Health of the Force: The Armed Forces Command warns in a new report that a funding crisis with the potential to force the disbanding of core units is imminent unless the government backs a 'significant' increase in annual spending. (Agence France-Presse)
HELSINKI — The Swedish government’s promise to bolster defense spending and inject more capital into equipment procurement programs has failed to impress the country’s military establishment.
The Defense Ministry said in September that expenditures on defense would increase by US $220 million in 2014-17, yielding an annual increase of $60 million a year. The armed forces budget for 2013 amounts to $6.2 billion.
Still, the Armed Forces Command (AFC) warns in a new government-commissioned report that examines the probable state of health of national defense in future years, that a funding crisis with the potential to force the disbanding of core units is imminent unless the government backs a “significant” increase in annual spending.
“Over the long term, if the government fails to change our mandate and the resources that are allocated to us, we will be forced to disband certain units,” said Gen. Sverker Göranson, AFC chief, during an Oct. 1 news conference.
Göranson created a political storm last spring when he informed the government, based on a tactical assessment of the military’s standing capability, that the armed forces would be able to only “defend Sweden for less than a week,” in the event of an attack.
The AFC’s Budget Perspective 2013 report further warns of the danger that the military may have to decrease the Air Force’s front-line fighter fleet from around 100 JAS combat aircraft to 60 planes if future budgets fail to match the AFC’s ambition to maintain full capability in all core branches.
According to Göranson, the government must decide whether it wants Sweden to have a modern, high-tech and capable armed force equipped to defend the country.
The alternative to a high level of ambition for Swedish defense, Göranson said, is for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s center-right coalition to develop a long-term budget plan for national defense that will determine which parts of defense are affordable and which are not.
“The armed forces need to be able to invest in quality before quantity. If the current budget levels are maintained going forward, there would have to be cutbacks in what we can afford to provide. Conceivably, we could be looking at fewer tactical transport aircraft and helicopters. Cuts to the Navy could mean fewer surface ships and submarines,” Göranson said.
The AFC report is based on government spending objectives for the military set down in 2009. In that year, Swedish spending on defense represented 1.35 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The AFC estimates that by 2016, if the existing low-investment framework continues, defense expenditures could fall to below 1.1 percent of GDP. Sweden’s defense spending was 1.2 percent of GDP in 2012, the lowest of any Nordic or Baltic state.
The report conceded that although the cost savings and military reorganization programs directed by the government could deliver a functional readiness capacity, it said that this would be at the expense of a lower fighting capability. Moreover, the report suggested that the military’s overall defense role and capability could also be boosted through cross-border defense pacts with neighboring Nordic states.
The conclusion reached by the report is that the military’s capacity to defend Sweden against all land, sea and air threats will continue to weaken unless defense funding is scaled up to a level that ensures adequate manpower, trained forces and modern equipment exist to repel possible attacks against the country’s territorial sovereignty.
The Budget Perspective 2013 report reflects the widening gap between what the Swedish government is proposing in terms of future spending on defense, and what the military needs to provide a credible national defense capacity, said Peter Hultqvist, the Social Democratic chairman of the Swedish parliament’s Committee on Defense.
“The government needs to listen more carefully to what the military are saying, and have been saying for quite some time. Quality defense is not cheap. It comes at a price, and it needs political support to be effective,” Hultqvist said in an interview. “As a nonaligned regional state, we need to have a level of spending on defense that reflects our ambitions and intentions. The government can’t simply keep on asking the military to do more for less and expect it to cope with the more technologically advanced threats that could materialize in 10 to 20 years.”
The Budget Perspective 2013 report contributes to the ongoing political debate around defense capability, budgeting and the ongoing issue over whether Sweden’s military capacity could be strengthened through NATO membership or closer operational cooperation with neighboring Nordic countries, said Allan Widman, Folkpartiet’s (Liberal People’s Party) spokesman on defense.
“Essentially, the report asks the pertinent question about what kind of defense Sweden wants and can afford. With a shift to increased expenditure, we can have the full range of capability, from modern fighters to submarines, and the latest fighting technologies. On the other hand, a lower level of spending could mean a more limited fighting force that would be used to defend certain localized areas,” Widman said.
Peter Sandwall, the director general of the Swedish Armed Forces, described the government’s recent defense budget increase as “welcome but not enough.”
“There is still a long way to go before Sweden’s military is properly funded. The extra funding is basically a positive decision. With that said, there are still a number of long-term issues regarding the role of the armed forces and the budget — not least in terms of equipment,” Sandwall said.
On the materiel procurement side, the MoD says it is committed to funding acquisition programs that will significantly improve the country’s fighting capability.
To this end, there will be continued funding for the Archer mobile artillery project being jointly run with Norway. The first four Archer systems were delivered to the Swedish Army on Sept. 23. The total order calls for the delivery of 24 systems to Sweden.
The MoD has also provisionally approved $162 million in new funding to acquire 100 BvS10 armored all-terrain vehicles from BAE Systems Hägglunds. The proposed BvS10s are to be purchased in multiple variants, including troop carriers, command vehicles, ambulance and logistic carriers for the Swedish Army.