My Mines and those of My Brother

Naval mines have a tendency to stay largely out of sight, until they suddenly pop up to remind everyone about their existence. This goes both for the weapons themselves, as for their role in the grand scheme of things. The Baltic Sea, always a favourable battlefield for mines, has seen a number of interesting development during the last few weeks.

EML Wambola (A 433) has replaced sister EML Tasuja (A 342) in service as the sole Estonian minelayer. Note open stern door. Source: Estonian Defence Force / n-Ltn. Karl Alfred Baumeister

The most significant is that Estonia announced the procurement of a “significant number” of Finnish naval mines. The version isn’t confirmed, but the main suspect is the Forcit “Blocker“, known in Finnish service under the significantly less awe-inspiring moniker of PM16. The mine in question has a strong claim on the title as the world’s most advanced ground influence mine, and is the result of decades of Finnish (open) research into influence mines. Its characteristics also fit rather well with the description used by the Estonian Defence Forces with regards to how the new mine will change their ways of operating:

We haven’t rehearsed many practical skills with regard to how to submerge them in water lately, I admit, at least not in the way we will be doing it now. And this has changed – there are fewer people, and more computers.

The quote above is made by the Commander of the Estonian Navy, Cdre Jüri Säska, in an interview with the Estonian national broadcaster ERR. In the original TV-interview the footage shown is interestingly of the Finnish naval auxiliary FNS Louhi (999) using a containerised system – presumably the 20-foot Forcit SUMICO able to deploy 12 Blockers – to drop the mines. It is unclear whether this is just B-roll, or whether the deployment shows Estonian tests of the containerised solution. Considering the small number of vessels within the Estonian Navy, the ability to use workboats able to handle 20-foot containers for minelaying would be a significant force multiplier.

Screengrab from Estonian broadcaster ERR showing a PM16/Blocker going over the stern of FNS Louhi. Source: ERR

For the time being, the Navy operate a single ex-Danish Lindormen-class minelayer, the EML Wambola. The sister EML Tasuja was retired in 2016 when EML Wambola was taken into service, but depending on the source it seems she might still be held in reserve. The 577-ton vessel, roughly corresponding in size to the Finnish Pansio-class, can take approximately 50-60 mines but has mainly seen work as squadron leader to the Navy’s three minehunters which together with it make up the main unit of the small Estonian Navy: the Miinilaevade Divisjon. It will be interesting to see whether the role of the EML Wambola will change, or if a new class of vessels will take on the role as minelayers.

However, while the changes to Estonian doctrine and naval order of battle are interesting, this is a deal of strategic significance which will have caught the attention of people both in Norfolk as well as in St Petersburg. Because a revitalised Estonian minewarfare capability, especially when taken together with the announced decision to procure land-based anti-ship missiles, certainly provide the basis for a 21st century re-run of the 20th century favourite of armchair admirals studying maps of the Baltic Sea: Czar Peter the Great’s Naval Fortress.

Source: Dmitrii Fedotoff-White – University of Pennsylvania press

Morskaya krepost imperatora Petra Velikogo was what happens when your Navy decides to sail halfway around the world only to get sunk by an up-and-coming naval power. Shortly before WWI, the Russian state started investing heavily in coastal defences to protect the entrance to St Petersburg. Great idea, at least until Estonia and Finland became independent and ran away with most of the heavy fixed guns installed in the half-finished project. The interwar years then saw Finland and Estonia in turn planning how to use these as the backbone in a plan to seal the Gulf of Finland to Soviet shipping, before Estonia was occupied by the Soviets. With the exception of the brief interlude between 1941 and 1944 when Finland and Germany rather successfully bottled up the Soviet Baltic Fleet through a combination of mines, coastal guns, and smaller naval vessels, the Estonian coast spent the rest of the century firstly occupied, and then rather poorly defended. This is now set to change.

Very much in a similar fashion to the situation around Kaliningrad where the (in)famous Suwałki-gap is both a trap and an opportunity for both sides, the waterways from the Gulf of Finland out to the northern parts of the Baltic Sea proper are of serious importance both to NATO as the logistics route to reinforce Estonia and Latvia (either as the last sea-leg for an overland route through Norway and Sweden or as the ports of disembarkation for ships) as well as to Russian planners in a number of different ways. Key among these are not only the military ones, but the route is of great importance to Russian hydrocarbon exports (Ust Luga and Primorsk combined outranking the largest single port for exports, Novorossiysk, which handles basically all of Russia’s Black Sea exports), and the importance of the Gulf of Finland as the route for exports westwards is only set to keep growing. However, by the time one start talking about sea mines, the military considerations will in all likelihood be of greater importance, and here the Gulf of Finland is of both offensive and defensive importance.

Kronstadt in the summer of 2018. In the centre of the picture is decommissioned Project 956-class destroyer Bespokoynyy which is now a museum ship. Source: Mil.ru via Wikimedia Commons

Defensively, while Baltiysk is the main base of the Russian Baltic Fleet, it is also isolated from the Russian mainland. As such, keeping a supply line open not only for the Baltic Fleet to be able to shift units between Kronstadt and Baltiysk according to need, but also to be able to supply the rest of Kaliningrad’s military and civilian needs, is of great importance. Offensively, the ability to operate freely in the northern parts of the Baltic Sea proper would allow for cutting off vital supply lines to both Finland and Estonia, as well as seriously threatening key Swedish interests such as the capital Stockholm and surrounding regions.

As opposed to with its Nordic neighbours, Finland hasn’t been as active in advertising increased defence cooperation with Estonia in recent years. Rather, the headlines have been dominated by a number of if not exactly crises, then at least diplomatic grumblings. Part of this is a natural outcome of the rather different lessons drawn by the very different historical outcomes (read: occupation versus Finlandization) the countries experienced following WWII, but it has nonetheless caused friction. Still, once one start digging below the surface, Finnish soldiers have been actively taking part in key Estonian exercises, and the deepened cooperation between democratic countries in Northern Europe has certainly had a positive effect on Finnish-Estonian military cooperation as well.

In any case, with Finland largely being seen as a part of “The West” in Moscow, any Russian aggression would most likely affect Finnish supply lines and cause a quick alignment of Finnish and Estonian interests (read: keeping the northern Baltic Sea free of Russian vessels and aircraft). As such, the prospect of not one but two countries with modern mining capabilities as well as the ability to protect the minefields with long-range anti-ship weaponry will have an effect on the strategic calculations made by the Kremlin. Further to this, while the Gulf of Finland is narrow enough that even modern long-range artillery can cover it from one shore to the other at the narrowest location, but getting an accurate picture of what happens on the other shore might still prove more of a challenge, the prospect of these countries sharing a maritime situational picture and possibly even cooperating on the operational use of the aforementioned systems further tilt the balance. Notable is also that the ability to use ‘smart’ mines means that the risk to civilian shipping is lower, a not insignificant aspect when it comes to the use of naval mines in waters as heavily trafficked as those of the Baltic Sea.

For the Finnish Navy, mines have always featured heavily in their communication, a method of latent suasion for which mines are well suited (and something that will happen to some extent almost by default the minute one start stockpiling them). However, as usual there are significant ambiguity when it comes to the stockpiles, including not only numbers but also exact models in use. Interestingly, the Finnish Navy has during the last year showed a number of the oldest influence mines acquired by the Finnish Navy back in the 80’s being used in exercises, including both practicing their employment as well their search and recovery. Whether this is just by chance or a conscious decision to raise the awareness that there are many arrows in the quiver is an interesting question, but it certainly shows that Finnish minewarfare consists of more than the Hot Dog-dance.

…and in my own Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam-moment, I will note that there’s further US investment in the Quickstrike-ER. The US Navy has recently placed a 58.3 million USD contract with Boeing for the manufacturing of prototype glide-kits and associated equipment. In essence, the Quickstrike-ER is a JDAM-ER with a dedicated fuse which makes it a sea mine able to deploy at depths of up to 60+ meters (which also happens to match nicely with the depths of the Gulf of Finland). It remains my opinion that the Quickstrike-ER represents the most versatile, effective, and cheapest way of introducing air-launched kinetic effect into the maritime domain for the Finnish Air Force, and that the ability to use a handful of JDAM-ER kitted ‘dumb’ bombs to either resow cleared minefields or to cut strategic narrow waterways in what is a relatively low-risk mission compared to the use of JDAM-ERs in a more traditional ground-combat setting would represent a significant capability addition to Finnish minewarfare.

Review: Naval Minewarfare – Politics to Practicalities

Naval MinewarfareOn some reading list during the closing months of 2020, can’t honestly remember which, a rather plain-looking book titled “Naval Minewarfare: Politics to Practicalities” (ISBN: 9781789630862) was described along the lines of being the best single volume on modern naval minewarfare. The book was also noted as being self-published, meaning that the risk of it becoming sold out and unavailable was rather real. It wasn’t perhaps the book I was most enthusiastic about last year, let’s face it – 2020 meant a host of interesting books going through the printers, including titles such as Harrier 809, Operaatio Punainen Kettu, and The Secret Horsepower Race – but naval mines is one of my personal fields of interest, and one in which good books are hard to find. Better get this one while it’s still around, I thought.

Upon getting my hands on it my interest was piqued. To begin with it was quite a bit bigger than I had thought, both in surface area and page count (19 x 23.5  cm and 414 pages). But the text was also flowing quite a bit easier than I had expected from the rather academic look. As such it quickly and unexpectedly climbed it’s way to the top of my reading pile. The book claims to be “an outstanding primary reference for politicians through practitioners of both military and civilians elements of conflicts that involve naval mines.” A tall order, let’s see if it can live up to it.

Let us start by noting that Captain (N) Chris O’Flaherty is a military professional in the field, with a long career in the Royal Navy dealing with mine hunting and mine countermeasures in a number of different roles. The book stems from research done following his election as the Royal Navy’s Hudson Fellow at St Antony’s College of the University of Oxford, with proceeds of the book going back to the Guy Hudson Memorial Trust. A nice gesture on the part of the author!

The book starts with the basic definitions – chapter one dealing with “Naval Mines” (what is a mine, different types of mines, the purpose and characteristics of different kinds of minefields, …), chapter two dealing with “Naval Mine Countermeasures” (sweeping versus minehunting, self-protection devices, passive versus active MCM, offensive versus defensive MCM, …), before going on to the third chapter that deals with “Naval Mining Events Through History”. Here the key events up to the end of World War II are looked into, before transitioning on to looking at all twenty-four mining incidents post-WWII in detail, up to and including current events as part of the War in Yemen. Chapter four looks into “The Legality of Naval Minewarfare”, including both mining and mine countermeasures. Chapter five deals with the role of “The Strategy and Doctrine of the Minewarfare Battle”, while the sixth chapter lifts it up yet one level further by looking at “The Statecraft of Naval Minewarfare”. The seventh chapter then rounds things up with a discussion on “Measures of Effect”, before the books ends by going to conclusions and appendixes.

The book certainly has given me a great appreciation for how versatile the new Katanpää-class minehunters are, not only from the viewpoint of the Finnish Navy, but as tools for diplomacy and statecraft as well. The picture shows the third sister MHC Vahterpää during exercise Sandy Coast 2020. Source: Merivoimat FB

As can be seen from the chapter headings, the narrative builds up from the smallest parts (what kinds of mines and countermeasures are there?) up to the highest levels (how can a nation use mines or MCM efforts to achieve their goals?). A key point here is that the book focuses on explaining things at a general level. You won’t get much in the way of “which mines are found in the stockpiles of country X?”, but instead there is a focus on thoroughly explaining any concepts encountered. This means that the text ends up in some rather interesting places: as the book looks into the role of minewarfare in the greater strategic and diplomatic considerations of nation states it also include a thorough looks on naval theory and suasion, as well as one of the better two-page primers on different theories of international relations. As such, the book does not really require much in the way of pre-requisite knowledge.

As said minewarfare has certainly been an area of interest for me earlier as well. Still, the book is filled with new information. I had no idea about how poorly defined the legal frameworks surrounding naval minewarfare are, and of the 24 mining events since WWII there were quite a few that were new to me (“Patriotic Scuba Divers of America” claiming to have mined Sacramento River in 1980? Had no idea about that one!).

As noted, I was in many ways positively surprised by the book. It was an easy flowing, yet highly informative read, with ample of notes and references to guide the reader to where one can find further information. The way it continuously keeps building upon previous chapters in a pedagogical way that helps even a novice understand complex theories of the interplay between the naval domain and statecraft and the role of mines and MCM-efforts in these is honestly nothing short of remarkable.

Personally I have for the last few years had a few different scenarios in my mind for how naval mines could be employed in the Baltic Sea in case of war or as a tool of diplomacy below the threshold of war, and what any single one of these would mean for Finland. Having read the book, these have changed. Both regarding how dangerous the individual scenarios would be – some being worse than I earlier imagined, some less of a danger – but also my appreciation for the exact nature of these and how they could play into the greater political game surrounding any given crisis. As a defence analyst, finding a book that can inform one’s own estimate of the capabilities and alternative courses of action for different countries is always of great value. Besides being a solid buy for happy bloggers as myself, I would also highly recommend the book to anyone that might come into (figurative) contact with naval mines in one way or the other. This includes not only seafarers (civilian and military, with one of the appendixes being a practical guide for mariners about how to deal with the mine danger), but also people involved in politics and in the general national security debate. As noted, the book is self-published, so if you are interested in it I recommend you head over to your favourite bookstore and grab it while it is available (it is currently given as in-stock for many major web-based ones)!

Unmanned Underwater Vehicle in the defence of the Gulf of Finland

The videoclip below is interesting.

At the 1:57 time stamp, the Finnish Navy is seen launching one of the world’s most advanced autonomous weapons systems in its class. Having been deployed, it slips below the surface where it will lay in wait. Silent. Deadly. Not giving away its presence in any way, but constantly monitoring its surroundings. Waiting. Every movement is registered, and evaluated against the profiles stored in its database. And once there’s a match, it strikes, mercilessly.

I am obviously referring to the Finnish Navy’s PM16 (fi. Pohjamiina for bottom mine, confusingly enough a designation also used for the Finnish Army’s sensor-fused anti-tank mines), the newest addition to the Finnish family of influence mines that started with the PM90, and has since seen the addition of both the PM04 and the PM16 visible above (the PM90 has also been updated to PM90MOD status with an all-new “brain” and sensor-suite). In addition, the Navy has operated British Stonefish (as the PM-85E) and two different kinds of Soviet mines as the PM83-1 and PM83-2 (possibly the MDM-4 and UDM), though these are likely retired by now. Mines are seen as a strategic threshold capability in Finnish doctrine. They can seal off the chokepoints an aggressor needs to enter Finnish territory from the sea, and they will cause significant stress for anyone forced to operate within areas potentially mined. The very shallow nature of both the Gulf of Finland as well as the Archipelago Sea also lend themselves well to both traditional moored mines as well as influence mines. Obviously, history has also shown that in case war would break out, mines can be used to seal of the Gulf of Finland completely. This would make it impossible for vessels to transit between the Russian Baltic Fleet’s main base Baltiysk in Kaliningrad and the Russian mainland, and isolating St Petersburg from the Baltic Sea.

The influence mine is usually not included in discussions regarding autonomous weapons, though there really is no reason why it shouldn’t. After all, it is a system that does all decision making completely on its own once it is released into the wild, with no human in or on the loop. However, the main issue with the mines is that they do not move*, and once a minefield is cleared that area is free to use**. Wouldn’t it be even better if the weapon could move around, suddenly appear in areas previously thought of as safe, or quickly be despatched to areas where control over an area protected by a minefield has been lost?

low-cost-xluuv-cutaway
The original artwork of H I Sutton’s XLUUV concept. Picture courtesy of H I Sutton/Covert Shores

Naval analyst H I Sutton presented an interesting concept on his homepage recently. In short, he asked himself why the concept of operations for the Iranian Ghadir-class of midget submarines – stay hidden close to shipping lanes, wait for surface targets, and then torpedo them – couldn’t conceivably be automated. Wouldn’t an extra-large unmanned underwater vehicle in the class of the US Navy’s Orca-program be a good fit for the mission. Most XLUUVs at the moment are designed for modularity and the possibility of taking up a number of different roles. By focusing on the single relatively straightforward mission of ambushing surface vessels, the complexity and cost becomes lower (to get a feeling for the costs, the current Orca-program has seen Boeing bag a recent order “for the fabrication, test, and delivery of four Orca” worth 43 million USD, following on a roughly equally large contract covering the design phase of the competition).

The XLUUV envisioned by Sutton would sport air-independent propulsion in the form of a stirling engine, and two pre-loaded 533 mm torpedo tubes would provide the sting. An endurance in excess of a week could be achieved, and further cost-savings could be had by restricting the requirements when it comes to performance, including max-depth.

It is easy to see how beneficial a system such as that described by Sutton could be for Finland. A handful of vessels could easily cover the Finnish coastline, and they would be at their strongest outside of the archipelago, a place where the Finnish Navy prefers to spend a relatively limited part of their time. It is also easy to see the value of a remote sensor function where the XLUUVs occasionally send back particularly interesting sensor tracks to the mainland, though this naturally has to be balanced against the value of staying completely silent.

However, it is also easy to see why the Finnish Navy likely won’t pursue this line of development. The Gulf of Finland is shallow enough that more or less any part of it, including the open waters, can likely by mined with bottom mines (and in any case traditional moored mines remain in use as well), and as has been discussed earlier the narrow straight means that any vessel moving in the open waters will be spotted and could be targeted by both artillery and land-based anti-ship missiles. As noted earlier, what the XLUUV option would bring to the Gulf of Finland would not be so much the capability to close of the gulf, that is already possible, but to do so with systems that are extremely difficult to track and take out. The relatively limited firepower of two tubes would also mean that the main threat of any single vessel would be in the psychological realm rather than purely kinetic capability (though considering the limited number of vessels in the Russian Baltic Fleet, XLUUVs that only strike once they match the profile of e.g. LSTs would present a serious headache for the aggressor).

Echo Voyager
The 15.5 meter long Echo Voyager is the basis for Boeing’s Orca XLUUV. Note the worker standing on the platform behind the vessel, providing scale. Source: Picture courtesy of Boeing

Another question is whether they actually might hold more use in the ASW role, as getting the sensors and weapons for the mission out to open waters without taking undue risks is something of an issue currently. This could also see a step-down to tube-launched 400 mm torpedoes (something the Swedish submarines currently use), making room for a larger number of torpedoes. The choice of only attacking underwater targets would also ensure a significantly smaller risk of collateral damage, something that certainly would aid in public acceptance of the system. Because let’s face it: it might be argued to be intellectually dishonest as I did at the start of this text, but the general public stills sees the sea mine as an explosive round and an autonomous XLUUV as a ‘killer robot’. Any procurement of the latter will first have to overcome this political hurdle.

* There are obviously self-propelled mines, combining the features of the torpedo and sea mine (somewhat ironically, as the term “torpedo” originally referred to mines, with today’s torpedoes being “self-propelled torpedoes”). Saab and Naval Group are both working on development projects aimed at producing modern solutions blurring the torpedo/UUV/mine definitions

** This is only true as long as the area really is clear, something that has proven to be surprisingly difficult to validate. Solutions such as the JDAM-ER with Quickstrike could also quickly change the situation, with e.g. two Super Hornets being able to swiftly put sixteen 450 kg mines on individual pinpoint locations

Sources:

Concept for low-cost autonomous anti-ship submarine

Laivaston sanomat 5/2018

Herätemiinojen kehitystyö Merivoimissa

The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, 16th Ed.

Quickstrike for HX?

An interesting piece caught my eye this morning, describing how the US Navy is putting JDAM-ER kits on their Quickstrike series of mines. These are in effect naval mines based on the Mk 80-series of general-purpose bombs, and the combination of a modular warhead with a modular guidance and glide kit makes so much sense that the first reaction is why no-one has put the together earlier?

The linked story gives a good primer for the concept, but the too long, didn’t read version is that the Quickstrike mine is dropped by an aircraft, glides tens of kilometres (depending on release altitude) to a pre-set target location, where it sinks to the bottom of the sea and becomes a ‘smart’ bottom mine.

031104-N-1573O-036
A 1,000 lbs Mk 63 Quickstrike mine being checked prior to loading onto an F/A-18C Hornet belonging to VFA-113. This is the traditional baseline version of the mine, being a free-fall weapon with a retarding tail. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Tyler Orsburn via Wikimedia Commons

For HX this suddenly opens up interesting possibilities. Mining is traditionally a key interest of the Finnish Navy, as our waters are shallow and the number of usable sea lanes to reach any given port is severely limited by the cluttered archipelago. However, if the enemy enters the area and manages to sweep a sea lane, going in to mine it again is usually not to be recommended. Mining is also a time-consuming task, putting the vessels performing it in danger.

The Quickstrike/JDAM-ER combination offers a solution as it makes it possible to mine from a stand-off distance and to release the whole minefield more or less simultaneously, and with the exact location of the mines already logged. A pair of fighters could easily and in a very short time span shut down a key chokepoint or scatter their load over a more general area to force the enemy to conduct time-consuming sweeping operations.

GHWB is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2, which is comprised of the staff of CSG-2, GHWB, the nine squadrons and staff of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 22 staff and guided-missile destroyers USS Laboon (DDG 58) and USS Truxton (DDG 103), and Mayport-based guided-missile cruisers USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) and USS Hue City (CG 66).
F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to VFA-87 sporting eight GBU-32 1,000 lbs JDAM. Note that this is a combat load, and not a demonstrator aircraft being loaded up. The same amount of JDAM-ERs or Quickstrike mines could likely be carried. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Matlage via Wikimedia Commons

The obvious platform here is the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It is already using the JDAM-ER in Australian service, and chances are that the USN will focus any effort to integrate the Quickstrike on it much sooner than they will get around to the F-35C (not to mention how long it would take before the F-35A picks up the load). The ‘Rhino’ has flown impressive JDAM sans suffix loads in Syria, including slugging it out with two 2,000 lbs (900 kg) GBU-31 JDAMs under each wing, or eight of the lighter 1,000 lbs GBU-32. A pair of Super Hornets could likely drop eight heavy or sixteen lighter sea mines in a single mission, and could do so deep behind enemy lines. In fact, this is something of an unique selling point for the ‘Rhino’.

This opens up completely new tactical possibilities, including quickly shutting down a strategic sea lane if an enemy task force seems to be able to avoid Finnish surface units or coastal defences (a scenario becoming increasingly likely as the number of ships decrease). Another possibility is cutting off an enemy amphibious landing by mining the sea lanes used to supply the bridgehead, or even offensively dropping mines in or in the very vicinity of enemy ports and bases.

170606-n-n0901-039_283475650729029
A B-52 dropping a dummy Quickstrike mine during exercise BALTOPS 2017. Traditionally the US has prioritised mining with heavy bombers and maritime patrol aircraft, but in a modern air defence environment the use of tactical strike aircraft increases survivability, and modern guidance kits allows for greater precision meaning that fewer mines can be used to create an effective minefield. Source: US Navy Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet via Wikimedia Commons

The best part is the cost. This is largely an off-the-shelf system, with (relatively) cheap components and requiring little specialised training on the part of the flight crews to operate. While I find it unlikely that we will see a true maritime strike capability on the HX anytime soon, this would allow the air force to support the navy and shape the maritime battlefield in a cost effective way. The JDAM-ER guidance kits, mines, and regular Mk 80s could even be bought separately, and combined as appropriate during wartime depending on if the mines are needed or if the weapons are better used in a land-strike role. This does seem to be low-hanging fruit for an interesting and unique joint capability at a low price.

MTA2020 and its Swedish connection – Pt 2. Finland

The following is part two of three, discussing the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the field of new support ships. Part one (published yesterday) dealt mainly with the Swedish plans, with this part focusing on the Finnish MTA2020, and in part three (published tomorrow) I will try to wrap it up. As mentioned, I have no inside information on the MTA2020 or L10, but everything is based on open sources.

Finland – MTA2020

The MTA2020 is very vaguely described in the article. As opposed to the Hämenmaa-class, which currently can operate in the Mediterranean but not further afield, the MTA2020 is supposed to be able to operate in the Indian Ocean on international duties, as well as to perform its wartime missions in the Finnish archipelagoes and home waters.

The MTA2020 will most probably be a large ship by Finnish standards. Also, seeing the emphasize placed by the Finnish navy on mines in naval warfare (e.g. the mine rails were kept on the refurbished Hämeenmaa ships, as opposed to the Swedish solution for HMS Carlskrona), the MTA2020 might well feature a combined Ro/Ro and mine deck. For prolonged operations abroad, full flight facilities including a hangar might be wished for, but it is unclear which helicopter would be used, as the Finnish Navy currently does not operate any helicopters of their own.

If the ship would indeed receive full flight facilities, my personal belief is that the use of NH-90, even in its NFH-version, is unlikely, as it is a rather heavy helicopter. An order for a limited number of light marine helicopters, e.g. the AW159 Wildcat or AS565 Panther, would seem logical, and would dramatically boost both the ASW and ASuW capabilities of the navy, by providing stand-off ASW capability and over-the-horizon targeting capability for ship based AShM. However, the cost of such a procurement might well prove to be prohibitive.

Exactly in which way the MTA2020 is supposed to replace the Rauma-class is more uncertain, as weapons will probably be limited to a self-defence SAM-system, one medium caliber dual-purpose gun similar in performance to the Bofors 57 mm currently fitted to the Hämeenmaa, and some kind of anti-submarine weapons (might we see torpedoes aboard a Finnish ship for the first time since WWII?).

The role it could take over from the Rauma is escorting merchant shipping, where it could tackle air and potentially sub-surface threats. Operating a MTO2020 in this way together with a Hamina-class PGG or two might prove a winning combo, being able to take on air, surface and sub-surface threats, with the MTO2020 replenishing the Haminas at sea to provide longer endurance.

However, having heavier equipment on support ships are not unheard of. The Rhein-class depot ships of the Bundesmarine were fitted with two 100 mm DP guns in single turrets, a number of 40 mm AA guns, and up to 70 mines, meaning they could fulfill wartime roles as a mineship or light frigate (this was before guided missiles became the weapons of choice for almost every mission). The heavy armament also meant that they could serve as training ships, benefitting from a larger complement, meaning that more people could be trained per cruise compared to a “real” frigate or missile/torpedo craft.

This later might be an idea that would interest the Finnish navy. Mounting a four-cell AShM launcher on the MTA2020 would provide the navy with a more or less ideal training vessel, having the same(?) weapons and sensors as the Hamina-class (or, whatever the Hamina-class will receive when the time comes for their MLU), as well as mine rails, almost every position on most warships of the navy could be taught onboard the MTA2020.

While the Finnish navy is no stranger to this kind of arrangement, having operated the Bay-class frigate HMS Porlock Bay (‘K650’/’F650’) for over ten years in the training role as Matti Kurki before scrapping her in 1975, as stated above, I find it unlikely that the MTA2020 will get its own AShM-launcher.