Little Green Tanks

An unidentified foreign aircraft touches down at Oulunsalo Airport. As the Finnish Border Guard personnel close in on the now parked aircraft, the situation escalates. A firefight erupts, leaving one border guard wounded and causing a hostage situation. Soon some of the mysterious intruders spread out and try to take over the control tower at the airport. The local border guards realise that the situation is getting out of control, and call for support. The Army and the police (arriving in a borrowed Pasi APC) manage to turn the table, first evacuating the casualty and then storming the tower.

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Soldiers taking positions before storming the control tower. Note the use of two-way simulators, showing that the enemy is supposed to shoot back. Source: Maavoimat FB

This is a textbook example of so called hybrid war, the kind of operation that has occupied western military thinkers since the Russian invasion of Crimea in the early days of 2014. The scenario described above was the one used for local defence exercise OULU17 in March 2017. The sudden appearance of little green men in unsuspecting locations deep behind the borders have rightfully been seen as a new(ish) threat which require new solutions to counter efficiently.

But what if the counters are in place? If the defence forces have the required units on standby, establishing superiority over a handful of soldiers cut off from their homeland is far from an impossible task. Of course, landing more little green men is a possibility, but sooner or later you reach the point when you just have to ask if the whole “hybrid” thing is really worth it compared to a traditional all-out strategic strike?

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The Finnish readiness units taking part in the local defence exercise KYMI217. Note winged arrow-patch of the readiness units and the dismounted tanker. Source: Maavoimat FB

The Finnish hard-counter has been the creation of the Army’s new readiness units (Fi. valmiusyksiköt), as well as an update to Finnish laws earlier this summer, meaning unmarked military units entering the country are nowadays treated as criminals, and the local police will arrest any survivors of a scenario such as the one described above.

The readiness units were born out of the realisation that the Army’s dependence on mobilising reserves to counter a rapidly developing situation might simply not be fast enough, and that the professional Erikoisjääkärit special operations forces at Utti Jaeger Regiment might not have the numbers to deal with an incursion. Finnish law does allow for the use of serving conscripts for live missions, provided that they have adequate training for the mission at hand (this in itself constitutes a reinterpretation of earlier laws which took place post-Crimea). The issue comes down to the fact that the majority of Finnish privates serve the minimum time of just short of half a year. Combined with the fact that new conscripts enter service twice annually (in January and July) there are clear time gaps during which there are no adequately trained conscripts (roughly the first and third quarters). In many cases your run-of-the-mill company designed to work as a part of a bigger unit on the conventional battlefield might also not be ideally suited for independent operations of the kind required here.

Enter the readiness unit, a unit in which volunteer conscripts get training in additional weapons systems, advanced small unit tactics, urban operations, and heliborne insertion/extraction. The service time is 347 days (the longest possible for conscripts), and the units are lead by regular professional staff.

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Different authorities combine to take care of a mass casualty incident during exercise KAJAANI17. Source: Maavoimat FB

What is interesting is that while much of the focus has been on their role as light airmobile force to provide fire support to the police in case of little green men popping up on the Åland Islands, the fact is that they are indeed fully functioning army units. This includes the full range of weaponry in use by Finnish infantry, such as anti-tank missiles, but also support from other branches such as armoured units.

The armour is an especially interesting case, as both Leopard 2A4’s and CV 9030’s played a prominent role during exercise KYMI217 recently. Readers of the blog will remember that the Army transferred a number of older 2A4’s from the Armoured Brigade to other units last year following the introduction of the 2A6. Ostensibly, these were mainly meant for OPFOR duty and to provide an in-house ability to train combined arms operations, but it is also clear that they provide the capability to quickly raise armoured units in different geographical areas.

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A presumably ‘local’ Leopard 2A4 during exercise KYMI217. Source: Maavoimat FB

If the readiness units represent the high-end when it comes to meeting a hybrid war, the lower end of the spectrum include the local units (Fi. Maakuntajoukot and Paikallisjoukot). While the local forces take a longer time to mobilise than the readiness units and feature older and lighter equipment, they provide geographical coverage throughout the country (with the exception of the Åland Islands) and enough firepower to be able to quickly take up the fight with any enemy forces suddenly appearing behind the lines, and thus buy time until the cavalry arrives (which could very well be a readiness unit).

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Reservists of Keski-Pohjanmaan Maakuntakomppania (the local volunteer company of central Ostrobothnia) stretching their legs during exercise PAUHA16 at the Vattaja training range. Picture courtesy of Jouko Liikanen

To sum it up, far from just being light fire brigades to take down little green men, the readiness units are equipped to be able to counter the whole spectrum of modern military threats. When also including the local forces, the Finnish Army is able to field a layered approach to any threat which might appear suddenly and in unexpected locations, be they hybrid or traditional.

Guest Blog: Patria AMV in Homeland Defence

Herr Flax is a Swedish officer and helicopter pilot flying the Hkp 16 (UH-60M Black Hawk) in the Swedish Air Force. He started his military career by receiving basic training at P 4 Skaraborg Regiment on the Strv 122/Leopard 2A5, before transitioning to the Air Force. This is my translation of a recent blog post he published on his blog in Swedish, dealing with the merits of the Swedish Army’s Patgb 360 (XA-360 AMV) compared to the Strf 9040 (CV 9040) and Strv 122 (Leopard 2A5). As the same vehicles are a core part of the Finnish Army as well, I felt that the discussion would be of interest to Finnish readers. I have used the international designations for the vehicles in place of the Swedish ones as these are more familiar to the general reader. Any possible faults of the English translation are mine. In addition to his blog, Herr Flax is also found on Twitter (@HerrFlax).

A short reminder on Swedish geography: if Sweden was to be attacked from the east there are two possibilities, either through the heavily forested northern parts of the country (through Finnish territory) or over the Baltic Sea in the south and central parts of the country. The terrain here is more open and holds all major cities in the country. This creates a somewhat different threat scenario compared to Finland, and e.g. hostile airborne/airmobile units traditionally occupy a more central role in Swedish threat perception than in Finnish. Like Finland, the defence of the northern parts of the country is mainly handled by light jaeger style units, which are outside the scope of this discussion.

Some time ago I joined a map exercise as an invited guest participant. The exercise was part of the HSU (the Swedish Higher Staff Officer Course) organised by the Swedish Defence University FHS. The famous pendulum had started to swing back, and we had again started to focus on the question of defending Sweden, on Swedish territory, against a numerically superior attacker employing modern equipment. This was also the core focus of the exercise.

The exercise lasted for a week, and both myself and the other participants rated it highly. The majority of the participants came from Army units and staffs, with myself being one of the few exceptions. On one of the days as part of the exercise we were to evaluate our own army units against a potential future attacker.

The discussion quickly centered on the Leopard 2A5 and the CV 9040, and how these will perform on the future battlefield. This was only natural, as these two vehicles make up the core of the Army’s combat units. After a while, I put forward a vehicle which then was being introduced in the Army, the AMV, and the motorised infantry battalions these would be assigned to.

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In Swedish service the AMV’s main weapon is a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun in the Kongsberg Protector RWS. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Jorchr

In my opinion, their role in national defence should not be dismissed, despite the fact that they originally had been acquired with an eye to international missions. The vehicles might lack the firepower of the Leopard 2 and CV 90, but they provided tactical and operational mobility on a scale not found in the Leopard 2/CV 90 units. This could be a factor making them an interesting and valuable card in the homeland defence role, especially considering the small size of the Swedish Defence Forces. The Army needs to be able to shift from one operational area to another. I argued that the AMV provided this capability.

My train of thoughts was interrupted by a another guest participant, an experienced and high-ranking officer with a background including time in the armoured units. He noted that AMV lacks the armament to meet the armoured spearhead of the enemy, and as such it is of little value in combat. My impression was that he felt that the question was settled with this short and snappy interruption.

I didn’t agree, and argued that firepower alone can’t be the sole measure when judging the fighting value on a unit level. Building the argument around fire-mobility-protection felt like a too simplistic approach, and I clarified that I obviously did not wish to replace our mechanised units with motorised infantry. After this, I repeated that we still should see the value of this kind of units. The AMV units can on their own wheels regroup between e.g. Revingehed [home garrison of the P 7 Southern Scania regiment] to Gothenburg/Stockholm while still maintaining most of its combat value. This is significantly harder for the tracked Leopard 2/CV 90 battalions. In addition I argued that a dismounted infantry battalion given a few hours of preparation could throw up a defence that certainly would give a mechanised attacker a significant headache.

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CV 9040 is the main infantry fighting vehicle for the Swedish armoured units. Source: Mats Carlsson/Försvarsmakten

The discussion ended when the other officer rhetorically asked ‘Sure they might arrive first, but what can they really do after they have arrived?’ I decided not to pursue the discussion further. Partly because I felt uncomfortable with an experienced colleague categorically rejecting my opinion, and partly because no-one else in the group joined in the discussion. None of the students in the course or the other participants seemed to have an opinion in the question.

My opinion is that the AMV as a vehicle has a poor combat value against enemy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. This can be determined even by a simple visual inspection. If one uses AMV in combat in the same way as a CV 9040 one will come in second if the enemy wields anything heavier than a BMD.

But the fact that a unit type poorly used makes you lose a battle can hardly be said to make the unit type useless for homeland defence? The main weapon of the AMV battalions is not their vehicles, but the weapon systems carried inside them. Soldiers, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, mines, and systems for indirect fire. These, together with the mobility offered by the AMV, can create excellent units for those that can use them in the correct way. The whole issue should boil down to the simple question of using tactics suitable for the unit type, as well as training and exercises for the members of the unit in question.

There are obviously several possible enhancements in the AMV units before we can get the most out of their combat value! But to dismiss them because they lack vehicle mounted gun barrels or tracks  is to look at an infantry unit from an armoured perspective! It might be an unavoidable consequence of the infantry having been disbanded for all practical purposes for 15 years, but it is rather unflattering for the one doing so.

AMV gives us motorised infantry units with a high level of protection and very good mobility over large areas. It does not provide us with armoured units with high firepower and good off-road mobility. But I will argue that a diversified vehicle park gives the Army more tools in the toolbox, thereby creating more freedom of action.

By combining the mobility and the ability to take key terrain early of the AMV battalions with the Leopard 2/CV 90 battalions’ superior off-road mobility and firepower we can create an asymmetric threat which will be very tough to face for the attacker.

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Soldiers from 712. company training in an urban environment with their AMVs. Source: Kalle Bendroth/Försvarsmakten

Hussars heading east

In an earlier post, I argued that the Suwałki gap was in fact ill-suited for a full-scale Russian armoured offensive with the goal of linking up Kaliningrad and Belarus, as the terrain and road network did not favour that kind of manoeuvres. This naturally leads to the next question, namely what the alternative would be?

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Major roads in Northeastern Poland (including planned expansions). Source: Wikimedia Commons/Sliwers

Going south from the gap, the first opportunity is Białystok. The city is the main hub of northeastern Poland, and features a significant amount of both roads and railroads, and has the benefit of being approachable from Belarus along two major road, Grodno-Białystok from the northeast and Baranovichi-Białystok from the East. From there it is possible to either turn north towards Suwałki (along E67, not visible on map) or southwest towards Warsaw. However, the areas east of the city  are heavily forested, and it represents a significant detour if the aim is to reach Suwałki from Grodno.

However, the route that promises a decisive victory fast, as well as dragging away Polish reinforcements from the Kaliningrad/Suwałki-region, is the E30/A2 road from Minsk via Brest and on to Warsaw. Brest is located directly on the eastern bank of the river Bug, which in this area marks the border between Poland and Belarus. Striking out from Brest would make it possible to potentially take the border bridges over Bug in a coup, or at the very least prepare the crossings on allied territory. Here, the E30 as well as the twin-rail railroad would provide a crucial lifeline for the advancing forces, and the right flank would be protected by the Bug.

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The Vistula basin covering the eastern parts of Poland would play a major role in influencing any operations in the area. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Kmusser

This is not a new idea. In the summer of 1944, the Soviet Operation Bagration included a major offensive in the Lublin-Brest area, where the Soviet forces (including the Polish 1st Army that was transfered from the Lviv sector halfway through the operation) captured bridgeheads over Vistula at Magnuszew and Puławy (approximately 60 and 100 km south of Warszaw) and over Narew at Serock (40 km north of the capital). However, the Polish capital did not change hands until the launching of the Vistula-Oder offensive in January the following year, a controversial fact from a Polish point view.

 The Vistula opposite Magnuszew, site of the bridgehead in 1944

As noted, this would be a major treat towards the Polish capital, and it is very likely that Poland would direct at least two of its three main divisions to meet this. In practice, the 16th ‘Pomorska‘ Mechanised Division would be left to deal with Kaliningrad, creating a situation where both sides would be roughly comparable, and causing a stalemate around the exclave. This would likely be in the interest of Russia, compared to an offensive closer to the Suwałki gap which would make it easier for Poland to shift troops from one front to the other, thereby negating part of Russia’s quantitative superiority.

The downside to these military upsides is that while a ‘disturbance’ in the Baltic region could perhaps be caused to look like a Ukraine-scenario, thereby delaying a NATO-reaction during the critical first days, an armoured corps moving west along the E30 would be a sure way of launching WWIII, especially as Germany would be far more likely to intervene if the advancing Russians where on the (literal) highway to Berlin than if they occupied Vilnius.

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PT-91 Twardy of the 1st Brigade. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Polish MoD

This is obviously not something that hasn’t crossed the minds of the Polish general staff, and the above-mentioned 16th Division actually has an additional armoured brigade in the form of the 1st ‘Warszawska‘ Armoured Brigade equipped with PT-91 Twardy (modernised T-72), BWP-1 (local-designation for BMP-1), and 2S1 Gvozdika. The brigade is headquartered in the Wesoła district on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. In other words, it is located on the ‘right side’ of both the Bug and the Vistula, and as such is well-placed to meet any offensive along the Brest-Warsaw axis. However, the equipment is rather old, and while the Twardy is a significant step up from the T-72, it is still far from the latest generation of tanks.

As such, it is a noteworthy move when the Polish Defence Forces announce that a tank battalion from the 11th ‘Lubuska‘ Armoured Cavalry Division in the southwestern parts of Poland is set to transfer to Wesoła. This is to make room for the US Army units coming to Żagań, currently home to the division’s 34th Armoured Cavalry Brigade. The 34th sport two battalion equipped with the Leopard 2A5, currently Poland’s most modern main-battle tank. Moving one of these battalions East of the Vistula radically alters the number of units available to the Polish in this key area during the first day or so after mobilisation. It does seem like the Polish Army has recognised the need to be able to concentrate more high-quality units in defence of the capital at shorter notice, and comes as part of a trend in which the West tries to shorten response times in general, and with a focus on heavier units in particular. This is also evident from a Finnish perspective, and both the recent transfer of older Leopard 2A4’s to ‘new’ units and the creation of fast response units in the Army can be seen as part of this very same trend.

Leopards on the Prowl

The Finnish Army has always been largely infantry-based. This has come naturally, as not only is armour expensive, but it has also been seen as poorly suited for the Finnish terrain (a challenged notion) which in large parts of the country is dominated by forests and lakes, with differently sized streams connecting the latter. As such, there has been a single unit operating our tanks, known either as the Armoured Company/Battalion/Brigade/Division depending on the number of tanks in service at any given time. For the past decades, the Armoured Brigade (PSPR) has been based in Parolannummi, Hattula.

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Finnish Leopard 2A4. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Vestman

Here, an interesting variety of tanks have come and gone, with the last years being dominated by a fleet of Leopard 2A4 backed up by the venerable T-55 in small (and diminishing) numbers. 139 Leopard 2A4’s have been bought by Finland, some of which have been converted to bridge-layers (2L for ‘Leguan’) and engineering vehicles (2R for ‘Raivaaja’, Finnish for mine-clearing), as well as some hulls being cannibalised for spares. The eventual number of operational main battle tanks is secret, but assumed to be somewhere around 100.

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Leopard 2L with the Leguan-bridge system. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

The acquisition of 100 ex-Dutch Leopard 2A6’s effectively doubled the amount of MBT’s in Finnish service, as well as providing a considerable upgrade over the 2A4. The 2A6 is easily recognisable by the wedge-shaped spaced armour attached to the turret (introduced on the 2A5), as well as the longer Rheinmetall 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun. A number of other less evident improvements are also found on the tank, ranging from upgraded sights for the gunner and commander to a new hatch for the driver.

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Finnish Leopard 2A6, flying the black and silver flag of the Armoured Brigade. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI

This obviously raised the question what to do with the large number of 2A4’s? To begin with, it allowed the upgrading of some of the older supporting AFV’s, with the Marksman SPAAG being the most evident example. The 35 mm anti-aircraft system mounted on T-55AM hulls had already been mothballed, but was now brought back in service mounted on Leopard hulls. In addition, it opened up the possibility to increase the fighting value and/or number of Detached Armour Companies that are to be set up in case of mobilisation.

The latest decision was announced yesterday, with a number of Leopard 2A4’s moving out of Parolannummi.

Edit: As Capt. Mäenpää explained in his comment below, my interpretation of the press release was less than optimal.

Conscripts from four different brigades and the Army Academy will indeed get trained as tank crews on the Leopard 2A4 starting with I/17, with the stated aim being to provide a higher level of proficiency in working with armoured and mechanised units, as well as providing the opportunity for more varied training in different parts of the country. However, these units haven’t been complete strangers to MBT’s earlier, as limited numbers of T-54/55’s have served in the OPFOR role at the Jaeger  and Kainuu Brigades as well as in the Army Academy. The Karelia Brigade has included some Leopard’s in their wartime units’ TOE earlier as well, so these tanks have trained at the brigade earlier. The main news here is therefore that the OPFOR equipment is being upgraded (and possibly expanded in numbers?), which certainly is welcome, but not the kind of dramatic change that my first reading of the press release pointed to. Also, the CV9030 in Finnish service is unique to the Karelia Brigade.

In what I believe is a first in the history of the Finnish armoured forces, conscripts will from four different brigades and the Land Battle School will serve as tank crews, starting with the next contingent to step into service, I/17. This will provide a higher level of proficiency in working with armoured and mechanised units to the soldiers serving in the units now getting tanks, as well as providing the opportunity for more varied training in different parts of the country.With regards to the former, the Karelia and Kainuu Brigades train mechanised infantry with CV 9030 IFV’s, and the addition of integrated tank units are probably a welcome addition for them. Granted, there has been a small number of T-55’s attached to the units earlier (and some engineering vehicles), but no tank crews have been trained on them, and the T-55 is a far cry from the Leopard when it comes to sensors (and more or less any other aspect). The Jaeger Brigade and Land Battle School Army Academy probably places a higher importance on the possibility to vary their training, with e.g. the Jaeger Brigade’s anti-tank unit now being able to train against modern tanks on a regular basis in their home environment.

While not explicitly stated as a goal, the move will also make it possible to mobilise (small) tank units in different parts of the country, which increases resilience to surprise attacks, the importance of which has been emphasised by the Russian invasion of Crimea. All in all, the move will provide a number of benefits to the armed forces, both with regards to peacetime training and wartime service.

A tank target at Rovajärvi in the late 90’s, soon to be supplemented with the real deal. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Methem