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Swedish Defense Bill Extends Gripen, Adds New AEW Aircraft


The Swedish defense ministry published a 181-page document on October 14 that outlines a defense bill to be put before the Riksdag (parliament). Having gained cross-party support, the bill is scheduled to become law on Feb. 1, 2021. Known as Totalförsvaret (total defence) 2021-25, the bill covers the largest increase in defense spending in Sweden for many decades. Funding levels are to increase by SEK27.5 billion ($3.1 billion) compared with 2020.

“This represents the largest increase in the level of ambition in defense capabilities in 70 years,” said defense minister Peter Hultqvist. “It is a signal to the Swedish people and our neighborhood that we are taking the security situation extremely seriously. The proposals in the bill should be seen against the background of the deteriorating security situation in Sweden’s neighborhood and in Europe over time. Sweden will be affected if crisis or an armed conflict arises in our region. An armed attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out.”

The bill sets out a series of measures that improve equipment, readiness, training, and organization across the Swedish armed forces, including the reestablishment of a number of units, including Flygflottilj (air wing) 16 at Uppsala. All wings will be expected to maintain dispersed operating locations in addition to their main bases. Overall military personnel numbers are set to rise to 90,000 from the current figure of 60,000. The document also specifies improvements and expansion in civil defense, and in cybersecurity and foreign intelligence-gathering.

In terms of Flygvapnet (the Swedish air force), the bill proposes that the current force structure of six combat aircraft squadrons will be maintained through the 2021-25 period. Four will convert to the JAS 39E Gripen as they are delivered, while two will retain the JAS 39C/D. Under initial plans, the Gripen E was to have replaced the C/D completely, but in recent times it has been seen as increasingly likely that C/Ds would be retained in view of growing regional tensions. The bill expects the Gripen C/D to be “an important part of the war organization beyond 2030,” while noting that C/Ds can also be employed for advanced training. Currently, Sweden has 60 Gripen Es on order, and the bill gives no details of future Gripen numbers, although it is estimated that the force will comprise around 90-100 fighters.

To increase combat effectiveness the bill proposes to buy more air-to-air missiles and to strengthen electronic warfare capabilities. A new missile with “sea target and some ground target capability” is to be acquired, referring to the latest extended-range version of the RBS 15F anti-ship weapon. Beyond that, a long-range strike capability is to be introduced in the 2026-2030 period. For reconnaissance duties, the Gripen currently employs the SPK 39 pod, for which new sensors will be acquired to replace current systems that are approaching obsolescence.

One of the air force’s most pressing needs is for a new airborne early warning and control system, as the current Saab 340-based S 100D/ASC 890 aircraft are overworked and aging. A decision on their replacement is due to be made in the 2021-25 period, with the acquisition to be completed after 2025. The two S 102B Korpen signals intelligence-gathering aircraft—modified Gulfstream IVs—are to be maintained, with no replacement plans to be made until after 2025.

Transport aircraft are to be divided between three squadrons assigned to regular transport, “special” transport, and government support. The helicopter wing will also be divided: two squadrons will be dedicated to land warfare, one to the maritime mission, and another to special forces support.

The final air-related items in the bill relate to continued co-operation with the UK-led Future Combat Air System, which Sweden joined in 2019, although the bill notes that, for now, initial technology development will primarily support the JAS 39 Gripen. The document also notes the opportunities for co-operation with Finland in both technology and operational development should Sweden’s neighbor opt to select the Gripen E as its next fighter.