Allrighty-o boys and girls, I promised to go through an article about training FOs and now I will do just that. Same source as last time, written by major Petri Majuri. In Finnish “majuri” means major, his rank and surname are major. He’s called Major (rank) Majuri (surname). Let that sink in. Article is “Thoughts about training forward observers” by Petri Majuri, Tykkimies 2016. Again Italic text are my own comments.
Training FOs with types of fires in mind
Artillery fires is divided into tactical and operational fires. Tactical fires is supporting troops in contact. It includes firemissions to destroy and suppress and use of smoke and flares. Tactical fires is mainly carried out by forwards observers placed in infantry units, who are responsible for fires in their own area of operations (later AO) according to demands and orders given by the infantry leader.
Typical feature for tactical fires is the speed of the situation. Troops fighting in closed terrain have very short observation distances leaving only little time to make decisions. Therefore FO’s or FO squad’s SOPs need to be well trained and easy to execute. This is no different from before. What is new is that FO squads need to operate in an area they’re not familiar with and haven’t been able to train and prepare in that AO. Also enemy actions force the FOs to adjust to the situation.
KISS, keep it simple stupid
Another typical feature is fragmented situational awareness. Troops don’t form clear entities as they used to which makes using fires harder. In order to support combat effectively FOs and infantry leaders need to know where other friendly troops are. Also mobility of firing units plays into more fragmented situational awareness, because artillery battalions and mortar companies don’t use concentrated firing positions. Firing units use mobility to avoid counter-battery so the FO might not know where the firing units are anymore. This leads into necessity to share situational awareness much more and wider than earlier.
Dispersion increases survivability but also makes a whole host of things harder.
Third feature is increased number of non-FO target designations. This has been used earlier but at a smaller scale: in platoon combat for example a squad leader can point targets using predetermined target grids. This method is still used but these non-FO target designations can come from elsewhere too. The best example are the UAVs used in reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. For these situations there are SOPs to ensure the fire is as accurate as possible. Forward observing is nonetheless the task of a trained FO or FO squad. Even if others can locate targets safe execution of fire missions requires knowledge of risk estimated distances (later RED). Therefore FOs need to be trained in receiving, evaluating and executing firemissions with target designation coming from non-FOs. This leads to necessity of training basics of forward observing to others than FOs.
Operational fires is supporting units indirectly. It is when targets that are not engaged in combat are fired upon. In some cases the effects of operational fires can be seen only several days later. The tactics used by Army are largely based on effets based theory of war where all effects are concentrated on enemy’s critical weaknesses. The aim is to put the enemy in a situation where it can’t achieve its targets or is rendered combat ineffective. This is why operational fires targets are carefully selected. Operational fires are most often carried out by FOs placed in reconnaissance units.
Operational fires fire missions are usually very simple for the FO. The target is engaged only once, because it either is destroyed or it escapes the area. Even if the target is found again or moves into another FO’s AO, the technical process is still very simple. This is why teaching all the subtleties of tactical fires to reconnaissance FOs in unnecessary. Reconnaissance FOs need to know in addition to basic fire missions how to use special ammo and their characteristics. For the fire to have wanted effects the most important factor is the accuracy of target designation. For the user there are simple tactics and equipment but sufficient skill comes from repetition.
For the operational fires to have wanted effects two other skills need to taught to the FO that aren’t directly linked to artillery system. First of them is recognising the targets. Based on target system analysis enemy weaknesses are selected. After targets have been selected theory needs to turn into practise. The FO carrying out the mission needs to have sufficient details to succeed in finding, identifying, locating based on weaponeering requirements and finally destroying the target. A substantial part of the mission is identifying the correct target, FO might need to pick the one vehicle from a group of 10 vehicles that upon destruction renders the whole system combat ineffective. The other skill is operating in an area that’s partially or entirely under enemy control. FOs can’t be used passively, targets need to be actively and aggressively searched for. Enemy seeks to protect its capabilities and close terrain makes it hard to penetrate deep into enemy formations. Therefore FO needs to be versed in both forward observing and infantry skills.
The article continues after this but I don’t feel like doing anymore than this for now. Rest will follow. More about tactical and operational fires here.
I happened to hit the jackpot and find a book published by Foundation of Finnish Field Artillery from a flea market and I will go through one of the articles found in the book called Artillery development. I’m just freely translating/quoting some of the parts and bits that I find interesting. Italic text will be my own comments.
Tykistön kehittämisnäkymiä by Ltcol Mika Tauru, Tykkimies 2016
Weapons system and ammunition
Operational artillery is looking for new capabilities. Artillery is now under a bigger threat from counter-battery and ISTAR technology has progressed making it harder to hide from it. It’s important for artillery to be able to shoot&scoot and this means tracked or vehicle based solutions are the most viable ones. Effects of fire will enhanced by purchasing new types of ammunition.
The new capability is K9 which Finland has bought 48 of with option for another 48. Also unknown number of counter-battery radars from IAI has been bought. Finland is also the first customer of Nammo’s ER-HE ammunition which is said to have 40+ km range from 155/52cal guns and has been tested together with K9 and unknown CCF.
Regional artillery will create the basis for national coverage of artillery. Towed artillery and mortar units use dispersion to their advantage to avoid counter-battery. In dispersed firing positions each weapon, vehicle and tent is a target of its own. Therefore destroying an 18-gun battalion requires massive effort and it might be too much for the attacker. Calculations support this view.
For regional artillery the most important change compared to before is the increased C2, fire control and survey capabilities. These enable them to utilise dispersed positions to full potential. Heavier units will be receiving this equipment before the lighter units so some battalions will be equipped with older equipment for some years to come.
Role of artillery is expanding into antitank with the acquisition of Bonus rounds. HE round will remain the primary shell but increased range is likely to require purchasing course correcting fuzes to decrease dispersion at max range.
C2 and fire control
Complex firing missions will require more effort from leading the firing. Dispersed positions can lead to some guns not being able to perform the firing mission. With varying firing distances and directions the risk estimated distances and dispersion patterns will differ greatly from the usual.
This same also applies to mortar companies which utilise dispersed firing positions and it’s especially likely for them that dipersing the mortars means that they can’t all always participate. See more in Jalkaväen vuosikirja 2013-2014.
The current doctrine sees a dense network of FOs and reconnaissance in the most dangerous avenues of approach. Several FO positions will be prepared: primary, secondary and back-up. Fire will be used all around including own depth. There will be more firing mission than before and some may be in areas we are not prepared for. This calls for excellent situational awareness to avoid blue-on-blue fire.
Each company has several FO squads and one recce squad for this.
Usage of special ammunition, longer range and increasing accuracy of ammunition will place new demands on the FOs. The target acquisition needs to be more accurate than before to squeeze every drop of capability from the improved munitions and fuzes. FO squads will be equipped with Finnish LISA FO-optic which has thermal camera, video camera, LRF, GPS and electronic compass. Army units’ surveillance and target acquisition capability will be enhanced with the purchase of Orbiter UAVs. Typical range is 10-15 kilometers and endurance about three hours.
Effects and logistics go hand in hand. Logistics will be put under a lot of stress to cope with supplying guns placed kilometers apart, guns changing positions and needing to operate independently. Roads need to be available for movement but they also need to closed rapidly to slow down the enemy’s mobility. Containers are used to transport ammunition and they enable skip loading-off loading between the depot and firing positions. Good experiences have been gained from using tractors with container trailer and front forks. Artillery logistics have been improved by purchasing vehicles and machines enabling faster handling of the cargo.
Tractors for the win!
Training and doctrine
The main exercise for almost 70 years has been the LFX held in Rovajärvi. The training event enables training effective usage and development of Army level fires and C2. With effective usage of older ammunition each gun crew gets to fire 300 live rounds during their conscription.
Hardware often gathers more attention than doctrine or training but without knowing those it becomes impossible to determine what is good or bad. Corporal Frisk has done good job at showcasing the hardware side of FDFs artillery park so I will not repeat what he said. You can go read about that here. Down below follows a short intro into Finnish artillery doctrine.
Scratching the surface
Fires are in two categories, operational and tactical. Operational fires is also known as shaping fires abroad. It is affecting enemy’s key capabilities like C2, logistics, long range rocket launchers and so forth. Combining situational awareness and targeting is key part of operational fires to ensure as many enemy target as possible is taken into account so that they can be affected at the right time. Targets are divided into predetermined targets and situational targets. Predetermined targets follow a timetable whereas situational targets don’t have one. Targets can be either hard (MBTs for example), semi hard (IFVs) or soft (infantry) and mix of these. Units and systems used for operational fires include MLRS batteries, operational units’ artillery, EW units, target designation capable sensors and heavy artillery battalions capable of using special ammo from regional units.
Tactical fires is basically supporting troops in contact to ensure they can achieve their targets. Firing units used for tactical fires include mortars, regionals units’ artillery, light rocket launcher batteries, AT units, organic FOs, recce units, FO batteries and target designation capable sensors.
Artillery utilises dispersed firing positions which for long range artillery can take up to 10-15×30-40km area. Dispersion has both pros, cover, and cons, logistics and close security. Dispersion also fights against ages old principle of concentrated fires. Do we have more dispersed positions but make concentrating fires harder or employ tighter formations and face bigger counter-battery threat? In the future fewer guns might be needed to fire a mission and still cause as many casualties as with full battalions. This is enabled by longer range and increased accuracy. A four strong K9 unit with course correcting fuzes can inflict casualties equal to 18 strong 155 K 98 battalion. This off course doesn’t mean towed 155 K 98 couldn’t be used in batteries with CCFs to great effect.
Forward observers also face problems due to longer distances. This leads to less reliable radio connections and larger safety distances. The FO might not know what unit conducts the firing mission or where the said unit is. Forward deployment of artillery and FOs required by current doctrine can mean losing guns and/or crews before combat in the main combat zone. For concentrated heavy fires higher echelon firing units and special ammo can be used. Bonus allows destroying enemy armor with efficiency only matched by DPICMs. Artillery group HQ can conduct operations in two separate direction, for example take part in FDF joint operation and lead fires of a regional unit.
The parts above are mainly translations from the sources and below are my own thoughts about the subject.
Numbers are dwindling but technology is progressing. After all K9 have been imported there are over 200 artillery weapons capable of firing at distances of 30km or more. This makes for a considerable artillery park. Together with CCFs there is possibility that these numbers can yield much better results than they would with regular fuzes. If we move from using full battalions to batteries we can artificially triple the amount of firing units and to some degree their combat power as well. Any casualties against artillery force utilising precision and not mass will decrease its combat power drastically. We can consolidate batteries by merging them together to remedy casualties. Longer firing range is now more important than ever before, without being able to concentrate fire from several battalions into the same region we face the threat of simply not having enough combat power to deter and defend. As seen in Ukraine mass still has its place and therefore we need to have a good balance between mass and precision. One possible method of not quite breaking the eggs nor having the omelette would be to increase battery size to eight and battalion size to 24. Eight gun batteries were considered before but the main drawback is the difficulty of finding firing positions when using dispersed firing positions. Although apparently Col Pasivirta, FDFs inspector of artillery, has said that K9s will be organised into batteries of eight guns. K9s being capable of shoot&scoot don’t face the same problems with 8 gun batteries as towed guns would.
Peter Öhman wrote recently(english translation) about the possibility of Swedish Army moving Archers up one echelon to divisional artillery which would leave a void in the brigades. Currently the Swedish Army doesn’t have any other artillery system than Archer, for mortars they have light 81mm mortars, towed 120mm mortars and recently introduced Mjölner, which are still being delivered. In the article he lists properties which brigade level artillery should have and also some TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) that would be derived from the technical properties. I agree with most of what he wrote and have chosen following properties as guidelines for this article:
Ability to shoot&scoot
Availability, this can mean both high ammo storage and/or fast reloading and range
Having discussed the topic with him there are few quite a big factors where we disagree, mainly the role and mission of brigade level artillery. He thinks that brigade artillery should use most of its resources to supporting combat battalions, whereas I think that brigade needs to conduct shaping fires for its own support. I try to bring these points of view into this article. The aim of this article is to analyse the factors behind what constitutes to a strong brigade artillery and how it might function.
While Öhman only discusses artillery I will take mortars into equation too. They are a key player in how the whole brigade indirect fire system works and who does what. In short a weak battalion level indirect means that brigade level system has to pick up the slack and then division level artillery has to do brigade level artillery tasks to compensate for it. I will also enlarge the scope to include light rocket launchers due to their sheer combat power and to help us understand why Russia is so keen on their rocket launchers. Spoiler alert, they’re pretty darn deadly.
One of the brigades that has surprisingly strong indirect fire is the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. In total the brigade has 40x 120mm mortar carriers and 18x 155mm M777 howitzers and there are 19 separate firing units, four battalion level mortar platoons, 12 mortar sections one in each rifle company and cavalry troop and three howitzer batteries. For the nine rifle companies and three cavalry troops there are 1,58 firing units per company/troop.
Shouldn’t come as a surprise that Russians love their artillery. Each mechanized brigade has two battalions of self-propelled howitzers, a battalion of BM-21s and three mortar batteries, one for each mechanized battalion. In total there are 80 weapons and 12 batteries supporting 13 mech/tank companies, a ratio of 0.92 batteries per company.
Öhman proposes 120mm artillery to be a theoretically good caliber for brigade artillery. Seeing that no such weapon exists today outside museums or Swedish coastal artillery emplacement I will take the artistic liberation of exploring bunch of different possibilities. Maybe even break some hard learned “truths” along the way. First of all my opinion is that we shouldn’t exclude mortars or rocket launchers from brigade level. Mortars, while short ranged, are the premiere weapon for supporting troops in contact(3). Having one mortar coy at brigade level allows supporting the tip of the spear with strong, immediate and accurate firesupport(2). A battalion attacking with two companies in front and one in reserve can have both companies supported by their own mortar company.
Light rocket launchers like BM-21, Astros and LAR-160 enable a host of different functions. Modern multicaliber rocket launchers can perform both massed and precision fires. Flexibility, massive firepower and shock effect are the biggest factors why there should be rocket launchers at brigade level. Their logistical demands are higher than those of SPH but their firepower compensates for that. MLRS used to be called “Commander’s personal shotgun” before it was neutered to “70km Sniper”.
I don’t think anyone promotes having towed artillery at brigade level in other than special cases and nor do I. Having them at higher echelons is another topic on the other hand. Öhman has a distaste for very long ranged artillery and I share that feeling to some degree. While longer range is useful in some situations, most targets for artillery are located very close to FLOT (4). Firing at longer distances increases the dispersion which makes the fires less effective in general. Every situation is different though and the need for using course correction fuzes should be made case to case basis. CCFs about triple the price of one 155mm round but the flip side is that less rounds are needed to complete the mission (5). We also need to assess the size of the target and sometimes bombarding large areas with big dispersion is the way to go.
For tube artillery I will use a generic 155/39cal weapon with 6RPM, as rocket launcher LAR-160. The brigade in question has three battalions, each with three combat units and a mortar coy of 8 Mjölners. The following figures will take battalion mortar companies into account.
Indirect fire unit to combat unit ratio
Weapon to combat unit ratio
Weight of fire
*In case the 12-strong mortar company acts as two half companies
As we can see from the table option 1 has the most indirect fire units supporting the brigade which means a few things. There can be more firing units in reserve, resupplying or moving to other firing positions and also it can support most units at the same time. The options with rocket launcher battery have almost double the weight of fire compared to the ones that don’t. Option two which is the current status quo in most brigades in the West is the worst of these five options by these parameters. It is on par with option 5 in number of units and weapons but has worse weight of fire. What option 2 has over option 5 is sustained fire due to the time it takes for rocket launchers to reload.
For supporting troops in contact option 3 and 4 are on par with each other. This is due to the large amount of mortars they posses. They can be used very close to friendly troops and so the infantry can close in much closer under cover. For shaping fires options 1 and 5 are on par. They both have two artillery batteries and one rocket launcher battery for long range fires. Logistically option 1 would be the heaviest, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking the eggs. Logistically lightest is option 2. Of these option 3 is probably the most versatile one. It’s not as good in shaping fires as some others, but has better resilience due to bigger batteries and a big mortar company. The mortar company provides combat battalions with very strong support fires and two artillery batteries have some capability for shaping fires against most targets. They don’t have enough guns to send shells downrange to level bigger area targets. Also having just two batteries may cause problems with reserves, supply and movement. They can cover eachother’s movement but lack the third unit for extra resilience. If 4 guns are assessed to be enough to count as independent unit, then there can be four sub units, which provides more tactical flexibility but sacrifises some firepower.
A recent Modern War Institute article raised awareness to the current state of anti-tank capability in USMC battalions. While the authors called for more Javelins there’s much more than meets the eye to taking out tanks and I try to bring out those factors.
First of all we need to understand the big picture, both what assets we have available and how the enemy acts. It should always be thought as units against each other, not just anti-tank weapon against tank. Means and tactics we have to kill a tank include direct fire, indirect fire, mines, counter-mobility measures, selecting suitable terrain for us and unsuitable for enemy. The means that the enemy has to avoid these include armor, mobility, utilising combined arms capabilities and firepower.
“Killing” a tank can be more than just making it blow off its turret. Usually used terms are mobility, mission and total kills. Mobility kill means the tank has become stationary and requires outside help to continue fighting. Mission kills means taking out mission critical components or capabilities such as main gun, sights or radio. Total kill is exactly what it sounds like, total. The tank is no more, the tank has seized to exist, the tank has gone to meet its maker, it is a late tank.
These terms are most often used to define damage done to individual tanks. So what are the conditions under which an enemy tank company or combined arms battalion is “killed” and unable to continue its mission? These always vary depending on situation but they could include some of the following:
Too high casualties
Destruction of mission critical equipment or personnel, for example mobility enablers or commanders
Shock effect and drastically lowered morale
Unfavourable force structure due to casualties
Aborting mission due to too high casualties is pretty self-explanatory. Losing mission critical equipment can be multipronged and depends heavily on the type of unit we’re facing and what kind support do they have available. For example losing bridging capability just before planned river crossing can lead to either delays or mission failure. Unfavourable force structure ties together with losing important assets such as indirect fire or not having enough infantry for close fight.
As said earlier we have several methods to fight armoured units. Most obvious of these are ATGMs and other tanks. Mines can be extremely deadly against tanks in several ways. They can delay movement giving our own units more time to react, they can divert the enemy movement elsewhere and they inflict casualties. Indirect fire can also cause tank casualties and more importantly they affect the whole unit and its fighting power. Light anti-armour weaponry enable all units to defend against enemy armor and buy time for AT units to come solve the situation.
As countless doctrines already tell us the mission of infantry is to close with the enemy and destroy them with fire and manoeuvre. Mortars are the heaviest weapons that infantry have organically at their disposal and whether it’s 81 or 120mm depends on which army we are talking about. More often than not 120mm mortars are still infantry weapons. These are often company and battalion level assets. They are often available to support infantry platoon but even in a 3-3-3 battalion with one battalion level mortar unit there are 9 platoons and one firing unit meaning scarcity is a commodity and an infantry platoon has to provide its own firesupport. Some armies have 60mm mortar at platoon level but they’re more of a heavy UBGL than mortar unit blasting the bad guy and his neighbours into smithereens.
Defining armament of infantry platoon includes assault rifles, machines guns of different sorts, anti-tank rockets, claymores, hand grenades and in some cases ATGMs, underbarrel grenade launchers heavy .50cal machine guns and grenade machine guns. The number of different infantry sections and platoons and armament is endless so I will not dwell into any particular organization or army but instead focus on trends and things that I find important.
First of all is effective range combined with weight of fire. In this category heavy machine guns and GMGs take the top spot but at the expense of heavy weights. They can be manhandled across small distances but not kilometers on end. The weapons themselves and associated equipment can weigh between 50-100kg, count in ammo and we easily break the 100kg mark. If available to the unit ATVs, snowmobiles and sledges provide big boost to their mobility. Regarding GMGs I have mixed feelings about them, while they provide superb fragmentation effect at long range and even some armor penetration capabilities they require open areas and longer engagements ranges to put them to effective use. When talking about conventional war situation and against mechanized high technology enemy manning an GMG at the edge of a forest is the last place I’d want to be in. Compared to GMGs heavy machine guns have the advantage of not having explosive effects. What this means in forested areas is that when firing with .50 cal you can expect to hit your targets whereas grenades will explode upon hitting trees and branches.
With suitable mounts .50cal can be used against aerial targets and this is common practise in FDF where NSV is dubbed as “anti-air machinegun 96”. In theory GMG with airburst ammunition could be used against aerial targets but this is more of theory than common practise. Someone at some point might do so but is it any effective or easy, only time will tell.
Next is mobility and portability. If these weren’t factors we might as well all be slugging around PKMs and NLAWs. Regarding small arms I think these factors are a drop in the sea and so I will look at things that go bang instead of whiiu like anti-tank rockets and hand grenades. Most of the time they’re more or less big and bulky, a pain to carry, get in your way, snag branches but also one of the most defining factors in how the infantry platoon engages its enemies. Smaller weapons allow more shots or reloads but they can’t engage MBTs whereas bigger weapons like NLAW and Javelin can but with the downside of having fever shots. As with 95% of all topics discussed about small arms logistics is the defining factor as to what is good and what is not. What good is system X if we can bring only one with us and we expect to face several Y:s.
In close combat hand grenade is the unsung hero. Extremely versatile and effective it should receive more recognition and attention than it does now. Thank Nammo for giving us large variety of different hand grenades. Most hand grenades are the size of a fist and weigh about 250-300 grams or the same as one full magazine. Grenade pouches often hold only one hand grenade and even then there might be a smoke grenade. In survival and hoarding “one is none and two is one” so more is better. I would favour smaller hand grenades that could be carried in bulk. As is sung in British Grenadiers march “Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades”. First of all not every grenade hits its mark and with more hand grenades they can even be used to suppress an enemy at very close ranges, for the record my personal best in hand grenade throwing is 54m. In urban terrain grenades will be expended like candy on a Christmas eve. Going into room should always be grenade first and only then, infantry. I can only imagine the horrific sight of seeing small green/grey ball hurling through the air towards you with mere seconds to spare.
Will continue this topic later on with explosives like claymores and such.
As the title implies the focus will be regionally around arctic circle and above. I will take a look at the units and compositions of both Nordic armies and Russian army in the region, how the three Nordic countries are entwined with each other through different organizations and how they could improve their interoperability and prepare for the worst.
Santa and Ded Moroz are arming
Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, USA and UK are the key players in Lapland region. Nordic countries and Russia through their geographical location and USA&UK through the troops they have deployed or will deploy to Norway. USMC has currently about 300 soldiers on rotation in Norway which will be ramped up to 600 in upcoming years and UK will station 800 Royal Marines in Norway by end of 2019. USMC also has prepositioned stocks for entire Marine Brigade in Norway. Norway itself is planning to set up a new mechanised battalion in Finnmark region. Standing peacetime units as of 10/2018 are in the picture below. Only land and air units are accounted for.
Norway has improved combat capability of Brigade Nord substantially by introducing both new and upgraded CV9030 MKIVs into service and is in the process of receiving South Korean made K9 self propelled howitzers. The question about future of Norwegian heavy armor remains open because no decision about whether to scrap or upgrade current Leo 2A4s or buy entirely new tanks has not been made. 331. squadron together with 332. will relocate to Orland in the upcoming years leaving only a small QRF detachment in Evenes.
Sweden’s major units in north are I 19 which consists of two mechanised battalion, ranger battalion and a number of HV and other units. Close by is A9 which is the sole artillery unit in Swedish Army and it’s equipment consists of Archers. While capable system the two battalions operate only 24 howitzers in total. F 21 in Luleå holds two squadrons worth of Jas 39s.
Finnish units in arctic region include Jääkäriprikaati which also consists of ROVITPSTO ( Rovaniemen ilmatorjuntapatteristo, Rovaniemi anti-air battalion), Lapin Lennosto (Lapland Air Command) and Ivalo Borderjäger company. Jääkäriprikaati is training brigade whose peacetime strength consists of approx. 140 professional soldiers and 900 conscripts. The brigade also has a readiness unit (Fi. Valmiusyksikkö, more on the subject here https://corporalfrisk.com/tag/readiness-units/). As evident by the picture below the unit sports a wide assortment of capabilities: tanks, heavy artillery and anti-air missiles. Ivalo Borderjäger company trains recon and guerrilla troops to Border Guard wartime reserve.
On the Russian side we have three combat brigades, aviation base and AA brigade. Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command was founded in 2014 and command the units that were parts of Western Military District until that. 80th MR brigade was only recently brought back into service and has been in built up phase for few years and not yet fully functional as a brigade though it might be able to field a high readiness battlegroup.
Nordic countries are heavily involved in training with each other. Most of the cross border training has been between air forces of the three countries and Finnish and Swedish armies. Last year in Rovajärvi in Joint Fires Exercise all three were present, Norwegians with FIST teams and Swedes with Archers. We’re slowly seeing cooperation take deeper meaning and shaping up to actual interoperability between Nordic countries.
Next step is logically to increase common training, deepen partnership and develop better understanding of the world around us and of each other. With this also comes problems from the political side of things. While we have excellent dialog with each other we’re all also depending on different organizations and things in our national defence. Norway being NATO member has benefit of article V while Finland and Sweden don’t. Developing better interoperability could at some point require common upper echelon under which all the units in Arctic region would operate. There were some common features in Finnish and Swedish operational planning during WW2 and Cold War but those never came to fruition. As shown in the Venn diagram below Finland, Sweden and Norway all stem from slightly different conditions.
Common EU defence is not deep rooted right now and most likely will never be a thing with most of the EU members being part of NATO at the same time. Joint Expeditionary Force which is lead by UK is, as name implies, aimed towards expeditionary missions but can be used for national defence. Does JEF have some sort of independent HQ is unknown and also unlikely. Any JEF operation would very likely be UN or NATO operation acting under those conditions. While not entirely matter for the military alone, the political side of joint FISENO HQ could be a sore topic in some of the countries. For good or bad, Russian militarization of the North has also caused ripples in Nordic countries becoming more open to bigger military spending and perhaps much deeper cooperation.
My proposition is to set up a joint and cross border regional HQ that plans and executes all combat operations at Arctic circle and above. Looking at the options as to under what organization the HQ could fall under they look bleak. Finland, Sweden and Norway have no other common military background other than JEF which I’m slightly doubtful of. Therefore at the moment the best option would be to set up one on their own. A quasi Nordic NATO, you say? Well, it kind of is. It would be foolish not to seize any opportunity to deter Russian aggression. With this step we could create a venerable force in Arctic region that is much more than the sum of the three countries’ forces up there. If at some point Finland and Sweden join NATO it would fluidly become a NATO command.
Table of units, their approximate strenght and equipment
100+ CV90s, ~40 Leo 2A4s, 18 M109s
900 conscripts + 140 career soldiers
BVs, towed mortars, ZU-23-2s, Crotale, 155 K 83-97, Leo 2A4s
This article will take a look at warfare during winter using the iron triangle.It will provide some insight for those unfamiliar with hurdles and possibilities that winter brings with it. Using firepower, protection and mobility as key elements we can determine, evaluate and rank how different weapons systems and TTP:s might work in arctic conditions. Iron triangle will be broken down into sub elements:
Visibility and ability to detect
Weapon system effectiveness in deep snow
Mobility in snow both on vehicle and on foot
Protection from detection
Engineering and shelter from elements
Foggy day in Russian Karelia
To deliver effects upon enemy one has to know their location and identify them as hostiles. More often than not this can be trickier during winter than in good conditions. Fog and blizzards are common during winter and they reduce visibility not only in the visual wavelength but also in the infrared wavelength making thermal optics less effective. It doesn’t even have to be blizzard, winds combined with loose light snow can create the same effect.
Clouds are often at a low level during winter months and this can make using UAVs very demanding and in some cases impossible.
As you can see from the video the clouds in the background are cold and this means UAVs with normal cameras and IR cameras have to be below cloud level risking detection and observing smaller area than they would be from a higher level. UAVs using radars don’t have to worry about clouds as much but even their signals might be dampened by the clouds. Thick snow on branches of pines and spruces also make observation from above trickier and can be used to camouflage even large amounts of troops and equipment.
Light fragmentation weapons suffer greatly from deep snow and during WW2 Finns concluded that guns, howitzers and mortars smaller than 75mm were useless in snow deeper than 40-50cm. Heavier weapons also suffer from smaller effects in deep snow and airburst ammunition is the best way to go when shooting into area that has deep snow. Hand grenades, 40mm grenades and rifle grenades are also rendered almost useless. It takes 1-3 meters of snow to stop a bullet from small arms so this effect on firepower is negligible. Medium and large caliber weapons don’t suffer as much from cold conditions but depending on the temperature inside the vehicle the powder inside the cartridge burns slower resulting in slower muzzle velocity and less penetration. This may also lead to larger dispersion for indirect fire weapons. If the firing values are calculated using temperature that’s outside and the cartridge is put into the warm breech it’ll warm up and shoot further than intended if it stays there for some time.
Ankle deep snow is enough to make walking much more cumbersome and knee/thigh deep will make walking extremely tedious. Even though skis and snowshoes exist to make getting around easier we can’t assault a target wearing skis or snowshoes in most cases. Advancing 200 meters by fire and maneuver in snow is extremely tiresome and assaults should be planned with approach routes in mind.
Now do the same in combat gear
In peacetime exercises we often have perfectly plowed roads before the morning paper comes but in a frozen conflict someone has to get out there and make sure roads remain operable for wheeled vehicles too. Trucks hauling tonnes upon tonnes of supplies in containers might not have the best off road mobility or even shallow snow mobility. This also means vehicles moving at the front or securing flanks need to be able to traverse roads that possibly haven’t been plowed in weeks or several days. As you can see from the video it takes many hours and much resources to get one Boxer out of the bank. In a war that Boxer would probably have been left behind for others to take care of and its crew and infantry moved to some other vehicle to continue the mission.
Tracked vehicles are obviously best at operating in snowy conditions thanks to their low track pressure that sometimes even exceeds that of a soldier on foot. Deep snow also poses some risks to tracked vehicles such as rocks and tree stumps under the snow could throw off a track although they are minor risks. Even tracked vehicles can get caught if the snow layer is thick enough to carry the vehicle from its bottom leading to tracks losing traction.
For infantry and light tracked vehicles winter opens more avenues to move along during winter. Frozen bogs, rivers and lakes enable movement where it isn’t possible for most of the year although they should be used with caution. Also areas with soft soil such as sand dunes become more accessible to wheeled vehicles. Extremely cold winter with little snowfall enables tactical mobility on a unparalleled level. Frozen rivers also have a downside; wet gap crossing might not be possible and the ice might not be thick enough to carry heavy IFVs. Solution would be exploding the ice open but this will take time and most certainly would notify the enemy. Even after opening path in the ice it is unsure whether the gap can be crossed or not because of the floating ice cubes. Amphibious vehicles might be able to cross though.
In terms of protection and security winter is a double edged sword. On the other hand it provides enhanced protection from aerial observation by covering thermal radiation but also reveals troops by the marks they leave in snow. With proper TTP:s these revealing effects can be overcome and units hiding in snowy forest may live to fight another day. As stated earlier snow and fog are great at concealing troops provided they use proper gear and camouflage nets to do so. Any army or branch that plans on fighting in snow should start with the basics by having proper winter gear and right camouflage. Abrams’ with desert paint job aren’t fit for defending Baltics.
Even good personal camouflage can be ruined by having wrong coloured backpack
Digging trenches and firing position during winter is excessively hard due to frozen ground and requires much more time and special equipment. There are explosive charges that shoots EFP down into the ground to make little hole which then can be filled with explosives to make a fighting position. Digging down with excavators takes a long time and this diminished ability to dig down should be taken into consideration when allocating excavator usage times to subordinate units. Also constructing minefields will take more time and to do it effectively would require a vehicle to do the mine pits. Winter makes camouflaging fighting positions easier because all it requires is shoveling some snow over the position.
In the end winter causes engineering to take much more time due to frozen ground and water and in some cases makes certain functions impossible. Building above ground with Hescos and sandbags becomes more desirable and faster compared to building below or at ground level but they are also easier to detect. Hescos are good option as long as there is dry sand or soil available to fill them with.
Not only soldiers need protection from elements but gear and supplies also. Medical supplies need to be kept warm and same applies to water. Winterized fuel and lubricants shouldn’t have any problem in cold weather. Batteries are depleted much faster in winter and vehicles need to be pre warmed before running or be kept running which produces heat signal and increases fuel use. Cold starting vehicles is very demanding for the engine and lowers their life expectancy but in most cases vehicles that are meant to be used in arctics are specced to cope with this. Norwegian XA-vehicles have to able to start on the first try after idling 24 hours in freezing temperatures. Soldiers need more calories and water during winter and if not addressed will lower their alertness and strength but puts more strain on logistics to deliver them much needed extra food and water. Under extreme temperatures some machines seize to function entirely and this applies mostly to electronics. Futuristic radios and tablets might become nothing more than dead weight if they don’t work in the arctics.
Personal experiences about fighting in (sub)arctic environment
Your subordinates will tire much faster and leaders need to stay on their toes not to succumb to the elements. It takes absolute self discipline when you’re tired and exhausted to the point that even eating is an ordeal. This is the point when training has to kick in. Sticking to the TTPs and taking time to eat before going to sleep or melting water from snow sometimes has to be ordered because not all will do it own their own. These measures also ensure they have needed bodily strength to carry on missions but also makes leaders job much easier. Stamina, fitness and appropriate amount of body fat (12-17% of body weight) enables you to focus on mission at hand rather than physical survival. Leaders need to get their hands dirty in physically demanding tasks to conserve subordinates strength and to show example but conserving their energy is more important.
Don’t be embarrassed to notify your superior that you might not make it to some deadline and learn from it. Winter is a demanding mistress. Failing will help you appreciate time management and also forces you become better at delegating tasks downward in the chain of command.
Just moving around demands much more thought than might look to untrained eye. One has to be vigilant about the type of snow being traversed and how those footprints will look like to the enemies direction. Deceiving tracks are much more effective and required to throw anyone tailing you off of your tracks. When talking at company level making tracks is wanted and loads of them. This will make it harder to determine amount of troops that have travelled there and confuses enemy about there where they’ve been heading. If some patch of road has been mined making it look recently travelled is excessively difficult and this undermines its effectiveness. Peer enemy will scout ahead with UAVs and take notes which roads are in use and which are not.
Mistakes I’ve made so others wouldn’t make the same mistakes:
Underestimate the time it takes to go from A to B
Approach a target with binoculars hanging from neck, snow will stick to the lenses and they’ll be of no use
Make sure that your subordinates can read the snow and travel along safe paths. Walking on snow that has running water underneath is a risk
Learn to read the snow yourself
If possible watch the weather forecast, going to sleep under a starry sky only to wake up to 20cm snowfall isn’t pleasant
Everything takes longer during winter: marching, setting up camp, foot patrols, making food, absolutely everything except dying of hypothermia. Operational tempo needs to match the conditions in the field to enable the troops sufficient resources to complete their mission. Especially recon troops need to be given enough time because their tasks can’t be accomplished properly under haste in demanding conditions. Use of supplies and spare parts will increase and running out of supplies is much more life threatening than during other seasons. In the end it’s important to make winter your friend and not the enemy, adapt and overcome.