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Russia's Aggression Spurs Sweden to Boost Spending, Acquire New Capabilities

May. 7, 2014 - 02:41PM   |  
By GERARD O’DWYER   |   Comments
Taurus on Eurofighter Typhoon
Longer Reach: A Eurofighter Typhoon flight tests with the Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missile. One part of Sweden's new effort to strengthen its defense is to acquire long-range cruise missiles such as the Taurus. (MBDA)
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HELSINKI — Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine has triggered a swift response by Sweden to shore up its military readiness and capability, with more spending expected on big-ticket fighter aircraft and submarine acquisition, and modernization programs.

In a major deviation from a traditional defensive to an offensive strategy, the government is pushing for cross-party support to acquire long-range cruise missiles for new Gripen-39/E jets, giving Sweden its first ability to hit distant targets in Russia.

The initiative will increase the country’s annual defense budget year-by-year. By 2024, the budget is set to rise by $850 million to almost $8.2 billion, the highest level for any Nordic state. Sweden’s defense budget is set at $7.1 billion for 2014.

The first tangible increase is earmarked to take place in 2015. The exact budget will be set by a new government after pending parliamentary elections in September.

“This defense reinforcement initiative is long overdue. It will go some way to restoring Sweden’s position, lost in recent years because of low spending on defense, as the Nordic region’s strongest military power. It will also improve our capacity to better police the Baltic Sea area from forward military bases on Götland Island,” said Peter Hultqvist, a Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Swedish Parliament’s Committee On Defense (PCoD).

The plan has received a guarded welcome from the under-resourced armed forces, which has seen its defense capabilities suffer greatly from low budgets since 2008.

“My cautious assessment is that this is a great proposal that will make it possible for us to pursue important reforms. We can hope that the plan is also backed by opposition parties,” said Gen. Sverker Göranson, the armed forces defense chief.

In a pivotal and parallel action motivated by Russia’s military expansion in the High North and muscle-flexing in Ukraine, the government wants all-party consensus for a plan to integrate stand-off long-range cruise missiles, such as the Swedish-German developed Taurus KEPD 350, on the Air Force’s Gripen-39/E fighters.

The semi-stealthy Taurus KEPD 350 was developed as a joint venture between Saab Bofors Dynamics and Taurus Systems, owned by Airbus and MBDA Deutschland. Using a combination of GPS navigation and imaging infrared final targeting, the new-generation missiles have a range of up to 620 miles.

In an ironic twist, Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt informed the PCoD on April 24 that the extra military funding needed would in part flow from savings generated by cutting spending on environmental and nuclear safety-centered cooperation projects with Russia.

These projects are largely located in and around the militarized Kola Peninsula region of the High North, which is home to Russia’s Northern Fleet.

Russia, said Reinfeldt, is using its considerable “military muscle” and troops in the region to “deliberately destabilize Ukraine.”

The prime minister promised that more funding, manpower and assets, including aircraft and submarines, would be assigned to expanded Baltic Sea surveillance and protection roles.

The scale of the budgetary increase will also allow the Ministry of Defense to revise the format of the Gripen acquisition program to purchase an additional 10 aircraft.

This move will not only increase the number of Gripens delivered to the Air Force from the original 60 to 70, but expand Sweden’s policing reach in the Baltic Sea area, a development that will be welcomed by the NATO-aligned Baltic states, which have long sought such a commitment by Sweden.

In addition, the Navy’s procurement budget will be increased to speed acquisition of two next-generation A26-class submarines. Naval modernization will include upgrading three existing Götland-class submarines.

The Navy also wants to add two K40-class enlarged Visby type heavy corvettes (1,500 to 2,800 tons) to its fleet. Though classed as corvettes, these surface ships would be of frigate size and combine surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine clearance functions.

The Red-Green Alliance, which comprises the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party, backs higher spending to restore Sweden’s former position as the Nordic region’s most advanced and capable military force, said Hultqvist.

“Even if there is a change of government after September, this will not affect spending ambitions. This process will be in motion whatever the configuration of the next Swedish government. Given potential threats, we need to build modern, accessible and useable forces that are equipped with the most advanced technologies. This costs a lot of money,” Hultqvist said.

Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enström described the proposal to acquire high-precision, long-range cruise missiles as a “fundamental deterrent” against an attack on Swedish territories.

“Long-range missiles will arm our military with a new capability, and provide it with a longer reach and the capacity to engage and fight distant targets. It will make our overall defense that much more effective,” said Enström.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Crimea have proved game-changers for the Swedish government’s strategic thinking on defense and the desire to add a long-range cruise missile capability, said Gunnar Hult, a senior analyst at the Swedish National Defense College.

“Before the Ukraine crisis, an initiative such as this would have been perceived as quite aggressive. However, after Russia’s conduct in Ukraine, Sweden obviously sees the need to acquire such missiles,” Hult said.

The government’s “deep-strike” long-range missile acquisition proposal has split the opposition Red-Green Alliance grouping. While the overall spending increase is broadly supported, the Social Democrats back the cruise missile component but the Greens and Left Party oppose it.

“Cruise missiles are hugely costly to purchase and replace. What we don’t want to see is a costly missile acquisition program devouring a large portion of the defense budget. The real question is, do we need them,” said Torbjörn Björlund, the Left Party’s PCoD representative and spokesman on defense. ■


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