The HX-project Preliminary Report, pt. 1: Reports, Politics, and Money

The preliminary working group created last year to look into different solutions for replacing the capabilities of the F/A-18C Hornets (and the small number of F/A-18D two-seaters) in Finnish service have now published its report. The whole report can be found here, and while it is largely in Finnish it also include single page summaries in Swedish and English. In general, it is an extremely well-written document, which not only gives the “what is needed”, but also the “why this is needed”. The argumentation in the report is thorough, the working group has e.g. studied and exchanged information with the current fighter programs of Denmark, Norway, and Canada, as well as arranged a seminar with a number of the key persons involved in the original Finnish Hornet-program, to draw upon the experiences acquired then. One can only hope for a similarly well-written lobbying document from the Navy whit regards to the MTA2020 and other major procurements.

Many of the major points are well-known by now, and includes few surprise (see e.g. my earlier blog posts on the issue: 1, 2, 3, 4). The bottom line is that the working group recommends that the Hornets are to be replaced by a new multirole fighter, which isn’t surprising. Some of the nuances in the report are rather interesting. Of note is the fact that the conclusions and recommendations in the report are unanimous.

Generally, the two big themes that stand out are stealth and local maintenance.

In a number of places it is noted that while stealth is not equal to invisible (nor does it grant an automatic win in air-to-air combat), it still means that the stealthy fighter has an advantage the non-stealthy fighter hasn’t got. The big question is how long this advantage will last, as there are already a number of projects looking into how to work around stealth, e.g. by using infra-red sensors or linked radars. A research project has been launched (with a tight deadline) to determine the importance of stealth in the future. The focus is on how big the difference in detectability can be assumed to be between “true” stealth aircraft and so called 4+ generation fighters during the operational life of the HX-fighter. In the case of Finland, the only true stealth aircraft in the area are the F-35, which is one of the main candidates of the HX-project, and the Russian Sukhoi T-50, while all the other candidates can roughly be regarded as generation 4+-fighters.

Sukhoi’s T-50 is the upcoming fighter for the Russian Air Force. It is safe to assume it constitutes the defining foe for the HX-fighter. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Alex Beltyukov

The other hot issue is reliable maintenance is to be assured, especially in the light of European legislation governing acquisitions. This issue receives a lot of attention, especially with regards to direct offset agreements, see below.

The Politics

The report begins by noting the far-reaching implications the acquisition of the Hornet held for the credibility of the Finnish Defence Forces, and how it took part in cementing Finland as a part of the West in the immediate post-Cold War world. In the same way, the new HX-project will have a significant effect on Finland’s relations and capabilities in the fields of national security and defence policy. The very size and nature of the HX-project means that the country of origin will become an important partner in these fields, as well as with regards to the trade balance.

Russia’s new military doctrine and the Ukrainian crises have showed that Russia have both the capabilities and political will to use force. The changes in our security environment are happening at a faster rate, and with the increased uncertainty comes the fact that “strategic surprises are possible”. With the growth in importance of the Baltic Sea and the Baltic countries, the strategic importance of controlling the inlet to the Gulf of Finland has also increased. All in all, the report is outspoken with the fact that Russia is growing more aggressive, and that this together with the Russian arms program and the renewed doctrine is one of the main threats Finland faces. The importance of the air force in “hybrid wars” and “renegade situations” (such as hijackings) has grown, as has the need for ever more complex peacekeeping and –enforcing operations.

When it comes to international collaboration, the current model gives Finland no guarantees that anyone would come to our aid in times of war (fi: turvatakuut), but provides a foundation for getting political support and possibly accepting military aid if such a situation would arise. It is also an important tool for our national security policy. Still, Finland has to be prepared to fight alone, and as such we will need to be self-sufficient whit regards to all necessary capabilities.

Of interest is that the report clearly states that the number of Hornets ordered by the Finnish Air Force, 57 F/A-18C and seven F/A-18D, is based on economics, and is in fact too small from an operational standpoint. This is a clear indication that the Air Force is not willing to go further down in numbers with the introduction of the HX. However, in the end it will come down to politics, and what the government is prepared to pay for.

The Administration/Legislation

The report goes into detail how the program should be managed, which I won’t discuss here. Of interest is the fact that the report clearly gives alternatives for how it is possible to circumvent normal procurement procedures thanks to directive 2009/81/EC on defence and sensitive security procurement, and thus include direct offset agreements to make certain that a sufficient maintenance organisation is kept in Finland to allow the aircrafts to be maintained and overhauled here (this could include some kind of production line). It also makes it possible to circumvent public tendering, and e.g. keep part of the procurement process secret, which is more or less a given, due to this being a key system for the Finnish Defence Forces.

The Timeline

The rough timeline of the project is as follows:

The project should be officially started no later than the incoming autumn (2015), after which a request for information (RFI) should be sent out in February 2016, with answers being received in October the same year. The request for quotations (RFQ) should then be issued in February 2018, after which the quotations should be sent in a year after that (February 2019). Final negotiations and evaluations then follows, after which a decision is to be made in February 2021, and the first planes should be operational in Finland starting in 2025 (Initial Operating Capability, IOC).

A Very Brief Attempt at Explaining the Finnish Election Results

The Centre Party (Kesk, agrarian centrists) under the leadership of Juha Sipilä won by far. Sipilä, an IT-millionaire and Laestadian, will be the next prime minister, and will form the next government.

The party is deeply divided on the issue of Russia, with an old-school movement in the party being markedly pro-Russian, to the point of Finlandization. These individuals did not score well in the elections, but Sipilä has given them some cautious support recently. On the other hand, there is also a pro-EU/Western movement within the party, led by international political heavyweight Olli Rehn.

The populist Finns Party (PS) under Timo Soini lost ground, but rose to the second largest party as others lost more. Leader Timo Soini, something as rare as a Finnish Catholic, has staunchly denied that the party is xenophobic, and although there certainly are members in the party that hold and express such views, the party as a whole seems more interested in making a big fuzz about Swedish-speakers, economic support to Greece, and the economy as a whole. They have often been compared to the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, though Soini repeatedly has slammed this as inaccurate. Has traditionally been anti-EU and -NATO, but since the Russo-Ukrainian wars have started, it has seemingly softened up its NATO-stance. What is certain is that unlike several other European right-wing populists, they do not like Russia.

The National Coalition Party (Kok, middle-right conservative liberals) was the ruling party under Alexander Stubb, and was predicted to be heading for a disastrous election. They lost quite a number of seats, but still came in as third largest party, only one seat behind PS, and can be seen as having done better (or less worse) than anticipated. The party is decidedly pro-EU, and the only openly(?) pro-NATO party amongst the four big parties.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) under former union boss Antti Rinne had a minor disaster on election day, and was far outpaced by not only Kesk, but also by PS and Kok. While the party leadership is centre-left, party strongman Erkki Tuomioja leads a strong and vocal group of party members that are somewhat farther left (and closer to Russia) than the official party line. Tuomioja has also clashed publicly with a number of officers and researchers, and leaked e-mails indicates he wasn’t too popular amongst the people surrounding the outgoing prime minister.

Minor parties includes former defence minister Carl Haglund’s Swedish-speaking Swedish People’s Party of Finland (SFP/RKP), the victorious Green League (Vihr), the not-so-victorious Left Alliance (Vas), and the slightly-more-victorious-than-the-left-alliance Christian Democrats (KD).

The problem with analyzing what this means for Finland in the next four years is that no-one knows what the government will look like.

The Centre Party can choose to form a government with PS and Kok, something that might seem like a logical move. This could be said to be directly in support of what the people wanted on election day, and Sipilä could then force the populists to take some responsibility (while secretly hoping that they fail miserably, and that PS would be demoted back to a minor party in the next round of elections). The main problem with this is that having three strong parties means that if PS and Kok were in agreement, they could try and go against the prime minister’s party in individual questions, making the coalition hard to rule. Add to this the fact that he would have the ex-prime minister as one of his lesser ministers, and one can easily see problems, even before one starts to question whether they can agree on how the country should be handled.

SDP was widely promoted as the most likely candidate to join a coalition before the election, as it is the major party that currently stands closest to Kesk ideologically. However, due to its extremely weak performance on election day, this now seems less likely, with the party possibly choosing to go take four years off from responsibility to try and bolster its ranks until the next election. The strong point is that bringing SDP into the government might provide for better relations between the government and the labor unions.

Another opportunity is trying to create a coalition of two major parties and a number of minor. Of the minor parties, both RKP/SFP and Vihr would probably have a hard time sitting in the same government as Soini and his PS. RKP/SFP has sat in every single government since the 1970s, and are usually happy to be included as long as they can defend the status quo in the Finnish language policy. This has been a rather cheap political price to pay for whoever has been the prime minister at any given time, but the appearance of PS might change this. The main problem for the Greens is probably that Sipilä has emphasized trust, something which the Greens can have a hard time supplying, having ditched the former government half a year before the current elections…

Vas on the other hand faces the same problem as SDP. In fact, the joint Finnish left (in this case SDP+Vas) is on record-low levels at around 25%, and would probably have a hard time at the negotiating table. Vas have also been arguing a rather different economic policy than the rest of the parties throughout the election process, and might have a hard time sitting in the same coalition as Kok (or anybody else, for that matter).

This leaves KD, which might fit well in with all of the top-three parties in some sort of a conservative coalition, but their main problem is that they are the smallest party in the parliament, only bringing five seats to the table.

The National Security View

The parties that are in top are all positive to a strong Finnish Defence Force. Or rather, that has been the official policy before the elections. So far, this has not shown in any meaningful way. None of the parties are pushing for a public referendum on NATO, but all major parties would like to “keep the door open”.

If we get a coalition with three major conservative parties joining force, we might see a push for more money. However, the more likely way is unfortunately a slight raise in defence spendings, touted as a big increase, followed by a reduction in training hours, major surface vessels, and fighters. This will then be accompanied by a paragraph stating that “Finland will not currently strive for a full membership in NATO, but will continue its current co-operation, and keeps the possibility open to join at a later date.”

As a whole, the Finnish National Security policy is slowly starting to look like it is modeled after the Swedish, and unfortunately the current round of elections does not seem to change that.

An interesting point, is that both PS and Kok at least in theory openly support the idea that Finland should abandon the Ottawa Treaty and reacquire anti-personnel landmines. In practice, it is highly doubtful if they are prepared to pay the diplomatic price this would cost internationally, but at least on paper there exist a possibility.

Yes, in Finland you can actually be the second largest party and use the slogan “Landmines back, FOR FCKS SAKE!” in marketing.

FIN Helicopter Unit

Sweden is currently the framework nation for the European Union’s rapid reaction forces’ Nordic Battle Group 15 (NBG15). As the battlegroup is a prioritized project in Sweden, symbolizing the “new” generation of security policy, wherein the defence forces were to be employed largely for different humanitarian tasks abroad, the fact that the battlegroups have never been activated for a “proper” mission is something of an embarrassment for certain parts of the political spectrum there. As such, there are now persistent rumors that Sweden is pushing for sending the forces abroad, preferably to some suitable African conflict. The fact that South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Libya have all been mentioned, underlines two important facts, namely that there have never been any shortage of “suitable conflicts” for the battlegroups, and that for the current political campaign the priority seems to be on getting to employ the battlegroup, rather than having started by identifying a proper need, and then activating the battlegroup to fill this need.

On the internet, the debate has been raging on in Swedish security and foreign policy circles on both twitter and blogs, with Patrik Oksanen (who also have included selected tweets by others), former FM Carl Bildt, Johan Wiktorin, and Reservofficer, all posting well written analyses of the situation. I will here focus on lifting the issue of possible Finnish participation.

Order of Battle for NBG15. Source: Swedish Defence Forces.

When looking at the order of battle for NBG15 as a whole, it is clear that Finland is supplying a rather small but specialized piece of the puzzle, in the form of the unimaginatively named FIN Helicopter Unit, part of the Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW). This consists of four NH90 tactical transport helicopters with medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) as their main task, together with a maintenance and support organization. In total it consists of four helicopter, 13 ground vehicles, and slightly fewer than 70 servicemen.

FIN chopper unit
Composition of FIN Helicopter Unit. Note that the Finnish Defence Force gives total manpower at around 70. Source: Swedish Defence Forces.

International operations of different kinds are one of the three main tasks prescribed by the law to be handled by the Finnish Defence Forces. However, it has something of a special status, as the operations are manned on a completely voluntary basis as they appear. Last Saturday, January the 3rd, Brigadier general Petri Hulkko wrote a column in Finnish regional newspaper Itä-Savo, where he called for making international missions mandatory for contracted soldiers. This created some stir, with Upseeriliitto (the Finnish Officer’s Union) stating that other solutions are readily available, and noting that supply/demand-issues are rarely satisfactory solved by legislation. However, a number of individual officers also spoke out in favour of Hulkko’s proposal.

This debate serves as the backdrop for today’s article published by Helsingin Sanomat, where it is noted that one in five of the allocated personnel of the helicopter unit have expressed that they are not willing to participate in a foreign deployment. The problem is that unlike traditional “Show of flag” missions that employs large numbers of people to maintain a visible presence, positions such as helicopter mechanic demand proper qualifications, and cannot easily be filled by volunteering reservists or civilian contractors. This puts the whole participation of FIN Helicopter Unit in a possible deployment of NBG15 in doubt, which would not only cause considerable embarrassment for the Finnish political leadership, but also add to the logistical problems of the battle group as a whole.

NH 90 7
The FIN Helicopter Unit fading away into the sunset? Source: Author.

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.

Update on the Red October-incident

Yesterday I published a brief text pointing out that not all submarines in the Baltic Sea are Russian, and that not all underwater activity is submarines. This will be a brief update on what has happened since.

The major news was when Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported that a signal emerging from the archipelago outside of Stockholm had been sent on a Russian Navy distress channel. When the search operation got underway, there was renewed traffic, which was encrypted, and a transmitter located in Russian Kaliningrad answered. This was the first evidence that decidedly pointed towards Russia as the country of origin. This could also explain the, in my opinion, rather strong and decisive response by the Swedish Navy when the first visual sightings occurred.

Representatives of the Swedish Defence Forces have denied that they have received knowledge about a distress signal, although the exact wording leaves the possibility open that A) the info has been distributed on a strict need-to-know basis, and as such is not available to the officers involved in the operation, or B) the interpretation that a signal on a known foreign military channel used for distress signals does not equal a known distress signal. They have also clearly stated that they do not know the country of origin or exact nature of the underwater activity, and as such they will continue to refer to it simply as “foreign underwater activity”. Most importantly, it has been confirmed that three visual sightings have taken place, and that the operation will continue for a number of days. Imagery from one of the sightings has also been released. The picture is grainy, but could be interpreted to show some kind of a midget submarine, e.g. the Russian Triton NN.

One of the pictures released by the Swedish Defence Forces, showing a man made object traveling on the surface, before vanishing under it. Source:

The question of where the mother ship is located has been focused on the Russian-owned Liberian-flagged crude carrier NS Concord. The ship has been anchored outside of St Petersburg since the beginning of May, acting as a floating storage. Last week, it set sail and sailed to a position right outside the border of Swedish territorial waters, where it has since loitered. To begin with its AIS-data gave the destination as Danish Straits, but today this was changed to Primorsk. When the tanker suddenly found itself in the limelight, the Russian research/sea survey vessel Professor Logachev suddenly headed out to sea, destined for Las Palmas(?). It remains to be seen if this vessel will make a stop outside of Stockholm, but the timing seems somewhat suspicious. The Logachev also happened(?) to be traveling in the middle of the three-ship Dutch naval flotilla heading home from Tallinn, with the Walrus-class submarine HNLMS Bruinvis probably not far away either.

In Finland Charly Salonius-Pasternak, Sr. Research Fellow at FIIA, noted that Finland’s stance on the issue will be noted in Sweden, and called for our politicians to make a clear statement in support of Sweden. Otherwise it will affect the possible deepening of Swedish-Finnish military co-operation.

This in turn made Carl Haglund (SFP/RKP), Minister of Defence, answer that we will wait and see, and that if the allegations are true, this is “very serious”. On a direction question he said that we are currently not planning any assistance to the Swedish Navy, but if an official call for help comes, he would personally view it favorably. With regards to what kind of help we could send, he stated that options remains open, and would depend on what kind of assistance the Swedish authorities would be asking for. Salonius-Pasternak in turn noted that one can offer help even before someone asks for it, but this remark went unanswered.

As a further note, the hashtag #redoctober has become widely used with regards to the incident.

Finnish Security Politics for Foreigners

To move the scope back to Finland, I believe it is appropriate to give my foreign readers a brief overview of the battle over the Finnish defence budget and the NATO-debate.

For a number of years, Finnish politics have had three major parties: the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Centre Party (Kesk, agrarian centrists) and the National Coalition Party (Kok, middle-right conservative liberals). For the last governments, the usual modus operandi has been that the largest party receives support from one of the other three major parties, with the third leading the opposition. Then some of the smaller parties join the government, with the rest joining the opposition. This way a stable majority government is formed.

In the last round of parliamentary elections held in 2011, the populist Finns Party (PS) gained ground, and rose to the position of third largest party, meaning that we suddenly had four major parties. Both the Centre Party and the Finns Party decided to go into opposition, but Jyrki Katainen (Kok) managed to the social democrats and all minor parties onboard, leading to a six-party government. Trying to please everybody made for quite a number of compromises, but the coalition has been surprisingly stable. This situation lasted until the beginning of 2014.

During this year, we have had a number of changes. First, the Left Alliance (Vas.) jumped over to the opposition. According to their own statement this was due to decision to cut social welfare programs, but cynics noted that the timing coincided with the running up to this spring’s European elections.

Down to five parties, and against the backdrop of an ever more unstable Europe, both the National Coalition Party and the Social Democratic Party changed leaders. In the case of the National Coalition Party, former Prime Minister Katainen stepped down, and in a three-way race Alexander Stubb beat his competition to become the new party leader and Prime Minister. Stubb maintains a people-friendly image, being an avid tweeter and sports enthusiast, to the point that he received criticism for being too “common”.

For the Social Democratic Party the shift was markedly different. Here, the outgoing Minister of Finance Jutta Urpilainen did not leave voluntarily, but was defeated by Antti Rinne at the party congress. SDP has bled voters both left and right, and the election of Urpilainen back in 2008 was seen as a move to modernize the party, as she was both the first female leader and the youngest in the history of the party. Six years later, this apparently was all forgotten, as Rinne is more of an archetypical social democrat, being a 51 year old male with a background as a labour union boss.

The fact that the two largest parties had changed leadership, as well as to resolve the issue about what to do with the portfolios left by the leftist, lead to a brief round of negotiations dubbed “mini-coalition formation”. The result was more or less that status quo continues, and a declaration that what is best for Finland is a stable political landscape up until the next parliamentary elections, to be held in 2015.

While this settled everything on paper, it was rather clear that Rinne would have to try something to make his impact felt, or else he would go into the coming elections with the image that he had only followed the trail created by Urpilainen four years earlier. The budget discussion of the coming autumn was mentioned as his best (and perhaps only) chance of making a real statement.

And right they were, as Rinne came out with a bang, having drafted a larger-than-agreed-upon budget proposal. This immediately drew fire from the other ministers, mainly defence minister Carl Haglund of the Swedish-speaking Swedish People’s Party of Finland (SFP/RKP) and Minister of Economic Affairs Jan Vapavuori (Kok). This quickly developed into a round of political battle-royale, with Rinne countering with the argument that all, including Haglund and Vapavuori, were free to make their own proposals. A senior MP from SDP was happy to further explain that of course Haglund and Vapavuori were free to make cuts in the pensions and benefits of the poorer parts of the population if they felt that was appropriate. Vapavuori in turn stated that the government is unable to function properly if agreed terms and conditions aren’t held. PM Stubb noted that “some” are more aroused by the coming elections than other, while Haglund critiqued Rinne for the way things had been handled, stating that changes of these magnitudes were not to be taken by a single minister.

The total sums involved are rather small, compared to the budget as a whole. Still, they are large enough to force the other coalition partners to protest, or leave it to Rinne to seemingly dictate how the country is lead. If they attack his proposal, the hope on the SDP-side is probably that the right will be seen as austerity fanatics who only care about money and not the elderly.

In this, Rinne’s further cuts in the defence budget has received relatively little attention, in spite of the fact that our new Chief of Defence, General Jarmo “Charles” Lindberg, has pushed for more money to the defence forces, or else, changes to the mission of the defence force (defending the whole country), our stance with regards to NATO, and/or general conscription has to be taken into consideration.

NATO has been something of a hot topic in Finnish politics since the end of the Cold War. It has usually been seen as something of a proverbial third rail: touch it and die (politically). This has radically changed since the Crimean crises this spring, with both Stubb and Haglund now openly supporting Finland joining the alliance. Of perhaps greater interest is the fact that first vice-chairman (and docent of military history) Jussi Niinistö of the usually stubbornly independent Finns Party in late July demanded an investigation about the pros and cons of a Finnish NATO-membership. The SDP on the other hand seems to try and steer away from the whole issue, with foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja immediately shooting down Niinistö’s proposal, and Rinne stating that the rise in support for NATO-membership amongst the Finnish public “doesn’t change anything”.

Finnish support for a membership has risen during the war in Ukraine, but it is still at only 26% (up from 17% last November). However, polls have also shown that a majority of Finns would support a membership, if the political leadership was in favor. This is something that Stubb has taken up, saying that what is needed is strong political leadership to guide Finland into NATO. Currently, Stubb seems to be the next prime minister, meaning that the program of our next government will be a key document to watch.

For a more detailed analysis on the legal aspects (ie. who can decide if Finland should pursue a NATO-membership), read James Mashiri’s “NATO-medlemskap kräver folkomröstning”. However, while his argumentation might be technically correct, I believe two things strongly points to another path. First and foremostly, Finland has a strong tradition of relying on indirect democracy as opposed to direct elections. This is also seen in the polls about NATO quoted above. Secondly, if the abovementioned provides the will, the way might be provided by the fact that Finland lacks a constitutional court, meaning that political decision that are of dubious legality can be passed as long as the Constitutional Law Committee, made up of MP’s, are in agreement with the government. Do note that I am NOT saying that the Finnish government has a free card to pass whatever laws they want, but the burden of proof certainly feels lower as the laws are only judged by the ones who created them (this is completely my own interpretation of how the political/juridical system works, it might be that I have misunderstood it, as I am by no means a law expert).

As an ending note, the notion that Finn’s does not feel threatened by Russia has been raised in the Swedish debate. This is not correct, as a poll by state broadcasting company YLE showed this month, with 56% saying that the developments in Russia creates a threat towards Finland, see Swedish article on YLE here: Putins Ryssland skrämmer finländarna.

Comment on the US Assessment of the Downing of Flight MH17

The following is the complete text of the statement published on the homepage of the US embassy in Kyiv, with my comments in italics. Original text here.

United States Assessment of the Downing of Flight MH17 and its Aftermath

We assess that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We base this judgment on several factors.

The SA-11 designation corresponds to the versions 9K37 Buk and 9K37M Buk-M1.

Over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers to the separatist. We also have information indicating that Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia, and this effort included training on air defense systems.

Note the difference in wording: the US have “detected” the vehicles coming into Ukraine, meaning that they have observed this happening (likely either by satellite, UAV, or boots on the ground). However, they have only “information indicating” the presence of a training facility where air defence systems are taught, signaling a lower degree of certainty. The specific mention of anti-air training given by the Russians to separatists adds credibility to the charges that the Buk-M1 is indeed Russian supplied (and possibly crewed), as opposed to stemming from captured Ukrainian stocks.

Pro-Russian separatist fighters have demonstrated proficiency with surface-to-air missile systems and have downed more than a dozen aircraft over the past few months, including two large transport aircraft.

This is not necessarily relevant. As far as I know, one single transport has been downed at height, the other aircraft and helicopters all having been shot down at low altitude and/or during take-off or landing. The single Antonov An-26 is the sole plane shot down at a height which rules out the use of MANPADS, and it is better described as a medium-sized transport.

At the time that flight MH17 dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine. We believe this missile was an SA-11.

This is the core evidence of the statement. The US has detected the launch of a missile from separatist-controlled area happening at the same time the MH17 was downed. It is unclear what kind of intelligence indicates (note the word “believe”) that it indeed was a Buk, but it is still a very strong piece of evidence.

Intercepts of separatist communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian government indicate the separatists were in possession of a SA-11 system as early as Monday July 14th. In the intercepts, the separatists made repeated references to having and repositioning Buk (SA-11) systems.

Having perhaps the world’s best intelligence network, and then using easily faked videos of separatist communications posted on YouTube as evidence sure has a degree of ridicule attached to it, but is also an inidcation that US intelligence believes at least some of these transcripts are real.

Social media postings on Thursday show an SA-11 system traveling through the separatist-controlled towns of Torez and Snizhne, near the crash site and assessed location of the SAM launch. From this location, the SA-11 has the range and altitude capability to have shot down flight MH17.

See the earlier post where I discuss some of the OSINT evidence available.

Ukraine also operates SA-11 systems, but we are confident no Ukrainian air defense systems were within range of the crash. Ukrainian forces have also not fired a single surface-to-air missile during the conflict, despite often complaining about violations of their airspace by Russian military aircraft.

Yet another indication that the US is closely monitoring the Ukrainian crises, probably through the use of recce satellites as well as SBIRS. This raises questions about what kind of intelligence the US has on the claimed use of BM-21 Grad MLRS by both the separatists, Ukrainian armed forces, and from Russian territory, as well as the alleged civilian targets these were used against.

Shortly after the crash, separatists – including the self-proclaimed “Defense Minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic Igor Strelkov – claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane on social media.

In an intercepted conversation that has been widely posted on the internet, a known-separatist leader tells another person that a separatist faction downed the aircraft. After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) SAM system.

This is nothing new, but has been openly available since the day of the downing.

Audio data provided to the press by the Ukrainian security service was evaluated by Intelligence Community analysts who confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders, based on comparing the Ukraine-released internet audio to recordings of known separatists.

Compared to the brief mentioning of YouTube-videos above, here it is explicitly said that the Intelligence Community have evaluated the videos, and believes these are real.

Video posted on social media yesterday show an SA-11 on a transporter traveling through the Krasnodon are back to Russia. The video indicated the system was missing at least one missile, suggesting it had conducted a launch.

The video is found on my earlier post. Note that in this statement the location of Krasnodon is not doubted, but seen as confirmed.

Events on the ground at the crash site clearly demonstrate that separatists are in full control of the area.

This comes as no surprise for anyone. In itself, it is not evidence of the missile stemming from separatist held territory, the missile has a range of roughly 30-35 km, and the plane didn’t not fall straight down when hit. However, taken into consideration with the other evidence presented here, it does strengthen the case against the Russian-backed separatists.

In conclusion: The US authorities seem sure that the missile was launched by the separatists, but so far lacks hard proof that they were trained in Russia, or that the crew would indeed have been made up of Russian regulars or volunteers.