Less than half of Germany’s tanks are working

German tanks are in a terrible condition, according to Janes:

German media reported on 16 November that only 95 of the 244 Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) in service with the Bundeswehr are operationally ready. A further 53 vehicles – thought to be Leopard 2A6Ms – are being converted to the new Leopard 2A6M+ standard, and 86 are in a state of disrepair without any spare parts. The German report states that “the unavailability of the required replacement parts would be detrimental”.

Apparently the German system cannot handle the increased exercise intensity that has developed over the last few years. And that has led to concerns as to how long the German logistics system could function in case of a real conflict.

Janes mentions that there was a similar predicament in August when German forces in Mali suffered from a lack of spare parts. I might add the ridiculous lack of spare parts that left all of Germany’s submarines inoperative. Germany needs to fix this quickly.

Russia completes transformation to Iskander in Kaliningrad

Russia has completed the transformation to the Iskander-M missile system in Kaliningrad, according to Russian defense blog bmpd. That happened when the 152nd Missile Brigade officially received the modern missile at a ceremony last Monday to replace the old Tochka-U missiles (NATO name SS-21 Scarab).

Russia is modernizing its fleet of tactical ballistic missiles at a pace of about two brigades per year, and the Ministry of Defense has announced that the process will be completed in 2020. In fact, 11 brigades already have the Iskander-M missile and only one still uses the Tochka-U (the 448th Missile Brigade in Kursk). However, Russia is not only replacing old equipment but also forming new brigades, most lately in June when a missile brigade was established in the Eastern Military District.

So while Russia has 12 brigades with tactical ballistic missiles today, that number may increase to 17 over the next three years. Of course one of those brigades could also be placed in Kaliningrad.

Finland is planning mega-exercise in 2020

Finland is planning to hold an Aurora style exercise in 2020 with participation from Sweden, United States and others. Aurora was a Swedish exercise that was held in September and involved 19,000 troops.

Finnish defense minister Jussi Niinisto explained that the exercise will gather conscripts, reservists, and soldiers to practice. “If there’s a crisis, it will be good for us to practice receiving help,” said Niinisto according to Reuters.

The announcement of the exercise comes in the midst of an increased debate in Finland about the country’s relationship with NATO. The planned exercise in receiving foreign forces on Finnish soil shows that Finland sees NATO as an important strategic partner, but for the time being there is not much reason to believe that Finland will become an official member of the alliance.

Latvia receives first howitzers

Latvia has received the first batch of self-propelled howitzers. The 155 mm/39 self-propelled howitzers M109A5Öe are part of a deal with Austria to buy a total of 47 armored vehicles. All of them are of the M109 family, but only 35 are howitzers. The remaining are 10 fire control vehicles and two machines for training of drivers.

The vehicles are not new. In fact, Austria got them used from Britain in 1994, so they are rather old by now. However, they were all modernized in 2002-07, and many of them were moved directly from modernization to the storage warehouse.1 Presumably Lativa therefore obtained some pretty good armored vehicles for the total sum of 6 million Euros.

  1. It seems to be a military tradition to modernize stuff just before you decide not to use it anymore. 

Is Finland setting the example for military leadership?

Finland is getting positive attention for their approach to military leadership and the remarkable defense preparedness of the Finns.

It seems that Finland is assuming the position as the country everybody is looking to when it comes to modern military leadership methods. Which is a little annoying because it means that we now have to envy not only Finland’s remarkable PISA scores but also their trust in the military and their defense preparedness.

Whilst in Denmark since the Cold War we have more or less abandoned a territorial defense and focused on deployable assets with professional manning, Finland has maintained the ability to defend itself with mandatory male conscription and a large and active military reserve. And the results are stunning when it comes to the people’s interest and trust in the military. Denmark suffers from the paradox that the military is more or less constantly engaged in wars in other parts of the world, but the people is genuinely disinterested and mostly unaware that it is happening. In the current debates about a new political defense agreement in Denmark, it is common to meet the popular argument that the territorial integrity of Denmark is unrelated to military spending because it’s the responsibility of other NATO countries to defend us anyways.

Finland, on the other hand, maintained a national focus with their armed forces all throughout the honeymoon years with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. I remember not long ago that we used to smile at Finland’s inability to adjust to a future of deployable assets and excused the apparent paranoia of the Finns with a historic inclination to the solitude of neutrality that prevented them from taking full responsibility in the international environment. Now the security climate has changed in the Baltic Region, and instead of laughing at Finland we suddenly find ourselves reading articles about what we can learn from them.

So what is it that we can learn from Finland? Elisabeth Braw has an interesting article in Foreign Affairs about The Finnish Model, and she has a few ideas. For starters, we can learn that if conscription is widespread and of high quality, it will give whole generations a positive attitude towards the military and enhance the willingness to take responsibility for national defense. Instead of being old-fashioned, conscription may in fact be the model of a future where Europe must prepare to handle security without America. There are historical and geographical reasons for Finland to emphasize the territorial defense higher than in for example Denmark, but the numbers cited about the support for the military and the personal sense of duty among Finns are surely impressive.

According to Braw, we can also learn from Finland that evaluation is a powerful tool to develop military leadership if it is done systematically and with care. It really does seem to be a good evaluation system the Finns have set up, but I would have to look closer at it before I can make a final judgement. Given Finland’s academic traditions in the field of organizational learning, I am prepared to believe that they have done a good job.1

Finally, Braw notes that Finland is good at setting the right expectations about the military service. It is a matter of branding and delivering on the promises by neither overselling nor underselling the military, and by having an inspiring program where the skills learned in the military can also be used elsewhere.

Surely aspects of these things can also be found in other countries, but it seems that Finland has excelled in systematizing its conscription and the development of methods to improve military leadership. This is actually really exciting, and although it pains me somewhat to admit it, the Finnish model may be worth studying for those of us who until recently believed that the future was deployable.

  1. I don’t think Braw’s point about military commanders learning to talk to soldiers like normal people instead of shouting is particularly ground-breaking for the other Scandinavian countries. During my study time we had annual Nordic Cadet sports games (NOCA) between the naval academies from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and the Finnish cadets always stood out with a remarkably shouting attitude towards each other. 

Estonia enhances electronic surveillance of border

Estonia is projecting electronic surveillance of the Narva River with a bit of foreign funding, reports err.ee. The project includes a radar, cameras, electrical connections, a communications solution, and more. The idea is to improve the guarding of the border and increase the chance of detecting illegal border crossings.

Given Lithuania’s problems with keeping Russian and Belarusian border guards on the right side of the border, this may be a much needed improvement to the border security in Estonia. There may also be law enforcement advantages to better border control, as Estonia is struggling with smuggling of contraband from Russia. Recently the use of drones to cross the border has caused worries for public safety, and it has been speculated that Russia may actively use organized crime as a means to destabilize the region.

Finland and the art of self-reliance in national defense

Good look at the defense philosophy in Finland by Teri Schultz in DW. And what a contrast to many other countries in the Baltic region that have perfected the art of being dependent on USA.

President Sauli Niinisto says Finland – with a population of 5.2 million, a border with Russia that runs 1,340 kilometers (833 miles) and just a small professional army of trainers – has spent its century of independence perfecting the art of self-reliance. It’s not joining NATO any time soon, if ever.

“We have a huge reserve [of military forces] and they are trained reservists,” Niinisto explained to DW this week. “One of the largest in Europe.” If Finland called in all its back-ups, officials say, that would be almost a million soldiers. To illustrate his point further, the president explained Finland would then have 5,000 more “men in arms” than Germany would with its reserves, despite boasting a population just one-sixteenth the size.

Though the number of Finns kept in training as active reservists has dropped considerably since its peak in the mid-1990’s, the government decided to boost its forces by 50,000 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The current number of continuously trained reservists now stands at 280,000.

A widely circulated 2015 Gallup poll showed 74 percent of Finns said they’d be willing to take up arms to defend their country – the highest figure by far in Europe. Almost 60 percent of Russians would be willing to fight for their country. In next highest Sweden, that figure was 55 percent; in Germany, just 18 percent.

It’s easy to point to different geopolitical circumstances that make it possible for Finland to focus on its own territory, and it could be argued that the stability in the region has been assured because other countries chose NATO. But it must be granted that the Finnish approach has ensured a popular understanding of the need for a military defense, whereas NATO countries may experience a more fatalistic public opinion regarding national defense.

Sweden to buy new air-defense system

The Baltic Post:

Swedish policymakers have made clear that they wish to update the air-defense system by 2020, and this tight deadline has narrowed down the options to two systems, which are already developed and widely in use.
The first is the Patriot, developed by U.S. defense giant Raytheon, and the second is French-Italian Eurosam’s SAMP/T. Both systems were employed in Aurora 17, and reports suggest that the Swedish government is very close to making a final decision on which one to choose – a process reportedly surrounded by intense lobbying from both the U.S. and European sides.

Russia’s biggest army is directed at its own people

I’ve been wanting to link to this for a while. Igor Torbakov has a really interesting analysis in Utrikesmagasinet about the possible meaning of the restructuring of the domestic forces into the Federal National Guard Service, Rosgvardia.

According to Torbakov the motivation can be found in this:

“Western politicians do not understand the essence of Russia and its basic principles,” lamented Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, in his remarks at one of the closed sessions of the Valdai Club, a discussion platform bringing together Russia’s top policymakers and Western opinion makers, in late October 2014. The thing is, he went on, that Russian people perceive Western criticism of Russian president as a direct attack against their country. Volodin concluded his presentation with a seemingly preposterous suggestion: “If there’s Putin there’s Russia. If there’s no Putin there’s no Russia.”

No matter how ridiculous this statement appears to be, it would be unwise to simply dismiss it as a farcical effort on the part of a Kremlin courtier to suck up to his boss. It would appear that Volodin’s political imaginary whereby Putin is cast as a physical embodiment of Russia is shared widely among the broad segments of Russian policy elite. More important, it seems to be shared by President Putin himself who came to see his own destiny and that of Russia as tightly intertwined.

Torbakov’s point is that Rosgvardia was created to protect the current leadership of Russia against internal uprising. That means that the biggest force in Russia is today directed at controlling its own people in case of a color revolution. If that is the case, is seems that the key to understanding Russia is that they don’t see much difference between foreign enemies of Russia and domestic opponents of Putin.

Russia continues move to more professional military

Russia has called in 134,000 new conscripts to begin 12 months of military training in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The schedule is such that new recruits begin in the second and fourth quarters, and together with the spring draft the total number for 2017 is up to 276,000 conscripts. Although that is a very large number, it is actually a reduction of about 10% compared to 2016.

Russia is in the process of moving to a more professional military. Between 2015 and 2020 the number of soldiers with a contract is expected to grow from 300,000 to 500,000, and the number of conscripts will be reduced during the same period.