HELSINKI — Historically, Nordic land forces have relied on light, medium and heavy tanks and armored fighting vehicles as part of an overall plan to repel Russian invaders.
Such defensive strategies were based on the threat of air-supported, multidirectional attacks and the use of aircraft, artillery, battle tank and mobile assault units against invading mechanized infantry formations.
Now, Nordic militaries under the Smart Defense initiative are moving toward fast, mobile and high-precision firepower armored units.
A primary feature of this modular structure is greater use of network-centric intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance battle management systems to coordinate forces.
This shift to ISTAR-based battle management aims to increase the combat capability of modular, highly mobile and compact fighting units. The task of halting the advance of mechanized enemy forces will fall to mobile precision-strike artillery and airstrikes, with ground vehicles in a supportive role.
Fighting vehicle acquisition programs run by Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland since 2010 have focused on wheeled and tracked armor-strengthened vehicles that are high in mobility and firepower.
This shift to improved battle management technologies is well-suited to the needs of small Nordic nations. At its core, it will require armored fighting vehicles and battle units to be able to operate in a broader range of environments and be interoperable with other nations’ forces, said Markku Koli, the former chief of staff of the Finnish Defense Command who headed the command’s Network Enabled Warfare project before he retired in 2011.
“For the past 2,000 years, warfare has been dominated by physics — by the number of troops and equipment,” he said. “Now, militaries are moving beyond platform-centric operations as much of our aircraft, tanks and ships have become more dependent on integrated networks.”
The changing threat has shifted the focus from conventional units to irregular units and asymmetrical warfare. Network-enabled modular organizations are essential to secure high flexibility and enable all armored units, from heavy to light, to work together as part of a composite unit capable of greater mobility and firepower, Koli said.
From a regional standpoint, the changing nature of hostile threats, and the increasing participation of Nordic forces in international operations, will lead to further changes in how land forces’ fighting vehicles are used in battle formations.
Forces will come to rely more on combat identification, battlefield management systems, and warning and countermeasure active defense systems to engage enemies, said Sverre Diesen, a retired Norwegian Armed Forces chief of defense.
It is possible within the scope of reforming land forces’ structures, and developing defensive strategies and ways to repel the enemy, that network-centric operations may render armored vehicles almost redundant in conventional combat, Diesen said, returning them to their original mobile fire support role.
“Network-enabling technologies can spell the end of large-scale mechanized warfare as it has developed throughout the 20th century, due to the accumulated effect of information technology-driven improvements in sensors, image transmission and distribution, and precision guided munitions,” Diesen said.
Norway’s Land Forces, as well as neighboring Nordic militaries, are developing ISTAR-based battlefield-management capabilities using more powerful microprocessors that create an entirely new concept of high-intensity warfare, Diesen said.
“By contrast to the mechanized concept, which built land infantry formations around the tank, the implications of force deployment based on ISTAR is that the core basis for tomorrow’s land formations will be the ISTAR unit,” Diesen said.
The ISTAR-based battle management capabilities under development include combat vehicle-to-vehicle identification and battlefield targeting systems that can be deployed on Swedish CV90 and other armored equipment in support of other ISTAR advances, such as warning and countermeasures systems.
“These future battle units will not have their firepower as an integral part of their own platforms, but as a remotely controlled, precision-guided strike capability based on weapons delivered by multirole combat aircraft or other stand-off systems,” Diesen said.
Traditional large armored formations are becoming too vulnerable to sustain their role in high-end warfare, although they will continue to operate in low-intensity, asymmetrical operations offering protected fire support for light infantry in war zones such as Afghanistan, Diesen said.
The modular structure of fighting units under Smart Defense renders them highly usable in support of multinational forces like the Nordic Battle Group and in Afghanistan, where the Norwegian Army’s Brigade Nord 2nd Battalion (now redesignated as the Army’s specialist Arctic Battalion) operated in a mechanized light infantry support role for quick-reaction force units.