The Polish Army is expanding again, with their mechanized units catching the headlines during the last few months.
Last December it was announced that Poland was planning on upgrading 300 T-72M1 and T-72M1D tanks to a modernised standard. While the most modern tanks of the Polish Army is the mix of German-built Leopard 2A4’s and 2A5’s, T-72’s and their derivatives make up the bulk of the force. Around 230 of the T-72’s have been upgraded already earlier to the PT-91 Twardy standard, but there are also significant numbers of the obsolete T-72M1 left in service. While new tanks would have been a preferred option, it now seems that the Polish Army will instead upgrade 300 of these.
Keeping up the heritage of the Twardy, Polish companies have been presenting a number of T-72 upgrade options over the years. These have largely failed to attract orders up until now, with the major exception being the order from Malaysia for the PT-91M Pendekar for the Malaysian Army. The most radical suggestion is probably the PT-17, which sports a new turret with composite armour, laser warners, new sights and optics, a Ukrainian-built 120 mm smoothbore gun (firing NATO-standard ammunitions), and options for a new drive-train (either based on the Pendekar or a completely new one with a Scania-diesel). However, while the capabilities of the PT-17 is approaching that of new(ish) western tanks, the price tag does as well, and it now seems that the Polish Army is settling for a minor update based on the PT-91M2.
The exact scope is somewhat unclear, as the designation PT-91M2 has been used for a few different set-ups. The core of the upgrade is likely digital radios and communication equipment, new sights and electro-optical sensors (possibly Safran’s SAVAN 15 package), a new auto-loader for the main gun, ERA blocks, and additional smoke launchers. New ammunition for the 125 mm gun is also to be introduced, but a change of the main weapon is unlikely. The Slovak 2A46MS 125 mm L/46 has been mentioned in speculations, but currently it looks like this has been cut due to costs. While a far cry from a modern MBT, the PT-91M2 still represents a significant upgrade over the T-72M1 both when it comes to protection and firepower. All in all, the carry-over of technology from the Pendekar seems to be solid.
On the other end of the Polish tank spectrum, the Leopard 2A4’s are being upgraded to the 2PL standard. Here as well the focus is on increased protection and upgraded firepower. A new bolt on armor package with composite armor blocks changes the outlook of the flat 2A4 turret to a more wedged design, while modification to the Rheinmetall 120 mm L/44 gun allows it to accept modern high-pressure munitions. New sensors are also included in the package. The original order was for 128 upgraded tanks with an option for 14 more. The option was exercised this summer shortly after delivery of the first upgraded tanks to Poland, bringing the total number of Leopard 2PL up to 142.
More divisions, more brigades
But perhaps more interesting is that the Polish Army will expand with another mechanised division. This will be the 18. ‘Żelazna‘ (“Iron”) Division, officially standing up on Monday 17 September, and taking up the traditions of the similarly named infantry division which formed part of the Narew group in the early stages of the Second World War.
The order of battle is partly based on current brigades. The 1. ‘Warszawska’ Armoured Brigade currently stationed in the Wesoła district on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw will be transferred from the 16. ‘Pomorska‘ Mechanised Division. The 16. Division is, as the name implies, largely positioned in the northeastern part of Poland, with the 1. Brigade having been something of an outlier being held further to south. The 16. Division has also been the only of the Polish divisions to have a square structure with two armoured and two mechanised brigades, meaning that the downsizing to three brigades (9. Armoured, 15. and 20. Mechanised) makes the structure a copy of that of the 12. ‘Szczecin’ Mechanised Division. In addition the formerly independent 21. ‘Podhalańskich‘ Rifles (often the English name “Podhale” is used in English texts) will be added to the 18. Division. The 21. Rifles is interesting in that it is the Polish mountain infantry unit, being based in the southeastern parts of the country. However, the “mountain”-part of their mission easily leads a western observer astray. They are in fact not a light infantry unit, but a mechanised brigade equipped with BMP-1 (locally designated BWP-1) and a single tank battalion, the 1. Tank Battalion with T-72’s. There are indications that the BMP-1’s of the brigade will be replaced by KTO Rosomak’s (license-produced Patria AMV’s), and if the T-72’s of the battalion are amongst those to be brought up to PT-91M2 standard this would make the 21. Rifles a considerably more capable unit on the modern battlefield than it currently is. The third brigade of the 18. Division will be a new motorised/mechanised unit, the details of which are so far unknown.
A quick look at the map confirms that this is a shift to increase the readiness of the Polish Army to meet attacks on the eastern parts of the country. This includes the Brest-Warsaw axis, which as I have earlier discussed on the blog is the route used last time around when an attacker came for the Polish capital.
It remains to be seen to what extent the creation of 18. Division actually increases the amount of well-equipped troops in the field compared to the modernisation plans revealed earlier. However, the creation of a divisional HQ on the ‘right side’ of both the Bug and the Vistula with a plan for leading higher-level operations in Masovia is in itself important, and in case of a larger conflict it would be an extremely valuable resource thanks to its local knowledge.
Welcome to the Finnish Army, sporting seven brigades and a 280,000 strong reserve.
Except neither is really correct.
The peacetime brigades (and brigade-sized regiments) are training units and would not deploy in the field in wartime, though they will oversee the mobilisation of the wartime units. The reserve is also around 900,000 strong, though the wartime strength to be mobilised is indeed the more oft-quoted 280,000. However, less well understood is the force composition. Note: this whole post is based on open sources which are linked throughout. As the details of the topic is surrounded by secrecy and due to the rapid pace of recent developments in the Finnish Defence Forces, some figures are potentially obsolete.
The Army is the most important service in active defence and decisive battles.
Ground defence will hold up and gradually wear down the adversary, retain
control over key military areas, repel attacks, protect society’s vital functions
and targets and, ultimately, defeat the aggressor
To perform their mission the force is divided into three tiers (descriptions from GDR17):
Manoeuvre or Operational forces create the centre of gravity of the defence and fight the decisive battles
Regional forces are used for creating regional defence coverage
Local forces participate in battle and provide security, surveillance and support to the manoeuvre and regional forces in their area and assist them in maintaining contact with the other authorities.
In addition some units are left outside of this organisation, being allocated directly to higher command and/or supporting functions distributed according to need. These are e.g. the Border Guard’s border jaeger and special border jager units, which are light infantry units specialising in operations behind enemy lines including intelligence gathering. Other capabilities are some high-end support functions, such as the certain artillery and air defence units.
The regional forces is your run-of-the-mill troops. These would be manning the frontlines, and while not necessarily featuring the latest when it comes to equipment nor being prioritised when it comes to deciding which units take part in refresher exercises, they still retain a certain amount of mobility to be able to follow the movements of the fighting. The key units here are three infantry brigades which are to be mobilised in wartime, and in addition the Navy will create three coastal battle groups (FSDP12). One of the notable changes which have been implemented is that the size of the infantry units have been increased throughout the ladder. The infantry yearbook of 2013 provides a breakdown of a typical regional infantry battalion. Starting with the squad, it has been increased from eight to nine, with the platoon sporting three squads and a small staff including a transport section and artillery observers to number between 36 to 44 personnel. Both the individual squads and the platoon have also received more firepower in the form of added support weapons. The important change, however, comes at the ladders above, and include the shift from three to four platoons per company, and from three to four companies per battalion. The key driver here is to make the infantry units more resilient to losses. In other words, it is expected that the level of casualties in a future war will call for bigger units than has been the case up until now to make them able to maintain their combat ability. For its indirect fire needs, a battalion will have 12 heavy 120 mm mortars and 18 (towed) field guns/howitzers.
The local forces is a relatively new feature of the Finnish Defence Forces. A key factor is the increased fragmentation of the battlefield, meaning that it is not necessary clear where the frontline runs. Especially of concern in northeastern Europe is the emphasis placed by Russia on airmobile movement, both by special forces, VDV, and the marine infantry. This has further worsened what has traditionally been the Finnish achilles heel, in that Finland is a relatively large but sparsely populated country. To avoid having to dispatch regular units to guard rear areas potentially very far from any fighting, the local defence forces Maakuntajoukot were created. These are voluntary units, generally companies tied to the region in which they are recruited. The voluntary and regional nature means that they are cheap, staffed by people that know each other from training together on a regular basis, and in wartime they would fight in terrain they know. This also makes them excellent for the envisioned liaison role between regional/operational forces and other authorities. On the flip side, their equipment needs are furthest down the pecking order, and the generally older personnel means that the physical fitness isn’t necessary on par with that of the younger reservists (though contrary to other reserve units there are yearly fitness tests which needs to be passed).
The tip of the spear is then made up of three readiness brigades, two mechanised battle groups, two motorised battle groups, and one special forces battalion (FSDP12). Edit 26 May: In a recent Jane’s interview Lt.Gen. Toivonen refers to the mechanised and motorised battle groups as one mechanised and one motorised brigade respectively, indicating that they have the chain of command ready to operate jointly as well.
Edit 27 May: Another possibility is that one of the readiness brigades have been axed, likely the one set up by KAIPR, which would leave KARPR as the mechanized one and PORPR as the motorised one, and the battle groups as independent units.
I think what he means in the Jane's article is that there are five brigades in total: mechanized aka KARJPR, motorized aka PORJPR and three infantry brigades. I don't think he's talking about the battlegroups. If they were as one brigade each we would have 8 brigades, 3+3+2.
The Navy will also mobilise one coastal jaeger battle group, which is the sole Finnish unit destined for offensive operations in the archipelago. This means it uses boats to get around, with the exception of the organic heavy indirect fire (120 mm mortars towed by trucks).
The brigades are not copies of each other. One is to be mobilised by Porin prikaati (the Pori Brigade), and will be wheeled with a core of the Army’s 60 Patria AMV 8×8 APC’s (as well as the 120 mm AMOS mortar version of the same vehicle) backed up by older XA-series 6×6 APC’s. Another will be set up by Karjalan prikaati (the Karelia Brigade), and will in turn be a tracked unit sporting the CV9030 as the main IFV. The chief difference between these two are obviously that the wheeled brigade sports better operational mobility and is better suited to the more open terrain towards the southwestern part of the country, while the tracked units sports better off-road mobility and vehicle mounted firepower. The final brigade is mobilised by Kainuun prikaati (the Kainuu Brigade), and is built for the wilderness dominating the northern parts of Finland. As such, it sports an unique mix of wheeled vehicles and tracked all-terrain vehicles. When fully mobilised a readiness brigade will sport a complement of around 5,600 personnel and 900 vehicles. To put this into perspective, the three peacetime units each train around 4,000 conscripts a year (in two batches) and hold between 500 and 700 full-time personnel. While the core of the wartime brigades are trained by their peacetime homes, several supporting functions such as air defence units are trained by other brigades and attached upon mobilisation.
The mechanised battlegroups are armoured battalions reinforced to be able to conduct independent operations. A rather detailed TOE from a number of years back is found at the Armoured guild’s homepage, and a somewhat updated version is also found in a presentation made by the Panssariprikaati (Armoured Brigade). Coupled with knowledge of the recent acquisitions and upgrades, it is possible to make a quite detailed picture of these elite units.
Following the (ongoing) introduction of the Leopard 2A6 into service, these will sport two armoured companies (totalling 29 Leos) and two mechanized infantry companies with BMP-2M (50 vehicles). In addition, the unit has its own engineering company (including Leopard 2L bridging tanks and Leopard 2R mine-clearing tanks), air defences (including Marksman 35 mm SPAAGs on Leopard 2A4 hulls), as well as mortars and self-propelled guns. In total the battle groups will have 200+ armoured vehicles, another 350 wheeled vehicles, and almost 2,300 personnel. This is the armoured fist of the wartime Army.
The motorised battle groups are roughly modeled according to the same mould, but their three infantry companies travel in the venerable MT-LBV. A crucial change compared to the older TOE’s, is that the motorised units have received Leopard 2A4 following the introduction of the 2A6, which means they now have organic tank support, with a single company per battlegroup. The battle groups can be used either together with the other readiness units, or then independently. While it can be used on the offensive, compared to the other units it is especially well-suited for “active defence“. For those who want to understand how the Finnish Army want to execute active defence, the official Defence Forces YouTube-channel has an illustrative video (English subtitles) depicting a battalion out of the PORPR readiness brigade defending against a mechanised enemy.
But what about Finland’s older tanks? The T-72M1’s have all been scrapped over a decade ago, following the acquisition of the Leopard 2A4’s. However, the even older T-55M’s still survive in limited numbers, mainly for use as training vehicle for units needing to train with or against tanks, such as mechanised infantry or anti-tank units. However, with the arrival of the Leopard 2A6 freeing up the 2A4 to the training role the days of the T-55 are limited, although they do still appear at exercises every now and then. A number of engineering versions also live one, mainly the BLG-60M2 bridging version and tanks equipped with the KMT-5M mine rollers, but here as well the increased number of Leopard 2L and 2A4’s with Urdan mine rollers will likely be felt.
Following cannibalisation and conversions to supporting vehicles the number of operational Leopard 2A4’s are likely somewhere between 80 and 100, and together with potentially some T-55’s the remaining ones are grouped into independent armoured companies. These can then be distributed according to need, though it is safe to assume that the readiness brigades will receive the bulk of them. The heavily forested nature of Finland means that combat distances are usually short, which can prove troublesome both for anti-tank missiles and for trying to maneuver large armoured units. The theory is that this makes smaller armoured units effective in the anti-tank role, though naturally any notion that dispersed armour would be effective usually causes heated debate. “Man schlägt jemanden mit der Faust“, und so weiter.
This leaves one odd bird, namely the newly created Readiness Units (Fi. valmiusyksiköt). These are the mixed battle groups made up of currently serving conscripts and professionals which are to be able to take to the field immediately and buy enough time for the ‘proper’ wartime units to mobilise. What will happen after that is a bit unclear, and as far as I am aware of this has never been publicly discussed. Likely the companies will be integrated into the brigades mobilised by their parent units, though it can be questioned whether they will be able to immediately transfer into the regular chain of command or whether they will have taken such losses in the initial onslaught that they will have to be sent back for replenishment before they can be transferred to a brigade.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.