By Craig Hoyle in Gothenburg, Linköping, Malmen and Såtena
The continuing transformation of Sweden’s armed forces from a Cold War posture of national defence to an organisation capable of meaningful participation in international operations is to take clearer shape following national elections in mid-September, with the scope of new procurements, legacy equipment upgrades and strike aircraft cuts to be determined by the results.
Sweden’s role as the dominant player in the four-nation Nordic Battle Group is at the forefront of its planning activities, with the 2,400-strong unit to be available to lead a potential European Union peacekeeping mission for a six-month period from January 2008. This requirement is driving Stockholm – which will supply 2,000 of the group’s deployable personnel – to give serious consideration to acquiring strategic airlifters and roll-on, roll-off sealift capacity in time to support its EU commitment.
Inaugurated on 29 May, the Nordic Battle Group will also involve troops from Estonia, Finland and Norway, with Ireland also considering future participation. If called upon, the unit will be required to deploy a rapid reaction force anywhere within a 11,100km (6,000nm) radius of Brussels within 10 days: a demand that has prompted Swedish interest in acquiring two Boeing C-17 transports.
Air force and Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) sources say discussions continue on the best way to pursue a C-17 deal, with lease and direct purchase options under consideration, along with the possibility of Swedish industry providing some support services for the aircraft. However, with Boeing having placed a late-June deadline for new customers to commit to C-17 orders or miss out on a guaranteed unit price of $220 million, it is uncertain whether Sweden will be able to take advantage of the manufacturer’s offer in time. The need to launch crew training activities almost immediately to enable operations by early 2008 represents an additional challenge, they say.
The Swedish air force has already signed a letter of acceptance under which Boeing will perform an Avionics Modernisation Programme upgrade to its eight Lockheed Martin C-130H transports. The company expects to receive a contract during August to conduct the work.
Meanwhile, the service is in the final stages of negotiating an upgrade to its S100B Argus (modified Saab 340) airborne early-warning aircraft, with two to be modified to a new airborne surveillance and control system configuration by 2009 to support later EU commitments.
Another potentially key element of Sweden’s ability to participate in future multinational operations will be the eventual status of its fleet of Saab JAS39 Gripen strike aircraft. Seven of the air force’s new JAS39C/Ds are about to undergo their stiffest test to date, when they will perform an almost month-long deployment to the USA to participate in the Alaskan Red Flag exercise, completing a round-trip of around 22,800km.
The air force’s F17 wing at Ronneby and F21 wing at Luleå have already started to receive Gripen C/Ds, and operational capability will increase at both units later this year. To achieve initial operating capability in September, F17 will initially specialise in air-to-air and reconnaissance missions, with F21 to achieve the same milestone the following month equipped with Rafael Litening III targeting pods and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. Full operating capability for both units will occur in January 2007, and a common multi-role Gripen standard should be in place within around two years of this date, the air force says.
Reflecting its expectation of conducting more expeditionary operations, the air force is to abandon its rapid reaction force structure established in 2004, with all of its Gripen squadrons to be capable of performing out-of-theatre operations from 2007. “All units must be capable of defending Swedish territory, and to participate in peace support operations,” says Maj Gen Anders Lindström, chief of Sweden’s Joint Forces Command.
Although it marked its 80th anniversary with celebrations in mid-June, the air force is facing a continued period of tough transformation, with its current four operational aircraft wings already as small as the structure established with its creation in 1926. However, if adopted, a proposed reduction to just 100 Gripens under the so-called “100 programme” will still leave Sweden with a credible capability and reflect a long-held policy of placing “quality before quantity,” says air force chief of staff Maj Gen Jan Andersson.
To ensure the continued relevance of the Gripen weapon system, potential future modifications to assist with its participation in multinational operations include the planned integration of a Mk 4 development of its Ericsson PS05 multi-mode radar. To enter service in 2010, this will introduce high-resolution synthetic-aperture radar imaging and improved ground moving-target indication capabilities to support tasks such as close air support. Negotiations continue on this upgrade, and a decision on how many aircraft to modify is likely to be taken later this year.
Procurement reform is another key aspect of the transformation process, with Sweden now considering a range of options to contract military services from industry under availability-based agreements. Airborne platforms to potentially be covered by such arrangements include the air force’s Gripen fighters and Saab 105 (Sk60) trainers, says Saab.
Ongoing reductions across the armed forces – which now total around 60,000 personnel – also represent a challenge for the FMV procurement agency, which has a current annual turnover of around SKr17 billion ($2.3 billion). A continued reduction in staffing levels could see the FMV downsize from a current total of 18,000 employees to around 15,000, says director-general Gunnar Holmgren.