Saturday, July 2, 2011

Good Moral, Bad Physique

The Swedish Defence expert, Prof. Wilhelm Agrell has written an interesting article in yesterday SvD about the pro and cons of the reformed system for employing professional soldiers in the Swedish Armed Forces. His thesis is that Sweden is more vulnerable without the conscript system. The new defence will be much smaller and the soldiers will lack the civilian experience that has shown to be very valuable on international missions. Swedish soldiers has always been more than just soldiers which is very useful in operations other than war. They performed well in the civil wars of former Yugoslavia and has so far also done well in Afghanistan. However the Supreme Commander and the Minister of Defence, Mr Tolgfors, both say that the old system was too costly since all units that was sent on international missions had to be trained for that specific mission and afterwards the unit was disassembled and the soldiers went back to their civilian work.

But was this so bad? The civilian and the military world in Sweden did get a good blend that will be impossible in the future. It used to be so that a majority of the males in Sweden had done a year of conscript service. Everyone had knowledge about soldiering. In a crisis this would have been very useful. These crisis do not need to be war, but also natural disasters, accidents etc. A person trained by the military also know how to act in an emergency. How to do heart-lung reanimation, how to stop bleeding etc. The end of the conscript system lowers Sweden´s capability to cope with unexpected situations.

The conscript service was also a good way of introducing the soldier life to many possible recruits to become officers or specialist officers. A lot of the officers in the Armed Forces of today say, when asked about how they ended up in service, they realized during the conscript year that they liked what they were doing. Otherwise they would most probably never have joined the Armed Forces. The one year service was also e very good way for the officers to find the right recruits who they wanted to serve together with in the future.

Now the Armed Forces need to recruit the right boy and girls directly from the street. This will increase the need and cost of commercials to show what life in the armed forces is about. These commercials have been criticized in Sweden for being too "Hollywood". Life in the Armed Forces are not as glamor as the commercials show. Being a soldier is hard, wet and very often boring. To be interrupted by sheer moments of pure panic. All this for a salary of 17.000 SEK/month!

How will Sweden be able to recruit soldiers to work for 6-8 years with a very low salary? Countries like USA and Great Britain can use free school as a bait. But in Sweden all schools is free. The only cost for the students are loans that are needed to rent a apartment and get food. Maybe the government should pay for these loans? A retirement check of about 1 MSEK would be enough to avoid the need for loan. Ronald Månsson, commander P4 in Skövde thinks the soldiers will get valuable training that will be valuable the day they want to apply for a new job. In his article he focus on the "värdegrund" aspects, i.e. the soldiers will have the right moral view upon sexual and racial equality. This aspect might not be on top of a future employers wish list...

Unfortunately the drop outs from the basic 3 months soldier training has been quite high. According to a SvD article, the drop out rate has been as high as 20% during the second GMU - Basic Military Training. The main reason for drop out is that the recruits does not have the correct physique for the training. According to SvD analysis this might cost as much as 745 MSEK to train more soldiers to fill up the empty spaces. But according to the plan (see picture above) there should be 4000 recruits every year. Out of those 600 are expected to drop out. This is 15%. However this number is based upon both basic and continued training, so the drop out rate from basic training is too high.

What are the reasons for the drop outs?

- The physical standards of the young boys and girls are on an average much lower today compared to 10 years ago. A few years ago the Swedish recruitment office issued a report that stated that the average boy/girl was in bad physical shape and would not pass the conscript service. Less focus on sports and more on Internet might be one reason. That the parents also give their young ride with cars everywhere they are going might be another. Is it really the best trained boys/girls who apply for service? This does not explain all since the recruits have at least passed the physical tests of the recruitment centers. But, are these tests not correct according to the physique needed during basic training? Or is it more than just muscles that is needed?

- The wrong persons are recruited. In the conscript system everyone was exposed to military service and a few were selected. Do the recruits today have the same background as the officers recruited from the conscript system? The new system is supposed to be training the same "raw material" that earlier was sent to officers schools. The one difference is schooling. The Armed Forces are not trying to compete with boys and girls who are planning to go to university, but instead those who are planning to work in the industry. 17.000 SEK per month is not very good compared to most industrial work. The industrial workers do also not need to go to Afghanistan every second year.

- The recruits do not know what they are applying for. When they see the hard life in the Armed Forces they back out. It is maybe not the physique that is the big issue, but the moral will and endurance. Maybe the commercials are attracting the wrong type of recruits?

- Many young people today do not know what they want to do with their life. The unemployment rate is high and according to some officers that I have spoken to some of the recruits do the basic military training just because they didn´t know what to do. Maybe they will stay for a year or two, but they will not stay for the full contract period of 6-8 years.

The Defence HQ and the Minister of Defence all believe the costs will not be as high as SvD and FOI has predicted. Who will be right? Only the future will tell. Unfortunately it might be too late to reverse the course in Sweden. Once the conscript system has been put on hold it will be very difficult to start it back up again.

It is very interesting to see how Minister of Defence, Mr Tolgfors always try his best to stop all discussions about the new conscript system. In Sweden he has been known lately as Bagdad Bob. A man who does not change his message even if the reality changes around him. Unfortunately a lot of career officers has the same view upon things as Mr Tolgfors. The commander P4 statement that moral standards is the most important aspect of a recruit is typical of the Swedish Armed Forces today. Where is the killer? Where is the will to endure hard times in order to achieve the mission goals? Where is the fighting spirit? Quality of material and training is one thing, but the mental will is what differs a good soldier from a bad one. Mr Tolgfors focus too much on a small well trained force suited for missions in Afghanistan. One thing is for sure. Quantity always beet quality. Ask the German commanders of WW2 what happened on the Russian front. Or why not ask ISAF what happened in Afghanistan.

One might say that I am pessimistic. But the truth is that Sweden has adopted a recruitment system that is very much alike the one in USA and UK. But we have a completely different society in Sweden. Sweden lack the poor people that see no other future then being a soldier in the army in order to pay for future studies. How come the system used to work? For one thing we did not have any professional soldiers. We only had officers and they stayed in the system due to comradeship and that they liked what they did at work. These qualities can beat a low salary. But not a too low salary when they start building a family.

My personal view is that every boy and girl should do GMU, 3 months of basic military training. This can bee seen as a "pay back" for the money the government has invested in each end everyone with free social health care and free education. In this way there is no need for false commercials and the training officers can select the best recruits to go on for being soldiers, specialist officers and officers. All those who do not continue with military service will as an bonus get basic training that will be good for the entire society. In case of an emergency these boys/girls will be better suited to handle the situation.

Other Bloggers about the same story: Sinuhe, Cornucopia and Wiseman.


  1. "One thing is for sure. Quantity always beet quality. Ask the German commanders of WW2 what happened on the Russian front. Or why not ask ISAF what happened in Afghanistan."

    Maneuver warfare is one thing, fighting a rebellion with COIN is another. I understand what your point is, but this comparacy is just wrong.
    Ask the Talibans or theIraqi Army what happened during the fighting BEFORE the insurgency started. That was quality kicking the shit out of quantity in maneuver warfare.
    However, the maneuver warmachine is not very suitable for COIN operations.

    You might be right -maybe the best way to defend Sweden is to do it "taliban-style". Just hand out loads of weapons to the people. It´s almost impossible to conquer a people.
    The people will suffer dearly meanwhile though. Especially with a conquerer who does not care for laws of combat or apply it´s own rules of engagement in order to spare civilians.

  2. @Sofliggaren: Maneuver Warfare seems to be the only chance for the side with less soldiers. There are very few examples in history when this has succeeded. E.g. Stonewall Jacksson is often referred to as the master of maneuver warfare, but in the en the North won due to better industrial capacity and more men under arms.

    The Taliban and the Iraqi army got beaten because they tried to take the fight on the US terms. There is no army in the world who can win a regular warfare against the US! But even the US have problem today when the rules have changed.

    The population will always suffer. The only way to avoid this is to have enough troops to make it very costly for a potential invader to try. The Swedish "marginal doctrine" was just this in practice. The Army of today in Sweden do not reach this capacity. They would very easily be out maneuvered.

  3. What´s fighting on the US terms? Is that digging in with "sega gubbar" and get the shit bombed out of your self? Because that is what happened to the forces you´re referring to

    To make it costly for an invader of Sweden you shouldn´t be counting men at arms. You should be counting fighterplanes and naval warships.

    When you argue that MW seldom succeeded I guess that you are referring to the endresults of many years of fighting "total war".
    In that case it doesn´t matter whether or not we have a conscript system.
    But you don´t count on us to take on the Big Red our selves, are you?

    When it comes to decisive tactical battles and operations there are numerous examples of MW beeing outstanding.

    It´s just wrong to focus on the number of men at arms. Germany has shown this during WW2, Israel during six day war and yom kippu war, US during Desert Storm to name a few.

    We should not try to prepare for "total war" like during the Cold War. We should prepare for an enemy strategic attack with the purpose of forcing us to "let something up".
    To do this the "marginal doctrine" is not the solution.

    I agree though that the Armed Forces of Sweden of today "does not reach this capacity" - to repell an enemy (Russian)strategic attack.
    But with the given econmical frames, it´s more on the rigt track to try to shape a smaller and more accessable Armed Forces than going back to what used to be.
    It doesn´t preclude the use of conscripts to some degree though.

  4. @Sofliggaren: A strong Air Force and Navy is exactly how the Swedish Defence used to be organized. To stop the potential enemy from ever reaching the Swedish territory. Then a weaker army, but with a lot of soldiers to cover all the territory. Maybe not to be able to fight a conventional war (especially if the Air Force and the Navy were gone after taking the initial brunt of the force), but to keep on fighting as part of "fria kriget"/guerilla. This in combination with the NATO "Stay Behind" organization and also hopefully support from NATO in the long term.

    Today the Swedish Armed Forces are weak in naval assets. The Air Force still got acceptable numbers, but lack protected bases and redundant command & control. It is too easy to focus on numbers, but forget the training and support that is needed.

    I would say the Army is well organized when it comes to be a part of a multinational force structure on international missions, but they completely lack the capability to defend the home country.

    In Iraq 2003 the local forces met the US forces organized as mechanized divisions. The resistance was neutralized very quickly. However when the war changed into a partisan war, the US forces had problems. It is very difficult to stop partisans and at the same time acting in a humanitarian way towards the civilian population.

    On the other hand if we should only design the Armed Forces against a possible enemy of today, the it would be very sufficient with a heavily armed police or gendarme to counter possible terrorist actions.