The Finnish Naval Reserve – Blue Hulls and Expanded Ambitions

For the sea-going part of Finnish Naval Reserve, things have not always been easy. The Navy holds quite a number of positions that due to their complexity demands full-time professionals, while the remaining jobs are usually performed by the numerous conscripts available at any given time. While reservists are regularly called up for service during major exercises, there have been few opportunities besides these for motivated reservists to hone their skills as a part of the regular Navy. This have been especially true for those reservists not living in the southern parts of the country, where all three major naval bases are located.

This has left the field to the volunteer-based part of the reserve, organized in a somewhat strange double (in some cases even tripple) structure based around the official MPK (bearing the ungainly name “National Defence Training Association of Finland” in English) and its Maritime District/MERIPP as well as the volountary umbrella organisation Sininen Reservi ry and its member organisation’s and guilds. While this might seem impractical, in practice the system has worked close to seamlessly, as it is largely the same people that are active in both organizations. With regards to the ability of these to provide realistic training possibilities for their members serving aboard naval vessels in wartime, this has largely been up to the ingenuity and enthusiasm of individual members to manage the acquisition and operation of suitable vessels. While this has worked wonders in certain places, it has also led to a motley fleet of vessels of variable functionality, and made centralized quality-control of the training offered difficult.

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Vaasan Meriosasto’s L-class vessel M/S Sommarö. Source: Wikimedia Commons / MKFI

However, new winds are blowing. Last summer, the first two of a total of six stricken L-class light transport craft were transfered to MERIPP/MPK, to be followed by two more this year and a further two in 2016. In order to maintain control over the way these are used, they will not be transfered or sold to local organisations. Instead, MERIPP/MPK stays as the owner, with local organizations being able to request opetating rights for a vessel. If this is granted, a contract is then set up, outlining how and for what purposes the vessel is to be used, with the users promising to make certain that they provide the crews and maintenance needed to meet the demands of the owner (MERIPP) during the duration of the contract.

Route planning exercise during the first instructors course. Source: Keski-Pohjanmaan Meripuolustajat ry

To assist the users, MERIPP have in turn created the new L-boat Flotilla (fi. Linnakeviirikö) to facilitate coordinated operating procedures, as well as to provide technical assistance and juridical advice to the users. To further improve the quality of training offered, MERIPP have gone ‘all-in’, and from the season of 2015 all vessels owned by or supported by them will be operated according to the operating procedures of active naval vessels, as laid out by SMO (Sotilasmerenkulkuohjeet, Directions for Military Seafaring). As part of this new approach, all L-class operators are to have local users that are experienced enough that they are able to provide the same level of training that conscripts manning light assault crafts receive from active-duty officers. The first instructors’ course aiming to harmonize training in accordance with SMO have now been held, and marks an important step up in the level of ambition of the Finnish Naval Reserve. The fact that two of the first four L-class vessels have gone to Ostrobothnian users, Vaasan Meriosasto and Kokkola-based Keski-Pohjanmaan Meripuolustajat respectively, is also a game changer in that they provide markedly better training opportunities for reservists based along the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia.

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Finnish Assistance and Russian Media

Note: After a few posts mainly made up of news, headlines and specifications, this post will feature opinions.

Finnish Assistance

As I hinted at earlier, I strongly believe that Finland should offer its support to Sweden in light of current activities. For a small country situated next to an authoritarian greater power, it is crucial that international laws and principles are respected. This includes respecting the territory of foreign countries, both air, land and sea. If our close neighbors, in whose ability to protect their own territory we (according to PM Stubb at a press conference today) trust, says that they strongly suspect a foreign underwater incursion, that should be all the info we need to have a high government official issue a strongly worded condemnation aimed at whoever it is that is behind the incursion. After this, we can start thinking about offering concrete steps to help solve the issue, as it is in our own interest to know who it is that conducts illegal operations in the Baltic Sea. It would be naïve to believe that a string of successful missions directed against Sweden would not put Finland at risk for similar incursions. Thus, we do not need to argue about whether or not we are morally obliged to offer help to the Swedish authorities, as even if one would believe that we weren’t, we should still do so out of respect for our own security needs.

MHC Katanpää (’40), leadship of a class of three new mine countermeasure vessels. The brand new vessel has some of the most advanced sensors currently available in the Baltic Sea for finding underwater items, and could be of great assistance to the Swedish operation. Source: Wikimedia Commons/MKFI.

It might be that Sweden believes that our direct support is not needed, but the offering of assistance would in itself be a powerful signal. If the Finnish government believes it is a too strong signal, more indirect means are available. Yesterday would have been a good opportunity to send out a naval vessel to escort Professor Logachev on its way through the Gulf of Finland. It could have been done at a respectful distance, and as part of a “normal” cruise. This would have given credible deniability in case Russia would have reacted, while still sending a message of support to our western neighbors. Also to note is that as Russia has repeatedly stated that they do not have a submarine in the search area, the Finnish government could credibly state that any participation is directed against our easterly neighbor. However, it must be said that with the Swedish government taking such a low-key approach to the whole incident, it might be out of place for Finland to take the lead in condemning it. If this is the case, I hope that Stubb at their meeting today expressed to Löfven that he has our support if the Swedish government would decide to change their current stance. There are currently only two non-NATO countries aside from Russia bordering the Baltic Sea. While it is a cliché, the cause of Sweden is indeed very much our own as well. And vice versa.

Russian Media

The Red October-incident continues, and today Russian media and psychological operations were activated on a larger scale, with the information originating from TASS. The story was simple: there is no Russian submarine in Swedish waters, but instead the Swedish authorities should “request explanations from the Dutch Navy command”, as it was claimed that it was the Walrus-class submarine HNLMS Bruinvis which would have been spotted while conducting an emergency surfacing drill. This was rapidly debunked by the Dutch Navy, which denied that their submarine would have been in Swedish waters after finishing the joint exercise Northern Archer earlier last week. As it was clear that the Bruinvis had been moored openly in Tallinn during a large part of the weekend, the Russian claim was easily shown as being completely unfounded.

HNLMS Bruinvis, photo taken by Mika Peltola on Saturday (18102014) morning at 8 AM in port of Tallinn.
HNLMS Bruinvis, photo taken by Mika Peltola on Saturday (18102014) morning at 8 AM in the port of Tallinn.

As a side not, TASS has also posted an article with the headline “Sweden’s search for unknown submarine raises tensions in Baltic region”. One could be forgiven to think it was Sweden who has practiced air strikes against neighboring countries… This brings up an important point, which has become increasingly clear since the start of the invasion of Crimea earlier this year: Russian media and officials cannot be trusted to objectively tell the truth. Instead, there has been a number of cases were Russian authorities, including Vladimir Putin, has told outright lies, which have been repeated by Russian media without any kind of critical analysis. The list includes such clear-cut cases as the statement that there were no Russian soldiers in Crimea (later confirmed by Putin himself) and that a Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack plane would have shot down MH17 (when the Russian aircraft manufacturer themselves state that the plane can’t reach the altitude MH17 flew on). HeadlinesThis is in line with what experts in the west has stated about the Russian view of the use of media in psychological warfare [1], [2], [3], and this can in turn be connected to an increasing number of reports about the systematic use of social media to spread fabricated stories [4 see also list of recommended reading at end of source]. Bottomline: unfortunately, due to the above mentioned recent events and a long negative trend with regards to freedom of press in Russia, western media must stop its use of Russian media and authorities as a source of equal value to their western counterparts. To go back to the story above, YLE quoted the Russian Defence Ministry stating that the Swedes should be looking for the Bruinvis, and then quoted the negative answer by Dutch authorities in a way that gives both the sources the same value. In my opinion, this is clearly not in line with good journalistic conduct. A journalist should indeed strive to present both sides of a story, but not all sources are created equal, and a failure to properly explain this gives the casual reader a tilted view of the story.

Some Reflections on the Stockholm “Subhunt”

In the media the current intelligence operation south of Stockholm has been described as the Swedish Navy searching for (or even hunting) “a Russian submarine”. I would like to point out that the picture might be quite a bit more complex. As said earlier, out of respect for the fact that it is an ongoing operation and the possible need for OPSEC, I will not include any attempts at an OOB.

The Swedish Defence Forces yesterday (Friday the 17th of October) stated that during the day they had received information from a reliable source about “foreign underwater activity”. As a response to this, the Swedish Defence Forces have decided to conduct an intelligence gathering operation in the area, with sea, air and land units.

The “foreign underwater activity” was immediately translated into “Russian submarine” by the media. There are Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea, namely the two ‘Kilo’-class submarines B-227 Vyborg and B-806 Dmitrov of Projects 877 and 877EKM respectively.

However, there are a number of other possible explanations.

The possibility of Russian divers and/or light underwater equipment has to be accounted for. This could include midget submarines or diver propulsion vehicles, with either a supporting land-based unit, or support from ships/submarines in international waters. Possible missions include intelligence gathering, e.g. with regards to the ability of the Swedish units to detect and respond to incursions of this kind. This kind of mission would most probably go to Russian naval Spetsnaz units, which made headline during the 2008 war in Georgia when they apparently entered into the port of Poti and destroyed the majority of the surface units of the small Georgian Navy.

Another possibility is that some other country sent a submarine into the area.

Polish Project 877E ‘Kilo’-class submarine ORP Orzeł (291), outwardly similar to the submarines of Russia’s Baltic Fleet. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Poland operates a single Project 877E ’Kilo’-class as well as four German-designed Ex-Norwegian Type 207 ’Kobben’-class submarines. All are of the diesel-electric type, meaning they are extremely quiet when submerged, but have to go up to the surface and recharge their batteries every now and then. Although the submarines are somewhat dated, they still constitute a very proficient striking force.

Germany has continued its long and proud tradition as builder of submarines. Currently its submarine force consists of four Type 212 A submarines based in Eckernförde, close to Kiel. These are some of the most modern submarines in the world, being so called AIP-submarines (air independent), meaning that thanks to their hydrogen fuel-cells they don’t have to surface regularly.

Neither the three Baltic countries nor Denmark has any submarines left. Sweden has three Gotland-class and two Södermanland-class AIP-submarines, but these are naturally not part of the equation. However, the Netherlands currently has a single Walrus-class submarine in the Baltic Sea, which has taken part in exercise Northern Archer together with the Swedish units now scanning the waters south of Stockholm. As far as I know, no details about its route home have been published.

It is possible that some of these countries have decided to test the Swedish response to underwater incursions. It could have been a unilateral decision by the country in question, or as a proposal/request/idea from some kind of higher-level NATO forum. The purpose in that case would most probably be intelligence gathering, to get a validated picture of the Swedish response and capabilities in case of a Russian incursion, where the secondary goals could include highlighting these deficits in capability to the Swedish politicians and general public. The Navy is already well aware of its (lack of) capabilities.

This would naturally be a very high-risk operation politically, as getting publicly caught with your submarine in the territorial waters of a friendly country is not desirable, to put it mildly. To lessen the risk, a similar operation could naturally be launched with divers as discussed above in the case of Russian units.

I will not rank any of these scenarios as to what is most likely, but bear in mind, there are a lot of things happening under the surface of the Baltic Sea about which we know very little.

Edit 18/10/2014 18:15 (GMT +2): On the press conference that just finished, it became clear that the Swedish navy increases number of units involved in intelligence operation outside Stockholm, stresses focus is on intelligence NOT on subhunt. They still believe the original intel about foreign underwater activity was “very reliable”, and declines to comment on “What further circumstantial evidence we have received”. No further specifics were revealed.

The Need for Speed

The classic three factors of mobility, firepower and protection are usually associated with AFV’s, but can naturally be employed for a variety of vehicles. With regards to small craft, much of the thinking behind land vehicles holds true, but the emphasize have always been on mobility and firepower instead of protection. “Speed is our armour”, but how good an armour is it really, and what difference does a few knots make?

Båtprofiler

Let’s compare three different military boats, which represent a comprehensive cross-section of the speeds naval crafts normally operates at. The first boat is the Linnakevene (or L100-series). The boat in question is a light water bus-type vessel, the primary mission being to ferry military personnel between naval bases in the archipelago and the Finnish mainland. The Linnakevene has a LOA of around 13 meters, and features a displacement hull. The speed is thus relatively low, at 13 kts (~24 km/h).

The second boat is the Jurmo-class landing craft (also known as the U600-series, Watercat M12, or, rarely, the Uisko 600-series). This is a relatively modern landing craft, featuring twin water jets and a semi-displacement hull, with the capability to ferry 25 marines to shore. LOA is 14 meters, and top speed is stated as over 30 kts (~55 km/h) on the homepages of the Finnish Defence Forces, with the manufacturer Marine Alutech promising “over 35 kts” (~65 km/h). We use the lower estimate here, as it fits nicely in between the other two boats.

The third class is the Super Dvora MKIII, a fast patrol craft of Israeli origin. The boat is the latest in line of the Dvora-series, and combines high speed with a relatively heavy armament and seakeeping abilities. The boat is longer than the other two, at 25 meters LOA, and faster as well, at 45 kts (~83 km/h).

Two of the boats are in frequent use by the Finnish Navy (although the Linnakevene is slowly nearing retirement), and represents the typical operational speeds of displacement and planning crafts respectively. The Dvora is chosen as it is one of the faster operational vessels around, and as such it gets to represent the whole upper side of the spectrum, including such diverse vessels as high-speed RIB’s and super-fast patrol and fast attack crafts.

As a side-note, the Norweigan Skjold-class of small corvettes currently holds the title as fastest operational armed vessel, with a top speed of roughly 60 kts (~110 km/h).

The most important way in which speed enhances direct combat survivability is the ability to move from cover to cover fast enough that the enemy does not have time to respond (i.e. before they sink your boat). However, understanding what practical difference the different top speeds means is not obvious at a glance.

To try and get a picture of what a Jurmo can do that a Linnakevene can’t, let’s create a very simple scenario: An enemy position is situated so that a boat passes on a perpendicular course, passing from behind one island to the next one. The simple question is, how long can the distance between the two islands be, so that our boat still survives?

Need for Speed Setup

Obviously there are a vast number of things that affect the outcome. What is the reaction time of the enemy? Are they standing ready to fire, or do they need to pick up their weapons and load them? What weapons are they using? Is it easier to hit a bigger target going faster, or a smaller going slower? How does the boat firing back change the reaction speed and accuracy? However, we only want to know what difference the differing speeds of the boats gives, so we will assume that the only thing that varies are the speeds themselves, ceteris paribus.

If a low state of readiness is assumed, an estimate is that it would take an infantryman about 30 seconds to 1) spot the boat, 2) react, 3) pull out/man the weapon, 4) ready the weapon, and 5) actually aim and fire an AT-rocket or guided missile. Naturally, this could be off by quite a bit in both directions, and on long distances the flight time alone could easily account for over a third of this value, but it will serve our purpose well enough as it provides a controlled “testing environment”.

A HMG will (usually) not sink a boat with a single hit, but it is generally quite fast to man and open fire with (assuming it is standing loaded at a tripod/pintle mount), and has a high rate of fire, so assuming 30 seconds from spotting to scoring enough hits to disable the boat should be within the realms of reality here too.

Need for Speed Outcome

Thus, in the 30 second window of opportunity we have granted it, the Linnakevene can travel ~200 meters. Any longer distance between concealments, and the boat is at risk. Traveling at slightly more than double the speed, the Jurmo (naturally), also travels twice the length, and reaches over 460 meters in 30 seconds. In the meantime, the fast Super Dvora can almost reach 700 meters.

In practice, finding concealment with 200 meters in between is difficult even in the cluttered Finnish archipelago. Finding islands half a kilometer apart might just be doable, and even if this wouldn’t be possible, it still gives the Jurmo quite a lot less ground to cover compared to displacement crafts, which is why the navy likes to go fast.

Leanders take up positions

This morning a headline proclaiming the deployment of frigates to the southern coast by the Indonesian navy in response to Australian intrusions caught my eye.

The background to this is the Australian Operation Sovereign Borders, an effort to “combat people smuggling and protect Australia’s borders.” The tougher Australian stance on asylum seekers have created headlines both at home and abroad, and in an effort to try turn home the asylum seekers and their boats as close to their departure destination as possible Royal Australian Navy and custom’s vessels now patrol close to the Indonesian shore.

The latest spat comes after the government on a press conference last Friday (17/1/2014) admitted to breaching the Indonesian territorial waters on five instances, and extended their apologies. The ships in question were both naval vessels and a custom’s ship.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the reporters that they “deeply regret these events”, and that Julie Bishop, the Australian Foreign Minister, already had offered “an unqualified apology on behalf of the Australian government” to her Indonesian counterpart, adding that the Australian embassy in Jakarta would make a formal apology the very same day. However, he also maintained that all the breaches happened unintentionally, and in violation of Australian policy.

As stated earlier, the Indonesian reaction was anything but understanding, and by dispatching the largest surface combatants the navy have, one or several of the Ahmad Yani class frigates, to the scene of the intrusions, it has sent a sharp signal to the Australians not to repeat the violations.

Indonesian Leander-class frigate KRI Karel Satsuit Tubin (KST 356) in 2006. Source: Wikimedia Commons/USN

However, the reasoning behind the sending of the frigates is rather uncertain. One of the Australian ships in the area was the ANZAC/MEKO 200-class HMAS Stuart (FFH 153), a 3 600 t (full load) frigate, and the most capable surface ships in Australian service. There might be a perceived need to match this ship, frigate to frigate. However, the Ahmad Yani-class are the last of the British Leander class ships left in service (being the ex-Dutch van Speijk-class). Although a highly capable and successful ship in the 1960’s, it is by now a dated design, and although the ships have been modernized, it is a far cry from its Australian counterparts. It is also a considerably smaller vessel, at just over 2 800 t (full load), and it is highly questionable whether the ship even can match the flank speed of the HMAS Stuart, if the Australians would find their possible escort to be unsettling.

A more logical step would have been to employ some of the ocean-going patrol vessels the Indonesian navy operates, or, if there is a perceived need for heavier armament, the fast attack crafts or corvettes that are of a decidedly more modern design than the frigates.

The point of the operation might well be to impress the Indonesian government and general population more than to deter the Australians. The Indonesian navy is in expansion, with the steel-cutting ceremony of the first new SIGMA 10514 PKR Frigate being held only last week, and the Indonesian defense minister expressing their interest in Club S armed Project 636 Improved Kilo-class submarines earlier this month. However, it has also suffered embarrassing setbacks, including its latest trimaran FAC KRI Klewang (625) catching fire and sinking in September 2012, less than a month after its launch. It is also unclear wether the Indonesian navy had noticed the intrusions, or if the Australian apology was the first sign of it. Getting the chance to show the usefulness of its heavier units, possibly with the opportunity to get some nice pictures of an Indonesian frigate escorting a RAN vessel close to the border, might just be the boost the navy’s reputation needs.