Why preparing for war is important for peace
The war is not only devastating for Ukraine; the consequences are felt far beyond Europe's borders. From a military perspective, the conflict is bringing many failures to light: "Governments worldwide, NATO and, moreover, we as an industry are watching and analysing the tactics and dynamics in Ukraine very closely. Because there is also something to learn from every crisis – for our own security as well as other conflicts," explains Fredrik Hassel, Senior Public Affairs Advisor at Saab. In his view, there are already many lessons to be learned: from the restrained arms policy of recent years to the efficiency of modern weapons systems, but also the willpower of a people fighting for their freedom with incredible strength.
An end to the war in Ukraine is not yet in sight and experts worldwide are cautious with any forecasts, partly because Russia's strategy in the first twelve months of the war raised many questions and continues to do so today. For example, why has it not yet made military use of its airspace superiority? Is it the inability to act as a unit or are there other considerations behind it? "If you take a look at the past, it is very surprising. Air power was already very important in the Second World War, for example in Normandy. Likewise in the Iraq war, when the USA gained airspace control within a few hours and subsequently won all of the attacks," explains Frederik Hassel. What is already apparent is that Russia will be a different enemy in the future for which the West must prepare: "Before the Cold War, Russia was a superpower. After the Cold War, Russia was very strong, at least regionally, and it also had an enormous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Now Russia is becoming a rogue state with WMD and cyber capabilities."
Whether Russia or Ukraine wins the war depends, in any case, on the parameters that are defined for it. "Russia is already said to be selling maps with new national borders. This could indicate that Vladimir Putin is concerned about the currently occupied territories." Experts like Fredrik Hassel believe that a conquest of the entirety of Ukraine is unrealistic. However, permanent occupation of a territory is conceivable, albeit at a very high price, namely a large number of victims. Only time will tell whether Ukraine can counter Russia in the long run and the backing of international supporters will continue to be crucial for Ukraine.
Could war strengthen NATO and the EU?
The West was surprised by Russia's war of aggression. “This is despite the fact that Eastern European countries had warned of Putin's brutality and ruthlessness. Countries like Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark and even Spain ignored these signals. They thought that it would be possible to integrate Russia into our Western social model until the very end," explains Hassel. Russia's annexation of Crimea already called into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states in 2014. With the escalation of the conflict in 2022, there are now fears that similar conflicts could arise in other parts of Europe or the world if the international community is unable to protect states accordingly and send a clear signal to aggressors.
It is only together that the USA, NATO and the EU have been able to increase the pressure on Russia in recent months. The importance of alliances is therefore increasing. The war has resulted in hitherto non-existent military cooperation on an international level, and a strengthening of NATO. Finland and Sweden have both applied to join the military alliance and Germany has massively increased its arms budget. "With Finland as a direct neighbour and Sweden as an ideal logistics base, there are brand new opportunities for NATO to be able to actually protect and defend the Baltic States in a conventional sense." This is a development that Vladimir Putin must not have anticipated.
Without the supply of weapons and ammunition from the EU, USA and NATO member states, things would probably look different in Ukraine today. "It is sad, but true. Apparently, it took a war to wake Europe up and strengthen the international community," says Fredrik Hassel, Senior Public Affairs Advisor at Saab. The EU is once again realising how important common foreign policy is and that it cannot afford to neglect defence and armament policy. Members of the European Parliament have called on the EU to use provisions of the EU Treaty that allow the European Council to make certain decisions without military consequences by qualified majority rather than unanimously, especially decisions relating to sanctions and human rights. Furthermore, EU institutions have been invited to suggest proposals on how to achieve and ensure the EU's own permanent seat in all multilateral fora, including the UN Security Council.
Defence does not work without weapons
NATO in particular faces the complex task of persuading its members to increase their defence budgets over the coming years in order to strengthen their military capabilities. This is the only way to respond to threats and ensure credible deterrence. Indeed, by declaration, NATO member states must be able to defend not only themselves but also others. Achieving this goal could be a challenge, Hassel says, because, after all, the focus so far has been more on research and development: "We are currently seeing bottlenecks in some areas. The EU and NATO will have to discuss how to ensure production capability in the future, in peacetime, in order to be prepared for any conflicts in the truest sense of the word."
System compatibility must also be encouraged, he said. Ukraine demonstrates this well as weapons and ammunition come from a wide variety of countries and from different manufacturers. "New types of cooperation that create links between countries and sectors are the future. And I am convinced that this will make us stronger." At Saab, the versatility of systems and the ability to continuously develop and adapt systems have always been important pillars in development. Despite the tragic war, Fredrik Hassel sees increasing dialogue and exchange within the industry as a positive development.
Speed plays a major role in every conflict. This takes on a different perspective in the case of Ukraine because the weapon systems supplied are partly unknown to the Ukrainians and there is no time for extensive training and education. "I have great respect and appreciation for the fighters in Ukraine. They’re managing to use and maintain weapons – some of which are new – efficiently and they’re making a great impact with clever logistics. Rarely has a people shown so much determination to defend themselves and their country, not even shying away from brutal attacks."
Unmanned drones and anti-tank weapons succeed
The battle in Ukraine is mainly fought with conventional weapons, but there are also cyberattacks from time to time. For the first time, unmanned vehicles and drones are being used to great success and on both sides. Cheap mini-drones have also become an important weapon in the war, despite their low strike power.
Anti-tank weapons, especially the Saab model NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon), have proved particularly effective in the Ukraine war. The British military, which has provided Ukraine with thousands of these weapons, has already placed a new major order for the NLAWs. Furthermore, the US government has announced its intention to deliver the GLSDB (Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb) to Ukraine. This system has been in development since 2014 and Saab is working on it together with Boeing. The system can be deployed in all weather conditions. The warhead has small, foldable wings that allow it to fly more than 100 kilometres after being launched from an aircraft (up to 150 kilometres from the ground) and hit targets as small as one metre in diameter. The system could enable Ukraine to hit valuable military targets that were previously out of reach and help Ukraine continue its counter-attacks by disrupting Russian areas of retreat.
According to British intelligence, Saab weapons have been effective in the fight against Russia so far. Asked about this at the 21st Berlin Security Conference in late 2022, Saab CEO Micael Johansson says: "I'm not surprised to hear that. It is of course tragic that our weapons have to be used at all. But if there are situations where they are necessary, then they must also be effective and serve their purpose. Nothing less is our claim."
Ukraine as a role model?
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the media has been silent about other trouble spots in the world, such as the simmering conflict between China and Taiwan, or the Middle East. Here, however, Ukraine could be a role model in many respects. Ukraine may be able to influence parties to the conflict and supporters. "For example, the USA expects support from Europe for its assistance in Ukraine, should there be an escalation with China," Hassel explains.
But he warns against comparing these conflicts too much, because: “Fighting Russia in Ukraine is very different from fighting China. Whereas in Ukraine the focus is on ground combat, in a potential escalation between China and Taiwan, the focus will be more on air and naval forces. Moreover, China is a high-tech state and is possibly superior to the West in some areas when it comes to technology." Rather, the strength of the international community should be used to send a clear signal to China. "For Taiwan, at any rate, the resistance of the Ukrainian people could serve as a model to become even more self-confident and rely even more greatly than before on its allies to deter China." Hassel does not want to rely on whether China will also learn its lessons from the war and realise that it is not so easy to take over a country through military force, even if it seems stronger.
Peace does not come for free
The current conflict has made us aware that peace cannot be taken for granted and states must prepare for possible war so that they are able to defend themselves. The Ukraine war demonstrates that weak military defence provides an incentive for aggressors. For smaller and weaker states, it is particularly important that they have sufficient defence capability to be able to protect themselves against possible attacks. "Eastern European states are getting rid of all Soviet stocks, which they will have to replace with modern Western weapons in the coming years. And Russia will also realise that it no longer has its old strength, which led to victory over the Nazis in the Second World War. It will change its way of waging war and the West must also prepare for this," concludes Fredrik Hassel, Senior Public Affairs Advisor at Saab.