Little Green Tanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aurora 17 – To aid a brother

Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die

Tithonus cries out to Aurora, the goddess of dawn

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – “Tithonus”

Perhaps the final sign to show that Sweden has now moved out of the notorious ‘strategic blackout’ is the major exercise Aurora 17 currently underway in the southern parts of the country. In absolute numbers this is the largest Swedish exercise in over twenty years, while in relative numbers this is the largest share of the country’s defence forces ever to simultaneously take part in a single exercise.

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Source: Astrid Amtén Skage/Forsvarsmakten
The scenario should not be unheard of to readers of the blog: Country A situated in Kaliningrad and on the Russian mainland gets into a conflict with Country B situated in Russian Karelia. To cut off Country B from international reinforcements, Country A occupies Gotland, from where they will launch an assault on the Swedish mainland to put further pressure on the Swedish defences.

No points to the one who figures out which country would play the part of Country A or which three would be Country B in a potential real-world scenario.

The exercise is vastly more complex than the above would suggest. The first part of the exercise is the transportation of the forces of Country A (the main OPFOR of the exercise) to Gotland. A significant part of these are foreign detachments, including heavy US forces and a Finnish mechanised rapid deployment company from the Pori Brigade. The Swedish Home Guard (Hemvärnet) protects key transports, not as an exercise, but providing security to their foreign guests by patrolling with loaded weapons. This is the host nation support agreement in reality, providing for the needs of foreign reinforcements arriving to help (in this case Sweden) in the defence of one’s country.

The decision regarding which forces get to play OPFOR is revealing, as it is highly likely that they represent the kind of forces the Swedish headquarters expect could be offered as assistance in case of an escalated crises in the Baltic region. These include both the Finnish mechanised company, a US Marine Corps company, US airborne/airmobile forces, and the premier Swedish light units in the form of their Army Ranger battalion (Arméns jägarbataljon) and the 31. Airmobile battalion (31. Luftburna).

The interesting thing here is obviously that this works both ways: the “invaders” get to practice how to rapidly get to Gotland, while the local Swedish forces present there get to practice defending against light mechanised and airmobile forces.

As has been discussed earlier on the blog, the defence of Gotland is crucial for Finland as well as for the Baltic states. MoD Jussi Niinistö makes no secret that what the Finnish Defence Forces practice in the exercise is how to provide support to Sweden, while also noting that the lessons are readily transferable to a scenario where Sweden would support us instead. This is in line with his speech last week, where he noted that Finnish-Swedish defence cooperation aims at being able to, amongst other things, jointly defend “some place”. Feel free to speculate which region(s) that “some” might be.

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Source: Maavoimat FB
The main Finnish unit is from the International Rapid Deployment Forces of the Pori Brigade. The RDF is also part of the recently established readiness units of the Army. In these, conscripts volunteering to serve longer and in more demanding positions are part of the first line of defence and wear the brand-new winged arrow patch as a testimony. As such, the unit is the given first choice as it is both readily available and trained for international missions.

What is clear is that in the shadow of everything else taking place during Aurora 17 Finland is not simply practicing joint international operations with Swedish (and US) forces. Instead, we are openly practicing defending Swedish territory against an enemy invader, and how to do this together with Swedish forces. We are also doing this with the very units that would be involved. If things suddenly would turn bad, the Finnish officers at the head of the units sent to aid our western ally would be familiar with the peculiarities of the terrain of Gotland, and would be able to recognise both the local forces and the light Swedish forces likely to make up the first wave of reinforcements, knowing their strengths and weaknesses and how to best cooperate with them.

While no promises have yet been made, politicians on both sides are currently making sure that they will at least have all options available to them if the gathering clouds would turn into a tempest.

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Source: Maavoimat FB

White papers, dark prospects

The recent Finnish white paper on defence (fi. Puolustusselonteko) is grim reading, but should be commended for its honesty. Most importantly, the picture it portrays is far more serious than it has been reported.

The current environment (found in chapter 2) is dominated by Russia. The country is modernizing its armed forces, and in addition to the ‘Ukrainian conflict’ and Syria, it has shown its ability ‘to make strategic decisions swiftly’ and use military and non-military measures in a coordinated way to reach its goals. It also maintains units from all services in a constant state of high-readiness, and is able to transfer these rapidly over significant distances. Other security authorities, such as EMERCOM, are also able to take part in and provide resources to the defence forces in times of crises.

Crucially, this ability is coupled with a voiced goal of reinstating spheres of influence as a part of the international security environment.

This is contrasted with NATO, which is developing its military readiness, with the ‘aim of stabilising security in its own area’.

Chapter four describes the politics behind the Finnish national security decisions in further detail. As this was not the focus area of this white paper but of earlier ones, this is largely a rehash of old phrases. Finland is militarily non-aligned, maintains an option to apply for NATO-membership, taking part in military exercises strengthens our national ability, and so forth.

What is eye-catching is the first sentence of chapter 4.3:

Finland’s defence requires […] the ability to receive international assistance.

This is a bizarre statement. Not in and by itself, but because it clearly gives away the fact that the higher echelons of the national security leadership believe that we aren’t able to defend ourselves with our own resources, but will need outside assistance. This isn’t a new opinion in the defence discussions, but the higher political (and sometimes military) leadership has usually been keen to deny this being the case.

The reason is obvious: if we can’t defend ourselves, then we ought to remedy this be securing assistance, right? Maybe by joining a bunch of other democratic countries which have the ‘aim of stabilising security in its own area’?

Having glossed over this obvious follow-up question, the rest of the white paper is largely dealing with current and future capabilities of the defence forces.

Chapter three describes the current state of the Army as ‘satisfactory’. Modern material has been bought to replace those that have become obsolete, though financial restraints means that the quantities bought are too small. On the whole, it is repeated in a number of places that the Finnish Defence Forces is unable to build up the stocks of weapons and other equipment needed to fight a prolonged conflict. Especially when it comes to intelligence gathering, C3, logistics, and deep strike capabilities, there are significant deficits in the current organisation and stocks.

The Air Force and the Navy are currently in somewhat better shape, and they also have clear plans for how to maintain their fighting power in the upcoming decades. Still, the mentions about the small number of long-range munitions is probably as true for the Air Force as it is for the other branches. An interesting side note is the fact that the Air Force in several places is mentioned as taking part in not only land battles but sea ones as well, by providing fire support. The Air Force currently lacks weaponry to provide any kind of serious anti-ship (not to mention ASW) capability, so it remains to be seen how this hole is to be plugged.

The Voluntary Local Defence Forces and MPK will take a more prominent role in localised defence duties, as well as by providing support to other government agencies. These are to be equipped according to the threat picture they face, and MPK will be developed ‘as a strategic partner of the Defence Forces, in line with the Nordic concept’. Maakuntajoukot, meet Hjemmeværnet / Hemvärnet / Heimevernet?

For the wartime forces, the number of lightly equipped units will increase, apparently both in absolute and relative terms. This goes against the message of the Defence Forces so far, which has been that the Defence Forces is unwilling to muster more troops than it can equip (which the white paper admits actually is the case even today). Or as a senior officer recently expressed it: “The war we prepare for is not what you see on TV from Aleppo, nor is it ‘model Cajander’

The increase in wartime strength from 230,000 to 280,000 has been the most widely publicised change of the paper. However, as is clear from the text, this is not in fact a real increase, but creative accounting. A number of units which earlier has not been included in the official wartime strength, including training units, the Border Guards (sorting under the Ministry of Interior in peace, but subordinated to the Defence Forces if the situation so requires), and any currently serving conscripts that have received an adequate level of training. The optimist says this is a case of clever strategic communication, in which Finland signals its willingness to defend itself. The cynic says this is internal politics by minister of defence Jussi Niinistö trying to turn the party’s downward trend before the upcoming elections.

The new high-readiness units of the Army

The general picture is that money is missing everywhere, and the new higher readiness units and the generally higher level of readiness further increases the deficit. Again, this impacts the Army the hardest, as it traditionally has maintained a lower level of readiness compared to the Navy and especially the Air Force. The meager increase in funds allocated will barely cover the higher level of readiness, it costs money to store equipment in a state of being ready to use as opposed to soaked in grease, and the mountain of ageing equipment is still largely unaddressed.

On the positive side, the white paper is at least honest about this. As we all know, admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it.