian submarine. Sputnik (which opened their Finnish service earlier this week) drew parallels with the Swedish operation, where “Sweden accused Russia of operating a submarine in its waters, later found to be a Swedish vessel”. As far as I know, no Swedish official channel identified the submarine as Russian, and contrary to the article, the main incident was later confirmed to have been a midget submarine, while another reported sighting was downgraded to have been of a Swedish vessel.

The operation also highlights the differences in ASW-tactics between the Finnish and Swedish navies. While the Swedish navy employs a more traditional approach centred on vessels equipped with both sensors and weaponry, supported by helicopters and some underwater listening stations at strategic places, the Finnish tactic is based around the fact that our coastal waters are shallow and broken up by numerous islands and shoals. Thus, the underwater listening stations function like an early warning system, which locate intruders, and based on this information surface vessels can then be alerted to the scene to get a better picture of the situation, and if needed either chase away or destroy the intruder. Of note is also that the Finnish border guards were heavily involved in the operation, unlike their Swedish colleagues. Partly, this is due to the small number of surface vessels in the Finnish navy that are capable of an operation like this, a number that is set to diminish even more with the replacement of three mine ships and four Rauma-class FAC with an unknown number of MTA 2020-corvettes.

The Finnish operation seems to have been a text-book example of how the Finnish ASW-machinery is supposed to work, and based on open sources all involved rightfully deserves credit for this. Some media have praised the Finnish operation as an example of resolute action, in which the enemy was driven away by the use of arms, and put this into contrast with the more modest (or even haphazard) Swedish way of chasing submarines.

I do not share this view.

The Finnish navy did not “bomb” anybody, and never fired with the intent to kill or damage. Dropping alert charges is the closest one can come to communicating with a foreign underwater vessel, and the step to actually making an attack run with full-size depth charges is rather long. Also, while the concentrated effort of three (for Finland) large vessels is impressive, it is dwarfed by the Swedish armada of corvettes, mine hunters, helicopters, and marines with their landing crafts, that spent the better part of a week hunting through the archipelago. The Swedish helicopters might lack dipping sonar, but so does the Finnish ones, and unlike Sweden, Finland has no plans to acquire a heli-based ASW-capability. While the Finnish operation was well executed, the same can be said about the Swedish.

MTA 2020 – is it a (cheap) Corvette?

The autumn has shed a bit of light on the MTA 2020-project, and while much is still shrouded in secrecy, enough new information have become official to warrant a revisit to one of the more popular topics I have written about on the blog.

In an article in Helsingin Sanomat published mid-October, Cdr Veli-Pekka Heinonen stated that they had issued a Request for Information with regards to the new ship class. He also stressed that neither the exact timetable nor the number of hulls are yet determined, but that the vessels should be in use in the middle of the 2020’s. However, with regards to the number of new ships, last year outgoing C-in-C of the Navy, Counter admiral Veli-Jukka Pennala, stated that the number of ships is to be in the range of two to four. If so, this would mean a marked reduction in the number of ships operated by the Finnish navy, as the MTA is meant to replace three outgoing mine ships and four fast attack crafts of the Rauma-class.

Currently, the core surface combatants of the Finnish navy are eight FAC(M) of two different classes (Hamina and Rauma), two large mine ships of the Hämeenmaa-class (mine ship and former flag ship Pohjanmaa already having been retired last year), and three ungainly but purposeful mine ferries of the Pansio-class. If this total of 14 ships (counting Pohjanmaa) would be reduced to 9 (corresponding to only two MTA 2020 replacing Pohjanmaa as well as the Hämeenmaa- and Rauma-classes), this would effectively rob the navy of its ability to operate two task forces simultaneously. Even the larger number of four MTA 2020’s would mean a 21% cut in the number of hulls with offensive and/or mining capability compared to the current situation. My personal opinion is that, although yhis is a likely move giving the current economic situation and the pressing needs of other branches of the defence forces, this would be a dangerous cut if it goes unmatched by an increase in capabilities in other areas, e.g. strengthened air- and groundbased surveillance. This spring, current C-in-C of the Navy, Counter admiral Kari Takanen, stated that with the current funding they “cannot even dream” about seven ships, but that the final number is still completely open.

Firdtjof Nansen-class frigate KNM Otto Svedrup (F312) near Trondheim. Note the CB90 in the background, giving a sense of scale to the ship. Sorce: Wikimedia Commons/beagle84

For the ships themselves, the size is still unclear, but Cdr Heinonen noted that the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates of the Norweigan navy were “unnecessary large” for Finnish conditions. These 134 m long warships have a fully loaded displacement of 5,290 tons, which would have made them by far the largest combat vessels in the history of the Finnish navy. The reason these high-sea ASW-frigates came up in the interview, was that one of the alternatives discussed had been acquiring little-used ships second hand. The Norwegian navy is rumored to have a deficit in the number of crews available, being able to operate only one or two of the frigates at the same time, meaning that two or three potentially could have been for sale. While Cdr Heinonen dismissed this due to the size and a lack in their ability to handle ice, the mention of the ships as candidates for the MTA 2020 is surprising, as Adm Pennala the year before had stated that ships main armament will be mines. The Fridtjof Nansen-class is mainly designed for ASW work, with a powerful secondary anti-air and anti-surface capability. However, they completely lack mine rails. Of interest is the price, the five ships had a total project cost of around 500 million Euros a piece.

With regards to existing classes, Cdr Heinonen gloomily notes that none offers all the capabilities sought for. Presumably the ability of operating in ice is the main problem here. With specific regards to the Swedish Visby-class of stealth corvettes, he states that they are “too expensive”. Elsewhere, the price tag is usually stated to be around 200-250 million Euros a piece, with some estimates going higher.

Lead ship of the class, Swedish corvette HMS Visby (K31) visiting Turku earlier this year. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

In brief, Finland seems to be looking for a custom-built class of ice-classed corvettes with a large mine-carrying capacity, for a price tag of less than 200 million Euros. I have earlier expressed doubts about whether the navy is trying to fit too much into the same ship. Now a further cause of concern seems to be if the price tag envisioned is realistic, and if we are facing a >20% cut in the number of combat ships allocated to the navy. On the bright side, the Hamina-class did make headlines exactly due to the fact that they cram quite a lot of potential into a small hull at an affordable price.

As an ending thought, the navy is promoting the fact that the MTA 2020 could be built at a Finnish shipyard, but the Rauma yard which has handled earlier newbuilds for the navy closed down last year. A new company, under the name of Rauma Marine Constructions, currently has great plans for the yard, but whether they have managed to hold onto the know-how and key people needed for a project of this size remains to be seen.

Outstanding Ships of the Finnish Navy

FNS Uusimaa (05). Source: Puolustusvoimat.

As the Russian News Agency ITAR-TASS recently published a picture gallery of 13 “Outstanding ships of the Russian Navy”, a  twitter discussion took place about if the Finnish Navy could be presented in the same way. While waiting for the official feature, here comes a little pick focusing on classes instead of individual ships.

Hämeenmaa-class

FNS Hämeenmaa (02). Source: Puolustusvoimat

The Hämenmaa-class consists of two vessel, which at a displacement of 1 300 t currently holds the distinction of being the largest ships in the navy. Both have been extensively upgraded roughly a decade ago, and features modern facilities, meaning they are as adapt at hunting pirates in the Indian Ocean as they are laying mines in the Gulf of Finland. Katanpää-class

FNS Katanpää (40). Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI.

The newest major ship class of the navy is in fact so new it is expected to reach operational readiness only next year. These multipurpose mine countermeasure vessels are equipped with modern equipment to be able to safely hunt down mines, or search the seabed for wrecks and similar. They are also the first Finnish naval vessels equipped with Voith Schneider propellers.

Pansio-class

FNS Pyhäranta (875). Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

The Pansio-class mine ferries may look ungainly with their big boxy hulls, but in reality they fulfill an important role in the navy, being able to handle not only large quantities of mines, but also of transporting general cargo in a roll-on/roll-off configuration.

Hamina-class

FNS Hanko (82). Source Wikimedia Commons/MKFI.

The Hamina-class fast attack crafts are for the navy what the F-18 Hornets are for the air force: they are fast, sleek, deadly… and expensive. The class represents the cutting edge of modern light surface combatants, equipped with some of the best sensors and armaments available.

U700-class

The U700 prototype. Source: Marine Alutech Oy Ab.

So new it is still waiting for its “proper” name, The U700-class, named “Jehu”, is the future workhorse for the Finnish marines, and a major boost compared to the current Jurmo-class. The new boats offer a higher top speed, ballistic protection, NBC-protection, and a remote weapon station. The marines will now be riding into battle in an APC, instead of in a truck like they used to.

G-boat

G-boat (G-102). Source: Puolustusvoimat.

While the U700 may be the one with all the bells and whistles, few boats in the navy can match the thrill of the light G-boat speeding over the waves. The boat is used to transport small teams of soldiers to shore, with speed and maneuverability as its only defence. Thankfully, it has a lot of both, due to its single water jet and 170 kW/ (230 hp) engine.

Isku

FNS Isku (826). Source: Penalandia.net/Pentti Heikkilä

The research and test vessel Isku is one of the less well-known vessels of the fleet. Operated by the Naval Research Institute, it is usually far from the headlines, but right at the forefront of current research.

Kampela 3

Kampela_3_Kuusinen
Kampela 3 (877). Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

With all the grace of a car ferry, the Kampela is the logistics officer’s best friend, at least when an exercise requires large cargo to be shipped to one of the old island forts in the Gulf of Finland. The large deck can also be adapted with equipment to either lay or hunt for mines.

Louhi

FNS Louhi (999). Source: Wikimedia Commons/Tupsumato.

The multipurpose vessel Louhi is unique in that it is owned by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), but manned and operated by the navy. The main purpose of the vessel is to function as a response vessel in the case of oil spill accidents and other environmental disasters, but the daily trade of the vessel is centered around the laying of sea cables, functioning as a dive support ship, and performing underwater maintenance.

MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 2. Finland

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

Finland – MTA2020

The MTA2020 is very vaguely described in the article. As opposed to the Hämenmaa-class, which currently can operate in the Mediterranean but not further afield, the MTA2020 is supposed to be able to operate in the Indian Ocean on international duties, as well as to perform its wartime missions in the Finnish archipelagoes and home waters.

The MTA2020 will most probably be a large ship by Finnish standards. Also, seeing the emphasize placed by the Finnish navy on mines in naval warfare (e.g. the mine rails were kept on the refurbished Hämeenmaa ships, as opposed to the Swedish solution for HMS Carlskrona), the MTA2020 might well feature a combined Ro/Ro and mine deck. For prolonged operations abroad, full flight facilities including a hangar might be wished for, but it is unclear which helicopter would be used, as the Finnish Navy currently does not operate any helicopters of their own.

If the ship would indeed receive full flight facilities, my personal belief is that the use of NH-90, even in its NFH-version, is unlikely, as it is a rather heavy helicopter. An order for a limited number of light marine helicopters, e.g. the AW159 Wildcat or AS565 Panther, would seem logical, and would dramatically boost both the ASW and ASuW capabilities of the navy, by providing stand-off ASW capability and over-the-horizon targeting capability for ship based AShM. However, the cost of such a procurement might well prove to be prohibitive.

Exactly in which way the MTA2020 is supposed to replace the Rauma-class is more uncertain, as weapons will probably be limited to a self-defence SAM-system, one medium caliber dual-purpose gun similar in performance to the Bofors 57 mm currently fitted to the Hämeenmaa, and some kind of anti-submarine weapons (might we see torpedoes aboard a Finnish ship for the first time since WWII?).

The role it could take over from the Rauma is escorting merchant shipping, where it could tackle air and potentially sub-surface threats. Operating a MTO2020 in this way together with a Hamina-class PGG or two might prove a winning combo, being able to take on air, surface and sub-surface threats, with the MTO2020 replenishing the Haminas at sea to provide longer endurance.

However, having heavier equipment on support ships are not unheard of. The Rhein-class depot ships of the Bundesmarine were fitted with two 100 mm DP guns in single turrets, a number of 40 mm AA guns, and up to 70 mines, meaning they could fulfill wartime roles as a mineship or light frigate (this was before guided missiles became the weapons of choice for almost every mission). The heavy armament also meant that they could serve as training ships, benefitting from a larger complement, meaning that more people could be trained per cruise compared to a “real” frigate or missile/torpedo craft.

This later might be an idea that would interest the Finnish navy. Mounting a four-cell AShM launcher on the MTA2020 would provide the navy with a more or less ideal training vessel, having the same(?) weapons and sensors as the Hamina-class (or, whatever the Hamina-class will receive when the time comes for their MLU), as well as mine rails, almost every position on most warships of the navy could be taught onboard the MTA2020.

While the Finnish navy is no stranger to this kind of arrangement, having operated the Bay-class frigate HMS Porlock Bay (‘K650’/’F650’) for over ten years in the training role as Matti Kurki before scrapping her in 1975, as stated above, I find it unlikely that the MTA2020 will get its own AShM-launcher.