I would argue that the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF) are very professional military, but they are a very professional peace time military. This article is in response to an article written by Major General Jonny Lindfors et al. entitled “En armé i behov av förändring”. I would agree that SAF needs to change but in to what?

An army in need of change

“En armé i behov av förändring” begins with the reason for the need to change. Giving the current geo-political environment as the justification.

“Försvarsmakten och armén måste därför snarast utvecklas och transformeras för att anpassas till denna nya kontext.”

I would argue that we have started off on the wrong foot. Essentially, this is a repeat of the mistake that led us to the current situation with the Swedish defence, the reason why we need to rapidly change. The mistake is to look at the current geo-political situation and then adapt to it. And from my corner of the Universe, this is how I see Swedish defence policy being conducted time and time again. If we put this in an OODA perspective, I would argue that the Russians are in the Act phase and we then enter the Observe phase. Thus, we are lagging behind the Russians and have lost the initiative. To my mind, we need to change SAF, not because of the current geo-political situation or what the Russians are or are not doing, but because SAF should be a war fighting organisation regardless. We may think we could be in a war with Russia in three to five years but maybe we won’t. Think of all the preparedness for the Cold War. Did we go to war with the USSR? The future can take unexpected terns. A good example of how things can go in an unexpected way is to look at the British ASW fleet of the 70s and 80s. It was designed for ASW operations against Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic where air attack was unlikely and ended up fighting a war in the South Atlantic against Argentina where air attack was the main threat. As we, hopefully, are learning (but given past behaviour one could argue we are not), geo-political realities change far faster than a military can and those changes are unpredictable. It is, also, far easier to shrink a military than it is to build one up. I think Sun Tzu highlights why we need to change far better than I can:

“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.”


“Denna nya markoperativa kontext kräver att armén skyndsamt förändrar och utvecklar sig för att, tillsammans med övriga Natoallierade på ett effektivt och trovärdigt sätt, kunna genomföra militära operationer och lösa storskalig strid i en högintensiv konfliktmiljö inom ramen för en ny teknisk och taktisk hotbild.”

If we are thinking about the need to change SAF, then I would argue that we need to change with a battlefield focus. At the end of the day, the battlefield is the ultimate judge, jury, and executioner. Everything and anything we do regarding the military must work on the battlefield. If it doesn’t then we don’t do it. So, I would agree with the article, indeed, the “new ground operational context requires the army to rapidly change”. To my mind, SAF is not doing that at the moment. One could argue that “the generals are fighting old wars” again. As an example, SAF is introducing a new “combat helmet”, which is the Caiman Ballistic Helmet. This is a half cut helmet designed, as the manufacture says, for Special Operation Forces. It is not a combat helmet. Compare that helmet with the Caiman Viper A3 helmet, which is a full cut helmet. Is SAF thinking in terms of the modern battlefield or in terms of what’s nice and comfy for peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan or Mali? As a half cut helmet doesn’t offer as much protection as a full cut helmet from shrapnel, there is a higher probability of head injury when wearing a half cut helmet than when compared to wearing a full cut helmet on a modern battlefield such as seen in Ukraine during the current war there.

Another concern when learning from the new ground context is; are we learning the right lessons? The French army learnt a lot from the First World War. So did the Germans. It could be argued that the French learnt the wrong lessons and the Germans the right lessons given the events following the German invasion of France in 1940. Especially in regards to the use of tanks.

I would also raise another concern with the idea of rapidly building a defence. I can understand how after, what I see as, decades of mismanagement of defence at the political level has led SAF to a situation where we do need to rebuild a defence rapidly (needs must as the devil drives). However, if we rush too fast we are in danger of creating an ineffective defence. For example, Task Force Smith was rapidly created and sent to the front during the first year of the Korean War. It was highly ineffective as years of lack of battlefield focus and poor decisions being made in haste led to a force that could not do what was needed. In haste, is SAF creating a Task Force Smith at the national level? To my mind, we have lack of foundations; no overall vision, poorly defined specifications and requirements, no design, poor implementation of war fighting theory. Without being certain of the foundations, SAF could well be building a castle in the sand.

The article then goes on to make two interesting points. First, it highlights SAF of the Cold War era and then, second, it points out the need to look forward rather than looking back at bygone times.

“Det går med fog att argumentera för att den svenska armén under kalla kriget var en formidabel armé och i vissa avseende kanske världsledande.  … bör vi driva utvecklingen mot framtiden med blicken i framrutan, snarare än blickandes bakåt mot svunna tider.”

At first, this struck me as a contradiction. But on reflection, I think this is a good approach. SAF of the Cold War had many positive points. It was, as the article points out, a formidable force. So, could be a good inspiration for moving forward. Not something to repeat. One of the problems with SAF during the Cold War was it was still a reaction to the geo-political reality of the time. So, Sweden built the right kind of force for the wrong reasons. Perhaps, going forward we can build the right kind of force for the right reasons (going back to what the art of war teaches us)? An armed force that can defend the country regardless of that the enemy does or doesn’t do. However, we don’t want to be in a situation where we have 300,000 soldiers armed to the teeth sitting on the boarder day in day out, year after year, as that would be extremely expensive. So, we would need something flexible. One that is effective and battlefield focused regardless of what the enemy does or doesn’t do, yet doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I think that can be done but not the way we are doing things at the moment.

The article goes on to discuss the roll of doctrine and the need to involve people at most levels of the military in developing the way forward.

“Detta kräver att det finns en kognitiv brygga och en bred förståelse mellan den högsta policynivån och lägsta taktiska nivån. Detta är en relation som inte kan bygga på ett top-down- eller bottom-up-perspektiv utan måste snarare vara en kombination av dessa två.”

This is basically a hive mind approach, which, I would argue, is an excellent approach. However, there are two comments I would make on such an approach. First, why limit it to the officer corps? Expertise can come from many different directions and ideas can emerge from the strangest of places. For example, although I have served in SAF and have grown up with the military and studied the military for many years, I’m not part of the officer corps yet I have no shortage of ideas. I’m an engineer and I have many years of experience solving real world problems in complex systems. The military, I would argue, is a real world system solving complex problems in a complex environment. Thus, there is a large overlap with engineering and I’m sure I’m not the only one outside of the officer corps that could bring valuable expertise to this debate. Also, one of my areas of expertise is distributed systems. Invoking a hive mind approach means stepping into my parlour. That brings me on to my second point; for such an approach to work you need a well defined goal. However, this can be a double edged sword. The body count of the Vietnam war was a well defined goal yet drove the wrong behaviour. So, you need a well define goal combined with an overall vision and a good set of definitions for requirements and specifications. Get those foundations right and the hive mind approach is a very powerful way to find a solution to a complex problem. People need a good understanding of the problem but, although on one hand there is a need to open this debate to more than just the office corps, it is unwise to open it so far as to allow knowledgeable people to be drowned out by those who have no domain expertise.

Then the article talks about the need to change the military doctrine and outlines a number of areas that need to be handled such as operations in other countries, cooperating with other armies, need to  coordinate at lower levels etc. etc. etc.

“Förändringen av den svenska försvars- och säkerhetspolitiken kräver en ny doktrin och kontextuell lösning för nyttjandet av Försvarsmakten. Detta gäller för alla försvarsgrenar men i synnerhet för armén och det är bråttom.”

Essentially, to my mind, this is talking about how to design a distributed, multi-agent, system. We are almost at the stage where we have a set of requirements being laid out. To my mind, this is necessary and a step in the right direction, although we still need a good vision. Some of these requirements will have standard solutions already worked out. It will just be a case of how to implement those solutions. For example, coordinating at the tactical or lower levels is basically the two men fighting in the dark and water running around rocks. Although, today’s battles are fought under the eye of Souron. The standard solutions include “Frodo goes to Mordor”, “to hide a tree in the forest”, and “to cross the sea under the emperor’s gaze” (but all these are just variations on “all warfare is deception”). But how to implement them? I would argue that SAF has a problem with implementation and that is one target for change.

Now we come on to another domain I have some expertise in, as I’m an engineer; technology. The article points out the need the change regarding technology. Wars often drive technology. The development of the aircraft could be seen as a good example.

“Detta skifte av taktik och teknik kräver att Sverige genomför ett omfattande utvecklingsarbete för att anpassa armén till det nya slagfältet.”

Which is spot on, something Sweden should be constantly doing regardless. Drones, for example, were being developed in the 1990s. Anyone seeing what was happening regarding military research in the 1990s would have understood that drones would play an important roll in upcoming conflicts. Drone technology, I would argue, hasn’t reach its full potential. We haven’t yet seen the full implementation of AI and drones that could lead to fully autonomous drone swarms. Nor the use of drones in a more defensive roll (could an aerial minefield of drones replace ground to air missiles, for example?). What else is just around the corner? How can we develop defence against new technology as we play Red Queen?

This next bit I find interesting:

“Det är således troligt att vi just nu upplever en Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Enkelt uttryckt betyder detta att ny teknik kan förändra krigsföringen så dramatiskt att tillämpliga doktriner och taktik inte längre fungerar.”

So, things change. The old no longer works and the new comes in. Isn’t that always the case? Then we develop counters to the new so we maintain the balance. Isn’t this what playing Red Queen is all about? The question I would ask is; doesn’t the goal remain the same? To my mind, the continual change is part of the game so you need to learn to play the game that way. Else, we would still be trying to use sticks and stones to fight our wars. To my mind this just highlights the need to build a flexible and dynamic defence force that can constantly adapt (now we are back to the need to define requirements). But there is also a need to future proof the military. That is far easier to say than to do but it does come back to the point that Sun Tzu makes; “the art of war teaches us …”. Have we learnt that yet?

“Exempelvis och möjligen paradoxalt, har kriget också påvisat betydelsen av mängden artilleri i samverkan med ett välutbildat och välutrustat infanteri”

The thing with that is, SAF may well aim for manoeuvre warfare but in the end of the day it is both the application of manoeuvre warfare and attrition warfare that occurs in reality. So, we need to think in terms of both.

“Därför har också det som av USA kommit att benämnas the third offset strategy blivit utmanat. Denna strategi har övergripande byggt på ett antagande om att överlägsen teknologi kan kompensera för kvantitativa och kvalitativa fördelar hos motståndaren. Detta antagande har varit drivande i teknikutvecklingen hos främst USA men även Nato och ska ses som en teknologisk lösning för att penetrera eller att verka inom motståndarens A2/AD-bubbla”

We have to be careful here. Since, the end of the Second World War, the US has been busy losing wars to technology inferior armies (with the exception of Grenada). But for a peer to peer conflict? It could be more interesting for SAF to look at the US Marines’ doctrine and the British armies doctrine. But something else to consider; Is SAF building a military for a technically complex war? During the inter-war years, General de Gaulle argued for the need of a professional army because new technology was making the modern (as it was at the time) battlefield more complex. He was in the minority and, thus, his arguments were dismissed. Far be it for me to want to agree with a Frenchman, but I do believe the events of 1940 show that we was correct. Today’s modern battlefield is even more complex than it was during the Second World War. Thus, I would argue, there is an even greater need to build and maintain technical competence in SAF through building a professional military and through long term commitment in the part time reserve. Something SAF, I would argue, is not doing at the moment and thus needs to change.

“För att lyckas med detta behov av anpassning och ökad interoperabilitet samt för att kunna navigera i den pågående teknikutvecklingen behöver vi i armén tänka utanför den ordinarie boxen.”

Yes, and that can also be seen as an argument for extending the debate beyond just the officer corps (and academia). That, however, will drive SAF into uncomfortable waters and to ideas that will not be liked, yet might be fruitful. So there is going to be a need to openly assess ideas rather than dismiss them because they are not “as we always have done things”. That also brings in the need for a battlefield focus. And to look at how SAF could operate across the whole of the Continuum of Violence.

“Parallellt behöver armén därför i ännu större utsträckning tillämpa en ledningsfilosofi som uppmuntrar initiativ, flexibilitet och kreativ problemlösning på alla nivåer. Att lyckas med detta är en av de avgörande faktorerna för att vinna nästa krig.”

Yes. At all levels. Not just the officer corps. Start with defining the goal.

“Därför är tidigare metoder för utveckling av armén inte tillämpliga i samma utsträckning som tidigare.”

Yes, now I would argue there is two parts to this. Needs must as the devil drives. But in SAF’s rush to build a war fighting armed force there is a risk of building a Task Force Smith. When the day comes, things won’t work. So, I would argue the first part is to build something rapidly and the second part is to build something long lasting and effective. The first would be a temporary bandage held together with sticky tape and string. It will get us by till we get the second part in place. That means in our rush we still think about the second part. Now, thinking outside the box and talking about uncomfortable ideas. Imagine if we had, say a few tens of thousands of trained soldiers ready and willing to make a contribution to the defence of Sweden. Wouldn’t that be handy? Equip and train them and we could have a division up and running in two to three years. That can be done, much of the building blocks are there but we are stuck with old thinking (“that’s not what they are for” or “they have another mission”). How “outside the box” can SAF go?

“Därvid bör Försvarsmakten i stället inta en organisation som dels liknar de övriga allierade inom Nato”

Well, does that mean SAF will actually get a sensible ranking system (in what mad universe are “other ranks” officers? Only in Sweden)? This might seem a small and trivial point but fixing the ranking system is a small, quick, and easy to do change (put specialist officers as Warrant Officers as in the US Army, for example but there are a few other easy ways to do this) but it would make interoperability with NATO easier.

“Detta är ett nytt synsätt där vi behöver ta mer organisatoriska risker och delegera mer mandat till garnisons- och krigsförbandschefer för att på så sätt kunna verka i hela konfliktskalan och samtidigt bibehålla produktion och tillväxt.”

This comes back to how to get a distributed system to work. One interesting source of reference is to look at the leader-leader model. An important point to make such an approach work is the goal setting bit. Here, however, we have lower level goals but the same idea applies. Another part that’s important for how such systems work is communication and the flow of information. The communication aspect allows good ideas to spread and errors to be corrected and if the communications is open and free, it allows for innovation and creativity. Innovation and creativity is the key to problem solving.

“Men att vi nu deltar i en allians innebär inte att vi inte kan eller ska reflektera över vad vi vill.”

To my mind, this is another part of the article that is talking about goals, specifications, requirements, and design. Yet we don’t have those or they are not yet well laid out. In the rush to rebuild the defence, we will still need to workout what the defence actually is and then plan for the long term.

The last part of the article deals with the way forward.

“Sammanfattningsvis menar vi att Försvarsmakten och armén skyndsamt måste utvecklas för att möta och anpassas till vår anslutning till Nato”

Yes, however, I would argue that it is not just a case of adapting to NATO or any current threat that Russia presents. I would argue that SAF needs to change so that it is capable of meeting any current or future threat regardless. In other words, we need to break out of this reactive form of defence policy that Sweden has put SAF in. A position of constantly lagging the geo-political reality.

“Därför tror vi att det är viktigt att vi inom armén är överens om vad vi menar med förändring och att vi delar uppfattningar om varför vi måste utveckla oss. Det betyder att vi dels måste skapa oss en gemensam förståelse för den nya kontexten … Men att genomföra en förändringsresa utan en klar uppfattning om start- eller slutpunkt kommer att leda någonstans men troligen till en okänd eller åtminstone icke i förväg identifierad plats.”

Yes, As Seneca said; “without knowing your destination, no wind is favourable”.

Putting my engineer hat back on I would say that to do that we would first need to create an overall vision of what we mean by defence and what SAF should be. That is imagining the armed forces of our dreams if we could have everything we want. At this stage it’s not important if it is realistic or not as that will be fixed in later stages but the dream defence force gives us something to aim for. The next thing I would do is define the goal and draw up a set of requirements and specifications. We do have those already but they are ill defined and floating around all over the place. I would get all this together in a single document so we have one reference source that defines what we are trying to achieve. Once we have that I would do an overall design, a top level design. Down to say battalions. Then I would do a more detailed level design down to individual soldiers. Lastly I would do a functional design at the individual soldier level. At this stage we have taken the fantasy armed forces of the vision through am process where we have made it more and more realistic till we have something we can make concrete. Then we can start talking about implementation. However, once things are designed I would not stop there. As we implement we will learn and learning will mean we may have to go back a review our designs, requirements, and specifications. So, the whole process is dynamic. As General Eisenhower said, ”Plans are nothing; planning is everything”.

At the moment, I would argue we don’t have a clear destination. From my engineering experience, working on projects with a poor definition or a lack of a well-defined destination is a recipe for disaster. We could get something to work as projects are often fixed at the coal face but so many problems would have been avoided if we had started on the right foot.


Change is needed. The hive mind approach is an excellent way forward. We need to define a vision, a goal, specifications, requirements, and then we need a realistic design. We also need not just to think about rushing a defence (even if that is needed) but we also need to think long term and thing about a defence that is not a reaction to whatever the Russians do of or don’t do.

The author is an Engineer with a PhD in Robotics.