Government’s hopes may be dashed

In its defence bill, the government is positive to the idea that a new organisation to provide training on JAS Gripen fighter jets could “include new export obligations,” i.e. new deals with other countries. In reality, however, the Swedish Air Force is already stretched.

A recurring problem for the Air Force is one of maintenance. A key concept in this context is that of “accessibility,” i.e. there always needs to be a certain number of JAS Gripen fighters operational.

Major General Micael Bydén, who took over as Air Force Commander nine months ago, tells Svenska Dagbladet: “It’s no secret that we have for a while faced challenges, to put it mildly. Equally, we are keen to deal with the accessibility challenges …”. However, as a result of these challenges, the Air Force has had to put future training requirements on the back burner.

Meanwhile, in related news, as a result of the defence agreement struck between the government and three of the alliance parties, the defence budget will receive a boost of SKr 10.2 billion in the coming five years. However, fresh calculations from FOI, the Swedish Defence Research Agency, indicate that Swedish military expenditure, as a share of GDP, will in fact fall from the current level of 1.5% to under 1.1% in the next five years.

Nordic countries in military cooperation

Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and his Danish, Finnish and Norwegian colleagues, along with Iceland’s foreign minister, have signed a debate piece in Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten, outlining an intention to broaden defence cooperation.

The cooperation should be seen as “a direct response to aggressive Russian behaviour” in the Nordic countries’ neighbouring areas, writes the newspaper.

According to Norwegian defence analyst Janne Haaland Matlary, the strategy, which includes joint military exercises, goes as far as it can without explicitly creating a NATO community with non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.

“Finland and Sweden have also decided to hold their exercises to NATO standard, which implies a step towards NATO. Today there are no political grounds for them to join NATO, public opinion is not sufficiently scared, and referenda will be necessary. But what is happening now still looks like a preparation for membership,” she told Aftenposten.

Besides joint exercises, the strategy includes joint industrial cooperation in the defence sector, the joint exchange of intelligence and the joint processing of cyber attacks. It also includes an intention to broaden cooperation with the Baltic countries.

The first visible sign of the enhanced alliance will be the Arctic Challenge exercise to be held at the end of May, which will involve both Sweden and Norway. A number of US F-16s, based in the UK, are also expected to take part in the exercise.

Division over defence spending

 

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist
Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist (S) hopes cross-party agreement can be reached on defence appropriations for 2016-2020 by Thursday evening. The government has proposed raising the defence budget by a total of SKr 6.2 billion, which is less than the Moderates have proposed and just a third of the SKr 18 billion the Liberal Party has proposed.

“The Liberal Party believes this is what is required if our capabilities are not to be reduced further. There is a structural deficit that the Armed Forces have had to face since 2009,” said Liberal defence spokesman Allan Widman during a break in the negotiations on Monday evening.

The Armed Forces have said they require an annual boost of SKr 4 billion to meet the goals drawn up by the Defence Commission (Försvarsberedningen) – quite a bit more than the government has proposed. Furthermore, the Armed Forces would require an extra capital injection of SKr 15 billion in order to procure an additional submarine and expanding its Air Force, from 60 to 70 Gripen fighter jets.

Late yesterday Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson (S) said the government’s proposal was “balanced”. Afterwards, Moderate MP Hans Wallmark said: “The Finance Minister has been extremely frosty. Others in the government do not make it any easier for the Defence Minister”.

New submarines ordered

Sweden orders subs

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist has told public service broadcaster SVT that the government will be placing an SKr 8.2 billion order for two new submarines from Saab Kockums. The minister announced the news while visiting the Karlskrona shipyard on Tuesday, although a formal decision will not be made until Thursday. The submarines will be delivered in 2022.