The Defense of Denmark and an Evolving Kill Web Regional Force

By Robbin Laird

With the war in Ukraine, and the prospect of Finland and Sweden both joining NATO, the context for Danish defense has clearly changed.

Denmark has very little land operational space which means that its defense rests on air-maritime integration and an ability to have mobile ground maneuver forces able to operate throughout the region.

And the prospect of shaping really for the first time a Northern Europe integrated defense force able to operate throughout the area in a distributed manner shapes significant opportunities for innovations and rethinking.

How to best shape capabilities going forward and how best to connect diverse platforms in a multi-domain manner across the defense space up to and including projecting power into Russia itself in case of conflict?

During my most recent visit in June 2022, I had a chance to discuss these issues with Rear Admiral (Retired) Nils Wang, director of Naval Team Denmark and former Head of Danish Navy.

He argued that from a Russian point of view even the coming of Finland and Sweden into NATO did not change much in terms of their calculations – these states have already extensively cooperated with NATO in the recent past.

But it is a significant psychological change for Russia however as they now have their Baltic fleet and Kaliningrad completely surrounded by NATO forces.

The opportunity for much better Nordic defense coordination and working integrated concepts of operations provides a significant challenge for the Nordic nations.

The ability to respond to the opportunity would be attenuated in Wang’s view by “legacy” military thinking that is focused simply on “more of the same” building out traditional platforms, rather than focusing on force integrability or in my terms how to do the core missions with the required payloads through the kinds of platforms which can accelerate force integration.

He then provided a detailed look at one way to do so, namely, by building naval platforms  of an OPV size, which were built around payload modularity.

He laid a conceptual design case for a vessel of 80-85 meters with a five-meter draft which had on the front deck  up to 32 cells in Mark 41 launchers. One portion of these cells loaded with the ships organic self defence missiles and  the remaining portion would be launched by third party platforms, e.g., the F-35, and contribute to an integrated firing solution from a national or command center decision making matrix.

The arsenal set-up could include Deep Strike capability based on TLAM.

The ship would be designed with modules to launch autonomous systems of various types – air and maritime – and to do so within the context of standard ISO dimensions.

He highlighted a Danish company, SH Defence, which he noted had developed the Cube™ concept to hold e.g. a variety of smaller unmanned systems and platforms which could be launched from what in effect is a small “mother ship.”

These “mother ships” would have robust self-defense systems but would be pushing out into the battlespace long range effectors and smaller platforms which could contribute to and empower a maritime kill web force which would provide enhanced capabilities for Danish and potentially Nordic defense.

This would lead in Wang’s perspective “to a paradigm shift in the way we would label naval platforms.”

Rather than simply using the legacy labels – corvette, frigate, destroyer, etc. – we would focus on “mother ships” and what capabilities they could enable in the battlespace through integrability.

My Australian colleague John Conway has described what he sees as the key dynamic triangle of requirements we need to meet to be successful in building a combat force – enhanced lethality, enhanced survivability and affordability.

What Admiral Wang was framing was a way to do so in the maritime domain.

For our assessment of the way ahead in European direct defense, which includes a significant examination of the Nordic cooperation dynamic, and earlier interviews with Admiral Wang, see the following:

For our just released book on a kill web concept of operations providing integration across a distributed force, see the following: