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On combined exercise activities as conducted by armoured troops

Armoured Brigade
Publication date 11.5.2019 19.11
News item

An integral part of the Finnish Defence Forces’ training exercise activities, combined exercise activities advance honing, verifying and validating leaders’ and troops’ competence proficiency and capability in measures relating to Finland’s national defence and multinational crisis management as well as providing and receiving international assistance. Now what does this armoured troops’ international interoperable cooperating denote and what is its significance?

Finnish Army’s mechanised exercise Arrow as an operating environment of a combined exercise

On a yearly basis in the spring term, the exercise Arrow brings to the firing range and training area of Niinisalo participating troops from a number of Finnish Army brigade-level units. The main part of the force is contributed by the Armoured Brigade, the Pori Brigade and the Karelia Brigade. As of 2016, detachments from overseas also partake in this exercise. As in previous years, the exercise Arrow will bring to Niinisalo exercise troops from the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) and the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa (MARFOREUR/AF). This year also troops from Estonia and the UK will attend the exercise. The total strength of the exercise will be some 2,800 persons as well as about 150 armoured vehicles and 300 other military vehicles.
Featuring two consecutive phases that allow for the troops to participate in the FTX phase and LFX phase as applicable, this two-week exercise’s main training focus involves combat in meeting engagement by a mechanised battalion battlegroup and a battalion-level force. The training activities focus on combat tactics, techniques and procedures on the platoon and company level in particular. During the live-firing phase, the main focus remains on the firing skills of a platoon as part of a company. This phase includes conducting company firing as well as battalion battle group offensive firing that then closes the exercise.

Soldiers on a Scimitor tank

Mechanised exercise’s basic structure does work

For a number of decades now, the basic structure of the mechanised exercise has remained the same despite some minor changes implemented with regard to emphases. This means that, for instance, helicopter measures and electronic warfare elements have been an integral part of this exercise throughout this time. More recently, honing skills in utilising UAS and drones as well as JTAC procedures have acquired a seminal role as well. And with the attendance of partaking detachments from overseas, the field training exercise phase now also involves training interoperable cooperating with international troops. However, the training foci of the live-firing phase have not undergone any changes with the current attendance by international troops.

It tends to be the case that, while serving in multinational operations and on crisis management operations, the participating nations operate in the composition of a battalion battle group or as company-level units carrying out missions that entail high-probability involvement in combat against an adversary. In the Arrow exercise, the participating international detachments are positioned as part of the battalion battle group and battalion partly in platoons subordinated as part of a Finnish company. Moreover, international troops are also positioned to operate on both sides of engagement meaning that, for instance, the U.S. participants may end up operating on opposite sides. This form of operating has turned out to be quite useful in that, as both sides feature international troops, all leaders and troops involved get to train interoperable cooperating increasingly effectively. Obviously, on the first few days into the exercise, the procedures for combat enhancement training and force integration training require a lot from each and every one involved in undertaking training.


Light command echelon structure and clear situation development

As part of this exercise, no separate combined or multinational exercise headquarters is established to operate as a staff. Rather, the exercise is led by availing of a light command echelon structure as planned and implemented by the Armoured Brigade. It needs to be kept in mind that that the training objectives remain on the tactical and combat technical level. Therefore a separate exercise scenario with its references to security policy and parties involved is neither sketched nor outlined for the purposes of this exercise. On the said operating level, it is enough that the troops know the adversary, its equipment and expected courses of action. Based on these grounds, the leaders then plan their combat engagement and issue the subsequent orders. For the force and its leaders, this all is primarily about observing the ongoing combat progress and commanding in a rapidly developing battle situation conducted by armoured troops. Meanwhile, with the main focus on developing national competence proficiency and capability, it remains unnecessary to always come up with a makeshift scenario with parties involved and situations escalating and still be able to train and hone basic troop skills.

Annually, a number of visitors observe the exercise activities in situ. Both the visitors and media representatives seem to be interested in why it is that partners from abroad undertake training in Finland. It is understandable that policy matters affect the entity of training activities but in a training exercise context per se the participating troops only focus on conducting training and optimally carrying out their set task. Military troops sustain a straightforward attitude towards undertaking training and this translates into just aiming to conduct training and achieve the set learning outcomes.

Striker tank

Versatile forms of cooperating

In its simplest form, interoperable cooperating implemented in conjunction with the exercise Arrow entails planning and preparing, cross-border transferring of troops into the exercise area as well as conducting support measures, organising the field training exercise and conducting the live-firing in cooperation with the participating troops from overseas.

The exercise planning measures are implemented by organising standardised planning meetings in a sequence that includes troop familiarisation with the area of operations. As such, planning equals goal setting and agreeing on practicalities relating to given unit training. And what has been planned tends to become the end-outcome as well. Yet, mere manners and hospitality fail to suffice. Rather it is mandatory that the exercise activities remain meaningful for all and cater for achieving the set national training objectives. While in a combined exercise, it is not enough just to participate since troops, in re, conduct operating by undertaking training.

Having completed planning, preparing, cross-border troop transferring and concentrating as well as establishing and mobilising of the battalion battle group, the rest is then all about undertaking training that involves learning through both success and failure. As in all training activities, it is crucial to generate jointly such good spirits and operating atmosphere that facilitate and sustain high-level motivation.

As part of the exercise Arrow, interoperable cooperating and training start by familiarisation with other troops, equipment, capability and principles for overall troop utilisation and operation. And, when applicable, joint operating procedures need to be agreed, for instance, relating to fires and observation reporting that may slightly differ from one nation to another.

MT-LBV tank


Interoperability and equality become emphasised

Altogether nearly 3,000 Finnish troops and from 200 to 300 participants from overseas will partake in the exercise Arrow. For the purpose of achieving the set national training objectives it remains unnecessary to have the troop composition structure only operate in accordance with international operating procedures. Thus this particular exercise represents in its characteristics more a multinational training exercise than an international one. The operating principle for command communications is that while engaged in combat, Finnish troops receive orders in Finnish, but the joint orders issued by the battalion battle group commander and company-level commanding officer are in English as is the ordering of international troops. In this exercise, resorting to English seems to come somewhat naturally.

As part of the exercise Arrow, an example of tangibly interoperable cooperating is the measures conducted by the Finnish combat engineer platoon and a U.S. mechanised company while crossing a river engaged in combat. The Finnish unit constructs a bridge and guides the U.S. Company in crossing the river to continue on its set mission. Put on paper, all this sounds simple enough, but executing this type of basic operating presupposes pre-engagement agreement on procedures for verifying leaders’ location and cooperating, the signs used, reporting and guidance well in advance.

In the training exercise setting, connectivity between the signals equipment and C5 systems becomes emphasized. For an observer controller in umpiring service, it is necessary that the simulator systems sustain connectivity and remain compatible. As for conducting firing, the national differences in firing procedures and safety regulations require that specific caution be exercised for sustained operational safety. As part of the training exercises, the notions of connectivity and interoperability assume practical relevance with regard to procedures and equipment for both own and international troops.

Abrams tankOfficer pointing on a mapTank and conscripts in the woods

Differences equaling learning outcomes

To simplify, a professional soldier always remains a professional soldier. Although some national differences may be discernible, soldiers’ line of thinking tends to be alike and thus the conclusions drawn on the basis of tactical decision-making may be somewhat identical. Similarly, combatants tend to master their skills well which shows in practice. The challenges that surface usually have to do with operating in a new type of environment. During the first days into the exercise, this becomes observable relating to combat techniques, for instance, while opting for the firing positions for armoured vehicles. Furthermore, the structure, situations and training grounds in Finland are often new to international participants as well. And things may get done slightly differently in a new environment. This means that the troops’ operating remains dependent on the skills and competence of its leaders, those of the company commander and the platoon leader. However, these observable differences, novel circumstances, and a new operating environment entail the ingredients for exactly those learning outcomes that the participants are after in the first place.

While undertaking training in international armoured training exercises, Finnish troops do well and their operating continues to bear international comparison. In particular, this applies to the high-level of motivation, will, determination, effort and attitude of the Finnish persons liable for military duty. When assessed in light of the conscript service time available, our sustained level of training achievement remains appreciated.
In addition, while assessing the operating performance of a professional force, the training level sustained may vary depending on the force’s given phase of commissioning. This is, when the fielded tasks and manning undergo changes, the force comprises both long-term expertise and newly-appointed soldiers. The changes that the service personnel composition undergo then pose challenges to planning progressively advancing training for a professional armed force. Yet, in the context of a force comprised of professional soldiers, plenty of time may be allocated for training purposes, and subsequent development work can be conducted in the long term since the mustering-out timing of a given conscript contingent never has any impact on the scheduling of events. In Finland, the conscripts participating in an international exercise tend to be attending their first international training exercise so far and are soon to be mustered out into the reserve. By the same token, the service personnel and reservists tend to have somewhat more extensive experience under their belt.


Soldier laying down on a hill
So what is the learning outcome then?

First and foremost, armoured troops’ combined training activities produce learning outcomes, competence proficiency, capability and readiness in fulfilling the statutory tasks of the Finnish Defence Forces more optimally and increasingly cost-effectively. Apart from national defence measures, this is applicable in advancing the readiness of service personnel for military crisis management missions. In the absence of these types of exercises, Finland would miss out on the learning outcomes that the military organisation accrues when implementing measures relating to cross-border transferring of participating troops from overseas and providing logistics support. It is wise to practice these procedures by means of a limited number of troops to ensure that all this is mastered in case necessary.

Additionally, undertaking training exercise activities such as the ones conducted during the course of the exercise Arrow develops the military organisation’s competence proficiency relating to its most recent statutory task, namely, that of providing and receiving international assistance. Combined exercise activities are thereby part of the preparedness sustained during peacetime conditions that provide the prerequisites for being capable of carrying out multinational interoperable cooperating in case of emergency conditions.

Learning outcomes and sustained spirits on all levels of operating

The exercise Arrow primarily produces learning outcomes on all levels of operating in that it allows for advancing service personnel competence proficiency in exercise planning duties. The persons assigned for liaison officer duties in the FTX and LFX gain experience in cooperating with participating troops from abroad. And this in turn is applicable while operating on missions of multinational crisis management. In addition, training-wise new procedures and methods become identified and the most utilisable ones can be further availed of. Moreover, the presence of the participating troops from overseas allow for constructing exercise force composition structures that otherwise would require significant additional resources allocated for the purpose.

Another key factor is the troops’ sustained spirits and overall attitude. Added value is generated in the form of service personnel knowing that international troops participate and therefore wanting to give their absolute best. Furthermore, the equipment, skills and procedures of the participating troops are particularly interesting also on the grass roots level. Similarly, a combined exercise organised in Finland interests media representatives as well, which in turn gives the Finnish Defence Forces a chance to display exercise activities.

A group picture from the excercise


Combined training activities advance national capability

Implemented long-term and requiring continuous work for sustained and purposeful operating combined training exercise activities equal a number of nationalities undertaking training in a shared exercise environment and doing so with no strings attached. These exercise activities form the basis for conducting reliable cooperating as well as strengthening bilateral and multilateral partnerships that further mold overall views on Finland and Finland’s capability to defend her territory. It takes conducting combined training exercise activities to make celebration speeches assume the form of hands-on daily work and become transformed into military troop capability.

Finnish version of the text authored by Brigadier General Kari Nisula based on his experiences and thoughts as the commander of Arrow 18 -exercise in 2018.

Harjoitukset ja ammunnat Joukko-osasto Parolannummi, Hattula