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HELSINKI — Sweden’s Defense Ministry is set to discuss the implementation of new advance warning and rapid reaction structures after the disclosure that Russian aircraft conducted a nighttime “simulated” attack on key Swedish military and civilian installations last month.
The incident, which took place on March 30 close to Sweden’s southeastern archipelago, has generated sharp criticism from opposition leaders who questioned the military command system’s ability or willingness to deliver a rapid reaction response to the “threat” presented by Russian aircraft engaged in exercises close to the Swedish island of Gotska Sandön in the Baltic Sea.
Although the Swedish Armed Force’s (SAF’s) early warning radar system identified the “threat” as two Tu-22M3 (NATO ID Backfires) heavy bombers flanked by four Su-27 fighters, there was no command response to scramble Swedish Air Force Gripen interceptors.
“The interception needed wasn’t performed by Swedish fighters, but by Danish F-16s operating out of a NATO air base in Lithuania who were scrambled to shadow the Russian aircraft. It is completely incomprehensible that a country like us that spends [US] $6.5 billion on defense annually cannot even manage to have two aircraft on 24/7 standby alert,” said Peter Rådberg , a Green Party member of Parliament who sits on the Parliamentary Committee on Defense (PCoD).
The SAF said the Russian aircraft were tracked and monitored while they remained in international airspace off Gotska Sandön, about 55 miles from Sweden’s southeast coast.
The Russian aircraft departed after conducting a range of maneuvers.
The PCoD is to convene an extraordinary session to discuss the incident and the lack of a tactical response in coming weeks.
The committee will also investigate whether the lack of a reaction by the SAF was due to funding issues or the absence of any effective Emergency Readiness System by the military, said the PCoD’s chairman, Peter Hultqvist.
“The committee will need to talk to the chief of defense and ask him to explain how this incident transpired and how the response system, which we would assume exists, actually works. At least we have never been informed that Sweden does not have a 24/7 fighter readiness system,” Hultqvist said.
The SAF has defended its inaction, claiming that its Air-Surveillance Command’s radar stations had tracked and monitored the location of the Russian bombers and fighters while they were engaged in exercises in the Baltic Sea.
“In this case, we made a judgment that we would not have any capability on standby,” SAF spokesman Lt. Gen. Anders Silwer said during a news conference April 22. “We do not react to everything. We had no advance warning that Russian aircraft planned to hold maneuvers in the Baltic Sea.”
Hultqvist countered: “It is a decidedly serious matter if we discover that Swedish preparedness does not work. We must have a 24/7 rapid reaction capability. For Russian aircraft to run a mock bombing exercise apparently simulating attacks against Swedish targets reminds me of the Cold War era. This confirms our image that Russia means business when it comes to raising its military capacity.”
The incident has once again raised serious questions over whether the Swedish military is capable of protecting the country’s territorial sovereignty, Rådberg said.
Sweden will not seek a formal explanation for the unusual night-time maneuvers. However, the incident, said Defense Minister Karin Enström, reaffirmed Sweden’s view that Russia is engaged in capacity-building muscle-flexing in the High North and Baltic Sea regions.
“We have observed that Russia has stepped up its training exercises and that they are behaving in a different way than before. We intend to maintain a close watch on the situation,” Enström said in a statement.