LONDON – The chief of the Swedish Air Force said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Sweden’s membership in that NATO alliance are driving the service to develop a new strategy for its next-generation fighter aircraft.
As a result of those significant geopolitical developments, the Swedish government boosted its 2022 military budget to 2% of gross domestic production from about 1.5%, an increase of $3 billion krona ($286.6 million). With the larger budget, Swedish Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. Carl-Johan Edstrom said his service is developing a strategy that will inform future fighter aircraft requirements.
“We need to put out a new strategy, as a nation, for our fighter systems,” Edstrom said in a July 17 speech at the Royal Air Force Club in London. The service expects to complete the work in November.
In June, the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration awarded a 250 million krona ($23.8 million) contract to Saab to study future fighter aircraft development. Headquartered in Sweden, the aerospace company manufactures the Gripen aircraft flown by the Swedish Air Force. The service plans to begin retiring its C/D-model Gripens in 2035 and Saab’s study will inform its strategy for replacing those jets.
Asked whether the country’s NATO membership will require the service to specialize in any areas, Edstrom said it’s too soon to tell. The alliance’s 30 member countries just approved Sweden and Finland’s entry this month and the move will not be formalized until the decision is ratified by each member nation’s legislative body — a process that could take a year to complete.
Edstrom said that because of Sweden’s position as one of three Western countries, alongside France and the U.S., with the proven ability to build a domestic fighter aircraft, he expects NATO “would like us to stay in that position and be a leading nation when it comes to developing the future fifth-generation systems.”
As the service makes plans for future aircraft development, it is also working on a near-term strategy to strengthen its fleet. Edstrom said he is “quite positive now” that the Swedish Air Force will establish a seventh fighter squadron. That increase will require the service to buy more Gripens to populate the squadron — likely 60 of the newer E-model aircraft and up to 60 C/D models, according to Edstrom.
The Swedish Air Force is also eyeing capability upgrades to its Gripen C/D fleet, including advanced weapons and a new radar system, he said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.