Challenges and opportunities for the army of the future

During the Spring of 2009 the Swedish parliament is due to pass a new resolution on security and defence policy.  The proposed bill is partly based on the report of the Swedish Defence Commission, "Defence in Use", published on the 13th June this year.  The report, describing a broadly based political consensus as regards the ways in which the Armed Forces should be developed and put to use, is endorsed by all the parties represented in the Swedish parliament.  This article, authored by Bernt Grundevik, Inspector General of the Army, gives an account of the consequences for Sweden's ground forces of the political objectives contained in the Defence Commission report.

Berndt Grundevik.
Berndt Grundevik. Photo: Swedish Armed Forces
Berndt Grundevik. Photo: Swedish Armed Forces

1 Excerpt from the report of the Defence Commission

The report illustrates the need for capacities uniquely provided by ground forces, primarily the army, in the following manner:

"The majority of armed conflicts in the future will take place on land.. That is where people live, and build their social networks. For this reason capability to support and perform operations on the ground is made a priority. Crises and conflicts are, in the main, best contained and stabilised through long-term operations on the ground.
  Joint missions, with an emphasis on ground operations, aiming towards a strategic and civilian-military comprehensive end goal are to be carried out. The objective is to attain and maintain operational control on the ground across the entirety of, or parts of, a zone of operations, which is a prerequisite for providing protection and security for the area.
   Operational control at ground level requires ground combat units with staying power since the ability of a ground combat unit to take, defend and control terrain is a prerequisite for the deployment, stationing and operations of not only ground troops but also units operating at sea and in the air. .

In addition, the role and expected proficiencies of the Armed Forces are clearly described:

  • The ability to participate in operations across the entire scale, from small to large missions, is critical for being able to contribute effectively to military operations globally, in Europe, in our near vicinity and on our own territory. This places demands on the Armed Forces capacity to lead and co-ordinate multinational joint operations.
  • The expertise and capability required in carrying out, leading and co-ordinating activities at brigade level, within the framework of a temporarily formed battle group, is fundamental to missions in the combat arena". "It is important to ensure that expertise and capability to lead and perform missions at the level of a brigade battle group is maintained.
  • The future operational structure will consist in operational units with standing units and contracted reserve units, together with a well-qualified Home Guard. Conscripted personnel will no longer form a part of the operational structure.
  • Possess the capacity, over time, to maintain a ground force of up to 2000 personnel, deployed both overseas and at home.
  • Maintain the capability, over time, to undertake rapid evacuation and reinforcement operations with up to 300 personnel.
  • Maintain, in periods, a planned rapid reaction preparedness equivalent to framework nation responsibility within the EU's "battle group" concept; (comparable to Nordic battlegroup of 2008, with circa 2000 military personnel).

2 Basis of military strategy

Threats to international peace and security have changed over the last decade. Disintegrating states, various forms of extremism, including terrorist attacks, as well as conflicts of interest regarding depleting natural resources are a few examples of the challenges faced. Other examples can be found in conflicts originating in economic differences and, in the longer term, in the consequences of climate change.

The situation today is characterised by mutual dependence and cross border vulnerabilities. The world faces a common set of threats and security challenges and no country can, on its own, defend itself against these threats. Global security is built on joint action, with an emphasis on prevention, in the realms of politics and economics as well as in the military sphere.

In adopting a common European Union security strategy, the member states of the European Union have signed up to a collective assessment of threats within the arena of security policy, as well as putting in place a strategy for dealing with such threats. Working together with other states and international actors to anticipate, prevent and combat terrorism is a task of ever increasing importance.

In our immediate vicinity
New oil and gas finds in polar and Barents Sea regions gain in significance in step with the growth of global energy needs. At the same time as reserves elsewhere in the world are rapidly depleted, climate changes make exploitation of deposits in the Arctic region substantially easier.

Developments in Russia will have an effect our neighbouring region in the future, as they have so clearly in the past. Russia's future path presents a mixed picture. It is much more difficult to make a long term assessment of developments in Russia today than it was just a few years ago. Russia's intervention in Georgia during the autumn of 2008 shows that the threshold for military power play, at least as regards those states lying close to Russia, and that have not been tied into the western security structure, is low. 

Military and strategic development in our immediate vicinity is accordingly characterised by considerable dynamism.

3 Conclusions for the Armed Forces regarding future demands placed on military capability

The Armed Forces, possessing a unique capability to engage in armed combat, must be equipped with the means to be able to:

  • prevent and deter military aggression from being used against Swedish interests and territory, whether it be in the form of applied pressure, direct violation or some type of incident.
  • contribute to international security enhancing measures,
  • be used, together with international partners, to deal with the threats and risks that may occur in our immediate vicinity, in order to safeguard regional stability,
  • meet requirements of availability, usability and versatility
  • quickly reinforce crisis management capability, both nationally and internationally
  • retain the capacity to mobilise military units in greater numbers when required by a worsening international security situation, and following a particular order to do so.

4 Conclusions for army units

The tasks assigned to the Armed Forces, of both national and international character, in this way require not only that army units possess a capacity for timely availability in deployment , and are thus capable of responding swiftly with short term military operations, but also strengthened capacity for on-going participation in long term operations, both large and small .

Probable operative environments, the complexity of operations in general as well as increased stand-by requirements place high demands on the quality of our army units. In addition to relevant equipment, soldiers and officers require, to an even greater extent than during the period when emphasis was placed on defence of territorial integrity against invasion, greater quality and quantity of education and training, rehearsals and joint exercises.

A requirement common to the entire Armed Forces is for a capability to be able to operate across the spectrum of military intervention: from confidence building and conflict prevention, through protection of humanitarian operations or maintaining the visible presence necessary for safeguarding territorial integrity, to skilled armed combat within the framework of international peace enforcement missions. Demands for interoperable units increase .

Use of combat groups at battalion and brigade levels, i.e. units put together for a specific purpose, operative environment or endurance requirements etc., is one of the methods necessary for attaining the level of flexibility required. Combat groups have to be able to be assembled with great variation and with short deadlines.

Operational control at ground level requires ground combat units with staying power since the ability of a ground combat unit to take, defend and control terrain is a prerequisite for the deployment, stationing and operations of not only ground troops but also of units operating at sea and in the air

The army's tasks of an international character are clearly delineated in the report of the Defence Commission.

This means that operating with a ratio of 4:1 a total of eight mobile battalions are required, together with contributions from four functional battalions - providing functional support in, for example, command and control, Counter IED, air surveillance and so on . It is, in my opinion, based on the so-called veterans inquiry, which recently made public its findings, time for the Armed Forces to consider whether a ratio of 5:1 or 6:1 would not be a better basis upon which to plan for the ground warfare function.

In which case, a greater volume of units is required.

The Brigade system. In order to acquire a credible capacity to meet the demand that the army be capable of ”leading and performing missions within the framework of a brigade battle group”,the army must re-acquire that capability through more frequent exercises with several different units within the framework for an all-round brigade assembled at larger exercises, i.e. practice ”system of system”.
Rapid reaction capability and and an ability to engage in operations over the long term, often in distant lands, places great demands on mobility - strategic, operational and tactical. In addition the logistical function must be specially adapted to provide service and support to our operations. This expeditionary quality needs to be developed further and be seen in the development of our forces: among other things, certain units require a well developed airborne capacity (light, adapted level of protection and flexible logistics, for example parachuting in maintenance) .

Balance of capabilities.
The army's various weaponry systems should complement each other as well as, in some cases, be able to interact with and support systems used in other branches of the Armed Forces. Air defence capability is one such example (if ground based air defence units are not able to protect air bases from attack from the air, the aeroplanes will not be able to get off the ground and thus will be unable to mount any air defence). Both lightly armed units and units armed with tanks and combat vehicles are needed in the army. This brings with it the necessity of being able to adapt both fire power and protective posture in order to ensure that our forces survive and are able to perform their assigned tasks.

The entire Armed Forces needs to be imbued with an attitude in which missions, both at home and abroad, are seen as a normal part of operations. Military personnel must see their roles in the operational structure as their main task when units are put into action, nationally and internationally.

Other important issues

  • The soldier in focus. The quality of our organisation always depends on the individual soldier. His or her calibre, courage and ability to work with others is the foundation upon which a military unit is built.
  • Supply of personnel This issue represents the greatest single challenge facing the Armed Forces since in the future operational personnel will consist entirely in, permanently employed or contracted, volunteers. Ensuring that an adequate number of good soldiers undergo basic training each year is critical for meeting the army's recruitment needs.
  • Provision of new equipment and materiel. Prioritised materiel projects; Soldier equipment for night fighting and group communication systems, Tactical UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) systems for development of intelligence capabilities and in order to reduce the risks involved in international missions, new modern armoured vehicles that can both transport a whole group and be transported in a Hercules plane as well as being able to offer, despite a low weight, protection against the threat of mines or IED that hangs over today's international operations, artillery capable of both precision and surface engagement.
  • Philosophy of command Experience has taught us that Mission-type tactics are superior to other methods of command. Daring to trust subordinates, delegate responsibility and follow up the given objective fosters initiative and creativity.
  • Support to those left at home. International operations are becoming ever more difficult and risky. Significantly improved support for the friends and relatives, whom personnel on service overseas leave behind in Sweden, is required if they are to be able to focus on the task at hand. Here, the Armed Forces, and society at large, need to develop new ways of working based on new thinking and the experience of other countries.


In order to be able to deliver the capabilities listed in the report of the Defence Commission an Armed Forces organisation is required, consisting in the army, the navy and the air force as well as a Home Guard, made up of skilled and qualified personnel. The units of the Armed Forces must be well trained and be provided with competent personnel. In addition, units require continual provision of modern materiel in order to be able to tackle the assigned tasks successfully as well as survive live operations. In order to extract the full effect of military activities it is, moreover, of great importance that civil-military co-operation, as regards both national and international operations, is developed further.

The Army and its personnel are prepared to accept the challenge that faces us in being able to deliver our part of the total operative effect that is politically desired.