Ocean capable corvettes could be affordable force enablers

Yesterday the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that Soobrazitelnyy, a corvette from the Baltic Fleet, had passed through the Suez Canal from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean. This was the latest in a series of press releases covering the journey of two Steregushchiy class corvettes and an auxiliary vessel from the Baltic Fleet.

The three ships Boiky, Soobrazitelnyy, and Kola departed from Baltiysk on 14 October, and it was announced that they would complete tasks in the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, the ministry’s press service has been generous with updates on the journey. Reports have been made on the passage of the Strait of Gibraltar, AAW and ASW exercises, a port visit in Limassol, how the ships split up with Boiky completing tasks in the Mediterranean (I suppose around Syria) and Soobrazitelnyy passing the Suez Canal to participate in anti-piracy operations and visit the port of Djibouti. With the ships reunited in the Mediterranean I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the group will head home soon, perhaps in time for Christmas which in Russia is on 7 January.

Obviously, with this massive press coverage one has to wonder whether the point of the whole journey was to generate attention. Nevertheless I do think that the proof of concept is really interesting. Medium sized warships that are large enough to endure the ocean yet small enough to be affordable could prove very useful in the future.

These are ships with a displacement around 2000 tons. Aside from the Russian Steregushchiy class, I think the German Braunschweig class and the British Batch 2 River Class are interesting examples of such warships. A look at the Baltic navies reveals that most only have ships that are much larger or much smaller.

For countries like Denmark, Norway, and Poland such medium sized warships could permit the country to participate in low-risk maritime security operations while the larger frigates could focus on tasks where their broad warfare capabilities are needed. For other countries like Sweden ocean capable corvettes could make it possible to participate at all.

Historic procurement of Nordic Combat Uniforms reaches prequalification

The Nordic Combat Uniform (NCU) project is moving ahead with an official invitation to possible candidates for prequalification. The goal is that Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden will buy new combat uniforms together, albeit with national variations in colors and camouflage patterns.

By making the procurement together the Nordic countries hope to attract big players that are able to provide higher quality uniforms for less money. The expected value of the contract is between 290 and 425 million euros.

The project is run in a NORDEFCO group that was established in February 2016. Since then the countries have worked out legal and technical details regarding the combat uniform system. There have been some different preferences among the countries with some focusing on Arctic features while others had wishes regarding uses in tropical weather conditions. Overall, though, the countries had very similar requirements to a combat uniform system.

The tender process is officially coordinated by the Norwegian defense. If you are interested in selling a uniform system to the Nordic countries, you can find the procurement documents here.

Strange message about deterrence from Danish general

Danish Chief of Defense Bjørn Bisserup has given a comprehensive interview to defense website DefenseWatch (in Danish). The interview was published on the same day that I published my review of Gerasimov’s speech, and what a difference. Unfortunately it seems to me that the Russian general has a much more realistic approach to the challenges ahead.

Below I have made a summary of what Bisserup said in the interview, and in the end I have appended some comments.

Bisserup’s message: Unfortunate that we must spend more on defense

Bjørn Bisserup
General Bjørn Bisserup. Photo from the Danish Defense.
Bisserup’s interview is given at a point in time when a new political defense agreement is being negotiated. It is expected that this agreement will cover the years until 2023 and increase the defense budget for the first time since the cold war. With the expected budgets Denmark will increase its defense spending from about 1.17 percent of GDP to about 1.3 percent.

According to Bisserup it is unfortunate that Denmark and other countries need to spend more money on defense. “It is not the kind of world that we would like to have,” he says.

The defense budget increase is not directly related to a threat from Russia, and essentially Bisserup does not seem to distinguish much between a possible conflict with Russia and military operations in other places like Mali, Syria, or Afghanistan. Asked directly about a Russian threat, Bisserup answers that there is no reason to look for new wars, because there are plenty in the world already. “There is no concrete threat towards the Danish area. But that said, it is difficult to spot any place in the world where things are moving in the exact right direction.”

…Continue reading

Denmark reopens listening post to eavesdrop on Russia

The Danish Defense Intelligence Service is building a listening post on the island of Bornholm in order to eavesdrop on Russian radio communications. That reports Danish newspaper Politiken.

The mast will be 85 meters high, and the newspaper writes that it will be focused on the VHF frequency band. That sounds like a very narrow purpose, so I think it is safe to assume that the mast is also equipped for other frequencies.

A similar listening post was closed in 2012 because it was considered irrelevant to listen to Russian radio traffic in a security climate where international terrorism was seen as the threat. At that point the decision got some critique because it happened just after the defense had modernized the listening post for 23 million DKK.

In connection with the decision to close the listening post in 2012, former commandant of the Danish Defense Academy major general Karsten Møller said that it had been clear since the mid 1990s that there were no serious military threats is Eastern Europe:

“The Russian forces were in a terrible condition, the Warsaw Pact had broken down, and the Baltic Fleet was basically rusting up idly. But when the listening post was allowed to exist for so long, it has probably been a result of local politics as well. At the same time some people in the military continued to have a Cold War mindset and were not convinced that it was over.”

What a difference a few years can make.

Nordic countries agree to exchange radar data for air surveillance

The Nordic countries have agreed to enhance air surveillance through the exchange of radar data between the members of NORDEFCO. The defense ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nordic Cooperation for Air Surveillance Information Exchange during their meeting in Helsinki yesterday. Several sources report this, but I have found the Norwegian government to have the most informative announcement.

The ambition is to create a better total picture of the airspace over the region. Of course this is only a political agreement that makes the political framework to allow the exchange of data, and it may take a long time before any data is actually exchanged. It is technically difficult to make systems communicate with each other, and sometimes the bureaucracies in the countries move slower than the political ambitions. Nevertheless, the agreement to exchange radar data is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope the technicians can make it work quickly.

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. 

Nordic countries enhance cyber collaboration

Nordic countries are enhancing collaboration about cyber defense. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway have agreed to develop capabilities under NORDEFCO. And apparently Finland is taking the lead.

Gerard O’Dwyer writing for Fifth Domain:

Within NORDEFCO, Finland has taken the lead role to develop Computer Emergency Response Team capabilities that have the capacity to better protect Nordic defense IT, core force systems and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks.

The deepening of Nordic collaboration is running parallel to increasing defense and hybrid threat cybersecurity investments by governments in all four countries.

Europe should prepare to defend itself without America

Europe desires a fundamentally disinterested protector, but the European countries better realize that America’s unwillingness to provide that security will continue to grow, writes Jeremy Shapiro in this insightful piece in [War On The Rocks] [WTHR link]:

But presidential incompetence and the public’s lack of interest is a weak foundation on which to build a durable foreign policy. The disinterested nature of America’s security relationship with Europe means that its commitment to the continent is usually first in line for the foreign policy chopping block. For a public that wants to put America first, it is particularly hard to explain why America should protect a relatively stable continent of rich democracies. Trump has made a lot of rhetorical hay out of Europe’s freeriding on America. Neither the American foreign policy establishment nor their European allies have found an effective political counter-argument.

All of this creates a deep challenge for Europe. Europe has an intense strategic and psychological dependence on the United States, yet Trump’s America, and arguably any future America, is both uninterested in, and unable to fulfill, its traditional role in Europe.

The states of Europe should be preparing for that day. But, as the mild reaction to the radical Trump presidency shows, internal divisions mean that by and large they are not. For all the upsetting changes in America and Russia, for all the crises that have rocked Europe in the last several years, and for all the destabilizing developments in Europe’s neighborhood, E.U. member states clearly prefer the old bargain that has served them so well. For the most part, they will cling to it until its demise becomes clearer than truth. In the meantime, no one will block Trump’s photo opportunity at the next NATO summit.

In my story about the Danish submarine debate I described how Danish rear admiral Wang and German commodore Reineke expressed fundamentally different expectations about the probable American support in case of a regional conflict in the Baltic Area:

Wang’s argument was that […] Denmark would […] find itself in a position where the navy must play the offensive role in a mission to escort troops to the Baltic states under the support of allied forces counting several carrier strike groups located in the North Sea. […]

[T]he German point of view was that the regional powers must be prepared to manage a conflict in the Baltic Sea without external support from allies.

Jeremy Shapiro’s argument supports the German position.

Danish admiral says submarines are flagrant waste of money

The Defense Commission of the Danish parliament yesterday conducted a hearing on the question of whether Denmark should reintroduce submarines and sea mines in the naval arsenal. Both were phased out in 2005 but especially the importance of submarines has been a question of intense debate ever since.

Rear admiral Nils Wang, commandant of the Danish Defence College, made some headlines in local newspapers with a statement from the hearing that an investment in submarines would be “a flagrant waste of money”. Wang’s argument was that a military conflict in the Baltic area would encompass a Russian invasion of the Baltic states and a subsequent Russian defensive posture in the Eastern part of the Baltic basin. Denmark would thus find itself in a position where the navy must play the offensive role in a mission to escort troops to the Baltic states under the support of allied forces counting several carrier strike groups located in the North Sea. In this scenario Wang primarily sees a need for area air defense, land attack strike missiles, a range of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets, and mine counter measures (MCM). However, Wang does not see a role for submarines in this scenario as, supposedly, they do not give any particular advantage in ASW in littoral areas.

Commodore Ulrich Reineke of the German Navy begged to disagree with his Danish colleague, saying that Germany finds submarines crucial for ASW and Read more