Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultquist told journalists in a briefing in late May that, spurred on by aggression from Russia, his country is strengthening its military capability. He cited: “information and propaganda activities,” and said Russia is holding: “lots of exercises near the border and, step-by-step, gaining higher military capability.”
A Defence Commission white paper presented in mid-May suggests that between now and 2025 Sweden should invest £2.8 billion on defence. A decision on the report is anticipated by year end.
The extra spending would push Sweden’s defence budget close to 2% of GDP but Hultquist was quick to point out that his government: “Doesn’t think that percentage of GDP spending is important. What we’re interested in is having real military capabilities and we’re not ready to connect defence spending to GDP.”
At another briefing a day earlier, Colonel Anders Persson, the Flygvapnet’s (Air Force) Commander Air Stafftold the journalists that steps necessary to ensure Sweden’s upgraded defence posture included keeping the fleet of 90 JAS 39C and JAS 39D Gripen fighters, presently at the MS 20 standard, in service beyond 2030 instead of retiring them when Gripen E enters service from the early 2020s. This could see the number of fighter squadrons increase from six to eight with the Uppland Wing, F 16, being one of those for resurrection. Other measures suggested include increased air-to-air warfare and electronic warfare capabilities by buying more air-to-air missiles and replacing the Flygvapnet’s two Saab 340 Erieye platforms, increasing the number of locations available for dispersed basing of aircraft and replacing the Air Force’s C-130 Hercules with more modern transports. There is a requirement to replace the remaining 40 Saab 105 trainers.
An indication of the activity of the Russian neighbour can perhaps be derived from the number of ‘scrambles’ of fighters on quick reaction alert or QRA. Surprisingly they seem to be few and far between. From a high in August 2017 of 16 they had dropped, with a few peaks on the way, to only three in December 2018. Swedish Gripens typically launch with only a loaded gun on QRA - the intention is to identify suspicious radar tracks not threaten the intruders.
Colonel Persson stressed Sweden’s posture as a peace-loving member of the UN striving for a rules-based world and relying on a trade and innovation-based economy. He pointed out that Sweden was having to deal with Russia exhibiting a lower threshold for using military force, increased military activity in the Baltic Sea, and the increasing military importance of areas around Sweden including the Arctic. Another factor influencing Swedish decision making is the increase of other countries’ intelligence activities and influence operations in the region. Like the rest of Europe, terrorism is a constant threat.