HELSINKI — The Swedish government’s tight-fisted spending position on defense has come under fresh scrutiny following a report by the National Audit Office (NAO — in Swedish Rikrevisionen) that concludes the current budgeting regime is forcing military cuts that significantly reduce the availability and rapid-response capability of core Air Force and naval units.
The government, which plans to effect a marginal increase in the defense budget in 2013, says it will continuously review funding needs but believes shortfalls in the financing of core military areas can be addressed through further cost-cutting programs and fiscal economies within the Air Force, Navy and Land Forces.
“I’m not sure why the findings in the National Audit Office’s report should surprise anyone. The chief of the armed forces has been saying for over a year now that the military does not have sufficient monies to operate a credible defense, run exercises, or have the required manpower levels to maintain credible rapid-response units,” said Peter Rådberg, the Green Party’s spokesman on defense.
Around 50 percent of the Air Force’s JAS Gripen fighter squadrons, according to the NAO report, are unsuitable for rapid-response duties due to manpower and funding shortfalls that extend to a lack of pilots and qualified ground support crews.
Similarly, more than 40 percent of the Navy’s coastal and deep sea fleet also suffers from a lack of qualified manpower and cannot be classified as either on standby or combat ready. Ships are forced to stay in port due to a lack of adequate capital funding, qualified officers and crews, said the report.
“The government and the Armed Forces have claimed that core rapid response units within the three main branches can be made combat ready within a matter of days. This review shows this is not the case. The Armed Forces’ standing combat corps of naval ships and the Air Forces lack sufficiently robust staffing levels,” the NAO report said.
The NAO said the lack of funding to ensure an optimum level of qualified manpower to core units is endemic. This deficiency extends from manpower to run basic support units to commanding officers in the highest levels of the Armed Forces Command’s (AFC) structure.
“In terms of manpower, the situation is worse in the Air Force than in the Navy,” said the NAO’s Auditor General Jan Landahl. The government needs to devote more thought and energy to ensure that key combat rapid-response units and usable forces are properly manned at all times, he said.
The NAO report reflects the real needs facing the military in maintaining a credible defense capability, said the AFC’s Lt. Gen. Anders Silwer.
“The report is worthy of very serious consideration, and I see it as being supportive of the military’s own position,” said Silwer.
Much of the $60.3 million increase in Sweden’s defense budget in 2013, which the government has set at 6 billion euros ($7.9 billion), will be used to support the development of a next-generation JAS Gripen fighter aircraft, said Allan Widman, the Liberal Party’s spokesman on defense.
“Of the $60.3 million increase, almost $46 million will go to the next generation Gripen program in 2013. This doesn’t leave a lot of surplus money to meet the military’s fundamental manpower shortages, nor the extra cash that is required for core units,” said Widman.