PARIS — Sweden's Air Force chief denounced provocative tactics used by Russian pilots in the Baltic region as "very dangerous" and said Swedish Air Force countermeasures, including scrambles and sensor use, are up 50 percent in the last two years.
"As trainee pilots we flew 10km from borders and we expect (Russians) to do it, but after Crimea and Ukraine, the million dollar question is 'What's next?'," said Maj. Gen. Micael Bydén at the Paris Air Show on June 14.
"I grew up with it, but this is unpredictable and I don't like the development," he said.
Bydén singled out the near misses between civil aircraft leaving Copenhagen airport in Denmark and Russian IL-20s flying nearby. "In March 2014 an IL-20 came within 300 feet of a Scandinavian Airlines aircraft, and there was a similar incident in December," he said, adding that in December military air traffic controllers intervened in the December incident to warn the civilian aircraft to change its course.
Bydén said he would not rule out integrating Sweden's civilian and military ATC operations to ward off crashes. "It's wouldn't be easy, it's not plug and play," he said.
The IL-20 near misses follow the incident in March 2013 when six Russian aircraft ran a mock bombing run near Swedish air space.
"We are see them more, we see ops we didn't see before, patterns we didn't see before, at different times of day," he said.
"When we talked to the Russians about the IL-20s, a two-star general said the Swedish air chief was smoking cannabis," he added.
Actual Russian incursions in Swedish air space were not occurring, said Bydén, but in the last two years, the scrambles, the use of sensors and the flying hours related to Sweden's monitoring of increased Russian activity in the area had grown 50 percent, said Bydén.
The air chief praised the introduction in service next year of the Meteor missile on Sweden's Gripen CD aircraft, in service next year. "Meteor is a game changer, if I was on the other side I would think three times before starting something," he said.
Sweden will acquire 60 Gripen E aircraft with Initial Operating Capibility expected in 2022 and Full Operational Capability to be reached in 2026. As opposed to currently flying Gripen NGs, the aircraft will offer a new engine, new sensors, a new radar and new EW systems.
An early decision to convert existing Gripen CDs into Gripen Es through upgrades was now being reconsidered, said Hakan Buskhe, CEO of manufacturer Saab.
"Due to the 'stressed situation' they are now saying they might build the 60 aircraft from scratch," he said.
Bydén said that plans to hand over some Swedish Gripens to Brazil as gap-fillers while the South American nation awaits its new Gripens might be reconsidered.
Sweden previously discussed leasing Switzerland 11 aircraft as gap-fillers ahead of its scrapped plan to sell Gripens to the country, said Bydén.
"Today I would not sign for that as we need the planes more than ever," he said. "I was more generous two years ago."