An outstretched hand

Yesterday the news spread that the largest reservist organization in Finland, Reserviläisliitto, offered to help Sweden re-build their Army again. This has caused a number of different reactions, ranging from surprise to outright glee.
To begin with, a short recap of what Mikko Savola actually said: Sweden made huge cuts in their defense during the post-Cold War years, and the invasion of Crimea caught them with their “pants down”. Now they are urgently looking for ways to rebuild “the kind of abilities needed to fight a conventional war”.

Swedish soldiers of the 191. Mechanised Battalion moving a heavy mortar during exercise Vintersol 2016 held in northern Sweden last winter. Source: Jesper Sundström/Försvarsmakten

This include a return to general conscription, which last week’s report on how to solve the personnel question advocated. The proposal is now being discussed in the higher echelons of Swedish politics. However, rebuilding dismantled capabilities will take years, and as such the situation is “somewhat along the same lines” as when Estonia had to rebuild their defense forces from scratch following their restoration of independence.
In this work, Finnish reservists played an important part by providing instructors and consultants. Savola believes that there is “ample know-how” amongst the Finnish reserve that would benefit the Swedish Defense Forces, as well as volunteers for similar training and consulting arrangements that were set up in Estonia.

Savola’s proposal is no doubt made with the best of intentions, with the goal of strengthening general security in the Nordic region within the framework of Finnish-Swedish defense cooperation. Unfortunately, the basic premises are wrong.

To begin with, Sweden is not going back to general conscription. The report in question isn’t ready yet, and certainly wasn’t published last week. The most likely outcome seems to be a mixed system similar to that of Norway. In any case, the professional Swedish Army is here to stay.

Finnish reservists taking part in a voluntary training day at their local firing range. Source: own picture

Neither has the Swedish Army lost their focus on how to fight a conventional war, the armed forces having placed ever greater focus on national defense especially since the drawdown in Afghanistan started. Currently it is a competent force, though small and lacking in key support functions. This, however, will not be solved by anything else than the Swedish government providing additional funds to the defense budget.

I wholeheartedly agree that further deepening of cooperation is a great way of strengthening both our countries’ defense forces through the exchange of ideas and experiences as well as increased interoperability. Including the active reservists of the Finnish Defense Forces and the Swedish Home Guard in these kinds of exchanges would also be most welcome. The proposal by Savola is however unsuitable to the current situation, mainly due to the fact that there seems to be a basic misunderstanding regarding the current and future state of the Swedish Army.


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.

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.