An Analysis Flawed

The post is also found in a Finnish translation made by James Mashiri on his blog Somesotilas.

Finnish daily Iltalehti published an analysis regarding the Squadron 2020-program, and like most analyses, if your baseline data is incorrect, your conclusion is likely to go wrong. This is what happened here as well.

The analysis is a hodgepodge of correct information leading to false conclusions, unrelated anecdotes, strange non sequiturs, and plain wrong information, all being presented in a package that is more akin to an opinion piece directed against the Navy and the leadership of the Defence Forces. While any major shipbuilding program for the Navy will lead to a number of more or less ill-informed pieces on the “but Panssarilaivat“-subject, this is a particularly poor example of the genre. Some of the most glaring errors:

  • Claiming that the Finnish steel-hulled corvette would be related to the US aluminium-hulled patrol vessels of the LCS-program
  • That this relation would cause any issues the LCS has to carry over to the corvettes
  • That stationing Bastion anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad(!) would make the Finnish ships “easy targets”
  • Claiming that the A2/AD-bubble in Kaliningrad creates an impenetrable “steel dome” (see earlier post)
  • That recent developments in radar technology (“spotting seagulls at long ranges”) is a disruptive event that makes stealthy warships useless
  • That the vessels would be “effortlessly” distinguishable against the horizon
  • That the Finnish coastal defence ships ate the whole defence budget prior to WWII, and was the reason the Army had to go to war under-equipped (see earlier post)
  • That the ships are big to be able to cope with deployments on the high seas during international missions (see earlier post)
  • Claiming that the Navy wants to lay mines on the high seas (certainly not the case, see page 15)
  • That it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of the vessel before launch, due to expected teething troubles (this is an insult to all engineers in the marine industry)
  • That corvettes, sporting a heavy battery of surface-to-air missiles, would need more air cover from the Air Force’s fighters than the current fast attack crafts, or the host of other high-priority targets being found in the southern parts of country (see earlier post)
  • The article brings up Patria’s recent concept of a containerised version of the NEMO-mortar system, apparently in an attempt to show that missiles can be land-based, overlooking the fact that there actually are truck-based system in service in the Finnish Defence Forces (as opposed to containerised mortars), and that these and the warships are seen as supporting and not replacing each other (see earlier post)
  • That the whole of the Baltic Sea could be closed by Russian missiles bringing down the Øresund Bridge (not the case, the amount of rubble would be relatively minor relative to water depth and easily cleared)
  • The deal would likely overheat the Finnish shipyard industry and hurt the competitiveness of the Turku yard (utter rubbish, the closure of the Rauma yard cost 600 persons their job, with the re-started RMC having created around 450 jobs, and crucially within a short enough time-span that retraining hasn’t been a major factor)
  • That the NATO-countries bordering the Baltic Sea sports a vastly larger fleet than the Russian Baltic Fleet (see earlier post), making the Finnish ships redundant, somehow forgetting that we’re not a NATO-member (and that the inlet to the Baltic Sea was supposed to have been cut)
  • That the new Finnish Katanpää-class mine countermeasure vessels are failures (see earlier post) and lack any meaningful role in a future war (see earlier post)

The final conclusion is that the Navy doesn’t need the new corvettes, which are useless, and now we must hope that the politicians overrule the admirals to force a time-out and re-evaluation of the future needs of the Navy. As is evident from the links above, the arguments he bases this assertion on are either false, misunderstood, or completely irrelevant for Squadron 2020. Most have been addressed on the blog before, but a few deserve a closer review.

The LCS – an unrelated vessel for an unrelated mission

The text makes a big deal about the fact that the Squadron 2020 is based on the US Littoral Combat Ship, and the issues faced by that project.

The major issue here, is the fact that the notion that the two projects would be in any way related is completely false. The secondary issue is that the article completely overlooks the planned role for the LCS.

The LCS came about largely as a result of the withdrawal of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. These were the smallest ocean-going combat vessels of the US Navy, and this lead to an increased demand for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. It was quickly recognised that for a number of the missions these high-tech destroyers were overkill, and a smaller (i.e. cheaper) solution had to be found for flag-waving and patrol missions where asymmetric threats was the main thing to worry about. The problem for the LCS, and especially for the Freedom-class, is that they look like full-blown corvettes or light frigates, but are in fact large patrol ships (‘PS’, according to the USNI Ship Designation System). This means that they are not to be seen as one-for-one replacements for the earlier frigates, but to take over some low-end missions from larger surface vessels at a low(ish) cost. However, they have received a far share of critique for being lightly armed and having less ability to withstand combat when compared to the 1970’s OPH-frigate. This has in turn lead to demands for increasing the weapons load and resilience of the ships’ systems, to make them true corvettes/light frigates. An upgraded ‘LCS-frigate’ is also offered for export, and Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in this design.

Army 25th Combat Aviation Brigade earns deck landing qualifications abaord Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS-3)
USS Fort Worht (LCS-3), looking too much like a proper warship for its own good. Source: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy/MCS 2nd Class Antonio P. Turretto Ramos

Long story short: that the new US patrol vessel isn’t as damage resistant as combat vessels doesn’t have anything to do with the new Finnish corvette.

Anti-shipping missiles in Kaliningrad – Come again?

The article claims that the new Finnish vessels will be sunk as soon as they appear at sea, because the Russians have created their A2/AD-fortress around Kaliningrad, including basing the K-300P Bastion-P in the exclave.

I do not understand the leap Ainola does here. The Bastion can’t reach anywhere near Finnish waters from Kaliningrad, so despite the fact that it is a matter of serious concern for the Poles and Lithuanians, and to a lesser extent the rest of the Baltic states and Germany, it doesn’t affect Finland directly. In other places, he sternly states that the southern parts of the Baltic Sea is none of Finland’s concern, but the tactical picture there apparently is? Especially out of place is the mention of Kaliningrad, as fired from Russian territory bordering the Gulf of Finland, the system covers roughly all Finnish waters east of Hanko.

As mentioned earlier, the Bastion is a potent weapon, but far from a ‘silver bullet’. It still needs targeting data, and the high speed is something of a mixed blessing, as it creates lots of heat for passive shipborne sensors to pick up and presumably also has an adverse effect on the final stages of target acquisition and interception.

Radars, seagulls, and jamming

Radar technology has made huge progress in recent years, but in all fairness, it isn’t a question about finding a seagull at range. To begin with, radar-cross sections can be widely detached from the area and volume of an object (ask the B-2 Spirit). In addition, there is the major issue with how to discern the relevant radar returns (i.e. ships) from irrelevant ones (i.e. seagulls). This isn’t anything new, and modern radars are very good at processing the myriad of returns. However, in the same way, modern countermeasures are very good at hiding these relevant returns. It is a continuous game of hide-and-seek, and while details are classified, it is safe to say that any kind of disruptive leap has not happened. Especially when you throw in the Finnish archipelago.

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An example of a seagull-spotting radar, the Giraffe AMB. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Duch.Seb

The alternative

What would the alternative then be to the four corvettes? It is safe to say that this has probably been looked into by the Navy, and as mentioned I have discussed the question in my earlier post on why the increase in hull size is needed, but a short recap is in place.

One issue that is often glossed over is how radically the threat picture changed for the Finnish Navy with the end of the Cold War. The Navy has two ‘hard’ main missions in case of war: protecting Finnish shipping lanes and covering the southern flank. During the Cold War, any Soviet flotilla could rapidly depart the Estonian coast, and in a matter of hours have crossed the narrow Gulf of Finland to launch an amphibious assault to threaten major Finnish cities and installations, including the capital. With Estonia re-establishing its independence, this threat has decreased radically. The 336th Naval Infantry Brigade which is the main striking force of the Baltic Fleet is also based in Kaliningrad and not Kronstadt. However, while the threat of amphibious assaults have diminished, the threat to shipping has increased. This is due to the increased dependence on imports following the general trend of globalisation in society as a whole, and for the defence forces in particular. Also, the striking power of submarines and especially aircrafts have increased. This threat requires more than a number of shore-based missile launchers. It require constant presence, and a readiness to counter surface, sub-surface, and airborne threats.

Would it be possible to meet this without corvettes?

Certainly.

Would it be cheaper, and more efficient?

Probably not.

Finland could continue down the current road, featuring smaller, basically single-role warships. But getting four hulls (3D-capability and a mineship) for every corvette would not be cheaper, and would certainly lack the tactical flexibility offered by the corvettes.

Would it be possible to replace some of the roles with other systems?

It might be. Shore-based missile batteries can take over part of the air- and anti-shipping tasks, though these would lack some of the operational flexibility provided by the highly movable corvettes. The sub-hunting role is harder, with helicopters being the obvious choice. However, helicopters have their limits. They are excellent at locating and attacking a target when its presence and general area has been determined, usually by a shipborne system, but are poor tools when it comes to escorting ships, due to their relatively short endurance. One alternative would be to follow the Norwegian example, and buy a squadron of maritime patrol aircraft. 5 Boeing P-8A Poseidon for the RoNAF came in at around 1.1 billion Euro, so getting a meaningful number wouldn’t be cheap. Operating costs are hard to compare between aircrafts and corvettes, but it is safe to say getting the infrastructure (and mountain of sonobuoys needed) would effectively burn through any ‘excess’ money saved by scrapping the corvettes. A smaller aircraft might do, but it’s hard to see that this would cause any savings given the increased demand for shore-based missile systems that would follow this approach. And seriously, if you are concerned about the survivability of a corvette in the Baltic Sea, a converted airliner probably won’t fare better…

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Boeing P-8 Poseidon, ranking ‘High’ on the Coolness-scale and ‘Low’ on the Bang-for-buck-in-Baltic-Sea-scale. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Trevor Hannant

While it is no secret that I have voiced opinions about how the Navy, especially at the start of the program, handled its public relations and how the project was marketed to the broader public, there is really no excuse for an experienced journalist to produce an analysis so basically flawed as has been the case here. I am confident the Navy will rise to the challenge, and provide the information needed for our politicians to make the right choice and approve the crucial program that is Squadron 2020. If anything, Finland need more, not less, corvettes than planned.

James Mashiri also made an excellent overview of some of the articles and press releases related to the program. Note that most are in Finnish. 

The Articles and Press Releases related to this post (newest to oldest)

Other articles related to Squadron 2020

The Defence Forces, Ministry of Defence, and other authorities

Meripuolustuspäivä 2016 – Maritime Defense Day

Once a year the Finnish Navy and Naval Reserve together arrange an invitation only seminar under the name of Meripuolustuspäivä (Maritime defense day). The purpose is to keep up to date with current trends in the field, as well as to enhance contacts and information sharing between the active-duty and reservist members of the Finnish naval community. This year’s edition was held at the Naval Academy in Suomenlinna outside of Helsinki, and was attended by approximately 100 persons, stretching from flag rank officers (active and retired) to cadets, with the civilians coming from the Naval Reserve, marine and defense industry, and other stakeholders. The information in this post comes from both presentations and informal discussions.

Robin Elfving, chairman of the Naval Reserve, during his presentation dealing with the current state and future of the organisation. Source: own picture

The Navy is certainly going places, and while the continued development of Squadron 2020 naturally grabs much of the spotlight, a number of other developments are taking place in the background. The Hamina-class is set to undergo their MLU in the 2018-2021 timespan, and it will mean a significant upgrade in capability for the vessels. Key amongst the changes are the introduction of ASW-capability. This is to mitigate the shortfall in ASW-capable hulls that will take place with the withdrawal of the older Rauma-class. The MTO 85M will also be replaced as discussed in an earlier post, with the new missile being installed on both the Hamina and the corvettes, as well as replacing the truck batteries before 2025. The plan seems to be that the updated Hamina will be the ‘little sister’ of the corvettes, sporting some of the same weapons and capabilities, which will allow for better interoperability between them. The introduction of a proper ASW capability in particular is most welcome, as sub-hunting is a field where search ranges are very limited, making the number of hulls available a key factor. The Navy will now also be able to work up proficiency on new capabilities on the first modified Haminas while waiting for the first corvette to reach operational capacity. In the meantime, further procurements have been made for a number of weapon systems destined to stay in service, and part of the Jurmo-fleet is also destined for a MLU in the near-future.

The last Katanpää-class mine-hunter is set to be handed over by the yard in Italy on the 1 November. The vessel, like its sisters already in Finland, will receive some minor changes to bring it up to standard. On the whole, the Navy is very happy with the class, with representatives noting that the delays and issues during the build phase largely have been related to the handling of the project, and not the vessels themselves.

Squadron 2020 is on track, and enjoys broad political support. Notably the final acquisition decision is not yet taken, as the project is still in the concept phase with the Navy going through the responses received for the RFI. The renders released are described as “artists impressions”, something which Saab’s representative was happy to latch on to and explain that instead of the fixed radarpanels on the latest renders a stealthy radar installation can be created by putting a spinning radar inside the mast. I can see that this is a less expensive solution, but tracking of fast-moving targets such as missiles will naturally suffer. I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

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

The increased tensions around the Baltic are visible in the everyday work of the Navy. Not only is the Russian Baltic Fleet more active, but also the increased number of vessels being built for export by Russian yards bring traffic to the Gulf of Finland as they undertake sea trials here. The Finnish Defence Forces identify every single vessel moving on the northern Baltic Sea and in the Gulf of Finland, employing whatever method is the most suitable for each individual situation. The Navy is also further increasing its emphasis on readiness, not only as a technical requirement, but also as a state of mind for all personnel involved. This include not only active duty soldiers and seamen, but also conscripts which are now allowed to take part in such readiness operations for which they have received proper training. The Navy of today is first and foremost a readiness organisation.

For the Navy, international cooperation is a must. “We lack the capability to do certain things”, as one officer put it, and this hole is plugged through international cooperation, with Sweden as our single most important partner. The most important initiative is the joint Finnish-Swedish Naval Task Group, which is consistently improved and also the framework under which Finnish and Swedish units participate together in larger multinational exercises.

For the Naval Reserve, it continues its work as a link between the Navy and its reservists, as well as the common denominator for naval reservists throughout the country (including reservists from the coast guard). While the brand amongst active reservists is strong and holds a certain sense of pride, the organisation has now also been making a conscious push to heighten awareness of the naval reserve and its activities outside of currently active reservists, which has included a new website and increased presence in social media. To further enhance discussions in social media, the Naval Reserve also launched its Twitter-guide, including tips on how to take part in the defense and national security debate on said forum. At the same time, equipment-wise the training capabilities have been increased with introduction of more L-class vessels and new canoes for the training of coastal jaegers.

The theme of the panel was Hybrid Warfare, a topic which is as current as it is unclear. Defining what exactly constitutes hybrid war was a challenge in itself, with one definition being the employment of whatever methods work best, regardless of whether they are in line with traditions or any kind of legal/chivalric code. Another definition put forward focused on the use of unconventional methods by conventional actors (i.e. armies or other organised units) OR the use of conventional methods and weapons by irregular actors. A prime example of the first one is the Russian assault on Crimea and further operations in Eastern Ukraine, while the recent attack on Swift by Yemeni rebels (with or without the help of foreign ‘advisers’) using a modern complex weapon system such as a sea-skimming missile is an example of the later. It was also noted that hybrid warfare is a relatively new term in western discussions, and only after its widespread adoption here has Russian sources started using it, and then only as a description of how the west analyses Russia’s operations.

The threat of the unexpected is hard to guard against. Like a cartoon figure not noticing the saw cutting through the floor surrounding you, hybrid warfare works best when the target doesn’t notice that it’s foundation is being weakened. This can be achieved e.g. through the use of knowingly breaking international agreements or codes, such as falsely declaring emergencies to gain access to ports.

The term information warfare was also debated, as the use of (dis)information is a crucial part of any hybrid operation. However, as war usually involves more than one part, if someone is waging an information war against Finland, wouldn’t that mean that we are also conducting a war by defending us? Can we say that Finland is engaged in defensive information warfare? Our current defense largely consists of meeting false accusations and oversimplifications with correct information and facts, but is this also an information operation that qualifies as a kind of warfare?

The panel assembled. Source: own picture

For the information part, it is clear that an orchestrated campaign aimed at tarnishing Finland’s reputation is being waged by Russia. The goal here might be to isolate our country internationally, with a good example of what can happen when your reputation is low being Ukraine’s reputation as suffering from a high rate of corruption, which in turn lessens the willingness of the international community to come to its aid. Another point was made regarding Hungary, with the rhetorical question ‘Who would want to come to their aid if a crises occurred?” being asked. This is reminiscent of smear campaigns being directed against individuals, which e.g. can focus on addressing (often false) discrediting information to their employers or partners, with the aim of silencing or isolating a person.

This then transits over into the fact that the concept of nationalism is seemingly changing. With the increased polarisation and diversification of the Finnish society, the big question is how will “Finnish” be defined in the future? If the only thing defining it is a passport, that will inevitably threaten the unity of our society. With the younger generation seemingly less open to traditional Finlandisation, this seems like a likely target for hostile propaganda.

…and speaking of propaganda: what is really the PR-value of the Admiral Kuznetsov task force slowly heading south under a cloud of black smoke? Because one thing is sure, and that is that the military value the air wing can offer for the Syrian regime forces is limited at best.

Further Developments of Squadron 2020

The Finnish Navy has released further details on the upcoming corvettes. To begin with, RMC of Rauma has signed a letter of intent with the Finnish Defence Forces for the construction of the vessels. This has been expected, as of the three shipyards in the country capable of producing ships of this size, Artech Helsinki is Russian-owned and Meyer Turku has filled their production capacity for the foreseeable future. RMC has also teamed up with Patria to ensure that the newly-founded company has the economic and logistical muscle behind them to manage a project of this size. This might be crucial, as if RMC would fail the reviews currently being undertaken, there exists a very real risk that the vessels will have to be built abroad. A special arrangement is that the Finnish Defence Forces remains responsible for the design work, with the yard handling only the building process. This is to make possible the fast delivery schedule.

An interesting article in this year’s edition of Finnish Defence Force’s Insinööriupseri, a publication published yearly by the Engineer Officers’ Association (engineer as in “practitioner of engineering”, not sappers/pioneers). This includes not only articles on the subject, but also new renders and pictures from the research program.

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One of the new renders, showing the refined corvette concept. Source: Finnish Defence Forces / Insinööriupseeriliitto

Unlike the earlier renders, the concept is shown only from the sea level, meaning that several of the details that could be made out from the earlier bird’s eye views are not visible. Still, a number of important changes can be made out.

The most obvious one is that the single-panel rotating radar of the earlier renders have been replaced by a multi-panel fixed installation on a large mast of a truncated pyramid shape. This would mark a significant step up in detection capability and response time, as well as offering better stealth characteristics. Notably, the TRS-4D, successor to the TRS-3D currently found on the Hamina- and Hämeenmaa-classes, is available in both configurations.

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76 mm OTO Melara Super Rapid of the Norwegian Nansen-class frigates. A possible future Finnish deck gun? Source: Wikimedia Commons/Ketil

The only weapon system visible is the fore-mounted gun, which is reminiscent of the BAE 5” (127 mm) Mk 45 Mod 4 turret. If so, this would be the smallest class to be equipped with this weapon, and while not impossible, more likely the turret in the picture is just a generic placeholder, with a 3” (76 mm) weapon being the likely choice.

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All four sisters moving in column in their home waters. Source: Finnish Defence Forces / Insinööriupseeriliitto

The general design has also received a more pronounced twin mast setup, with the front mast holding the four-panel radar and sporting what seems to be an ESM-antenna on top. The rear masts holds an additional array of different antennas, and probably shrouds the funnel to reduce the IR-signature. This is a setup suspiciously similar to that employed by TKMS in recent MEKO-designs, including on the upcoming German F125-frigates and the (failed) MEKO-D bid to Australia. This is not to say that TKMS necessarily is involved in the design, the basic principle of splitting up prioritised systems for greater redundancy by physically separating them is common sense and not uniquely German. However, TKMS would be a logical partner for the “international cooperation and technology sharing [that] has occupied an important role in the project”, and the truncated front mast does bear a strong resemblance of the designs used for an early F125 draft and the aforementioned Australian concept. For the F125 concept, note not only the truncated pyramid form, but also the ESM-antenna on top of it, and wire antennas stretching from the front to the rear mast.

It is also mentioned that the US Navy has been the single most important partner up to this point, and that this is a natural continuation of a collaboration that has been taking place for close to ten years already.

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Propeller testing for Squadron 2020 showing cavitation on the propeller tips. Source: Finnish Defence Force / Insinööriupseeriliitto

The hull shape seems more or less finished, with tank testing having been performed in 1:15 scale, both as towed and self-propelled model. The propulsion will be of a traditional kind, with two shaft lines sporting a single propeller each. The propellers are a minor project on their own, and are set to be of a highly advanced design. This is due to the somewhat conflicting demands of high top-speed, small diameter (due to overall draught requirement),  and low noise (and high cavitation margin). All this, while at the same time being strong enough to cope with ice. This creates significant metallurgic and hydrodynamic challenges, but high-level propeller design is also an area of expertise found both in Finland and amongst our close friends abroad (including Sweden). Suffice to say, this isn’t on my top-five lists of things to be worried about in the program.

Also check out there earlier posts on the programme, including my discussion on the use of vertical-launch systems (VLS) for some serious surface-to-air capability and the general need for corvettes.

The quest for MTO XX

The main anti-ship weapon in the current Finnish arsenal is the MTO 85M long-range anti-ship missile. This is a version of the widespread Saab RBS15 surface-to-surface missile named RBS15 SF-III (often this designation “Third version of the RBS15 for Suomi/Finland” is mixed up with the RBS15 Mk3 designation, which denotes a newer version, more on this below).

The MTO 85M is found on both the Rauma- and Hamina-class FAC, as well as on truck-mounted batteries firing from land. Notably, Finland has not acquired the air-launched version of the missile. The MTO 85M with its 100 km range make up the outer ring of defence against enemy surface units, and is then backed up with the 130 TK turret-mounted coastal guns firing 130 mm anti-ship grenades at ranges over 30 km and short-range RO2006 (Eurospike-ER) missiles being carried by infantry squads. The short range of the latter, around 8 km maximum, is made up for by the fact that the infantry squads are extremely small and mobile, and as such can move around in the archipelago to set up ambushes at choke points or guard minefields from being swept. However, when push comes to shove, it will be the MTO 85M that will have to do much of the heavy lifting.

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One of the early renders of the upcoming corvette, featuring twin quadruple launchers mounted just aft of the mast. Source: Defmin.fi
With the launch of the Squadron 2020 project, one of the main issues will be what (or which) weapons it will feature for the anti-ship role. Preliminary renders have shown twin quadruple launchers mounted amidships, not unlike those used for the US Harpoon anti-ship missile. The Harpoon has, in a number of variants, been a sort of de-facto NATO standard (together with more famous Exocet), and new versions keep being rolled out. In many ways, the Harpoon, Exocet and RBS15 are comparable. All feature a radar seeker in the nose, are comparatively large, and uses an attack profile where they approach the target at high subsonic speeds at very low altitude, skimming just a few meters over the waves. All three are available in truck, ships, and air launched variants, with the Exocet and Harpoon also being found in submarine launched variants (this obviously being a largely academic talking point in the case of Finland). A new version of one of these three could very well provide the main striking power on Finland’s upcoming corvettes, and would be in line with Finland’s rather conservative view on defence acquisitions, preferring evolutionary rather than revolutionary increments.

The joker of the pack is the NSM provided by Kongsberg, and selected (in its air-launched JSM-version) to be the prime anti-shipping weapon for the F-35. The Norwegians has a reputable reference in the AGM-119 Penguin, which is a short-ranged IR-seeker missile that has seen significant export sales, crucially as a helicopter-launched weapon to the US Navy. The system was also operated by the Swedish Navy as the Rbs 12. The NSM is altogether different though, and its performance and size places it in the same category as the above-mentioned missiles, with one crucial difference: it uses a passive IIR-seeker, making it worse at handling adverse weather conditions but potentially better at coping with modern countermeasures which have heavily focused on spoofing radar seekers. It might also have an easier time in the cluttered archipelagos of the Finnish coast.

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A Harpoon missile blasts off from a US cruiser. Source: Wikimedia Commons/DoD
Another noteworthy “western” (with the word used in a very loose sense) missile is the Japanese XASM-3. Where most western manufacturers have preferred high-subsonic speeds, Soviet/Russian missiles have in several instances instead aimed at very high speeds, including up to Mach 3. The XASM-3, currently undergoing testing, is one of the few western projects specifically aiming for a high top-speed, with Mach 3 having been mentioned. The Japanese do have a history of successful locally-produced subsonic missiles, with the anti-shipping mission naturally being of high priority for the island nation. While this certainly brings something unique to the table, I still see it as unlikely that this Japanese ship-killer would find its way into the Baltic Sea.

For Finland, a number of pieces are bound to move around within the near future. As mentioned, the RBS15 SF-III is not the RBS15 Mk3 used by Poland, Germany, and Sweden, and will need to be replaced at some point. The system itself celebrated 35 years since the first launch this summer, and while it might sound much, by then both Harpoon and Exocet were already tried and proven systems in service. The important part is that the basic missiles of all three families have been continuously updated, and current versions share little except name and outward appearance with their brethren of the 80’s.

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The Finnish truck-based launcher mounting the MTO 85M. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI
What happens if one fails to keep abreast with current development has been clearly shown by the attacks on USS Mason during the last weeks, where the Iranian C-802/Noor missiles apparently have scored nought for six in their attempts at targeting a modern destroyer. Important is also to recognise that while many associate anti-ship missiles with the attack on HMS Sheffield in the Falkland’s War, where the 4,800 ton destroyer was sunk by a single Exocet, history have also shown that a 150+ kg warhead isn’t necessarily enough. Four years after HMS Sheffield, the USS Stark was hit by two Exocets while sailing in the Persian Gulf, but the 4,100 ton frigate managed to stay afloat despite the damage done by the impact and ensuing fire.

For Finland, the MTO 85M is bound to receive a one-for-one replacement, and not only is it likely to be introduced on the new corvettes, but it is likely that the same missile will be implemented on the Hamina-class following their MLU and to the vehicle-mounted batteries as well. The great question is the third part of what logically would be a triad, namely an air-launched weapon. Currently the Finnish Air Force is in the situation that it feature a naval fighter, but lacks any serious anti-shipping capability. There would be a seemingly simple solution, as while the JASSM has been the flagship of the newfound Finnish air-to-ground capability, another missile has also been introduced: the AGM-154C JSOW. While the missile originally was conceived as a ‘pure’ cruise missile, the latest Block III version (C-1) is able to be used in the anti-shipping role as well. The first JSOW C-1 was test-fired from a F/A-18F Super Hornet earlier this year, and upgrading to this version could provide the Finnish Defence Forces with a diverse anti-shipping capability.

While getting anti-shipping missiles for the Hornet might not be realistic, the talk about giving HX an expanded range of capabilities compared to its predecessor gives some reason for optimism. The question then is should HX be allowed to influence the choice of new AShM?

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A Rafale M takes off with a single Exocet mounted on the centre-line pylon. Source: © Dassault Aviation – V. Almansa
For the current HX candidates, they all have their local weapons of choice. In short, the F-35 comes with JSM/NSM, Gripen with the RBS15F, Rafale with the AM.39 Exocet, Eurofighter with the Marte-ER, and the Super Hornet has a whole battery of alternatives lined up, including Harpoon, LRASM (essentially an anti-ship development based on the JASSM), JSM/NSM, and JSOW C-1. Note that for several of these, the missiles aren’t integrated yet, but in different stages between coming at some point/unfounded decision/funded/scheduled/undergoing testing.

At first glance, stating that the Navy follow the cues of the Air Force to get what they’re having might seem tempting. However, there are a number of issues with that thought. To begin with, the air- and sea-launched versions not necessarily share enough components and similarities in handling to create any measurable synergies in acquisition or training. The HX and Squadron 2020 timelines are also somewhat conflicting. The main issue is that as HX likely will get a fighter with a missile already integrated, this would create a situation where a secondary weapon system of the Air Force would determine the main striking power of the Navy. While this would equate to putting the cart in front of the horse, the alternative is that Finland would pay for the integration of the Navy’s missile of choice onto the Air Force’s fighter of choice, or that the Navy and Air Force use different weapons. This is not necessarily a bad thing, sporting different weapons makes it harder for the target to know how it should respond to a threat, but the question is if this politically will be a harder sell, regardless of whether it actually is more expensive or not.

An interesting alternative is the launchers recently sold by MBDA to Qatar. The coastal launchers are remarkable in that they can employ both the Exocet MM.40 and the lighter MARTE ER. This could be an interesting solution especially for the upcoming Finnish coastal batteries, where a hi-low missile mix could make room for more reloads while still sticking with a single launcher.  The MARTE can also be employed by the NH 90, though in the Finnish case this would probably not be cost effective. To begin with, the TTH version lack a suitable search radar, and would have to rely on outside targeting data. On today’s networked battlefield this isn’t necessarily a big deal, but the bigger issue is the fact that the Army will need every single one of their helicopters for tactical transports.

So, which missile will it be that finds its way onto our new corvettes? Harpoon is slowly on the way out for the US Navy, and while it probably will still see use for the next few decades, adopting it as a new system at this point doesn’t make much sense. The JSM with its IIR-seeker probably won’t make the cut due to its limited all-weather capability, though it could be an interesting complement as an air-launched weapon, and the apparent positive experience with Kongsberg’s NASAMS and the recent acquisition of Patria by Kongsberg might well come into play when discussing this option (especially if the F-35 bags the HX-contract). This leaves the updated RBS15 Mk3 and the Exocet MM40 Block 3. With Saab’s strong position as the current supplier of both the MTO 85M and the 9LV combat management system, they seem like the favourite. Saab has also started the marketing campaign already.

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A NSM being test-fired from LCS USS Coronado. Source: Wikimedia Commons/US Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. Bell
But while Saab might be the favourite, MBDA should not be underestimated. The company has a wide and varied portfolio when it comes to missiles, and has the ability to offer a one-stop-shop solution for the whole missile-package for the corvettes as shown by the recent deal in which MBDA sold long-range anti-ship missiles as well as long- and short-range air-to-surface missiles to four new Qatari corvettes under a 1 billion euro deal. The deal covered Exocet MM40, Aster 30, and VL Mica missiles, which is a combination that would fit the Finnish requirements very well, and significantly boost the air defence network covering southern parts of Finland (including Helsinki). It would also supply the Finnish forces with an anti-ballistic missile capability on a platform with higher operational mobility compared to a ground-based system. Saab crucially lacks the VLS-based surface-to-air missiles, but can on the other hand bring both a state-of-the-art anti-ship missile and a modern anti-submarine torpedo developed for littoral conditions.

Squadron 2020 – Made for the Finnish Coastline

laivue2020_uusi_logoThe acquisition of four multi-purpose corvettes by the Finnish Navy as part of the Squadron 2020 (fi. Laivue 2020) program received some serious flak by BGen (ret.) Lauri Kiianlinna in Helsingin Sanomat last Friday, of exactly the kind I warned would become widespread due to the Navy’s somewhat lacking marketing of the project. While I agree with Kiianlinnas assessment that the Army need further funds and that the ground based air defence needs to be fleshed out, many of the points raised in opposition of the project are either based on misunderstanding or in some instances flat-out wrong. As noted, this is partly a failure on the part of the Navy, who in today’s economy more than ever has to explain not only what they need, but also why. A simple “Trust us, we’ve checked the issue” (while correct) is no longer enough to the public or the other cash-strapped branches of the defence forces.

Finland is for all practical purposes an island, and the only way we will keep our supply lines open for any extended time is through cargo vessels that enter the Baltic Sea in the Danish Straits, before sailing up the length of the Swedish coast until arriving in Finnish ports. This means that while the navy cannot win any wars for Finland, it can certainly lose them.

As such, Finland will need a navy to escort our merchant vessels at the very least until they reach Swedish waters. Currently this is done by a number of smaller vessels operating together to perform different individual roles:

  • The Hämeenmaa-class minelayers are operating as the squadron leader/flagship, while having a limited ASW- and anti-air capability
  • The Hamina-class FAC provide anti-ship missiles and a limited anti-air capability
  • The Rauma-class FAC provide ASW-capability in the form of the only dedicated submarine-hunting sensor in the Finnish Navy as well as featuring limited ASW-weaponry. If the towed array is left home, it can instead use anti-ship missiles

It should be noted that a three-ship squadron like this faces a number of tough choices:

  • A total of no more than 16 ITO 04 (‘Umkhonto’) surface-to-air missiles featuring a short 14 km range are available for air cover
  • For the Rauma to find a submarine it needs to listen for it, meaning that it would prefer to keep some distance to the other ships. However, doing so lessens the protection offered by the short-range ITO 04 mounted on the other vessels
  • None of the vessels sport any torpedoes, so If a submarine is found the vessels will attack it by driving towards it well within torpedo range while firing ASW-mortars

These ships, especially the Haminas, are very potent for their class. However, there is only so much equipment that can be fitted into the limited hull sizes available. Both of the FAC-classes also lack the ability to operate in ice, due to their light (and vulnerable) aluminium hulls. Their small size also seriously hamper their endurance, forcing them to return to port at short intervals. For a navy in which hiding in the cluttered archipelago is a central part of the doctrine, having to frequently return to fixed points to bunker up on fuel, supplies, and weapons, is far from ideal.

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The Finnish idea regarding how to kill a submarine is drive towards it at speed, fire of a salvo of these at 400 meters, and hope the submarine doesn’t figure out a firing solution for their  18+ km ranged torpedoes. Saab Elma ASW-600 on a Rauma-class FAC. Source: own picture

The need for bigger hulls

The size is not a product of the urge to venture further into the Southern Baltic Sea or on international missions, but of the need to provide vessels that are able to operate in Finnish waters year-round, able to handle the varied threats they may encounter.

This is where the main problems of the opinion piece are. The new ships will not further strain the limited air defence resources available, they will not be sitting ducks, and they will not be restricted by ice. On the contrary, they will be able to hide better than the current fleet due to being less reliant on visiting known locations, they will carry their own air defence, and their big steel hulls will offer them ice-going capability as well as better resistance in the face of battle damage.

Of great interest is the vertical launch system (VLS) seen on the render pictures released by the navy. I have discussed these in greater detail on the blog earlier, but the conclusion is that they would bring a marked increase in the air defence of not only the ship themselves, but also of the general area of operations. In fact, in the best of world’s we might even get to see the Aster 30 onboard the corvettes, which would finally give the (southern parts of the) country a measure of protection against ballistic missiles. As such, the claim that these would tie up valuable air defence resources is wrong, and instead they might actually free up army units.

The discussion regarding the range of the weaponry is somewhat simplified. The max practical range is nowadays rarely reliant on what the sales material claim the missiles are capable of. Instead, the main question is how far out the enemy can be accurately located. Another issue that one rarely want to fire all missiles straight at the enemy, because A) it makes it easier to defend against compared to if the salvo is routed to come in from different angles at the same time, and B) it gives the enemy a vector to follow back to the location of our firing battery. To sum it up, the Navy wont fire anti-ship missiles, either from trucks or naval vessels, to Gotland any time soon, regardless of how the range rings look on the map.

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One of the concept renders presented by the navy. Note hatch for towed array at stern(?) and VLS-array at the front. Source: Finnish Navy

When it comes to anti-submarine weapons, it seems like we will finally get a ship armed with torpedoes and proper sensors, which will make it possible to locate and fight off one of the most elusive threats our shipping lanes currently face. This is especially important as we currently lack any kind of airborne ASW-capability, and the only way to find submarines lurking outside of our archipelago is through the use of ships.

The other possibility is to assume that we can keep our waters protected without own ships, which is an interesting concept on paper. By employing shore-based anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles we would be able to ward off any intruders, or so the theory goes. However, by the very nature of these systems, they lack the operational mobility to keep up with merchant vessels moving in Finnish waters along the coast, and as such need to be pre-positioned so that they can cover the expected enemy attack vectors. They then need to be fed target data, and feature a redundancy in both firing units and sensors, so that the enemy isn’t able to create a gap in our defences where they can strike at our lifeline with impunity simply by knocking out a battery or two.

This can all be done, but to be fair it is highly doubtful if this advanced network of mutually supporting coastal sensors, truck-mounted anti-ship batteries, submarine hunting helicopters, and surface-to-air missiles, would be any cheaper than the corvettes. Crucially, the system would lack the flexibility offered by a surface squadron of multirole vessels, which are able to move with the merchant convoys, carrying their own sensors as well as weapons to fend of air, surface, and sub-surface threats. The similarities to the discussions regarding ground based air defences contra getting new fighters are striking. This isn’t a case of “either/or”, but rather that a strong defence will have to be made up of multiple layers of different systems with their own strengths and weaknesses working in unison, and I fully expect the Navy to start looking into replacing the truck-mounted MTO 85M at some point in the future.

When it comes to coastal defence, I would like to see Squadron 2020 and ground units being networked with our HX-fighters, to let the fighters provide accurate target data through the use of a modern data link while letting the others act as silent ‘shooters’ with their radars turned off.  This is a concept which for example Saab already has as an option for which includes both their air units and naval command and control systems, and one would assume that there is a requirement for HX and Squadron 2020 to be able to communicate with each other.

It isn’t about the Navy against the Army or the Air Force. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

Epilogue: The Panssarilaivat – White Elephants of the 1930’s

The Väinämöinen-class of two coastal defence ships (fi. Panssarilaivat) has long been regarded as the schoolbook example of wasted money. Being expensive and manpower intensive, they took almost no part in the Second World War, and the navy still managed to lose one of them with a large loss of men during one of their few wartime sorties.

However, while I agree that it was a strange decision to invest in major surface units when the army lacked anti-tank weaponry and artillery shells, the other side of the story is often forgotten. The war did play out in an extremely surprising way. The Winter War was fought almost entirely while the sea was frozen, and when the Continuation War broke out it didn’t take long until the Germans had occupied the whole southern coast of the Baltic Sea from the Danish Straits up to the outskirts of Leningrad. This made the relatively strong and modern Baltic Fleet trapped in their bases around the city until the end of the Continuation War. The exception was the submarine fleet, which every summer broke out to try and wreak havoc amongst Finnish and German shipping in the face of Finnish and German subchasers and submarines (until the Germans and Finns installed two nets over the entire Gulf of Finland!).

If things would have played out differently, and Finland would have had to stand alone, two floating coastal fortresses could suddenly have proved to be rather useful after all.