Russia is supposed to be the master of hybrid warfare, that shapeshifting amalgamation of regular and irregular war.
But has Russia met its match in little Finland?
“While still a work in progress, recent exercises suggest that the Finnish Army is arguably better positioned to tackle hybrid threats than most of its European counterparts,” says a report by Sweden’s Defense Research Agency.
“The lessons from Crimea were by no means lost on the Finnish defense establishment,” note Swedish researchers Michael Jonsson and Johan Engvall. Since 2014, improving the readiness of the Finnish Army has been a major priority. A government Defense White Paper of February 2017 outlines a system of rapid reaction forces and swift-mobilization units among all services and troop types.
Unlike its European neighbors, who have moved toward standing professional armies, Finland’s 280,000-strong military is based on a small standing army backed by conscripted reserves. But reserves need time to be mobilized, which is fine for a conventional war but not hybrid warfare: for example, Russia used special forces and paramilitary fighters to seize Crimea in a few days. That’s especially worrisome to Finland, which shares an eight-hundred-mile border with Russia.
Finland’s solution has been to create company-sized “readiness units,” rapid reaction forces consisting of conscripts who have completed their six-month training and go on readiness duty for the next six. “Because the training of Finnish conscripts begins twice a year, in January and July, this means that there are periods (in roughly the first and third quarter of the year) when there are ‘no adequately trained conscripts,’” the Swedish report explains. “The readiness units are used to plug this gap.”
The ready response units are small but powerful. “Led by professional soldiers, they receive training on additional weapon systems (including anti-tank weapons), advanced small unit tactics, urban operations and heliborne insertion/ extraction,” says the report. “At least some of the readiness units are equipped with Leopard 2A6 tanks, and tanks have been used in several readiness exercises.”
These exercises suggest that Finnish readiness units can respond rapidly to a threat, perhaps within hours. “It is notable that these exercises often include elements of cooperation with local army troops, the police and the FBG, using scenarios that cover a substantial part of the conflict intensity scale,” write Jonsson and Engvall. “Thus, readiness units and the exercises in which they participate represent the army’s response to ‘quickly escalating crises’, a euphemism for hybrid warfare. With their rapid reaction times and helicopter mobility, readiness units can be deployed nationally and have sufficient independent firepower and endurance to engage even a well-armed adversary.”
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Finland’s anti-hybrid warfare system seems impressive. “Some close observers in Finland as well as abroad claim that the Finnish Army has become among the best in Europe at delivering sizable combat power at short notice,” the report notes. But is Finland’s approach sustainable? “Some close observers argue that the current focus on readiness units and rapid mobilization units has meant that the training of reservists has been put on the back burner.”
Nonetheless, the fact that a small nation like Finland can devise a strategy that just might defeat Russian hybrid warfare will be of interest to the Baltic States and other neighbors of Russia.
Image: Wikipedia Commons.