Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enstrom (Maja Suslin / Scanpix-Sweden via AFP)
HELSINKI — Sweden and Denmark are cutting costs as a central feature of separate force modernization projects, despite domestic criticism — particularly in Sweden — that such a course increases the risk of weakening national and regional defense capabilities.
In Sweden, the Defense Ministry has reacted to growing criticism of military spending curbs by asking the Armed Forces Command (AFC) to detail what the Swedish Armed Forces’ (SAF) funding requirements should be from 2015 to 2025.
The AFC, which has already presented two “Budgetary Needs Clarification Documents” to the MoD since Feb. 1, is expected to deliver a more comprehensive cross-branch cost analysis to the MoD by May.
As a stop-gap measure to improve funding, the AFC has proposed transferring money from the MoD’s international operations budget to core units in 2013-2014.
In its most recent budget document, the AFC indicated that the national defense budget would need to increase by $630 million annually from 2015 to 2025, for about $6.9 billion per year, to ensure adequate funding is available to maintain fully functioning ground, naval and air forces.
The AFC has an uphill battle in persuading the MoD and a “very reluctant” Defense Minister Karin Enström to find that extra $630 million every year, said Peter Hultqvist, the Social Democratic chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense.
“Enström is questioning the military command’s cost estimates and projected figures for funding needs after 2015. The government clearly wants more cost savings and a cheaper, not more costly, defense. That the government has ignored the reality of what Sweden needs to spend on maintaining a credible defense has been evident for some time,” Hultqvist told Defense News.
On March 13, Enström argued that the extra funding the SAF needs could come from new cost reduction programs, including savings generated by shedding officers and civilians.
“On the equipment procurement side, where the costs are significant, we will require that the Armed Forces improve its cost controls to achieve better savings through improved equipment acquisition planning,” Enström said in a statement.
Swedish defense has reached a dangerous crossroads, and the government’s desire for cuts rather than spending increases threatens to leave the country without the means to defend itself, said Lars Fresker, chairman of the Swedish Military Officers’ Association.
“We already lack adequate manpower in the services and a credible air defense system,” he said. “We are on the brink of a precipice here. It is an established international fact that the cost of military equipment is rising faster than in most other sectors. This is an economic reality our government must not ignore.”
A new wave of cuts would force the AFC to mothball or significantly reduce capability in core units, including the Army’s anti-aircraft and mechanized infantry divisions, in addition to frontline fighter jets and submarines, Fresker said.
“If the government continues to manage the nation’s military through continuous cuts, then our defense structures and capability will collapse. The conclusions reached by the AFC and latest research are clear: The government must stop behaving like it is possible to build a credible defense on credit,” Fresker said.
Cost savings identified by the MoD include proposals to reduce the number of air wings within the Swedish Air Force from four to three, with the potential closure of air bases in Luleå, Ronneby or Såtenäs.
Danish Consensus Rules
In contrast to Sweden, the Danish government has been able to negotiate the general groundwork for building a smaller, more cost-efficient and usable military organization with both opposition parties and the Danish Defense Forces (DDF).
The Danish government’s two-year push for greater economies culminated, in February, in the formalizing of a cross-party five-year plan on defense development covering 2013 to 2017. Under the plan, the government will require the military to find $445 million in new operational savings in 2014, $450 million in 2015, $455 million in 2016 and $380 million in 2017.
The Danish annual military budget, in line with force reduction plans, is set to fall from $4 billion in 2013 to $3.56 billion in 2015.
The cross-party deal boosts political consensus and cohesion on fundamental national defense issues in Denmark, ahead of force reorganization reforms and the re-launching of the Fighter Replacement Acquisition Program over the next 12 months.
The DDF proposes the closure of garrisons and military bases in Fredericia, Almegård-Bornholm, Sønderborg, Haderslev, Høvelte and Vordingborg. The Defense Ministry will have the final say as to which bases are closed.
“The proposals handed in to the MoD will be included in the future political process. The recommendations take specific military conditions into consideration. We expect that other points and considerations will be included in the final political decision and that these may deviate from my recommendations,” defense chief Gen. Peter Bartram said in a statement.
While the government-led defense modernization plan is well-intentioned, it does leave whole strategic regions in Denmark without military installations.
“There are serious issues, such as impact of base closures on local economies, and there is the wider issue of national defense and whether the changes will strengthen or weaken Danish defense. This latter issue needs to be debated more,” said Troels Lund Poulsen, the defense spokesman for the right-wing liberal Venstre Party.
Other cost-cutting proposals include the creation of a Joint Operational Command that would combine the operative leadership structures of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
According to Bartram, this initiative would improve task coordination on domestic and international mission defense within the military and yield savings from personnel and other administrative cuts of around $15 million annually.