by Andrew Wallace
Government decisions, over the last few decades, has left the Swedish Defence in a poor state and in need of more finances. The Defence is struggling to rebuild itself after the strategic timeout (should have?) ended 10 years ago. This is nothing new, Sweden has made this kind of mistake before. In this article, I argue that a part time defence can contribute to a national defence. I argue that it can also be a way out of the cycle that has created the current problems with defence in such a way that Sweden doesn’t repeat the same errors yet again, thereby building a better defence. I begin with looking at the error of basing a defence on probability and how “low probability” gets confused with “no possibility”. I then look at an example of a part time defence, in this case from the UK. I argue that there is sufficient evidence that a part time defence can be built in Sweden. A part time defence that is of sufficient quality. Finally, I look at a possible form for a part time defence for Sweden and some potential problems.
In 1966, the UK saw the cancelation of the proposed CVA-01 aircraft carrier and the type 82 anti aircraft destroyer programmes for the British Royal Navy. With the smaller Type 42 destroyer replacing the Type 82, the Royal Navy then became effectively and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) fleet in the 1970s. The assessments at the time had concluded, that in all probability, the British military would not engage in a military conflict without allies. The main enemy would, most probably, be the Soviet Union. The Royal Navy would, most probably, operate in the North Sea, protecting supply lines and the Royal Air Force could provide necessary air protection. Therefore, the formation of an ASW fleet made logical sense at the time.
In 1982, Britain found itself in a military conflict without the accompanying allies. The Royal Navy found itself in the South Atlantic with aircraft, not submarines, as its main threat. The enemy was Argentina not the Soviet Union. Basically, the Falklands War was everything that the most probable case would not be. Actuality differed from probability.
The Falklands War is but one example of a host of examples from military history where the dominant thinking at the time had assessed the probability of a set of possible conflicts and decided, one way or the other, that a certain conflict was more likely than other conflicts only for the actuality to be somewhat different.
The Probability of an Attack on Sweden
It has been assessed that the probability of an attack against Sweden is low. There are a number of problems with this assessment, even if it is correct.
First, probabilities are notoriously difficult to guess (and it is essentially an educated guess) as the above example from the Falklands War shows. When you have a political and military situation, where players in the game hide their intentions, assessing the likelihood of any action becomes difficult at best. We simply do not have the insight needed to make a realistic probability assessment. Indeed, an argument could be made that, in the current situation, the likelihood of an attack is higher now than it was during the Cold War. For example, if we look at the Netherlands prior to the Second World War. The Netherlands did not modernise its military in the wake of German rearmament. It hoped to rely on its neutrality, as in the First World War, and hoped a weak military will make it non-threatening to Germany. Yet, all it did in the end was make the Netherlands an easy target and contributed to Germany’s decision to invade. Do we not have a similar situation in Sweden? There are patterns in history and history does repeat but it repeats like a fractal. Thus, we can draw lessons from history and to some degree have an idea of what could happen next. Sweden has a weak defence and is currently failing to rebuild it after the strategic timeout ended. Although not neutral, it does appear to me that Sweden hopes, to some degree, that staying out of NATO will mean it will not be a target for a reemerging Russia. Although not exactly the same situation as the Netherlands, one could argue that the similarities (weak militaries and neutral compared to a non-aligned status) are sufficient to consider that Sweden is more likely to be attacked now than during the Cold war.
Second, probabilities change faster than a military can adapt. Sweden is learning this (again) the hard way as it did earlier in the 1930s and 1940s. It is quick and easy to cut back your defence but far harder to rebuild. It takes time to recruit and train new soldiers and instructors. It takes time to procure new equipment. And the military has to be built up in layers and in cycles. You can only train so many soldiers and instructors. So, you train one group of soldiers and instructors which then allows you to train up a larger group on the next cycle . After a number of cycles you hope to have enough soldiers and instructors to form a realistic defence.
Since the likelihood of an event today can change tomorrow and our ability to change the military situation will take much longer, any defence based on probabilities runs the risk of lagging far behind the political reality.
Yet, we still see the same mistakes repeated over and over again; basing decisions on probability and then confusing “low probability” with “no possibility”. The repetition has led, I would argue, to a situation where the government plays a game of Russian Roulette and, so far, has got away with it. But that doesn’t mean it will do so in the future.
This has all been said before, so is nothing new. For example, Sun Tzu:
“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”
The Long View and Flexibility
It was with interest that I read “Slutlig Redovisning av Perspektivstudien 2016-2018”. Two things jumped out to me in that report. One was the need for a long sighted view and the other was the need for flexibility. One of the reasons that I think the Swedish defence ends up repeating the same mistake over and over again is the failure to take a long sighted view of defence. Sweden ends up with, what I see as, short decision cycles that focus on the here and now. The defence is forced into a position where it cannot adapt to the political realities fast enough.
Taking a long sighted view, especially among politicians, is, as I see it, the first step in getting out of the cycle that Sweden is in regarding defence. So we don’t end up in a situation where we have a defence for the wrong political reality as we do today.
Flexibility is the other key components that I see as needed for any defence plan. If we go back to Sun Tzu, I would say that the conclusion is that we should build a defence that is standing ready to ward off any invader at any time. Say, one million soldiers standing on the border. But, of course, that has its own downside. Soldiers spend most of their time not fighting wars, not battling an invader. And it costs. Effectively, we would be paying out for a defence that we don’t “need” for most of the time and that is cost ineffective. Sweden needs something in between. A defence that can adapt to the political realities quickly yet without spending huge amounts on a defence that isn’t needed for most of the time. Flexibility is one way to overcome that; where Sweden could still have an effective defence but one that is more cost effective. But what does that mean? How to build a defence that is flexible? And in what way flexible?
To my mind, a flexible defence is one that can change rapidly to the changes in the military and political situations. If, for example, Sweden had built a flexible defence during the 20th century, then Sweden would have scaled down in the 1990s as the Cold War came to an end and quickly rebuilt in 2008 after the Russian invasion of Georgia. The key to that, I think, lies with the part time defence. So, it was somewhat disappointing to read that there was no farsighted view for any noteworthy changes in the part time defence, neither GSS/K nor the Home Guard in the “Slutlig Redovisning av Perspektivstudien 2016-2018” report.
A Look at the Part Time Defence Outside of Sweden
For me, “outside of Sweden” means looking at the reserves in the UK but we could also look at other part time military organisations such as the National Guard in the US.
The reserves in the UK consists of a number of organisations:
- Army Reserves
- Royal Navy Reserve
- Royal Marine Reserve
- Royal Auxiliary Air Force
- Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAF(VR))
If we look a little bit closer at these organisations, we can see that they basically mirror the full time military with most of the type of units you would expect in the full time military. For the army, for example, it includes infantry units, artillery, signal, and even SAS. Examples of the current variety of part time units from the Army Reserve include :
- 7th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland with four rifle companies
- 7th Battalion, The Rifles, which are armoured infantry
- 133 Field Company, 103 Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
- 32 MI Company, 3 Military Intelligence Battalion.
- 36 Signal Squadron, 71 Signal Regiment
- 124 Transport Squadron, Royal Logistic Corps
- Royal Wessex Yeomanry, with Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks
- SAS Reserves, which take part in special operation world around.
- 4th Battalion, Parachute Regiment.
- 103rd (Lancashire Artillery Volunteers) Regiment, Royal Artillery
In the past, the part time reserves even had full divisions.
The above units were local but the Army Reserve also has national units such as:
- Joint Cyber Unit
- 306 Hospital Support Medical Regiment
- Special Investigation Branch Regiment
Basic training consists, for the Army Reserve, of four weekends locally plus two weeks at the Army Training Centre. More training continues after that which can include once a week locally or further weeks away such as at the Infantry Training Centre for infantry soldiers. The training can be flexible and adapts to the fact the soldiers have a full time job and life outside of the military. Not all training has to be done at once. Some training can take weeks and some months to complete but a soldier normally puts in about 19 to 27 days a year. The soldiers are contracted for a set number of hours and a day counts as 8 hours. Once a week drill night counts as ¼ of a day. The contract includes one two week exercises as well, once a year.
The cost for the Army Reserve is about 4 G SEK, which amounts to 1.3% of the UK defence budget. Yet, the Army Reserve contributes to 30% of the army. This makes the Army Reserve a cost effective answer for the UK.
Service personnel from any of the part time organisations (with the exception of the RAF(VR)) can be called up for full time service at any time, as and when needed. Individually or as whole units. Service personnel from the part time reserves serve alongside full time regular service personnel wherever the British military serves.
A Part Time Defence for Sweden
To overcome the problem of repeating the same mistakes of scaling down the defence and then having to rebuild it, such as Sweden is trying to do now, a flexible, part-time defence could be formed. During low threat times, the defence could be largely built of part time units of two types classified as either contracted units or contracted territorial defence only units. As the threat increases, contracted units can quickly switch over to full time units. An increased threat level could also mean a need for additional soldiers to serve abroad. If an invasion looks imminent or there is a serious threat of subversive action within Sweden, then the territorial only units could be activated. This would allow the defence to rapidly switch from a low state to a high state of defence capability, giving Sweden time to rebuild its armed forces.
So, for example, if Sweden had had such a system in place in the 1980s or 1990s, then Sweden could have scaled down its large invasion focused conscript army, building up its part time units. Then, when we get to the point that we need to build up the defence again, Sweden could have activated the contracted units bringing them up to full time status. Then started to rebuild the full time army. As the full time army strengthened, the activated contracted units could then be deactivated and return to part time status.
A part time Swedish defence could be composed of different types of units within the classification of contracted and contracted territorial only. Although not every position in the military could nor should be part time, It is well within the bounds of possibility to have part time infantry, artillery, tank, ranger, and other units. For example, Sweden has, as far as I have been able to determine, 120 Leopard 2 tanks of which 45 are in use. It also has a number of Archer units in storage. Such equipment could form the foundation for part time tank and artillery units like the Royal Wessex Yeomanry, which uses Challenger 2 tanks (equivalent to the Swedish Army’s Leopard 2 tanks), or similar to the 103rd (Lancashire Artillery Volunteers) Regiment, Royal Artillery (although they actually use light, 105mm, guns).
The full time units would be as they are today, representing the core competence of the military. The first class of part time units, the contract units, would be similar to GSS / K that we have today but actually form their own, locally based, battalions. The second type of part time units, the contracted territorial only, would be similar to the current Home Guard, however, they would be more types of units and formations. Personnel would be interchangeable between each class of unit and the full time army. Essentially, both classes of part time units would have the same rank structure, equipment, and uniforms as the full time army. So there would be no external difference between full and part time units nor personnel (which is an important point for overcoming the prejudice within the military towards the Home Guard; we are all on the same team).
Sweden already has a framework that would allow a shift to a more cost effective defence. The GSS / K could be built up and expanded some more but if we want to build a more cost effective defence then it is the Home Guard that will need the most investment. There would still be units primarily for guarding and grey zone operations but also additional units capable of dealing with the full spectrum of conflicts. The soldiers themselves are mostly former conscripts who have served in a variety of full time units, so they have had full time experience and shown themselves capable.
Like anything in life, a part-time defence is not perfect. There are, of course, going to be some problems. To start with, not all positions in the defence force can work as part time positions. Higher command and some specialist functions will need full time personnel to maintain a functioning level, for example. Perhaps even down to battalion and company level there will need to be some full time personal (perhaps each company having a full time sergent-major and each battalion and a full time regimental sergeant-major to manage day to day needs and training).
Other problems can include a lack of seriousness. The Home Guard magazine once ran an article where some Home Guard soldiers were classified as “hobby” soldiers. Even the reserves in the UK can have this problem. At one time it was not uncommon the hear soldiers in, as it was then, the Territorial Army being referred to as “SAS”, where “SAS” stode for “Saturday Afternoon Soldiers”.
I can understand the attitude; it can be fun to go out and play soldiers and shoot off your rifle a bit. But the game is deadly serious and that needs to be emphasised before anyone gets to play soldiers on a two way range.
Prejudice is another problem. It is not just the Swedish army that has a problem with prejudice against part time soldiers. The British Army also has a problem with prejudice against the reserves where most reservists have perceived themselves under valued by their full time colleges. This attitude is not helpful for defence purposes. In the end, both full time and part time soldiers are on the same team, working for the same objective. Prejudice and a “them and us” attitude doesn’t help with the necessary cooperation within the team. The UK government has recognised the problem and has started working with making the part time reserve more integrated. Part way to achieving this is to remove anything that makes part time service personel stand out as not part of “us” such as uniform markings or beret colours and cap badges.
Prejudice can also take the form of lack of will, where excuses can be made to say that a part time defence “can’t do this” or “can’t do that” or some other problem found to argue not to rely on a part time defence. Yet, evidence from other countries shows the possibilities that can be achieved if the prejudice can be overcome. Even today, the Home Guard has huge, unrealised, potential.
Of course, one of the major problems is conflicts with work and family. Everyone in the part time reserve is contributing to protecting their home country in their spare time. To do so, they can need to take unpaid time off work. The lost work time is not always compensated fully, even if the soldiers are paid and receive a bounty for their service. Many reservists have family or relationships. Having to spend time away from home can put relationships under emotional strain even with understanding partners. The reserves in the UK have a training system that is local to a degree and adaptive to the work and social needs of the soldiers.
Employers are there to make money and having employees disappear for weeks or even months is not to their advantage. It could also affect the soldier’s civilian career prospects as employers would favour employees who are “reliable” and wont vanish for a few months due to reservists commitments. The British government tries to make it an advantage for employers to have part time reservists employed. For example, to receive a contract from the Ministry of Defence, a company will need to employ reservists. On the other side of the coin, employees can lose pay if they take unpaid time off work or lose holiday time. Part time forces in the UK and Sweden don’t fully compensate their part time soldiers when they lose pay (thus, many actually end up “paying” to defend the country).
These are all problems that need working on.
There is enough evidence from other countries to argue that Sweden could build up a part time defence of sufficient quality needed to defend the country and contribute to international missions if needed. Some of the necessary framework is already in place. Such a part time defence could overcome the repeated cycle of errors in defence policy. There are problems, but these are not insurmountable.
The author is a BEng(hons) PhD EurIng and works for CGI in Umeå.
Army Reserve Solider https://apply.army.mod.uk/what-we-offer/reserve-soldier visited 2018-11-23
Army reserves do not feel valued by full-time soldiers, defence secretary admits https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/12102324/Army-reserves-do-not-feel-valued-by-full-time-soldiers-defence-secretary-admits.html visited 2018-11-23