The Nordics and Baltic and Arctic Defense: A Discussion with the Head of Risk Intelligence


2014-05-27 by Robbin Laird

During my visit to Denmark in May 2014, I had a chance to discuss with Danish analysts and policy makers various aspects of Danish assessments of Baltic defense and Arctic defense and security issues.

One of those analysts was our strategic partner, Hans Tinon Hansen, founder and CEO of Risk Intelligence based in Denmark. 

He works extensively with the shipping, offshore, oil & gas companies in the Nordic countries as well as worldwide. 

He is well connected throughout the Nordic defense and security circles and during my visit to Denmark; we had a chance to discuss Nordic thinking about the future of Baltic defense after the Russian map rewriting exercise in Ukraine.

Question: I would like to start by discussing Sweden and its reactions to Russian actions. 

The Swedes clearly are taking Russian actions quite seriously.  For example, they announced recently that they are increasing their defense budget by nearly $900 million per annum and adding new cruise missile capabilities to their aircraft. 

What is your sense of the Swedish dynamic?

HTH: I think that what has happened in Sweden is like with any other Western European country.

They have been reducing their defense to such an extent that they are at the lowest level possible to actually withhold or maintain a credible defense – or even below.They got their first wake up call last year when Russian air exercises were targeted against Swedish installations.

And they didn’t actually have the 24/7 Quick Alert Reaction (QRA) fighter capability to show sovereignty against the Russians.

Ironically, the Russian planes were intercepted by Danish F16s operating from Lithuania during the NATO Air-Policing mission in the Baltic countries.

The second wake-up call is of course Ukraine and the Crimea. They have increasingly been talking about building a defense that can actually, interact with NATO in defending the Baltic area. Not only the Baltic area as a sea area, or a region, but also actually within the Baltic Republics. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania themselves.

Of course, Sweden is not a member of NATO. Sweden has always said that they are not necessarily neutral, but they are alliance-free, and that is not necessarily the same thing.

We also know from the Cold War that they actually worked very closely together with the Danes, and the Germans, and the Americans, and the Norwegians. We could say that it’s actually going back in some ways to how it was before.

But they’ve simply reduced too much in their defense, and they have been focusing on “out of area operations” as has Denmark and this has reduced the importance of direct defense and the planning for it as well.

In contrast, the Norwegians and the Finns, have maintained a tradition of direct defense, which is, of course the target of defending their own sovereign area against the opponents that might be in that area, which is, of course, Russia.

I’ve been to several conferences during the last 10 years where the Norwegians constantly have to put up a map on the over-head, or the computer, showing the Arctic, which to others was a little bit strange, while everybody else is talking about the Horn of Africa, anti-piracy operations, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and Eastern Mediterranean and so on.

The Norwegians have been constantly focused the Arctic as a key domain to protect their interests.

For the Finns, they know from historic experience what their core requirement clearly is, namely national survival.  They don’t need to engage and do all the out of area operations, and that’s why they still have these 14 brigades, more than any other Western European country. They are not confused about the need for direct defense against Russia.  Here they have been a constant.

Question: How might Denmark reset its forces to do a more effective direct defense effort in the Baltics and in the region?

HTH: You can say that in some respect we’ve partly maintained the ability to do direct defense, however, that’s probably quite hollow, because the army has been fully engaged in Iraq and then Afghanistan, and we’re just pulling out now.

Which means that the army has been basically designed to deliver a battalion battle group for 6 month periods, twice a year, for the last 7 years. This is what we’ve been doing.

The problem is also that we are below the lowest numbers that should be in the system, should be in the structure, in order to actually both develop, train, and exercise an army.

When it comes to a navy, the assets are quite different from during the Cold War.

Through the Cold War, the Danish navy was based on fast, small, very agile, but very lethal units. We had fast missile boats and submarines to protect the Danish Straits and operate far into the Baltic Sea.

Since then they have been transformed into a real blue water navy, with three air defense frigates and the two command and support ships and they have been engaged in anti-piracy operations at the Horn of Africa, more or less, constantly since 2008.

That’s of course more of a policing function. You can argue it has to do with security, but it’s nothing to do with defense.

Question: I assume this is has to do in part to the Danish stake in merchant shipping?

HTH: It does. It is about free trade flows, global free trade flows, and you can only protect them at sea with naval assets of some size.

The shipping industry is very important to Denmark because the net currency inflow is about 150-200 billion Danish Krone per year, which is quite significant and about 10-12% of the world’s trade is moved on Danish operated or owned vessels.

That says something about the magnitude of the interest in free-trade flows for Denmark. This is also partly why Risk Intelligence has been so successful in the maritime domain with over 12% of the World fleet operated by clients Worldwide. We have been able to combine an understanding of international shipping and offshore operations together with intelligence products, which fit the needs of modern shipowners and oil companies.

The expanded role for the navy has affected direct defense as well. 

The missile air defense frigates was designed to play the role of defending Danish territory as the Air Force missile defense role was disbanded.  You can cover all of Danish territory with two missile defense frigates if properly armed.

And actually one of the discussions that have come up due to Ukraine is the need to bring forward the acquisition process for arming the air defense frigates with medium range missiles and potentially missiles for the ballistic air defense program.

I think that most people understand that we are not returning to the Cold War. And I think that’s also the general understanding of Danish defense and among Danes’ positions.

But the crisis has raised issue of, have we actually reduced the defense too much?

I think many among the parties behind the Defence Agreement actually agree that we have probably gone beyond the limit of how much we can reduce in order to have a defense that is robust and designed to actually meet the operational requirements set by the very same politicians.

We need to expand a defense capability that plays into the security role, and at the same time can perform tasks in the whole Kingdom of Denmark area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Question: We’re talking about a flexible air and naval force that works effectively together?

HTH:     Absolutely.

I think that since the Cold War, the Danish military has been forced by circumstances, to pursue the flex concept that was made for the navy, that you can actually use containerized positions on different ships and configure them in different roles.

That was out of necessity and out of financial constraints.

And that is a concept that has been applauded by many, many nations around the world, and I think you can even do it further when you look at the defense. Right now the Arctic patrol frigates are actually financed outside the defense budget because of their fishery protection role.

One could argue that it’s probably time to look at when these ships are going to be replaced that need to build a multi-role platform and not only one that can be search and rescue and fishery protection, but also more robust in performing security and defense related tasks.

Question: Do you think that mainstream Europe has grasped the growing importance of the Arctic and the role of the Northern European states, or put in other words, one can foresee a shift in power northward due to Arctic resources, in contrast the general dependence of the rest of Europe on outside energy resources?

HTH: Frankly, no.  Generally speaking Europe needs to shape a greater effort for energy independence.  For example, the dependence of Germany on Russian gas imports clearly limits its sovereignty and ability to play a key foreign policy role. But I do not think that the full strategic impact of the Northern Region is fully understood in the capitals of Europe. Not at the moment.

Question: Thinking about the Baltic defense and the Arctic opening, what are the realistic expectations about Baltic defense and what the United States will or will not do?

HTH: If we look at the role in the Baltic since the 1990’s, the different countries in the region have assisted one of the Baltic Republics in building up their army, building their navy, or similar. And we should just continue to do that.

The Danish army division actually has the Baltic brigades as component units. The Danish division that actually organizes and exercise, maybe with an American battalion coming over or a Polish company battalion, then that demonstrates in practical ways NATO’s exercising in these 3 countries. We are building capacity, we are helping them getting new equipment and shaping new approaches.

The same goes for the Arctic and the need to build a grid of communications, especially north of 70 degrees north, ISR and safety, search and rescue and defense capability to help develop and protect the region. 

It is about actually knowing where the problem may arise, having the assets to find operate in the region. By laying down a grid, defense could built from that grid.

The American role could be enhanced if Americans design, or re-design some of their own capability to be able to actually be an active partner in the region.

At the moment US capability in the Arctic is almost non-existent.

There are a number of areas where the Americans could do a lot if they so chose and would be important for security and defense in the region such as communications, ISR and logistics. 

But we shall see.

Perspectives on Sweden and The Russian Factor

Sweden to beef up air force to counter Russia


Sweden’s centre-right government coalition announced plans on Tuesday to pump more funds into the military if the four parties win the September elections, with an emphasis on more fighter jets and submarines.

In an article published in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) the four party leaders wrote about the crisis in Ukraine and how Russia had now ramped up both its military and propaganda machines.The leaders said they had previously welcomed Russia’s attempts to embed itself deeper in the global community, despite harbouring fears that the tide could turn at any point.

“What we see today is a Russia that acts in a way that confirms and surpasses the fears we had then,” the leaders of the Moderate, Liberal (Folkpartiet), Centre and Christian Democrat Parties wrote. If the coalition were to remain in power, it would aim to increase the military budget by five billion kronor ($760 million) annually, starting in 2015.

“Seen against the backdrop of developments in our region it can be particularly motivated to increase Swedish presence on the Baltic Sea and on Gotland Island,” the op-ed text stated.It would also order Saab to provide the Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) with 70 rather than 60 of the new generation of Jas Gripen E fighter jets. Adding more submarines to the naval fleet would also be on the cards if the government’s proposals make it to the negotiation table with other parliamentary parties. Sweden has traditionally anchored much of defence policy across party lines to secure longevity.

“Sweden should have an accessible and useful defence, adapted to a rapidly changing world,” Fredrik Reinfeldt, Jan Björklund, Göran Hägglund and Annie Lööf wrote.

Sweden ups readiness for new Russian ‘attack’


Defense News said Sweden’s Defense Ministry is set to discuss the implementation of new advance warning and rapid reaction structures after the disclosure that Russian aircraft conducted a nighttime “simulated” attack on key Swedish military and civilian installations last month.

“We have observed that Russia has stepped up its training exercises and that they are behaving in a different way than before. We intend to maintain a close watch on the situation,”Defense Minister Karin Enström said in a statement.

The Swedish Air Force reportedly failed to monitor exercises ostensibly aimed at Swedish targets, because no planes or pilots were available.

The newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reports that during Easter weekend the Russian Air Force held maneuvers in the Baltic just outside Sweden’s territorial boundary. Held off of the island Gotska Sandön, military sources tell the newspaper that the fictitious targets of the exercise were two of Sweden’s most important military bases.

“It is a decidedly serious matter if we discover that Swedish preparedness does not work. We must have a 24/7 rapid reaction capability. For Russian aircraft to run a mock bombing exercise apparently simulating attacks against Swedish targets reminds me of the Cold War era. This confirms our image that Russia means business when it comes to raising its military capacity.” said Peter Hultqvist, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense (PCoD), to Defense News

 Ukraine crisis prompts Sweden to boost arms budget


Following the crisis in Ukraine, Sweden’s government has proposed increasing the Nordic country’s military spending by 5.5 billion Swedish kronor ($830 million) a year.

The four-party center-right coalition said Tuesday it is deeply concerned by the recent events in Ukraine and wants to raise the military outlays gradually in coming years to reach the proposed figure by 2024.

Among other things, it wants to buy 10 more fighter jets and two more submarines to improve the defense of the Baltic Sea and the island Gotland.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Sweden’s defense budget was slashed and its military emphasis shifted toward international peacekeeping operations. Now, however, both the left-leaning opposition and the government agree that the country’s military readiness is inadequate.

A Danish story at the time of the Russian incursion into Swedish air space underscored the importance of the Nordics supporting one another.

April 23, 2013

Danish F-16s confronted Russian fighter jets approaching Sweden

The Russian military has increased its presence in the Baltic region over the past few years, much to the consternation of the Swedes

On Good Friday, March 29, two bombers and four fighters from the Russian Air Force approached Swedish airspace, completely catching the Swedes by surprise.

With the Swedes asleep at the wheel, two Danish F-16 jets under NATO command were sent up to face the approaching Russians. The Russian jets turned around just 30-40 kilometres, a couple of minute’s flight time, from Sweden’s border and the Danish F-16’s fell in to ‘shadow’ the Russians, or “fly the flag” as the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), put it.

Had the two Danish jets not arrived, the Russians could have easily entered Swedish airspace unhindered (Photo: Colourbox)
Had the two Danish jets not arrived, the Russians could have easily entered Swedish airspace unhindered (Photo: Colourbox)

“The Danish planes did exactly as they should have and it’s completely standard procedure that they fly up and show that they are aware of the other airplanes,” Hækkerup told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “The difference in this case was that the planes were Russian and not something we are used to seeing in these parts.”

The mission over the Baltic Sea had been kept under wraps until yesterday when Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet revealed the details.

The Russian mission has sparked great political debate in Sweden due to the fact that no Swedish jets were sent up to ‘greet’ their Russian counterparts.

Had the Danish fighters, which flew in from the NATO base in Lithuania, not been sent up, the Russian jets could have theoretically entered Swedish airspace without confrontation.

Swedish military experts told Svenska Dagbladet that the Russians were most likely testing the possibility of bombing two central targets in Sweden – one near the capital of Stockholm and one in southern Sweden.

Hækkerup said that the Russian action would not lead to an official inquiry from the Danes, but the Swedish authorities have found it “deeply concerning” that Russia has found it necessary to train “that type of mission”, according to Svenska Dagbladet.

According to reporting from Sweden’s English-language news source, The Local, the country’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said that the Swedes would not demand an official explanation from Moscow.

“We don’t react to everything, we’re not up in the air for everything and we shouldn’t be,” Bildt told TT news agency.

The four Russian fighters, or ‘flankers’ as they are known in NATO jargon, were of the SU-27 make, while the two bombers were TU-22M3s, bombers which, in theory, are able to carry atomic weapons.

The Danish air command, Flyvertaktisk Kommando, confirmed that the two Danish fighters had been in action over Easter, but refused to elaborate further. NATO has said that it will reveal details of the situation within a few days.

Editor’s Note: The video above shows Danish jets arriving in Estonia for Baltic defense.

05/02/2014: Danish fighter jets have arrived in Amari Air Base in Estonia for air policing duties over the Baltic states.

According to a Fox news story published April 30, 2014L

TALLINN, Estonia –  NATO has opened its second Baltic air base in Estonia as part of the military alliance’s increased regional air policing mission during the Ukraine crisis.

Estonia’s military says four Danish fighter jets arrived at the Amari air base, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the capital Tallinn on Wednesday.

The Royal Danish Air Force F-16 planes will patrol the skies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for four months in coordination with NATO fighter jets stationed in Lithuania. After that, Germany will take over the rotational mission.

An AFP story added further details:

The aircraft and a supporting team of 60 people arrived at the Amari air base in the west of the Baltic state at a time when NATO is reinforcing its presence in the region to allay concerns triggered by the Ukraine crisis.

“Your arrival in Estonia and the opening of the Amari base to regular NATO flights increases the security of our region,” Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said at a ceremony.

“But work on the security of Estonia and Europe is far from over. We are working to make our NATO allies’ stay in Estonia permanent.”

Until now the Western defense alliance’s sole Baltic air base was in Siauliai in northern Lithuania, Estonian defense forces spokesman Roland Murof said.

Credit Video: NATOCHANNEL:4/30/14