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HELSINKI — Finland's Armed Forces Command has added a quick response dynamic with plans to locate rapid reaction units (RRUs) to military districts that fall under the command of the country's four military provinces.

Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö described the initiative as necessary to strengthen operational readiness and bolster Finland's overall defense and deterrence capabilities against rising regional tensions over Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.

The focus of deployment for the RRUs, which constitute a new feature within Finland's territorial-based, infantry-centered defense strategy, will be military districts close to Finland's 833-mile border with Russia.

Finnish territorial defense doctrine traditionally has been to use mobile field Army units backed by mainly local reserve forces to counter, delay, repel and inflict heavy losses on aggressors attacking across Finland's heavily forested, lake-rich frontier and inland terrains.

The RRUs will add a front-line rapid deployment combat force to the military's arsenal. The modular-type structure will enable RRUs to be used in defensive and offensive forward roles.

The RRUs are intended to comprise a mix of career officers and soldiers, as well as troops drawn from special forces units, retrained reservists and conscripts.

"The deployment of troops is our touchstone. Both the Air Force and Navy have a rapid-response capability, and this is the challenge that the Army now has," Niinistö said.

The Ministry of Defense is considering proposals to increase the Finnish Armed Force's recruitment and training budget to broaden the scope for reservist-dedicated service contracts and refresher courses.

Legislative hurdles will need to be cleared before the RRUs can take reservists in large numbers, said Ilkka Kanerva, chairman of the Finland's Parliamentary Defense Committee.

"New legislation is needed to enable the armed forces to recruit reservists in a transparent and efficient way. Under the present system, reservist contracts do not stipulate exact service times or how quickly reservists can be mobilized and armed," Kanerva said.

The transformed security situation in the Nordic and Baltic regions has forced the government and the military to accelerate the process of establishing, training and deploying RRUs, said Kanerva.

"Finland must reform its preparedness so that our defense organization and structures are at an appropriate level. It is legislation that is lagging behind right now," Kanerva said.

The Finnish armed forces has a standing strength of 12,000 troops. The conscript-centered armed forces, based on current reservist numbers, can mobilize up to 230,000 combat troops and service personnel within one to four weeks. About 21,600 conscripts are expected to complete their call-up training in 2015.

The decision to establish and deploy RRUs in a largely offensive role comes as the Finnish government reaches a provisional agreement with opposition parties to increase the defense budget in 2016-2020.

The growing all-party support for a much larger defense budget is being driven by unprecedented public support for a stronger military organization, a greater deterrence capability and a closer relationship with NATO.

The broad political backing for higher spending levels comes after successive years of cuts to the armed forces' core budget. The slide continued in 2015 when spending as a ratio of GDP dropped to 1.28 percent, down from 1.34 percent in 2014. The core defense budget in 2015 is set at $2.9 billion.

The Finnish government's unease over Ukraine is also reflected in several initiatives taken since April. These included a communication sent by the government to private companies, including in the strategic defense and security sectors, to inform them of upcoming changes to Finnish defense strategy.

The companies contacted form the basis of the so-called state-industrial-service wartime partnership that underscores Finland's Total Defense strategy. The communiqué stated that companies would receive further information in coming months regarding enhanced military and national defense preparedness programs.

In May, reservists received letters from the Armed Forces Command notifying them of their assigned combat and service roles in a wartime situation. The communication also informed reservists of structural changes to the national defense organization, which has been undergoing modernization since 2008.

The RRUs, which are expected to be organized in a similar manner to that of the armed forces' international-mission oriented Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), are the latest part of the Army's modernization drive.

Established in 1996, the battalion-level RDF is trained to participate at "short notice" in multinational peacekeeping and "crisis management" operations. The RDF's core structure comprises a mechanized Jaeger-standard specialized forces battalion, a combat engineer battalion, a brigade-level command-and-communications system and a civil-military cooperation company.

If the new RRUs are structured in the style of the RDF, they will have a modular organization capable of operating alongside, or as part of, a larger integrated force, in coordinated missions with both naval warships and Air Force fighter support units.

The military's modernization program has reinforced shortfalls in the Navy's and Army's operating capabilities. The Navy took delivery of its first Jehu-class fast landing boats in June, filling a void in its littoral fleet for a multipurpose craft that can be used for troop transports, sea surveillance, battle and battle support missions.

The Navy's Squadron 2020 project has underlined the need for a new multipurpose warship to replace its existing fleet of Hämeenmaa and Rauma class ships. Emphasis is being placed on acquiring a ship type with advanced submarine hunting capabilities.

The Army's purchase of 20 NH90 helicopters has improved its tactical and transport capability. The final NH90 aircraft, assembled by Patria in Finland, was delivered in June.

Email: godwyer@defensenews.com

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