Russia’s Tu-22M3 long-range bombers performed flights over the Baltic and Norwegian Seas on Wednesday and were escorted by US, Belgian, Finnish and Swedish fighter jets at some stages of the route, the Defense Ministry said.
“On September 20, 2017, crews of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers made scheduled flights over the neutral waters of the Baltic and Norwegian Seas. Training flights of crews of the Long-Range Aviation were performed in line with the plan for combat training events in summer 2017,” the ministry said.
Over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea at some stages of the flight route “a pair of aircraft of the Long-Range Aviation was escorted by fighter jets F-16 of the Belgian Air Force, F-18 of the Finnish Air Force, F-15 of the US Air Force and JAS-39 of the Swedish Air Force during 70 minutes.”
“While performing a flight over the neutral waters of the Norwegian Sea, another pair of Tu-22M3 was escorted by F-16 fighter jets of the US Air Force during 27 minutes at some stages of the route,” the ministry said.
The flights of Tu-22M3, a modification of the TU-22M “Backfire,” were made in strict compliance with the international rules of using airspace without violating the borders of other countries, the ministry stressed.
Pilots of Russia’s Long-Range Aviation regularly perform training flights over neutral waters of the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Black Sea and the Pacific Ocean, it said.
Vladimir Putin’s mock attacks on Scandinavia could make the Swedes end 200 years of neutrality
SWEDEN’S Aurora-17 drill, which continues until the end of September, is the biggest war game that the supposedly neutral country has carried out for 23 years. Not only does it involve 19,000 of Sweden’s armed forces (about half of them), including its Home Guard, but also more than 1,500 troops from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Norway and America.
All except Finland are members of NATO, the big western alliance.
The size of the exercise and its main focus, the defence of Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea some 350km (220 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, is a reflection of how insecure Sweden feels.
Vladimir Putin, having gobbled up Crimea and attacked Ukraine, is flexing his muscles near the Baltics and Scandinavia. Russia’s massive Zapad-17 military exercise, which finished this week, involved sending 100,000 troops to Belarus and the Baltic to practise repelling the “Western Coalition”.
Foreign observers were banned, as they never are from NATO exercises. (Perhaps luckily: a Russian helicopter reportedly fired missiles at spectators by mistake, though the government denies this.)
There have been plenty of other causes for disquiet. In March 2013 Russia sent two Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters, across the Gulf of Finland to within 40km of Gotland.
The planes only veered off after carrying out what NATO analysts believed was a dummy nuclear attack on targets in Sweden. After many years of static or declining defence spending, Sweden had to rely on Danish F-16s, part of NATO’s Baltic air-policing operation, to respond.
In 2014 a Russian submarine penetrated the Stockholm archipelago, departing without being found. Since then Russia has stepped up the frequency of menacing, no-notice military drills in the region.
Small wonder many Swedes think they should end 200 years of neutrality by joining NATO. If they did, any Russian attack on Sweden would be treated as an attack on America and its 28 NATO allies.
All the main Swedish opposition parties want to join, apart from the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats, who like many European populists have a curious fondness for Mr Putin.
Polls suggest that a plurality of Swedes favour NATO membership. A Pew survey earlier this year found 47% in support of membership and 39% against.
But for now the Social Democratic-Green coalition government, in office since 2014, wants to get as close as possible to NATO without actually joining it.
Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, is the author of a policy that tries to square the contradictions in the country’s security policy.
Part of the “Hultqvist doctrine”, as it is known, is to improve Sweden’s neglected capacity for self-defence. Military spending is rising—by about 5% annually in real terms over the next three years—and conscription is being reintroduced next year.
The other part is building closer defence co-operation with its non-NATO neighbour, Finland, as well as with America and Baltic littoral states in NATO. All of which Aurora-17 is meant to demonstrate.
Both Sweden and Finland also entered into a “host country support agreement” with NATO, which allows alliance forces to move through their territory and pre-position kit by invitation.
Mr Hultqvist himself is suspected of hankering after NATO membership. But for now the government has ruled it out. There is still a good deal of anti-Americanism on the Swedish left (which Donald Trump does little to dispel).
There is also a fear, expressed by the foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, of provoking Mr Putin (who has promised to “eliminate the threat” were Sweden to join NATO). Many observers doubt that Finland, where popular support for NATO is lower, would be ready to make a joint decision in favour of membership—something Swedish NATO boosters see as crucial.
There are good reasons why NATO itself might be keen for Sweden (and Finland) to join its fold. Defence of its Baltic members would be much harder without guaranteed access to Swedish ground and airspace. As a member, Sweden would be far more integrated with NATO’s command-and-control systems. Interoperability of its forces with those of the alliance would improve, making them more effective in a fight.
Sweden’s NATO question is being fudged for now, but it will loom large in next year’s general election. If the Swedes do eventually make the jump, Mr Putin will have only himself to blame.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A funny kind of neutrality”
LIEPAJA, Latvia – An Italian Air Force TPS-77 radar element has been the sensor for NATO’s deployed air surveillance and control unit – the DARS* – supporting the integration into Latvia’s Air Defence System and NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS).
Since late-August, exercise Ramstein Dust-II 17 has been taking place in Latvia. During the deployment exercise, elements of NATO’s Deployable Air Command and Control Centre moved to Lielvarde Air Base to test their expeditionary capabilities and practice their core functionalities such as providing area air surveillance, production and dissemination of the recognised air picture and tactical control of training air missions.
A key sensor that allows the unit to operate is the Italian Air Force TPS-77 radar deployed to Liepaja right on the Baltic Sea coast approximately 270 kilometres west of Lielvarde. The 20-strong Italian element set up their camp in Latvia to prepare and integrate into the exercise feeding radar data into the DARS system.
Creation of recognised air pictures starts with a radar element such as the Italian TPS-77. The data of all aircraft within its coverage area are fed into NATINAMDS.
At the deployed DARS this data is fused and transmitted to the Baltic Control and Reporting Centre at Karmelava, Lithuania, which in turn sends its consolidated data to NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany.
At Allied Air Command at Ramstein, Germany, the overall NATO recognised air picture for all of Europe is maintained together with the input from the southern CAOC at Torrejon, Spain.
When it redeploys to its home garrison more than 2,500 kilometres away at the beginning of October, the Italian radar element will have been part of NATO’s 24/7 mission of safeguarding the skies over Allies territories.
A Royal Danish Navy able seaman died in an accident aboard support ship HDMS Absalon on Monday, September 18.
According to the Danish defense forces command, the sailor sustained a severe head injury while the ship was at sea, taking part in an international drill in the Baltic Sea.
The ship called for a rescue helicopter immediately and rendered first aid to the sailor, the command said. All efforts to save the sailor were unsuccessful as the doctor pronounced the sailor dead upon arriving aboard the ship.
At the time of the incident, HDMS Absalon was northeast of Bornholm, where ship and crew participated in the Sweden-hosted exercise Northern Coasts. The international drill is set to conclude on September 21.
HDMS Absalon is one of the two largest Danish Navy ships designed for command and support roles. The ship was launched in 2005 and commissioned in 2007.
Over 50 vessels and 20 aircraft were at sea off the coast of Sweden taking part in the international exercise Northern Coasts which started on September 8.
NOCO 2017 is an exercise that focuses on increasing the navies’ ability to operate together during war and crisis management situations.
The exercise runs through September 21 and is based on a fictitious high-intensity conflict scenario, within the framework of an international force with UN mandate.
Countries taking part in the drill include Belgium, Denmark (with command and support ship HDMS Absalon and frigate HDMS Niels Juel, Germany (with frigate FGS Bayern, mine countermeasure ships Pegnitz, Siegburg and Sulzbach-Rosenberg, and tender Elbe, Estonia, Finland (with minelayer Uusimaa), France, Canada, Croatia, Latvia (with minelayer Virsaitis), Lithuania, the Netherlands (with frigates Tromp and Evertsen), Norway (with SNMG1 flagship HNoMS Otto Sverdrup, two Skjold-class corvettes and minesweeper Hinnøy) Poland (with frigate Generał Kazimierz Pułaski and corvette Kaszub), Portugal, Sweden (with patrol ship Carlskrona, stealth-corvettes Karlstad und Härnösund), Spain and the USA.
“The Baltic Sea Region is of major strategic importance for NATO. The region includes six Allied nations and two important NATO partners in addition to Russia,” said Flag Commander Petter Kammerhuber, who leads the NATO Force SNMG1 this fall.
In addition to providing an opportunity for all participants to hone their interoperability, Northern Coasts will test the initial operational capability (IOC) of the Swedish-Finnish Naval Task Group. The two countries spent the past couple years preparing to achieve IOC in 2017.
Now in its tenth edition, the German-organized exercise Northern Coasts has a different host country every year. The previous two editions of the exercise were hosted by Germany in 2015 and Denmark in 2016.
About 20 ships and support vessels of Russia’s Baltic Fleet went to sea to perform tactical tasks of the Zapad-2017 strategic exercise, head of the Western Military District’s press service on the Baltic Fleet Captain 1st rank Roman Martov said on Saturday.
“Corvettes, small missile and anti-submarine ships, minesweepers and missile boats, and various vessels of the auxiliary fleet have formed a few tactical groupings,” he said. “They are ready to fulfil task as assigned – in anti-submarine and air defense, to carry out test artillery firing on different types of targets, simulating sea and air targets.”
A large-scale exercise Zapad-2017 began in Russia and Belarus on Thursday at three proving grounds in Russia and six in Belarus with 12,700 troops (7,200 Belarussian and 5,500 Russian ones taking part). Also involved in the exercise are about 70 planes and helicopters, 680 ground vehicles, including about 250 tanks, 200 artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers and mortars and ten ships.
The main purpose of the exercise is to improve the compatibility of command and control centers, test new documentation and let commanders of all levels practice planning and control of operations on the basis of experience gained in the latest military conflicts.
EstonianDefense Minister Juri Luik acknowledged Sweden’s Baltic defense contribution during his visit to Stockholm.
“The exercise Aurora 17 as well as developments in Sweden’s defense area show that Sweden is clearly sensing a bigger role in assuring the security of the Baltic Sea region,” Luik was quoted by spokespeople as saying.
Luik met with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Gen. Micael Byden on Friday. The defense ministers discussed the security situation in the Baltic Sea region and the Aurora exercise as well as the ongoing Russia-Belarus large-scale exercise Zapad.
Aurora 17 is the first bigger exercise of the Swedish Armed Forces as of the start of 1990s. The exercise will take place on Gotland as well as around Stockholm and Göteborg. A platoon of the Saaremaa district of the Estonian volunteer corps Kaitseliit (Defense League) will take part in the exercise with the diver and support vessel Wambola.
The ministers also discussed bilateral cooperation in the area of defense.
Hultqvist gave an overview of the decision made by the Swedish government to increase defense spending in the next three years. The government is to allocate additional funds worth 8.1 billion Swedish kronor (about 850 million euros) to strengthen the country’s Armed Forces. In addition, Sweden will restore conscript service as of the start of 2018.
Luik also met with ambassadors of EU and NATO member states who reside in Sweden to give an overview of the recent meeting of EU defense ministers that took place in Tallinn as well as of the latest developments in European defense cooperation. Luik said that EU defense ministers affirmed readiness for stronger cooperation in the area of defense, adding that it is hoped that the EU permanent structured cooperation mechanism (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund would be launched already at the end of this year.
According to secretary general of Sweden’s Ministry of Defense Jan Salestrand, Sweden supports stronger defense cooperation in Europe, adding that it should not duplicate NATO’s activities.
Russia’s military is preparing to hold its biggest war games in several years, dubbed Zapad-2017. NATO’s eastern members are alarmed by these plans, and claim similar drills preceded clashes in Georgia and Crimea.
Tomorrow, the armies of Russia and Belarus are set to conduct joint military maneuvers, with thousands of troops taking part in war games in both countries and Russia’s heavily militarized exclave of Kaliningrad. The drill, designated Zapad-2017, comes after similar exercises were held in the region in 2013 and 2009. “Zapad” is the Russian word for “West.”
According to Moscow, some 13,000 service people are set to participate this year. However, NATO puts little faith in the estimates published by the Russian defense ministry and worries that the actual scope of the drill might be many times larger. Representatives of some NATO members, such as Estonia, believe that Russia intends to involve some 100,000 soldiers and officers in the exercise.
The number of troops is more than just a demonstration of power. According to the 2011 Vienna Document set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), any country holding military exercises involving more than 13,000 service members must invite observers to monitor at least some of the drills. Russia, a member of OSCE, agreed to these terms. However, NATO has repeatedly accused Russia of cheating by underreporting the number of participants.
Scenario: Attacked from Baltic
Representatives of NATO remain unconvinced, pointing to the Zapad-2013 drill held four years ago. In it, Russian and Belarusian forces simulated defense from armed “terrorists” moving in from the Baltic.
Moscow’s official statistics put the number of troops at around 12,000. Foreign analysts, however, estimated that between 70,000 and 90,000 soldiers took part in 2013. Even more troubling for NATO’s eastern flank, the Russian military displayed the use of new tactics and technologies, such as scouting drones, that were later used in Crimea, in eastern Ukraine and Syria. The 2013 exercise ended with a mock nuclear strike against Sweden, according to NATO.
Four years before that, Russia ended the Zapad-2009 drill with a simulated nuclear strike on Poland. The same drill saw NATO scramble German “Eurofighter” jets to intercept a Russian radar plane above Estonia. Finland, which is not a NATO member, also responded by deploying its own F-18s.
Drilling for war
Such border incidents are also possible with the upcoming drill in September, with NATO-Russia tensions still running high and NATO troops deployed on the alliance’s eastern flank. Russia also stirred concerns by repeatedly holding massive snap exercises in recent years. Unlike the long-scheduled Zapad drills, they require no advance notice.
NATO analysts also point out that Russia held a large exercise just ahead of its takeover of Crimea, presumably to provide distraction and cover for the move. Some 150,000 troops allegedly took part in the anti-terror drill near Ukraine’s borders in late February 2014, and remained in the area as Russia annexed the peninsula in March the same year.
In a similar scenario in July 2008, Russia conducted military drills in regions near to Georgia, including Chechnya and North Ossetia. The war between Georgian forces on one side and Russia and their Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists on the other broke out only weeks later.
In the meantime, the Swedish military has begun its largest joint military drill with Nato in 20 years over fears about the growing encroachment of Russia.
Aurora 17, started on Monday and is designed to strengthen the country’s defences and create a “credible and visible” deterrent to make its neighbours “carefully consider the risks of attacking” it, the Swedish Armed Forces said in a statement.
It said: “The overarching mission of the Swedish Armed Forces is to defend the country’s interests, our freedom and the right to live the way of our choice.”
The exercises will take place in the air, on land and at sea. They will take place across the entire country but will focus on the Mälardalen Valley, the areas around cities of Stockholm and Gothenberg and on the strategic island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.
Around 21,150 total personnel from all branches of the Swedish Armed Forces, as well as troops from foreign nations will participate. One fourth of them will consist of Home Guardsmen. Civilian authorities, such as police and social services will also participate.
Several NATO nations have planned to take part in the exercise. As of January 2017, the participating nations include France, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Germany, and the United States.
The designated exercise area will cover most of Sweden, but will be focused on the Mälaren Valley, Stockholm, Gotland and in Gothenburg.
The exercise is expected to cost the Swedish government 583 million Swedish krona (approx. $65,6 million USD).
It comes after Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to “eliminate” the Nato threat if Sweden decided to join the organisation.
In June, he told the state news agency Itar-Tass: “If Sweden joins Nato this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc now approaches us from the Swedish side.
“We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat.”
Currently only tiny Montenegro is on the list of countries which are due to be inducted into Nato, as the military alliance steps up its presence in eastern Europe over fears about Russian encroachment.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commanding officer of the US Army forces in Europe, said no island was as strategically important at Gotland and said he was looking forward to working with the Swedes.
“We have to react to that, and not just the US, but the whole of Nato. The countries closest to the bear have historical experience. They feel the hot breath of the bear – and they are the ones most worried.”
“The fact that Sweden decided that they have to put troops back on Gotland is a very clear indication of what’s going on. Sweden is known as moderate, credible and alliance free. Nevertheless Sweden felt that this was necessary.”
AURORA 17 Schedule
Monday, 11: Exercise starts.
Wednesday, 13/9: Supreme Commander will visit Gothenburg, where host nation support will be exercised with the American and French Air Defense Units.
Monday, 18/9: Air-drop, Gotland.
Wednesday, 20/9: Defence of Sweden, support from Finland. Hagshult Air Force Base will host Swedish and Finnish aircraft and pilots on site.
Saturday, 23/9: Land Combat, Kungsängen.
Sunday, 24/9: Consequences of Conflict (Total Defense), Gotland.
Sunday 24/9: Supreme Commander will attend the Defence Information Day at Gärdet, Stockholm.
The German defense procurement agency BAAINBw has authorized a €2.4 billion contract for the construction of five new Braunschweig-class (K130) corvettes.
The ARGE K130 consortium, composed of Lürssen Werft, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and the recently incorporated German Naval Yards Kiel, will be delivering the ships.
Led by Lürssen Werft as prime contractor, the shipbuilding team is to deliver the ships by 2025.
The German Navy already operates five K130 ships which means the corvettes will be based on an existing design incorporating updated technologies.
Initial announcements made by the German defense ministry indicated the ships could be acquired at a price of €1.5 billion but reports emerged that the shipbuilders were asking €2.9 billion for five corvettes and two training facilities for corvette-operation.
The value of the contract, announced by BAAINBw on September 12, is €900 million more than what the ministry initially expected to pay.
In addition to price issues, K130 corvette construction was stalled by shipbuilder German Naval Yards who protested the defense ministry’s decision to award the construction contract without a public tender in order to speed up the whole process.
The German cartel office, in a ruling announced on May 18, upheld the complaint arguing that an open tender had precedence over a quick procurement.
In response to the ruling, Lürssen and TKMS offered German Naval Yard to join the consortium with a 15 percent stake in the construction. The newly-formed consortium was approved by the cartel office.
Braunschweig-class corvettes were ordered because of the navy’s increased scope and tempo of operations. Another reason is the fact that the MKS180 Multi-role Combat Ship order was delayed and the corvette announcement was interpreted as an offset to the delays.
The 90-meter ships are designed for operation in coastal waters, augmenting the capabilities of fast attack boats and frigates. They are equipped with two 27 mm Mauser MLG27 remote-controlled, fully-automatic cannons, and one OTO Melara 76 mm gun.
The corvettes are also feature a helicopter landing deck and use the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) – guided naval missile for close-in defense against anti-ship missiles, aircraft, helicopters and surface threats.
Russia’s frigate The Admiral Makarov of project 1135.6 has successfully hit anti-ship cruise missile simulators with its air defense system Shtil. The firing practice was part of the government acceptance test, the Baltic Fleet’s spokesman Roman Martov told the media.
“The frigate The Admiral Makarov has coped with the task of defending itself from a missile strike with its air defense system Shtil,” Martov said.
Two other Baltic Fleet ships – The Geizer and The Liven – had launched simulators of cruise missiles in the designated area of the Baltic Sea.
“The anti-aircraft missiles fired from The Admiral Makarov successfully hit the air targets,” Martov said, adding that the task was coped with in a complex electronic jamming situation.
The Baltic Sea’s area where the testing was conducted was closed to shipping and civilian aircraft. Ten naval and support ships of the Black Sea fleet cordoned off the area.
The frigate The Admiral Makarov (project 1135.6) began to be built at the Yantar shipyard on February 29, 2012 and set afloat on September 2, 2015.
Ships of this class are meant for resistance to surface ships and submarines and for repelling air raids, on their own or in cooperation with other ships.
They boast universal missile and artillery weapons and advanced radio-electronic equipment for anti-submarine and air defense. Project 1135.6 frigates have a displacement of about 4,000 tonnes, length of 125 meters and speed of up to 30 knots.
HELSINKI, Sep 12, STT-BNS – Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik is to visit Finland on Wednesday, the Finnish Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.
Among others, Luik is to meet with Finnish Minister of Defense Jussi Niinisto, with whom he will discuss bilateral relations, the security situation on the Baltic Sea and bilateral and international cooperation, the ministry’s statement said.
Jüri Luik has held the positions of Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Estonian Minister of Defense and the permanent representative for Estonia in NATO. Currently he is the Estonian minister of Defence.
Prior to his current position, Mr. Luik was from 2003 – 2007 the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Estonia to Canada, the United Mexican States and the United States of America. He has been active in Estonian foreign affairs since 1991.