Sweden Prepares To Command the Digital Future

October 2005
By Henry S. Kenyon

Sweden’s experience in developing network-centric systems has allowed it to create an infrastructure that will provide its air, land and sea forces with a unified picture of the battlefield.
Close government-industry partnerships are key to integrating advanced technologies into armed forces.

Despite a tight procurement budget, Sweden is maximizing the benefits of battlefield awareness by embracing network-centric warfare concepts. As the country applies these concepts across its armed forces, it also is actively training its officer corps to make rapid decisions in an information-rich environment.

Many nations are developing modern networked command and control systems to enhance their forces’ warfighting capabilities. Often years away from implementation, these programs focus on advanced technologies or highly modified systems. The cost and development time of such applications have dissuaded nations with limited budgets from launching their own modernization programs.

However, a nation’s size and budget should not limit it from modernizing its command and control systems, says Lt. Gen. Johan Kihl, Swedish Army (Ret.), a defense industry consultant and former chief of staff for the Swedish military. From the mid-1990s until his retirement from the military in 2004, the general was responsible for developing and overseeing Sweden’s network-centric warfare capabilities. Sweden’s efforts, he notes, can provide valuable lessons for other nations seeking to upgrade their communications and command infrastructures.

Sweden began its network-centric warfare initiative in 1996. Gen. Kihl was assigned to the project to find new ways to integrate computer systems into the military’s command and control architecture. Research conducted by  Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), San Diego, and lessons learned by the U.S. military during the first Persian Gulf War influenced the effort. Sweden then commissioned SAIC to conduct a study of its network-centric warfare capabilities. The goal of the research was to explore new and economical methods to achieve dominant battlespace awareness through advanced command and control and engagement systems.

After the study concluded that affordable networked capabilities were possible, Gen. Kihl contacted Swedish defense firms such as Saab and Ericsson to solicit their technical expertise. He believes that Sweden was the first nation in the world to form integrated government and industry production teams to develop solutions for this complex architecture.

These teams were assigned to all management levels of the program. At the top level, the lead team comprised Gen. Kihl and other high-ranking military officers, heads of government research institutes and industry presidents. Every two months, this group would meet to brainstorm ideas on how industry could meet the military’s needs. Gen. Kihl explains that government-industry partnership was necessary for success because the military was still determining its requirements and did not know what technologies it needed.

A second set of studies focusing on command and control and engagement systems was launched to determine the priority of the military’s needs and requirements. To save money for modernization, the Ministry of Defense decided to retire all legacy systems not scheduled for upgrades after 2010 and to replace them with more advanced and interoperable equipment. At the same time, the Swedish military reduced the number of personnel in its staff units significantly, a difficult process that took several years to complete, the general explains.

During the equipment and personnel cuts, it was necessary to demonstrate the new technologies and approaches regularly. In 1998, the Swedish media asked Gen. Kihl about the program’s goals and completion timeline. Although the general admitted that the modernization was envisioned as an ongoing process with no end, he did say that one of the goals of the project was to launch a field demonstration in 2005 to exhibit network-centric capabilities to the government and public. As of 2001, the Swedish military conducts two annual technology demonstrations and exercises.

Among the lessons learned by the Swedish military from its modernization program and exercises was that the government could not work by itself. Close cooperation with private industry was essential to developing new capabilities for the armed forces.

Changing Cold War mindsets was another important factor. “This small country could mobilize 850,000 men in less than 72 hours. It cost a lot [to maintain this capability], but it was necessary during the Cold War because we were so close to the Soviet Union,” Gen. Kihl offers. The older, retired generals who built the Swedish armed forces were proud of this capability, the general says, and they viewed the new network-centric ideas as a threat to dismantle the established command and control structures.

But rapid advances in computerization have changed operational capabilities and realities dramatically, the general explains. “So many things happened at the same time: The Cold War was over; it was a totally new situation—new threats, new tasks—for the armed forces; and a new way of living evolved with computerized society, the Internet and the consequences of all of that,” he observes.

To create a new mindset, the Swedish military developed a training program to teach its officer corps novel and different ways to use technology. Gen. Kihl relates that the training courses teach officers that decision making across all echelons is vital. Networked systems allow high-level commanders to be involved in low-level tactical decisions. But without operational guidelines, such intervention can lead to confusion in the command chain. “We used to talk about decision-making cycles at the division level taking at least 24 hours. Now it’s maybe 1 hour. There is a new way of making decisions, and you can’t follow the old traditional ways—such as sitting and discussing the situation with your staff,” he says.

To provide commanders with timely information, the Swedish military has developed a role-based system. The technology allows commanders at different echelons to access specific types of information. The general notes that the exact amount and types of data can be modified to suit an officer’s specific command and mission. Training exercises play an important role because they allow officers to determine whether the allotted amount of data matches their needs. “I think this is necessary when we talk about crisis and quick decision making. That’s not the time when you try to find out what kind of information you need,” Gen. Kihl says.

Many countries with network-centric capabilities apply them narrowly and often ignore or underutilize them in areas such as homeland defense, the general observes. Nations such as the United States excel at applying network and system interoperability to high-intensity combat situations, where the enemy is known. But homeland security operations against shadowy opponents also require a variety of information sources, from law enforcement data to human intelligence. He notes that while European defense agencies and the United States continue to develop warfighting capabilities that will be useful “the day after tomorrow,” they are not working on near-term solutions.

A lesson that Europe’s forces can apply from the Swedish experience is to require a mixture of operational capabilities to enhance flexibility, Gen. Kihl says. Although some network-centric applications are for high-intensity warfare, the majority should focus on intelligence. “You need flexibility so you can put in all the other agencies and resources, which you need to build up society. I think what we’ve seen in Iraq, for instance, is a very short, high-intensity war followed by a very, very long rebuilding period with some occasional high-intensity situations. There you need flexibility and the possibility to work with other agencies,” he says.

The general maintains that many nations can use existing technology to develop and field network-centric systems. A nation’s size is irrelevant for procuring and maintaining these systems. “We are not talking about technology. It’s not easy, but it is possible to keep up with any huge country as long as you have the same kind of systems and technology. The technology is not expensive. It’s the different engagement systems that can be very expensive,” he says.

Smaller nations do not need a vast assortment of engagement systems such as nuclear weapons or major command and control nodes such as airborne warning and control system aircraft. What is crucial is maintaining the same types of systems standards to assure interoperability. “Even a small country, with the right kind of systems, could easily cooperate with the United States or any other nation,” Gen. Kihl says.

Budget constraints within the Swedish Ministry of Defense have slowed some network-centric initiatives more than anticipated, the general allows, but the effort is still moving ahead. Although the military does not have all of its planned new equipment and systems, it has the knowledge, and it has demonstrated that, he says. Private industry has made progress possible by producing applications such as on-demand networking, which can be immediately applied by the military, he relates.


Web Resources
Swedish Ministry of Defense: www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/2060
Ericsson: www.ericsson.com/us/government
Saab: www.saab.se