Vice-Admiral Rosenius’ article highlighted an interesting point regarding the defence debate; the low ceiling. This, to my mind, results from a culture that seeks consensus and becomes defensive if anything threatens the consensus. The first part of this article addresses that problem. The article then went on to ask some questions. The remainder of this article looks at those questions but I feel they arise because of other failings within the defence.


As a professional engineer I tend to view defence from an engineering perspective. I have worked on a number of real world projects; some have worked well and some have not. The ones that do not work so well tend to have a number of common characteristics (poor, if any, requirement analysis, poor, if any, design, and a move to implementation too early, no clarity, for example). I’m also British and come from a military family, having grown up on military bases. I later went on to work for the Ministry of Defence but served in the Swedish army. That also gives me another perspective on the Swedish defence. It is from those two foundations that I analyse Vice-Admiral Rosenius’ article.


Vice-Admiral Rosenius made some interesting comments in the article “sarintressen”. The first one that really caught my interest was this:

”I den svenska försvarsdebatten är det lågt i tak, vi saknar en bredare debatt om strategier – inte sällan hamnar vi omgående vid val av försvarets materielobjekt.”

To some extent I would agree with that but I would see the “low ceiling” as a reflection of Swedish culture, based on my experience of living in Sweden and the UK. In Sweden, one doesn’t rock the boat. I would see Swedes as extremist [nexus]; in the sense of being extreme consensus seekers [ex-pat]. It is like there is a consensus that we should draw a letter “a” on the whiteboard. Then we can have an open and critical debate along the lines of should it be a capital “A” or lower case “a”, or should it be thick or a thin “a”, or what colour should it be?  However, we would not be able to go against the consensus as in “why are we drawing an ‘A’? Why not a ‘b’ instead”. That would lead to ridicule and exclusion. One would be sent to Coventry.

This low ceiling and extreme consensus seeking, in a way, could be seen as a form or a result of group think. Group think at a national level and something that would then infect the debate and even decisions being made within the defence. And perhaps this is one of the reasons why we have, what I would call, a Task Force Smith [TFS], for a defence at the moment. This, I would also see, results in poor critical analysis of defence and therefore, to the low ceiling that the Vice-Admiral talks about.

From my corner of the Universe, I would say there is a need for more serious hard criticism but my experience also says that Swedes do not like to show of their dirty washing in public. It will be hard to find someone to play Devil’s advocate and for a constructive debate to follow. In my experience, criticism can also serve to reinforce the consensus in Sweden as criticism upsets the apple cart. The consensus must be maintained so we can’t allow anything that would up set the apple cart.

”Amateurs strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” – attributed to Gen. Omar Bradley

The debate maybe lacking in strategy but strategy is simple; it is either attrition or manoeuvrer. Actually, in the real world it is a mixture of both and the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF) are supposed to be more toward manoeuvrer warfare. Although, I think that is not well understood.

From my reading of the Vice-Admiral’s article, I would say he is talking more about the operational art [ops] than strategy but this is just playing with words. I think the Vice-Admiral has highlighted a serious problem within the debate of the Swedish defence. To my mind, the debate on strategy / operational art is weak because it stands on weak foundations. Before strategy there is war fighting theory [war, Brown]. And what is the SAF understanding of war fighting theory? How are wars fought? What is meant by “defeat”?

Reality is a Harsh Mistress; Best do as She Says

From war fighting theory we develop strategy, and strategy, along with specifications and requirements, leads to the design of the defence. This is basically an engineering process. As I’m an engineer this is what I would expect to see. Engineering is about making things work in the real world. Reality doesn’t care about being politically correct, what you believe in, nor what colour underwear you have on. If you don’t pay attention to reality, she has a nasty habit of biting you where it hurts the most. As an example of that, one can examine the engineering failure of Tacoma Bridge. In the defence case, the reality is the reality of war and this should be the focus. When it comes to defence decisions, reality is judge, jury, and executioner. Get it wrong and you pay in blood.

MSD16 has some strategy and operational art but I would say it is weak. Compare MSD16 [MSD16] with, for example the US Marine Corps manuals, which focus more on manoeuvrer warfare concepts, such as commander’s intent and surfaces and gaps, than the equivalent Swedish documents.

Figure 1: A simplified over view of an engineering project.

The design process for an engineering project often follows a cyclic pattern. You design, implement, and then test part of your system. Then take the lessons learnt, go back, and then design, implement, test the next part of the system. Learning as we go. Figurer 1 shows a simplified over view of this process. The green arrows are the main flow but the blue arrows indicate point where we can go back. This process can become more complex if we add in parallel flows. However, from my corner of the Universe, it looks to me like we have defence decisions, which sit at the specification / requirement stage, making implementation decisions instead of setting requirements. Argumentation of the current defence with no clear idea where we are going.  In other words, what is happening in defence looks to me like a poorly executed engineering project; poor requirement analysis, poor, if any, design, and poor testing.

Much of this, I see as a consequence for having no theory, poor specification / requirements, and no design. If you did an engineering project as we currently manage defence, I would expect it to end in disaster. Many years of engineering experience of building things to work in the real world leads me to that conclusion. Design is planning and failure to plan is to plan to fail.

And Now the Questions

“Vi har valt en försvarsstrategi där tyngdpunkten ligger på att slå angriparen när denne etablerat ett ”brohuvud”. Är detta en lämplig strategi för ett land som militärstrategiskt kan betraktas som en ö med omgivande hav?”

We wont know that unless we have a good grounding in theory. So, I would see the need to ask such question results from the poor process that has led to the current implementation. If we had a good grounding in theory we would be able to point to the design and say it is the way it is because the theory says so (along with the specifications and requirement). That’s what I would do if someone asked why I implement things the way I do in an engineering project.

“Givet denna strategi borde markstridskrafterna ha hög anfallskraft och operativ rörlighet. Nu har man valt flera förband med lägre kvalitet vilket medför att strategi (1) inte fungerar?”

This question, again, to me, reflects the lack of theory that can be used to justify why. But this question is interesting as it points out the low quality of some units. Going back to MSD16, manoeuvrer warfare is easy on paper but extremely difficult in reality. It takes many years to build up the competence. From that, it could then be argued that the current direction Sweden is taking with its defence is an error. Much like the French in the inter-war years.

“En konsekvens av (1) blir att det inte finns tillräckliga militära marina resurser för krishantering utanför vår landgräns. Gråzonsproblematiken, som bl a Värnkraft lyfter fram som en allvarlig utmaning, definieras bort av försvarsberedningen eftersom man prioriterar (1)? En öppen dörr för en angripare som inte kan stängas.”

This question I would see as a problem of requirements leading to design. From what I see, there is no design for the defence. If there is no design, then how do we really know what we have and what it can do? But this question is also about testing. Have we really stress tested the defence?


From what I see from my corner of the Universe, Vice-Admiral Rosenius has highlighted some problems which in turn highlights an even more serious problem to do with lack of war fighting theory, design of the defence, as well as other problems. There is a need to ground what is being done regarding the defence of Sweden in theory. There is a need for design as well as for testing. The Vice-Admiral highlighted indirectly cultural problems that will make things difficult in the defence debate.

The author is BEng(hons) PhD EurIng.


[war] MCDP 1 – Warfighting.

[ops] Marine Corps Operations.

[Brown] A New Concept of War. Ian T. Brown

[MSD16] Militarstrategisk Doktrin 2016

[TFS] Task Force Smith; The Lesson Never Learned. Major John Garret. School of Advanced Military Studies. US Army Command and General Staff College.

[ex-pat] “Business in Sweden an Expats View”

[nexus] “Radical Paradox Sweden’s Consensus Culture”

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