Robert Egnell, rector of the Swedish National Defense College, recently published an article entitled “Framtida konflikter: aktörer, intressen och förmågor” [Fram] where he raised a number of interesting points about the Swedish defence.

Quality vs Quantity

Robert Egnell begins with pointing out the quality / quantity issue with the current defence proposal.

Arbetet handlar dock inte bara om att bygga kvantitet utan kanske än mer om kvalitet och innovation, så att de långsiktiga satsningarna som beslutats görs på ett sätt som motsvarar krigets krav om 10, 20, eller till och med 30 år.

I would argue that the current direction in Swedish defence is building an army of numbers where quantity overrides quality and is not really building for the long term of 10, 20, or 30 years. Nor is it building for a flexible defence. For example, if we look at the military strategic doctrine 2016 [MSD16];

Svensk krigföring utgår operativt från manöverkrigföring, som bildar utgångspunkt för strid och operationer.

Manoeuvre warfare [mano], I would argue, is easy in theory but difficult in practice. The US Armed Forces and the British Army, for example, have both experienced problems [Hori, Look, Road, will] with the implementation of the theory. Both these armed forces are full time professional, regular militaries. If they are having problems with implementing manoeuvre warfare it then raises concerns that a conscript based army would also have similar problems, or, perhaps, even worse. I would argue that the “how to” of manoeuvre warfare is learnt through domain experience and repetition. It could be argued that a conscripted based army does not build up the domain experience as it has insufficient repetition. For example, the French army of the inter-war years.

The French army relied on conscription. For most of the inter-war period a one year conscription was enforced, which, even then, was considered inadequate (it was raised to two years shortly before the Second World War). To compensate for this, the French Armed Forces developed the concept of “the methodological battle”, which was like fighting battles by numbers. This failed in 1940. It was pointed out during the inter-war years by de Gaulle that France needed a professional army due to the complexities of modern warfare (as it was at the time). That argument can be seen as even more valid today with the even more complex modern warfare of today. Partly due to modern technology but also because manoeuvre warfare puts more demands on sub-commanders, all the way down to section commanders, to display initiative. Knowing what to do takes experience built up over a long time period. In the Swedish Armed Forces, some of that experience appears to be lost due to conscription[GSS/T] with GSS/T being replaced with conscripts, which impacts quality.


Robert Egnell then goes on to say;

Det är genom klok framtidsanalys och planering som vi kan undvika att göra alltför mycket fel och dessutom också kan skapa en flexibel och anpassningsbar försvarsmakt som snabbt kan hantera olika typer av krigföring – och olika typer av utmaningar.

Which I would quite agree with. This is another point for which I would argue quality is important and the way Sweden is building up its armed forces is counter to this. As it takes time and domain knowledge to be able to be flexible and adaptable. Again the French experience of 1940 illustrates this. The French were stuck following their step-by-step methodological battle whereas the Germans were flexible and adaptive. By the time the French generals understood what was happening they were too slow and too late.

Predicting the future

Robert Egnell points out that it is impossible to predict the future accurately;

Men att förutspå framtida krigföring är inte lätt och rent historiskt har försvarsmakter, politiska ledare försvarsanalytiker nästan alltid haft fel.

And this problem is also pointed out in Värnkraft;

Det har visat sig mycket svårt att tidigt identifiera signaler om förändringar i den säkerhetspolitiska situationen och utifrån det fatta nödvändiga beslut om förstärkningar av försvarsförmågan.

This problem then leads to developments and defence decisions that lag the geopolitical reality, as Sweden is finding out now. Sweden is reacting to the deteriorating situation in the region but wont have its plan realised until 10 years or more time. This seems to be a repeated mistake in Swedish defence policies. Arguable, a better way to formulate defence policy would be to look at the possibility along the continuum of violence and the nature of conflicts. As Sun Tzu says;

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 Continuum of Violence

Robert Egnell talks about the nature of conflicts;

Så är dock inte fallet och krigens karaktär bestäms istället i mötet mellan aktörerna på slagfältet.

Which I would agree with. To me, the battlefield is the final judge, jury, and executioner. Everything must work from that reality. However, I do think we can look at different types of conflict. And for that we could use a continuum of violence (from peacekeeping to counter insurgency to all out war). Not because this is a correct view of the world (It has problems) but because it is useful (things don’t need to be correct to be useful). That is because, as Robert Egnell points out, we can’t predict the future but we can have some idea of what might be possible and the continuum of violence gives us a view of the possibilities. Robert Egnell also lays out possibilities by looking at current trends. I see nothing wrong with his analysis at this point other than to say it is limited.

Part of my background is in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, specifically dealing with intelligent agents in distributed systems. Often these agents, such as mobile robots, have to interact with an unpredictable world and as Robert Egnell says;

Kontentan är att vi framför oss har en oerhört komplex och svårförutspådd värld och vi bör angripa detta med en viss ödmjukhet.

One way that that is done in AI is to use a technique called case based reasoning. The idea being that if an agent can handle a set of cases then when it encounters something unpredicted it should, hopefully, have one or more cases that are similar. From that, the agent should then reason on how to deal with the unexpected event. This is why I think the continuum of violence is useful; it allows us to develop a set of cases (I would argue for five) spaced along the continuum. And then, whatever happens in reality, we hope, will be similar to one or more of the cases we have prepared for so that we can then rapidly adapt.

For each case, I would argue that we should develop a set of scenarios (say three each). What Robert Egnell provides is a good set of scenarios for perhaps two or three cases. But I would argue we need more cases and more scenarios. This, I would argue, would then fit in better with what Robert Egnell concludes;

Den första slutsatsen är att Sverige måste investera i militära förmågor längs hela konfliktskalan och skapa plattformar som kan leverera effekt i samtliga scenarier.

I would agree with what Robert Egnell concludes but nothing is mentioned about the part time defence. The primary part time defence is the Home Guard, which is concerned with the grey zone and perhaps irregular warfare. But it is an organisation that will need further development. I would argue that the part time defence (including GSS/T) has a key part to play in building an adaptable and flexible defence that would operate across the conflict continuum. More so than a conscript army as the part time defence can have people committed for a long period of time. Time enough to build up domain knowledge needed for manoeuvre warfare. And if we go with what Robert Egnell says, then the part time defence will need to be developed to handle the full spectrum of conflict scenarios.

The author is a software engineer working in the area of analysis and design of telecom systems. He has a PhD in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.


[Fram] Framtida konflikter: aktörer, intressen och förmågor

[MSD16] Militärstrategisk doktrin – MSD 16

[mano] “Defining Maneuver Warfare for the Marine Corps”

[Hori] “Defining The Event Horizon:  The Marine Corps And The Dialectic Of Maneuver Warfare And Airland Battle”

[Look] A Solution Looking for a Problem: Illuminating MisconceptionsinManeuver-Warfare Doctrine

[Road] “The Long and Winding Road: The US Army Managerial Approach to Command and the Adoption of Auftragstaktik (Mission Comamnd)”.

[GSS/T] MÖP-måndag: Erfarna GSS/T-soldater sägs upp på elitförband – ersätts av nya GSS/P-soldater

[will] Defining the “Will” in MCDP-1

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