Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Band-Aid Defence

Professor Wilhelm Agrell, a well known Swedish defence analyst, criticize the Swedish Armed Forces for the recent transformation. There is a lack of balance between national and international focus. The cancellation of the conscript system can result in a non-existent connection between the civil society and the armed forces. Without a strong hand to guide the direction of the armed focus this will only lead to disaster.

I agree with his analysis. The change has been too quick and forced by lack of money, not grand strategy. If nothing is done there will be many separate pieces of the armed forces, but no cohesion.

There are many examples:

- Archer artillery units. The Army has ordered 24 units. They will be delivered to the only existing artillery regiment in the Army. Together with Excalibur GPS munition it is one of the best systems in the world. But what can Sweden do with 24 units? Where will they be used? The system is too political aggressive (for Swedish politicians) to be sent to Afghanistan or other international missions. 24 units are also too few to be useful for the national defence. The only reason in my view to buy Archer is to keep the artillery knowledge in-country for possible future needs.

- Rbs 23 "Bamse" air defence system. This is only a "demo"-system and has been delivered to the only existing air-defence regiment in the Army. Today Sweden lack a qualified air-defence system. There are of course the upgraded Rb-97 Hawk system, but as everything else too few and no-one realy knows if the missiles are still working. After all they have been used for the last 30 years and upgraded many times from Rb-66 "Hawk" to Rb-77 "Improved Hawk" to Rb-97. The reason for the lack of interest is that air defence is not needed in Afghanistan. Today Sweden there is no capability to defend even the Swedish capital in case of an emergency. The UndE 23 radar unit is very good and should be bought in higher numbers in order to fill the gaps in the Swedish radar network.

- Visby corvettes. The future or end of the Swedish Navy? When they were developed they were technical advanced with composite hulls and stealth design. This was a typical example of the Government supporting the Swedish defence industry. Unfortunately, delays and lack of money has resulted in ships only. There is no attack capability (no torpedos and no Rb15 MkIII missiles). There is no defence capability. The Bamse Air Defence system has not been integrated and most probably never will. The Visby corvettes are too small to be used on international missions in high seas and their capability is not good enough to be used in the national defence.

- Gripen air defence data-links. When the Gripen system were upgraded to international capability with Have Quick and Link 16 someone forgot to upgrade the national air defence system. This resulted in the infamous "capability gap" (in Swedish "förmågeglappet"). The Gripen C/D aircraft is a very good aircraft, but without support from the ground based radar network the situational awareness degrades. Fortunately the public debate has forced the Swedish Government to set aside money to implement HQII and L16 in the two, soon to be one, air defence centrals. International communication capability is good for international missions, international training and also to receive international help in case of an emergency. The Swedish supreme commander want a focus on the nordic military cooperation. But Denmark and Norway are part of NATO and Finland still want a strong national defence due to their close neighbor Russia. However, one thing that has not been solved is the cryptos that are to be used with HQII and L16. Sweden is not a member of NATO. Who will deliver these cryptos? If Sweden can develop crypto keys of our own, will NATO and USA be able to listen to swedish national secret transmissions?

There are positive signs with upgrades to the equipment being used. But it is still a question of to what use the upgrades has been ordered:

- HKP 16 - UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters. The Armed Forces has ordered 15 units. This is a very good helicopter that has a lot of combat experience. But the reason for ordering the helicopter is the big delays of the HKP 14 - NH-90. The system is planned to be sent to Afghanistan in 2013. But the Swedish unit in Afghanistan is planned to leave the country in 2014! What will they be used for after that date? My hope is that the Armed Forces will cut down on the planned number of systems. Sell HKP 15 - Augusta A109 and keep HKP 15 and 16. Upgrade HKP 14 to naval warfare capability, which is needed due to the very long Swedish coastal line.

- Patria AMV. 113 units has been ordered. When Sweden begun to lose troops in Afghanistan due to IED there was a public debate on how to protect the soldiers. BAE Hägglunds SEP was seen as advanced and not field tested. The Army instead selected the proven Patria combat vehicle. Personally I totally agree to this decision. But, during the Cold War it was important to the Swedish national security to have a defence industry of their own. The experiences from WWII is that when one needs to build up the defence, it will almost be impossible to buy from other countries since they also need vehicles, aircraft, ships etc. The Swedish Government has changed the policy from supporting local industry to buying COTS on the international market. The problem is that the new combat vehicles will arrive to the Army after they have left Afghanistan! Well, at least the Army have something for the next international mission.

- UK-owned BAE Hägglunds has received a contract on Bvs-10 to the Swedish Armed Forces. The IED threat and the bad roads in Afghanistan has resulted in that Sweden is leasing dutch Bvs-10 to be used in Afghanistan. Personally I am a little bit worried about this strategy. It has been tested by UK units with their Bvs-10 "Viking". The result was further loss of soldiers since the mine protection in a Bvs-10 is not as good as in a Combat Vehicle 90. These new units will most probably not reach the Army before they leave Afghanistan. But, they will be very useful in the national defence of Sweden since they have very good capability in cold climate and deep snow. When the next winter storm reaches Sweden, the Army will be able to help the civilian population in a better way. The Army used to be good at this, many of the old Bv 206 were sold when the Cold War equipment was thrown away on the second-hand market a few years ago.

As I see it the Swedish Armed Forces has bought a lot of new equipment and changed the personnel system to be more adaptable to support international missions. Each system has been bought with good intentions, but there is no strategy behind the combined use of the systems. What will the equipment that has specifically been bought to be used in Afghanistan be used for if there are no future missions a la Afghanistan? Also, after USA a few weeks ago announced that they will reduce their European forces and instead focus on the Middle East and Asia, there is a possibility that Europe on its own will not be able to lead operations such as Unified Protector in Libya or ISAF in Afghanistan. What will Sweden do with our professional soldiers? Sweden has focused on increasing the alert status of the Armed Forces and cutting down on the size, but to what use? The armed forces is to big for international operations and too small for national defence.

Every recent upgrade of the Swedish military capabilities can unfortunately be seen as a band-aid to cover the wound, not to heal the sick body.


  1. Regarding some details in your text:

    The Visby-class corvettes are probably among the most Swedish-adapted material we've got in our inventory. Hopefully, we'll have all five corvettes equipped with updated RBS 15 Mk. II in a few years. And the air-defense system that were to be used on the Visby-corvettes was the Umkhunto-IR missiles, not a BAMSE system.

    I don't get why you would want to sell our Helicopter 15's or why you'd like to upgrade the land-based Hkp 16-system to naval warfare capability. Hkp 15 will make a great substitute to the 14&16 systems considering it's like a Gripen multi-roll fighter jet, it's small and might not be the best at anything, but it's pretty good at everything and available. Thanks to the relatively low operational costs and ease of use, the Hkp 15 could be used to do exercises with ground troops and be a helpful tool for both land- and sea-based SAR while the bigger and more expensive Hkp 14 and 16 could be more specialized for its purposes. It's always good to have a spare system for when the main system fails. The Hkp 15 has been doing sea and land-based operations for quite some time now and has done so very good.
    And the UH-60M-system is perfect for land-based operations over Sweden and on missions abroad. For sea-based operations and anti-submarine missions I'd look to the Hkp 14F and turn a couple Hkp 14E's into Hkp 14F's or buy off the shelf in the form of SH-60 Sea Hawks.

    Regarding the Band-wagons, the Bvs10 won't be used like the British "death traps" as the British Bvs10 were used like any other kind of military vehicle and spent most of its time in cities and on paved roads, exactly where IED's are most commonly found. The Swedes want to use them in order to go away from the roads and through superior maneuverability, be able to go off-road instead of having to search for mines on every road they take, especially when time is of the essence to capture suspected criminals and bomb-makers.

    1. My mistake it should of course be "upgrade the HKP 14"!

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  2. BvS10 wasn't around until a couple of years ago, it was not around during or just after the cold war. You might be thinking about Bv206, that 6-tonne plastic engine if death. They're still around, in numbers.

    But of course, this post and this blog is haunted by far too many linguistical problems to bother with such trivial issues such as "informed writing" or indeed "quality".

    Gör om, gör rätt.

  3. I believe your intention was to say "engine of death"? ;-)

    English is not my native language and I do mistakes. But my intention is to write in English in order to have a more "outside" view on how Sweden handle national security matters in these years of transformation.

    1. Touché!
      I'd be more than happy to proof some of your future posts if you'd find that agreeable. I'm a part-time translator from English to Swedish (mostly medical work) and vice versa with a vested interest in Swedish Defense policy. While most Swedes by right consider themselves to be good speakers of English I sadly find many errors in their written language. It's a pet peeve of mine, a bit like when someone calls a 122 "pansarvagn" ^^.

    2. If you are interested I am always open for suggestions. Maybe a "geust post"?

  4. Ahh, linguistical nitpicking! It's always so elevating, so generative, so edifying to share
    such constructive comments as Boden/Edingburgh bestowes us with!

    …or maybe not?

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