In view of increasing military activities in the Baltic Sea region, Finland feels compelled to develop its maritime defence capabilities. Finland wants to be prepared for a possible regional crisis and is taking various steps to modernise its navy. ESD talked with Rear Admiral Jori Harju, Commander of the Finnish Navy.
ESD: RAdm Harju, what is your assessment of the current Finnish Navy?
RAdm Harju: We are a modern and an effective navy and our overall readiness is high. The platforms are at a high operational level, and my personnel, including our conscripts, are highly skilled and motivated, and our assigned tasks and missions are well defined. The coming years look promising, with several procurement and upgrade programmes underway: the ‘Squadron 2020’ Project approved by the Government in September last; the mid-life upgrade of our four HAMINA class units – known as the ‘Squadron 2020 MLU’, (Laivue 2020 MLU) will allow us to keep them operational well into the 2030s; and the modernization of our coastal units.
ESD: The ‘Squadron 2020’ Project with four new POHJANMAA class corvettes is a major programme. What will these ships offer in terms of meeting Finland’s defence and security requirements?
RAdm Harju: ‘SQ2020’ is the second strategic programme of the Finnish defence administration. The procurement of POHJANMAA class corvettes has a powerful footprint in meeting the requirements of the Finnish Defence Forces as their systems will be interoperable with those of the Army and Air Force. They will feature comprehensive anti-surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare capabilities, a minelaying capacity as well as extensive C² and EW suites. With a life expectancy well into the 2050s, these multi-role combatants will form the backbone of our country’s maritime defence.
ESD: What will be the major challenges to bring these units to full operational
RAdm Harju: The Finnish Navy, together with the Finnish Defence Forces Logistics Command, will implement a robust approach, comprising a lot of efforts and resources to establish an effective and efficient training programme in order to achieve Full Operational Capability (FOC) by the end of 2028. The crews will be trained both in-country and at the facilities of the companies. Simulators will also be used, but the exact level and scale is still to be defined, pending the outcome of how we progress with the planning for the training. It is worth mentioning that the crews currently serving on board the ships that are scheduled to be decommissioned [the 4 RAUMA and 2 HAMEENMAA class units] will be manning our new corvettes. Thus, we will be able to retrain the majority of the personnel.
ESD: I suppose that with the introduction of these ‘state-of-the-art’ units, you will have to re-think the navy’s Concept of Operations (CONOPS) to make the most out of these new units?
RAdm Harju: As the POHJANMAA units are going to be one of the world’s most modern and advanced platforms, they will set a new era in terms of operational readiness, weapon and sensor suites. The use of the corvettes is definitely different from the way we operated our current platforms and this will have an impact on our Concept of Operations. Consequently, we are modifying and updating our concepts and procedures in order to ensure the optimal use of these new units. The doctrine of the Finnish Navy is not going to change, but it will naturally be reviewed and re-assessed.
ESD: What are your Navy’s other procurement programmes underway or in the pipeline?
RAdm Harju: We are looking into the procurement of logistic support ships. The requirements for these new platforms are currently being looked into. We are also to replace our influence and contact minesweeping capabilities of the KUHA and KIISKI classes around mid-2020. A study is underway and we closely monitor the results of the European Defence Agency’s technology demonstrator projects, in which the Finnish Navy also participates. Even though the naval units take most of the attention, we need to maintain our coastal units’ capabilities at an adequate level. We are to substitute our RBS-15M SSM system with the GABRIEL SSM system, as well as the ageing short-range missile and fixed artillery systems.
ESD: In recent years, the operational tempo
of the Finnish Navy has increased. How do you address the augmenting commitments?
RAdm Harju: As the security environment and the asymmetric threats in the Baltic Sea increased, so did our commitments accordingly. We have prioritized actions regarding our core tasks, re-scaling our activities in a dynamic manner.
ESD: You closely operate with the Swedish Navy through the Finnish Swedish Naval
RAdm Harju: The establishment of this group underlines the close relations between our two countries. The main objectives of the group are to have a smart way to utilise our operational capacities to meet today’s and tomorrow’s security challenges and use our resources cost-effectively, provide common education and training, and develop a capability to transfer operational control of units between both navies. The group is already certified to conduct sea control and maritime surveillance operations and is anticipated to reach FOC no later than 2023.
ESD: Security concerns are growing again on NATO’s northern flank and in the Baltic, making your Navy a paramount asset. What impact does this have on your navy?
RAdm Harju: We are under no illusions about the current security challenges in the Baltic region. The increasing level of military activity in the region is generating a renewed focus, but there is no indication of any military aggression. However, a regional crisis may result in using political pressure or military force. Therefore, we need to be prepared. Hence, the importance for cooperation and interoperability with our allies. We are taking several steps to align our navy with regional partners through different projects and participate actively in international exercises and crises management operations.
ESD: Cyber defence is becoming a priority in all military domains, not least for the world’s navies. What are the major dangers of cyber threats for your navy?
RAdm Harju: We are becoming increasingly dependent on interconnectivity and digitalization. The Navy is facing the same threats this brings along as do the rest of the world. We are cognisant that due to their rapidly evolving nature, cyber threats will become more sophisticated and occur more often. The major issue is the lack of consciousness and carelessness of the people about cyber defence and cyber security.
ESD: How do you protect your networks in general and those of warships in
RAdm Harju: Cyber resilience is very much a policy issue. We have a programme to improve cyber resilience by enhancing public awareness, and we must keep pace with the constantly evolving technologies.
As the onboard ship environment will continue to increase, and warships being networked to the supporting systems and as well as to the external services, active cyber countermeasures must be in place and there must always be backup systems or other means of communication between warships and shore-sites. Protecting the networks against cyber threats is a continuous challenge and our overarching concern. We constantly monitor the data flows for any attacks, assess and analyse any risks, and respond at the earliest opportunity.
ESD: What is needed to improve security in the cyber domain?
RAdm Harju: The main challenge will be to keep abreast of the fast-moving pace of technology. Especially as warships and their systems typically have a long life-cycle span, adding information or cyber security at late stages of capability development programmes is slow, costly and seldom offer a satisfactory result. Therefore, cyber resilience and information security must remain an integral part of our development programme from the earliest stage. This unit-level resilience then needs to be networked with a broader awareness of cyber threats e.g. at a Navy or Defence Forces level.
ESD: What do you regard as the biggest challenge and what is likely to have a major impact on the Finnish Navy?
RAdm Harju: The comprehensive modernization programmes ahead and the newest technologies will put some pressure on our personnel. It is paramount to have committed and skilled personnel to use the variety of complex systems. Consequently, my major concern lies in recruiting capable and motivated staff.
ESD: Did you set yourself specific objectives to realize during your tenure as Commander of the Finnish Navy?
RAdm Harju: Yes. My main aim is to develop the Finnish Navy into a ‘state-of-the-art’ force, in order to be able to conduct all necessary naval operations and to be ready to meet the demands of the ever-changing security environment. This means forces and capabilities that have high readiness, strong endurance, and high interoperability.
The interview was conducted by Guy Toremans.