Defending NATO in the High North

Defending NATO in the High North


The invitation and entry of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance radically improve the Alliance’s ability to defend the High North. Sweden and Finland will provide NATO with operational depth and logistic routes that the Alliance lacked earlier. With Sweden and Finland outside of the Alliance, the route to move NATO reinforcement to Finnmark, the Northernmost part of Norway, follows the single coastal road E6 along the Norwegian shoreland. Any Russian stand-off weaponry, or special forces, could, with limited engagements, strike the E6 route and cut off Northern Norway, leaving it open to a rapid Russian advance.

This lack of operational depth and NATO’s reliance on a single route to reinforce the High North has been an opportunity for a Russian fait accompli attack early in an evolving conflict with NATO.

A sustained fight to defend an area needs a land-based supply route to maintain the flow of equipment, logistics, and reinforcements, as these represent thousands of tons to be hauled into the operational area. Airborne or air transported troops can only sustain a fight over a limited time. The recent battle for Hostomel Airport outside of Kyiv, where Russian airborne troops lost against Ukrainian ad hoc formations, shows the short duration airborne forces can sustain a fight without a land-based logistic trail that follows.

The fastest way to move ground units from Germany, Denmark, and the U.K. to Northern Norway is through Sweden, which has several roadways leading to the far North. Meanwhile, coastal Norway has fjords, deep-cut valleys, mountainous terrain, and numerous bridges that could be destroyed and hinder a NATO movement; Sweden offers a straighter route to the North.

A Russian military planner, creating a case for assault plans on Northern Norway, had to focus on the Western edge towards the defending NATO forces along the Norwegian coast. The High North engagements Southern flank towards Sweden and Finland was “protected” by the Swedish and Finnish decision to be neutral and not be a part of the conflict. So the Cold War case, and until now, for a USSR/Russian attack on Northern Norway went from East to West without considering the Southern flank.

The NATO defense of the Norwegian High North will also benefit from the opportunity for NATO with the Swedish and Finnish entry into the Alliance to base and prepare rapid build-up of air assets on Swedish and Finnish airfields when a conflict is on the horizon. The Swedish towns of Kiruna and Gällivare have civilian airports, and any airport can also be used for military purposes. There are also several airfields in Finland; Enontekiö airfield is almost on the Norwegian Finnmark border. These added airfields and assets give NATO a stronger ability to establish air superiority in the Far North and less reliance on a few Norwegian airports that can be struck in the initial stages of the war.

The development of modern anti-ship missiles, with a range of 100s of kilometers, in combination with an enhanced ability to base and use operational space in the North, also ensures NATO a broad ability to prevent the Russian Northern Fleet from reaching the Atlantic Ocean and intercept the movement of U.S. and Canadian formations to Europe.

The entry of Sweden and Finland gives NATO more opportunities to defend the High North by providing logistic pathways, operational space and depth, and the ability to base air assets which would combine strengthen the deterrence posture against Russian aggression. Deterrence translates to a higher threshold for conflict, not only the NATO’s objective but also Sweden and Finland’s, and a gain for both parties.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.



My article for 19fortyifive: “Free War: A Strategy For Ukraine To Resist Russia’s Brutal Invasion Of Ukraine?”


I wrote an article for the national security web-based venue 19fortyfive that addresses resistance operations seen in the light of the Swedish Fria Kriget (Eng.: Free War) concept.

The full text can be found here.
(Picture UK MOD)


European Open Data can be Weaponized

In the discussion of great power competition and cyberattacks meant to slow down a U.S. strategic movement of forces to Eastern Europe, the focus has been on the route from the fort to port in the U.S. But we tend to forget that once forces arrive at the major Western European ports of disembarkation, the distance from these ports to eastern Poland is the same as from New York to Chicago.

The increasing European release of public data — and the subsequent addition to the pile of open-source intelligence — is becoming concerning in regard to the sheer mass of aggregated information and what information products may surface when combining these sources. The European Union and its member states have comprehensive initiatives to release data and information from all levels of government in pursuit of democratic accountability and transparency. It becomes a wicked problem because these releases are good for democracy but can jeopardize national security.

I firmly believe we underestimate the significance of the available information that a potential adversary can easily acquire. If data is not available freely, it can, with no questions asked, be obtained at a low cost.

Let me present a fictitious case study to visualize the problem with the width of public data released:

In the High North, where the terrain often is either rocks or marshes, with few available routes for maneuver units, available data today will provide information about ground conditions; type of forest; density; and on-the-ground, verified terrain obstacles — all easily accessible geodata and forestry agency data. The granularity of the information is down to a few meters.

The data is innocent by itself, intended to limit environmental damage from heavy forestry equipment and avoid the forestry companies’ armies of tracked harvesters being stuck in unfavorable ground conditions. The concern is that the forestry data also provides a verified route map for any advancing armored column in an accompli attack to avoid contact with the defender’s limited rapid-response units in pursuit of a deep strike.

Suppose the advancing adversary paves the way with special forces. In that case, a local government’s permitting and planning data as well as open data for transportation authorities will identify what to blow up, what to defend, and where it is ideal for ambushing any defending reinforcements or logistics columns. Once the advancing armored column meets up with the special forces, unclassified and openly accessible health department inspections show where frozen food is stored; building permits show which buildings have generators; and environmental protection data points out where civilian fuels, grade and volume are stored.

Now the advancing column can get ready for the next leg in the deep strike. Open data initiatives, “innocent” data releases and broad commercialization of public information has nullified the rapid-response force’s ability to slow down or defend against the accompli attack, and these data releases have increased the velocity of the accompli attack as well as increased the chance for the adversary’s mission success.

The governmental open-source intelligence problem is wicked. Any solution is problematic. An open democracy is a society that embraces accountability and transparency, and they are the foundations for the legitimacy, trust and consent of the governed. Restricting access to machine-readable and digitalized public information contradicts European Union Directive 2003/98/EC, which covers the reuse of public sector information — a well-established foundational part of European law based on Article 95 in the Maastricht Treaty.

The sheer volume of the released information, in multiple languages and from a variety of sources in separate jurisdictions, increases the difficulty of foreseeing any hostile utilization of the released data, which increases the wickedness of the problem. Those jurisdictions’ politics also come into play, which does not make it easier to trace a viable route to ensure a balance between a security interest and a democratic core value.

The initial action to address this issue, and embedded weakness, needs to involve both NATO and the European Union, as well as their member states, due to the complexity of multinational defense, the national implementation of EU legislation and the ability to adjust EU legislation. NATO and the EU have a common interest in mitigating the risks with massive public data releases to an acceptable level that still meets the EU’s goal of transparency.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

Utilizing Cyber in Arctic Warfare

The change from a focus on counter-insurgency to near-peer and peer-conflicts has also introduced the likelihood, if there is a conflict, for a fight in colder and frigid conditions. The weather conditions in Korea and Eastern Europe are harsh during winter time, with increasing challenges the farther north the engagement is taking place. In traditional war theaters, the threats to your existence line up as follows: enemy, logistics, and climate. In a polar climate, it is reversed: climate, logistics, and the enemy.

An enemy will engage you and seek to take you on different occasions, but the climate will be ever-present. The battle for your own physical survival in staying warm, eating and seeking rest can create unit fatigue and lower the ability to fight within days, even for trained and able troops. The easiest way to envision how three feet of snow affects you is to think about your mobility walking in water up to your hip, so to compensate either you ski or use low ground pressure and wide-tracked vehicles, such as specialized small unit support vehicles.

The climate and the snow depth also affect equipment. Lethality in your regular weapons is lowered. Gunfire accuracy goes down as charges burn slower in an arctic subzero-degree environment. Mortar rounds are less effective than under normal conditions when the snow captures shrapnel. Any heat, either from weapons, vehicles or your body, will make the snow melt and then freeze to ice. If not cleaned, weapons will jam. In a near-peer or peer conflict, the time units are engaged is longer and the exposure to the climate can last months.

I say all this to set the stage. Arctic warfare takes place in an environment that often lacks roads, infrastructure, minimal logistics, and with snow and ice blocking mobility. The climate affects both you and the enemy; once you are comfortable in this environment, you can work on the enemy’s discomfort.

The unique opportunity for cyberattacks in an Arctic conflict is, in my opinion, the ability to destroy a small piece of a machine or waste electric energy.

First, the ability to replace and repair equipment is limited in an arctic environment — the logistic chain is weak and unreliable and there are no facilities that effectively can support needed repairs, so the whole machine is a loss. If a cyberattack destroys a fuel pump in a vehicle, the targeted vehicle could be out of service for a week or more before repaired. The vehicle might have to be abandoned as units continue to move over the landscape. Units that operate in the Arctic have a limited logistic trail and ability to carry spare parts and reserve equipment. A systematic attack on a set of equipment can paralyze the enemy.

Second, electric energy waste is extremely stressful for any unit targeted. The Arctic has no urban infrastructure and often no existing power line that can provide electric power to charge batteries and upkeep electronic equipment. If there are power lines, they are few and likely already targeted by long-range enemy patrols.

The winter does not have enough sun to provide enough energy for solar panels if the sun even gets above the horizon (if you get far enough north, the sun is for several months a theoretical concept). The batteries do not hold a charge when it gets colder (a battery that holds a 100-percent charge at 80 degrees Fahrenheit has its capacity halved to 50-percent at 0 degrees Fahrenheit). Generators demand fuel from a limited supply chain and not only generate a heat signature, but also noise. The Arctic night is clear, with no noise pollution, so a working generator can be pick up by a long-range skiing patrol from 500 yards, risking an ambush. The loss or intermittent ability to use electronics and signal equipment due to power issues reduces and degrades situation awareness, command and control, the ability to call for strikes, and blinds the targeted unit.

Arctic warfare is a fight with low margins for errors, where climate guarantees that small failures can turn nasty, and even limited success with arctic cyber operations can tip the scales in your favor.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Jan Kallberg is a research fellow/research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. As a former Swedish reserve officer and light infantry company commander, Kallberg has personal experience facing Arctic conditions. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy, or the Department of Defense.