Finland Revamps Its Military

September 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Finnish and German personnel check communications system configurations during exercise Combined Endeavor 2007. Finland is building a new military command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) infrastructure as it increases its participation in multinational operations.
An incremental pace hides dramatic changes.

Finland’s military is facing its own force transformation as it alters its structure and its mission. The Baltic nation is looking at broad-based equipment modernization, substantial personnel cuts and a network-centric architecture to define its armed forces.

But, unlike the transformations that are changing other nations’ militaries, Finland’s effort is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It has substantial amounts of Cold-War-era military gear that will need to be retired, so the country is replacing it with modern gear that will enable the force to be restructured around network centricity. The mission of the defense establishment has changed since the 1990s, so the makeup of these forces will be altered during the modernization. High-technology systems will add capabilities that offset personnel reductions mandated by increased equipment expenditures.

The aim is to continue with a force built around broad-based civilian expertise that can defend the homeland, support civilian government agencies and contribute significantly to out-of-area multinational operations. This force would change dramatically, but over time, as it adapts to new exigencies.

Adm. Juhani Kaskeala, FN, is Finland’s chief of defense—the top military official in the armed forces. He states that one of the biggest changes taking place in the Finnish armed forces is the implementation of a new integrated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system. This new networked architecture largely focuses on territorial defense as opposed to out-of-area operations.

By 2012, Finland expects to spend about 800 million euros—20 percent of its procurement budget—on this C4ISR infrastructure. The country concurrently will be working out new operational concepts and procedures, the admiral notes.

“We are entering a new era in relying on network-enabled capabilities, when we speak of the defense of Finland proper,” Adm. Kaskeala declares. “This is a major transformation where we intend to make full use of modern technology in our command and control.”

Finland calls its new force structure network-enabled defense. The primary objective of this effort is for Finland’s military services to share the same situational awareness and to be able to conduct fully joint operations. This also includes interagency cooperation, the admiral adds. Finland’s police, search and rescue services, border guards and defense forces traditionally have cooperated closely in operations. However, these groups would be sharing databases, networks and situational awareness, the admiral posits. This interagency cooperation will be essential for Finland to achieve total defense.

A key element is a new joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. This program includes multisensor tracking that allows sensor data to be fused into one joint target picture, which in turn can be analyzed or developed into a joint environment picture. The admiral estimates that this joint ISR capability will cost 1.2 billion  euros by the time it reaches full operational capacity in 2016.

Another effort slated for completion in 2016 is the 1 billion euro Joint Fires program. This will allow Finnish forces to conduct deep battle operations using multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and enhanced artillery ammunition. A new air-to-ground capability also will be added to the country’s F-18 fighter aircraft.

At the heart of Finland’s network-enabled defense is better control of its military information resources. The country already has winnowed down to half the number of its information systems, from about 500. The goal is to reduce that original number by a total of 90 percent by the year 2012, Adm. Kaskeala states.

Finland is developing its service-oriented architecture with the NATO Consultation, Command and Control (C3) board, the admiral relates. That effort is progressing well, he says.

The Finnish military services have contributed resources to the development of this joint system. The army, navy and air force each has been in charge of different elements. Much of the ongoing work now involves integrating these efforts.

However, not all has gone smoothly. Adm. Kaskeala says that each of the individual services has resisted the joint approach, particularly since each service lost some of its resources. Now that they are being incorporated into the joint structure, the admiral is confident that the joint system will succeed and will be cost effective.

At the heart of this effort is a new C4 Agency designed to be operational by January 2008. It will provide the complete information infrastructure for all of the services, including both data systems and sensor data fusion.

The changes that lie in store for Finland’s armed forces are more than technological in nature. The Baltic country of about 5 million people currently has 350,000 in its mobilization forces. Adm. Kaskeala sees little chance of being able to equip and support that many personnel 10 years in the future. Finland will need to replace a substantial amount of military hardware that will be approaching obsolescence, particularly in its army. This force will need to be downsized by about 100,000 people, he declares, and the reduction must be concurrent with an increased emphasis on quality.

Finland’s defense still is based on general conscription, Adm. Kaskeala points out. But unlike other nations where conscription is considered an obligation, in Finland conscription is considered a right. Almost every Finnish man serves in his country’s defense forces during his lifetime.

Finland’s 350,000-person military is not a standing force, the admiral emphasizes, and this helps keep personnel costs down. Each year the force trains its 30,000 new conscripts, and about 70,000 other people take refresher training, voluntary training included. Conscriptees have diverse backgrounds with expertise in fields such as medicine, engineering, education and information technology. The military combines this expertise with military training to produce a force of educated and motivated civilians in uniform.

The cuts in personnel likely will occur mostly in the army, he predicts. The navy and the air force serve as supporting services to the ground force, and they are much smaller than the army. So, the army will see its number of infantry brigades reduced. The future Finnish army will rely more on mobile forces such as mechanized brigades and battle groups—fewer in number but greater in capability, he says.

Some in Finland have questioned whether the technology modernization plan built around a network-enabled defense is too ambitious, Adm. Kaskeala admits. But, a force with fewer troops needs better situational awareness, he maintains.

The modernization must take place in the face of rising operational costs, which is one of the reasons for downsizing the force. Many of the same expenses—fuel and maintenance, for example—that are increasing for modern militaries worldwide are affecting Finland concurrent with its major modernization efforts. And, the cost of modern equipment seems to be increasing exponentially, the admiral observes.

Finland’s defense budget of 2.3 billion euros currently is balanced equally among personnel, equipment investment and operations. Adm. Kaskeala offers that his country’s equipment procurement and modernization spending—relative to the size of its forces—is the highest in Europe. “In the European market, we are a sizable buyer of new equipment,” he points out.

Adm. Kaskeala (l) rides in a U.S. Marine Corps riverine craft during an official visit to a Marine Corps facility. Finland has made significant purchases of U.S. military equipment as it modernizes its materiel and systems, and it is working closely with the United States to ensure interoperability between the two nations.
Finland has purchased a considerable amount of equipment from the United States. The admiral relates that his country has been one of Europe’s biggest buyers of U.S. military gear over the past 15 years. Much of that total has been generated by its purchase of 64 F-18 fighter aircraft that began in 1994.

Finland’s military priorities, in descending order, are the defense of Finland, support for other domestic agencies and authorities, and multinational operations. While international activities are third in priority, Finland’s foreign contributions have ranked high among European nations. For many years Finland has been involved in peacekeeping operations, largely through U.N. auspices. Now, Finland is girding its military to take part in military operations with other Western forces far beyond its borders. Finnish forces are active in multinational operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, among many regions. This raises a host of interoperability issues.

Thus far, the country has had few problems with interoperability in international operations, Adm. Kaskeala observes. NATO standards and procedures have played a big role in enabling Finnish forces to interoperate with alliance forces in multinational activities. The country continues to work closely with the NATO C3 Board, and it participates as a partner nation in several NATO internal programs.

For future efforts, Finland has been working closely with the U.S. Joint Forces Command on joint fires and communication and information systems. One complication has arisen involving Finland’s national datalink system for its air force, the admiral allows. This system allows Finnish forces to change the situational awareness picture between aircraft and groundstations. Finland’s assessment is that this domestic datalink system is more capable than Link 16, he states, but the Finnish system’s national nature inhibits interoperability.

So, Finland may need to begin using Link 16 when its fighter aircraft are deployed in multinational operations. The country has decided to be able to employ both datalink systems aboard its aircraft by 2010.

The admiral relates that Finland and the United States are running an interoperability study program that includes government and industry officials. This three-stage effort largely focuses on tactical C4ISR systems, and the datalink decision was based in part on work performed in this study.

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