We are arming Ukraine

On October 6th, Finland decided to send the ninth arms aid package to Ukraine. That aid package crossed the 100 million euro mark of Finnish aid to Ukraine. Finland has shifted from delivering ”non-lethal aid” to arming Ukraine with effective weapons. A genuine partnership, to which both parties commit, is essential in war. The outcome of this war will shape our world and our security for at least half a century to come. A genuine partnership means helping immediately and without hesitation. NATO is an excellent structural enabler, but sovereign states make their own decisions about how to act.

There’s a lot of discord in the Finnish debate. Some say sending aid weakens our defence. However, arms aid to Ukraine is not a one-way street. It’s a multi-factor deal that benefits Finland as much as Ukraine. This complexity is true for other European countries.

Sending arms to Ukraine creates opportunities for countries to modernize their equipment. In addition, the increased cooperation between NATO members and partners paves the road for cost-effective procurement projects.

A war against Russia

The most straightforward argument for aid to Ukraine is that every tank destroyed is one less threat. War is about death and destruction – that should be very clear to everyone at this point. This simplification holds because Russia cannot replace lost manpower or equipment. Every fallen soldier and destroyed tank is one less for the others to take into consideration. Even if our aid does not directly destroy tanks, it supports that outcome in other ways. Our armed forces have been preparing for a war against Russia. In this regard, our arms aid to Ukraine hits the mark. A Russia with lesser military capability makes any future conflict less likely. In supporting Ukraine, we’re multiplying our conventional deterrent.

Cleaning out the closets

Our aid to Ukraine does not weaken our national defence capabilities. On the contrary, we should focus on life-cycle thinking. The equipment we buy today will be operational within a few years and then in service for decades. Unfortunately, the adoption of modern systems is hindered by old bits and pieces lying on the shelf. Usually, that old equipment is at the very end of its life cycle or past the sell-by date. 

For instance, with rockets and missiles, parts age differently. Usually, the explosive warheads last forever, but the propellant oxidises, and the batteries discharge. In the worst case, weapons in warehouses are useless because of hazardous components. Outdated weapons are a waste that we can find when we look at the actual inventory of any army.

New defence materiel projects have robust life cycle management. The life cycles of systems get planned from concept to demolition. Life-cycle thinking should apply to all systems in service – clean out the motley equipment from the warehouses! Inventory cleanup will make room for more uniform equipment, promote better life cycle management, and reduce end-of-life costs for obsolete items.

Uniform equipment – e.g. a single family of anti-tank weapons – brings many advantages. Bearing in mind that competence is the most critical asset of a military force, a warrior must have expert knowledge of his tools of the trade. Achieving necessary competence requires hundreds of hours of training—the more varied the equipment, the lesser the expertise. A unified system is easier to teach and learn. Unified armaments are essential for the Finnish conscript system, with limited training time. The same goes for professional armies, with huge personnel costs and limited training budgets.

In September, Finland decided to purchase new disposable light anti-tank weapons. The new weapons have a longer lifetime, better performance, and increased operational safety. The significant differences between the old and the new are in operational safety. With old Soviet equipment, a user error too often leads to injury or death. Troops that trust their tools have higher combat morale. In Ukraine, Russian soldiers fail because of the equipment. No amount of training can bestow the skills to use unwieldy weapons. That’s why we must supply Ukraine with useful weapons and streamline our inventories.

Testing ground ’Ukraine’

There is a fierce battle in Ukraine. Measured in casualties, the intensity of the war resembles the Finnish Winter War. The Winter War significantly shaped Finnish military tactics. Likewise, the war in Ukraine will teach us about victorious tactics and tools. To a large extent, the aid is also about testing our equipment in Ukraine. The information and experience gained from the war will come to our use. We can use this insight to find out what weapons to keep and what new weapons to buy.

Our responsibility is to give Ukraine the equipment it needs now and after the war. We are not playing a zero-sum game; we provide with no strings attached and trust that the good will come back to us. Equipping Ukraine to win the war increases our security. It improves our arsenal and our combat readiness. Ukrainian heroes pay for this with their blood every day.

Towards a greener army

The energy crisis is also hitting the Finnish Defence Forces. There was a lot of talk about the security of supply during the corona pandemic – now it is even more relevant. An army lives on logistics. Logistics is the movement of services and goods. This movement that sustains everything requires energy, usually tonnes of fuel and lubricants. So we have to limit their use for sustainability, and that’s precisely why the armed forces cannot be exempt from the green transition.

The miniaturization of weapons – think drones – is a trend relying on renewable and lightweight energy sources. This new technology creates a competitive advantage that scales as needed. An army that lives on the diesel fumes from a V8 engine can’t adopt the cutting-edge technology. Old Soviet-era fuel-hungry trucks and tanks are a thing of the past and worth getting replaced. Sure, Tesla won’t make tanks anytime soon, but fuel economy and hybrid power should be high priorities for the armed forces.

Opportunities arise for those who dare

The aid to Ukraine is about joint and cooperative security. The security of Ukraine is our security. The weapons we send make room for new weapons in our stores. View it as a spring cleaning that benefits us, and we receive the payback when we free up money and labour tied to old equipment on our shelves.

In doing this, we shouldn’t be overly cautious. The aid must continue and be more coordinated. For example, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia have started industrial cooperation to equip Ukraine. The countries also provide each other with immediate security guarantees. This kind of cooperation opens up opportunities for Finland and Finnish companies. Patria, for instance, is a significant arms supplier to the Polish and Slovak armed forces.

The war rallied the European nations. There has been defence materiel cooperation within NATO for a long time, but it’s small-scale compared to what’s afoot now. And this cooperation is unconditional. When there’s a war raging next door, no one thinks about playing into their own pockets. Embracing an active role, Finland will be able to both aid Ukraine and improve its own arsenal. The time has come for all European countries to stop waiting on the sidelines.

Slava Ukraini!

James Mashiri

Major (ret), Finnish Greens for Science and Technology (Viite)