A Case Study – the Danish Army


Why the Danish Army (strength approx 14,000 actives)? Partly it is because we worked closely with them during my tour of Afghanistan as the Ground Holding Company I was a part of was one of two British companies under the Danish Battalion (DANBAT) which operated as part of Combined Force NES(N) centred on Gereshk and Camp Price. And partly because the Danish have made it very clear that they intend to be militarily active in an international context, but possessing a very small armed forces. So I think it will be an interesting exercise to see how the Danes intend to do this and how it has affected their Army.

A guest post from Phil

Danish Defence Agreement 2010-2014

The Danes seem somewhat more organised than us in this regard and have regular Defence Agreements which set out the strategy, plans and directions for the Armed Forces over, in this case, four years. The Defence Agreement has been conducted with similar structural constraints however, with budgetary pressures playing a large role in force structure. Sound familiar?

The Defence Agreement re-affirms the desire of Denmark to play a role in international affairs and in doing so it outlines plans to continue to transform the Army from one based on mobilisation to one based on power projection. It sees the Army’s missions as being primarily based on stabilisation and international policing tasks, essentially the Afghanistan model and the Lebanon model. Although the Defence Agreement sees the Danish Army as having a role in fighting conventional conflicts it is implicit in the force structure that in such a scenario Denmark’s contribution would be quite small since, as we shall see, the force structure of the Army has been shifted more toward the Afghanistan and Lebanon models and entire capabilities have been cut. The Defence Agreement is therefore quite clear on what it sees the Danish Army doing in the future and it is ruthlessly shaping the Army in this mould. There is no money for any capabilities that do not sit within the intended mission set.

Army Mission

As mentioned the Defence Agreement sees the Army as having an international role in the full spectrum of operations, albeit as part of an alliance, and, in a conventional scenario, fully integrated into a larger conventional force. The Army also has a Total Defence role which is largely fulfilled by conscripts and this will be explored further later. The Army has moved toward concentrating on battlegroups for deployment overseas and it is expected that there will be 6 battlegroups centred on 5 field army infantry battalions and an armoured battalion. Of these six, it is planned that two can be deployed simultaneously. However, these battlegroups will normally be smaller than a British model battlegroup. The Army will also retain the ability to generate a brigade sized formation in a one off effort.

Personnel and Reserves

A very interesting aspect of the Danish Army is its personnel system (incidentally it is shared by the Navy and Air Force although on much smaller scales). Conscription is still practised and there are eight conscript training centres based around the main units in the Danish Army. Nowadays most conscripts are in fact volunteers with compulsory conscription only being used to make up shortfalls. Conscripts are essentially set apart from the rest of the Army and are intended for Total Defence missions and to provide a reserve force, of which more soon. Each conscript undertakes a four month period of service that is generic, a conscript is a conscript, he is not separated into different arms or services, and their utility is entirely in the Total Defence mission which would be better understood as being similar to the Military Assistance to the Civil Power mission in the UK. Thus the four month training period is geared more toward civil defence and key point protection missions so urban search and rescue, cordon operations, first aid, fire-fighting etc all feature in the package. The conscripts are, as mentioned, not part of the field army per se, they serve in the training companies (HBU companies) of field army units but they are not at all integrated with the parent battalion. They exist solely for the Total Defence missions. Their other role is very interesting: once a conscript has completed his four month training he is either discharged into the conscript reserve or he can elect to conduct 8 more months of training and become a Response-Force Contract soldier (or HRU in Danish). The 8 month training package is a special to arm package that brings the conscript up to a more conventional level of soldiering ability and gives them training in their arm or service role. Once trained the HRU soldier can and is nearly always deployed overseas for a six month tour. The HRU soldiers can either provide individual augmentee’s, small teams for more specialised roles, or, in the case of infantry, a HRU company is generated and deployed on each DANBAT rotation. Thus, the conscripts serve as a recruitment pool for a reserve system that can generate sub-units for deployment and which then disband three months after the end of its tour. Each Danish unit has a HRU training company or in the case of the three combat arms regiments, 1 HRU battalion each.

Force Structure

The Danish Army is organised around 2 Brigades and 7 combat arms units comprising 5 infantry battalions, one light reconnaissance battalion and an armoured battalion and a number of combat support and combat service support units. The 7 combat units are organised around three combat arms regiments, Jydske Dragonregiment, Gardehusarregimentet and Livgarde. Within these three regiments there is one armoured battalion, one light reconnaissance battalion and 5 infantry battalions and also, three conscript training battalions (HBU) and three HRU battalions able to generate independent augmentation companies. The armoured battalion is now equipped with 36 Leopard 2 MBTs with the 2010-2014 Defence Agreement cutting the number by 20 and has a mechanised infantry company equipped with M113s as part of its structure. The light reconnaissance battalion is equipped with Eagle light patrol vehicles and comprises two light recce squadrons. Of the infantry, four companies are equipped with CV90 (2 in a Livgarde armoured infantry battalion and 2 in a Gardehusarregimentet armoured infantry battalion) and the remainder a mix of Piranha and M113s. Not all the infantry battalions have a full quota of 2-3 companies with the HRU expected to generate the shortfall on deployment. The Defence Agreement has withdrawn all TOW missile systems from the Army, as well as all Stinger missile units leaving the Army bereft of long range ATGWs and any SAMs whatsoever.

The combat service support units show the most interesting aspect of the force structure which otherwise has quite a conventional combat arms organisation. Artillery is where the new focus on the Afghanistan model is most apparent. Gone is all artillery from the Danish Army, namely the M109s. The Danish Artillery Group is now a quite unique organisation since the SPGs have been withdrawn. It comprises a Fires Division, a Training Division and an ISTAR Division. The Fires Division now operates the Joint Fires Cell and two fires batteries which each comprise an FST, 2 FOO parties, a Tactical Air Control Party and three detachments of mortars with each detachment comprising 2 120mm mortars and 3 60mm mortars. At present the mortars are tripod mounted but it is an aim to mount them on vehicles. The Training division trains the HRU contract soldiers in artillery group roles. The ISTAR division is organised into an ISTAR battery which operates tactical UAVs, a CIMIC and PsyOps battery and the HBU training company for the artillery group conscripts. The Danish Army has emphasised CIMIC and PsyOps and both have dedicated training centres with the Danes clearly seeing them as bringing widespread effects to a stabilisation campaign or policing action much like artillery can bring widespread effects on a conventional battlefield. Certainly CIMIC is central to efforts in the Danish AO in winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. The other clue as to the Danish Army’s concentration on the Afghan model is the organisation of the Engineer Regiment which comprises an C-IED battalion as well as an armoured engineer battalion and a further engineer battalion comprising a construction company and a CBRN company. National logistic support is provided by DANILOG, or the Danish International Logistics Centre at Vordinborg. It provides 6 National Support Elements so that each can train with a battlegroup and which provide a theatre or national logistic capability. Close and general logistics capability is provided by the Transport Regiment which comprises a logistical battalion, a supply battalion, a maintenance battalion, a medical battalion and a provost battalion embedded into which is a HBU training unit and a HRU training unit. The Transport Regiment has seen the concentration of all second and third line support from the combat arms units into it for the sake of rationalisation and efficiencies. The remaining unit in the Danish Army is the Signals Regiment which comprises a Combat Information Systems Battalion, a HQ Battalion (which provides national level communication and information support) and an EW Battalion, again with HBU and HRU training units. Added to this order of battle are a Guards Ceremonial Company, a Mounted Company, several bands, several driving schools, an NCO school, an Officer school, the Danish equivalent of the Land Warfare Centre, three regional Total Defence HQs and the Jaegerkorpset of Special Forces.


The Danish contribution to ISAF has been known as DANBAT since around 2007 when the Danes took control of a battlegroup AO. In the Danish Army it is also known as ISAF Team X with X denoting the rotation, which is currently ISAF Team 12 until February 2012. The Danes have a small National Support Element in Camp Viking in Bastion 2 but their main force is concentrated around Gereshk in the NES(N) AO. At present the DANBAT consists of a BG HQ, 2 Danish Infantry Companies (1 CV90 and 1 Mechanised – usually HRU, called Bravo and Charlie Companies), a mortar detachment as described above, an escort platoon, a logistic company and a tank platoon of 3 Leopard MBTs (Alpha  detachment). These forces concentrate in Camp Price but also man the PB Line on the western side of the Helmand River north of Gereshk which included FOB Budwan, otherwise known as FOB Armadillo of the films namesake. Embedded until very recently were two British Ground Holding Companies (Delta and Foxtrot companies). Now however a British battlegroup (CF Burma) has taken over the AO and at the end of ISAF 12 the DANBAT will disband with one Infantry Company being embedded into CF Burma. The second company will transform itself into an OMLT. The PB Line is being handed to the ANSF.


Thus it can be seen that the Danish Army has an interesting recruitment process (the HRU and HBU are obviously backed up by professional entry soldiers as in most armies) that serves as a large pool of HRU reserves with 20% of each conscript intake expected to take a HRU contract. Therefore the Danish Army has a large and well trained pool of reservists, motivated and trained to regular standards and who expect to be deployed on operations. As the men disband after each tour the overall size of the reserve is kept relatively small, albeit in constant flux. The HBU conscripts play a useful Total Defence role during their short service (where organised bodies of men are extremely useful in civil emergencies) but perhaps most importantly contribute to the reserves. The mission of the Danish Army as can be seen has been set and the force structure ruthlessly altered to reflect this with wholesale losses in more conventional war capabilities like ATGW, SPGs and MANPADs but balanced with enhancements to CIMIC, PsyOps, ISTAR and potentially the reintroduction of GMLRS to provide long range precision firepower – another development with clear roots in the Afghan model.

Hopefully the case study serves as an interesting thought exercise with regards to potential future mission, equipment and capabilities of the British Army.

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17 Responses

  1. Nice study, perhaps of interest is the further integration of the Danish Army deployment unit(s) with the Absalon class ships, and the deeper integration of the Danish airforce. The lack of Army ATGWs is to be made up with rapid (allied) air support, and the Danes understand that a high level of cooperation and (allied) integration is of paramount importance; hence the total overhaul of their CIS untis which offer ‘plug-and-play’ connectivity with other NATO units.

  2. It’s a very good example of force efficiency – doing a lot without maintaining a large regular force. I fear the future British Army is being designed around a large and capable reserve component that may never be properly funded or reorganized.
    It’s also a very good example of bold decision making – cutting out those capabilities entirely that are not required to achieve their core objectives. We seem to be fixated on ‘balanced’ forces, greatly limiting the scale of focused missions. And where we have cut capability, it seems to be the low profile but crucial elements – like sentinel or mpa.

  3. Very interesting read, Phil.

    I find their approach towards conscription to be particularly interesting. It’s certainly a much more intelligent method than that from our own recent history.

    I always think it’s a shame that conscription is unlikely to ever return here – like many people too old to be conscripted, I’m all for it.

  4. Cracker Phil. I’m always intrigued how small nations generate their capabilites (been spending a lot of time looking at the Dutch lately).

    Just looking at how they generate those reserve components that get deployed, do you think there is a opening here in the UK for a sort of seperate short-term service, whereby men would be recruited on the assumption that once training is over they will be deployed to operations in Afghanistan, then at the conclusion of their tour they will be let go?

    So they would be trained specifically with deployment to that theatre in mind, serve, then leave, maybe a year, two years service tops?

  5. the Danish Army is modular, expeditionary and is partnered with a sister service to help achieve its mission set. in particular is the association with the Absalon class ships. in this regard (and to compare) they mirror the capabilities that the Australian Army is building.

    both forces are designed to conduct limited out of area operations and can easily plug into a larger force.

    if the British Army must be cut or reorganized i would recommend the Australian example…although the Danish Army would be a close second.

  6. Many thanks Phil, I forgot to fetch any biscuits for my morning coffee and had a second pot instead, such a fascinating read.

    And no discord, no disagreement? I have to fall in line, but I will attempt a rehash,to fall in line with my earlier thoughts in other contexts:

    Expeditionary is taken as a given (but based on a threats picture reviewed and agreed frequently). From there naturally follows (as per Phil & Sol) the emphasis not only on tri-service integration, but deployability more broadly and multinational inter-operability (from Day 1).

    The small nation angle especially interests me (for its broader relevance): Only with “ruthless” focus it is possible to achieve any result within a constrained budget.

    Like ChrisB, I immediately start to draw parallels to the week-end soldiering model (all volunteer in UK’s case) and how the importance of that element can be lifted (in a workable way) in the overall force picture. Doing the TA as it is today, but introducing a more stringent contract (after an initial period) for those who are interested – and thereby improving the prospect of deploying formed units more as a norm – sounds like a good idea to me. A formed unit can be a Coy within a Bn, as exemplified in Phil’s text.

    More broadly, avoiding over-ambition, and thereby later disappointment around the restructuring of (and increased investment in)the reserve force component in my opinion requires a Clear Line of Sight: not only in accounting, but in force element deployability…and how it is developing year-on-year

    Going into two particular aspects mentioned in the comments:
    – fully agree with the Absalon/Australia parallel highlighted by Sol
    – sure, in the future the Oz model will be more versatile (the investment is bigger, too).Rather than an intervention model, the Danish capability is really designed to put a screening force an the ground very quickly, should there be an unexpected development, say… in Greenland. Though Absalon can land Leos (onto a well-formed jetty), the original capacity quote for them is for a recce bn (there is one! of them in the force). So, a tripwire really.

    The other one is the mention by ChrisB (maybe I over-read what was said), but the stated interest in the force restructuring by the Dutch makes it two of us
    – closer integration of the six intervention-suited bns is a close parallel to the much smaller Danish force
    – having followed the developments for a few years, the Danes seem to have got a grip on continuity (a parliamentary dimension) better/earlier and avoided the waste of money resulting from abrupt changes. Both have retired heavy equipment early, but I am under the impression that e.g. all four of the Holland class are still being built (when only two are in the revised budget; who will take the other two and at what price?)

  7. @ ACC
    “The other one is the mention by ChrisB (maybe I over-read what was said), but the stated interest in the force restructuring by the Dutch makes it two of us”

    — Nothing like having someone who shares an interest! It’s almost odd in comparison to our own forces to see everything kind of neatly tucked into certain areas, so if it flys off land then it’s air force, if it flys off ships it’s Navy etc.

    They have a capable Navy for what it is they’re trying to achieve, and an air force that fits their requirements well. Odd that they’ve now given up on MBT’s but their infantry still has a degree of flexibility and firepower, with an intersting amount of consideration given to land based ISTAR.

  8. Odd – I left a comment praising the piece but it appears to have disappeared – probably posted in another thread :(

    So for a second time, a very interesting piece; I find the conscript model and the scrapping of the arillery of particular interest. Is the role of artillery in Western armies changing from providing the firepower to locating targets and targeting the firepower from other platforms/services?

  9. “in particular is the association with the Absalon class ships. in this regard (and to compare) they mirror the capabilities that the Australian Army is building.”

    I disagree. The Absalons haven’t come up in ANY of the literature I searched for this article which indicates to me they are not considered transformational.

    The vessels themselves are very useful but they are not amphibious warfare vessels in any sense and can carry only a company group which can only be inserted by the two organic helicopters. I think they are very interesting vessels but I see the Danish as thinking of them as exactly what they are on the tin – support and command vessels. They are not thinking of them in terms of projecting any significant land power from the sea.

    The aspirational Aussie capability is very different in scope, size and capabilities.

  10. “do you think there is a opening here in the UK for a sort of seperate short-term service, whereby men would be recruited on the assumption that once training is over they will be deployed to operations in Afghanistan, then at the conclusion of their tour they will be let go”

    Interesting question. I know the US Army did have an 18 month enlistment option but I do not know how that worked out for them.

    Personally, I think that we could do a similar thing whereby TA soldiers are given regular training and then posted into the TA with individual response contracts – ie their level of readiness is higher than others and are willing to be called out on shorter notice. I think there is scope for much more flexibility in the TA terms of service and training. It is not something I have thought through yet though.

  11. “Is the role of artillery in Western armies changing from providing the firepower to locating targets and targeting the firepower from other platforms/services?”

    From the literature it seemed that the Danish considered the M109 as being almost useless and obsolescent both in absolute terms (the kit itself was outdated) and in terms of their intended mission sets (small amounts of rapid precision fire over long ranges and intimate rapid reaction shots for infantry support).

    They are seriously reconsidering GMLRS re-introduction, perhaps because they operated so closely with the British GMLRs at PB ARMADILLO (later FOB BUDWAN).

    I think as well budget concerns were a big driver. Artillery is hugely expensive to properly support SPGs requires specialist logistical support and large stockpiles of shells for training and war stock.

    So I think that the decision boiled down to:

    –no money to upgrade the SPG

    –the artillery mission for the Danes has evolved into a desire for precision fires (GMLRS) and shorter range rapid response intimate infantry support (Mortars).

    –no money to support the wider needs of M109s

  12. Now I can understand the odd references to contract soldiers in recent TV series Killing 11 set in Denmark!

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