“During the cold war, when we were armed for a specific enemy that would invade Sweden and we were able to estimate the firepower and size of the infantry that we would face reasonably well, the situation was more static. Today, the dynamics are completely different,” says Nils Roman at the Total Defence’s research institute FOI.
Instead, what today characterizes the central tenets of the underlying philosophy for developing active and protective weapon components are the low-intensity conflicts that comprise the international context in which Sweden often engages in peace-making tasks.
Varied threat scenario
As international assignments have assumed a different character, completely new demands are being placed on capacity, speed and flexibility with respect to meeting new types of threats, which may vary greatly between different mission areas.
“If an area is flooded with weapon systems from a former regular army, special requirements are placed on how operative units must be protected. If it is an area where our opponents’ mentality makes them prone to use suicide bombers, for example, the requirements are completely different,” says Nils Roman.
Rapid research initiatives
For researchers, this means that their work must cover all time perspectives. As with most research, the starting point is a time perspective of five to ten years. Now, however, there must also be capacity to be able to quickly satisfy the requirements for missions conducted on short notice.
“For research results to be able to benefit operative units that may be deployed on short notice with varying assignments and in varying environments, we need to speed things up by putting the researchers in direct contact with those who are conducting a mission in progress,” says Nils Roman.
Lars Holmberg at FOI is one of the researchers working to ensure that Swedish soldiers’ protection can be matched to current and future threats. The critical point is the interaction between action and protection. Historically, development has focused on increasing the penetration capacity of active components, while protection in the form of armour, for example, has become thicker.
In such an arms race, the ability to continue developing protection eventually reaches a critical point. Protection simply becomes unreasonably heavy and therefore impractical to use.
“Instead of thick armour that protects the entire structure, what may be needed is protection that is mobile and which with the help of sensors can determine where enemy fire will hit and be able to meet it in that exact location,” says Lars Holmberg.
A variety of threats
With respect to short-term work, the researchers currently face a growing number of problems. Foremost are the variety of threats that may arise in conjunction with the international assignments in which the Swedish Armed Forces participate.
“The close relation between the Swedish Armed Forces and the research conducted by FOI has increased in importance.”
Threats may vary from suicide bombers and homemade bombs on the roadside to such weapon systems as the Russian RPG 7 rocket, which is very prevalent on the illegal weapons market. It is easily handled and has a powerful effect on armoured vehicles.
“This is in direct conflict with the fact that we in many international operations do not want to be seen in heavy combat vehicles at all times. In many cases, we want to be able to act openly and without being the aggressor,” says Lars Holmberg.
Even with respect to the soldier’s personal protective equipment, research and development is constantly in progress. Participation in international missions also makes additional demands here. The close ties between the Swedish Armed Forces and the research conducted by FOI have increased in importance.
Precision and customization
For Svante Karlsson, who conducts research on weapon components and their effects, there is yet another dimension to consider in his work. Because the Swedish Armed Forces must now be able to operate in international environments in which enemy elements often are in close contact or even integrated with the civilian population and in a civilian infrastructure, the weapon systems used must have a capacity for what is called calibrated impact.
“What this means is that they must have such high precision that we are able to fire on targets both outdoors and inside buildings without injuring civilians who may be close by. The weapon should even have the capacity to knock out a combat vehicle without destroying the entire vehicle or injuring its crew,” says Svante Karlsson.
“Flexibility is also required with respect to thinking about how to approach different problems,” continues Svante, citing one situation facing international troops in Iraq today. “Some 70 percent of the attacks occurring there are made with what are called improvised explosive devices (IED), which can be very difficult to detect and identify.”
Different missions have different prerequisites. It is therefore essential for the researchers at home in Sweden to be in direct contact with the Swedish units operating in mission areas.
Text: Rick Forsling