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.
The biggest Swedish military exercise in over 20 years has started in Gothenburg, with French and US air defence units as well as other overseas troops joining the Swedes in the Aurora 17 drill of more than 20,000 military personnel.
Taking place between September 11th and 24th, Aurora 17 involves a total of 19,000 Swedish troops, as well as 1,435 soldiers from the US, 120 from France, and other units from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia. The exercise starts on Sweden’s west coast and will also cover the Stockholm area, Mälaren Valley and Baltic island Gotland.
The first event, practising “Host Nation Support” in Gothenburg, involves testing the “capability of receiving and providing support to other nations, an important element at a time of crisis”, according to the Swedish Armed Forces.
Starting on September 11th and running until the 20th, around 1,200 Swedish personnel as well as 200 from French and US air defence units are taking part in the first phase at Gothenburg’s Landvetter Airport, as well as the city’s harbour and Hisingen island.
The show of force comes in a period where Swedish defence is in sharp focus following an increase in military activity from Russia in the Baltic region. In June, Sweden summoned Russia’s ambassador after an SU-27 jet flew unusually close to a Swedish reconnaissance plane in international airspace above the Baltic Sea.
Aurora 17 will cost Sweden around 580 million kronor, about twice as much as the Armed Forces usually spends on military exercises in an entire year, according to SVT. The Swedish Government argues that a worsening security policy situation in Europe means that Sweden’s defence capabilities and cooperation with other nations in the area need to be strengthened.
“Aurora is the biggest operation in 23 years where the army, air force and marines collaborate in a drill. The exercise is an important defence policy signal. It raises the threshold against different types of incidents and provides an important foundation for evaluating our military capabilities,” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said in a statement.
Sweden is not a member of Nato, but has strengthened ties with the alliance in recent years in the face of Russian warnings that an expanding Nato would be seen as a “threat”. The Nordic country has a Host Nation Support Agreement (HSNA) with Nato which means helicopters, aircraft and ships can be transported by members across Swedish territory upon Sweden’s invitation.
In July, US Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who is a commanding general of the US Army in Europe, singled out the importance of Gotland, saying “I do not think there is any island anywhere that is more important”.
At the same time as Aurora 17 gets going, Russian and Belarusian forces are preparing to start their own major joint military exercise on September 14th. Zapad 2017 (“West 2017”) will start in Russian enclave Kaliningrad, then move to Belarus and finally into mainland Russia.
Sweden on Monday launched its largest military exercise in over two decades, in cooperation with several other countries, prompting criticism that it is a NATO-style exercise and could lead to tension with Russia.
The three-week-long exercise, dubbed Aurora 17, involves a simulated attack from a feigned foreign power. It is carried out in the Stockholm region in eastern Sweden, in Gothenburg on the west coast and on the Baltic island of Gotland, according to the Swedish Armed Forces’ website.
Sweden is not a NATO member, but the military alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg told Swedish Television on Sunday that Sweden and NATO’s security are closely connected.
“So it is good if we practice together,” Stoltenberg said.
While in Aurora 17, the fictitious attacking power bears similarities to Russia, and the latter carries out its own military exercise on the other side of the Baltic Sea, which, several Swedish peace organizations and the Left Party perceived could lead to increased tension in the region of strategic importance.
However, Stoltenberg said the aim of the exercise is not to provoke a conflict or a “new Cold War.”
Sweden’s Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said Aurora 17 is the country’s exercise and not a NATO-initiative.
“We have the right to collaborate with other countries without that collaboration being thwarted into something other than what it is,” he told local newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
Seven out of eight Swedish parliamentary parties believe that Aurora 17 will strengthen the country’s capacity to deal with a potential attack and will deepen its military cooperation with other countries, while the Left Party and peace organizations have warned of a spiraling arms race.
According to Swedish media, more than 19,000 Swedish men and women, and over 40 Swedish civil authorities, are participating in Aurora 17, along with 1,500 military personnel from seven other countries, namely, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Lithuania, Estonia and the United States.
Aurora 17 is estimated to cost nearly 580 million SEK (73 million U.S. dollars), around 220 million SEK (28 million dollars) more than usually spent on military exercises in Sweden, Swedish Television reported.
In order to increase military capabilities, Swedish Armed Forces will conduct Exercise Aurora 17 – a national exercise that will build a stronger defence and increase the overall capability to face an attack on Sweden.
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.
Deterrence lies at the core of a strong defence, one that rises to all threats and overcomes all challenges. It is designed to deter potential attackers, and force them to carefully consider the risks of attacking our country.
For a deterrent to be effective, it needs to be credible and visible. Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defence forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible.
Aurora 17 will be conducted in the air, on land and at sea. Units from all over Sweden will be involved, but the main exercise areas will be the Mälardalen and Stockholm areas, on and around Gotland, and the Gothenburg area.
The Exercise will contribute to the development of Sweden’s total defence capabilities. Therefore, it is planned that around 40 other agencies will participate.
In addition, in order to have as good an exercise as possible, and at the same time exercise Sweden’s defence capability against a larger, sophisticated opponent, other countries have been invited to participate in Aurora 17.
The Swedish Armed Forces kicked off Aurora 17 today, the international exercise has been dubbed as Sweden’s “biggest drill in decades”.
While Sweden itself is not a member of NATO, over 20,000 troops from the country and other NATO members, including the US, are set to participate in the three-week exercise. Naval, air and land services will be taking part in the drill.
The exercise coincides with the start of the major Russian drill Zapad 2017 this week. The week-long exercise will include Russian and Belarusian military forces and will take place in Russia’s Kaliningrad district and across Belarus.
Taking place along the borders of NATO member states, Zapad has caused greater concern for the West given Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Sweden’s defense minister Peter Hultqvist told Financial Times the drill reflected Sweden’s new military strategy which is a consequence of Russian actions, adding that Sweden plans more drills in the future.
Concurrently with Aurora 17, Sweden is hosting a total of 16 countries for the 2017 edition of the German Navy-sponsored exercise Northern Coasts 2017.
The international exercise is taking place between September 8 and 21 off Gotland and in the Southern Baltic Sea.
A general goal of the drill is to develop skills in maritime surveillance, anti-surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and mine counter-measures. At a tactical stage, a fictitious but realistic scenario will see participants respond to a multinational crisis in maritime areas.
The Russian practice, known as Zapad-17, seems to be the biggest exercise in the history of the Russian Federation. Ukraine’s Security Council has concluded that a total of 230,000 to 240,000 people will participate.
Western reviewers have talked about up to 100,000 participants.
Zapad-17, which starts officially on September 14th, can be described as a seizure exercise in which Russia’s ability to mobilize and go to war quickly will be practiced. The exercise takes place every four years, where the main exercises rotate between the different Russian military areas.
At the 2009 exercise, Russia was pursuing Warsaw in Poland with tactical nuclear weapons. Outside the exercise period, but the same year as Zapad-13, Russia practiced tactical nuclear weapons attacks against Sweden.
This year’s training activities are located both to neighboring Belarus and to Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Pskov and Smolensk oblast, as well as in the Baltic Sea.
Russia will also put its rail system on trial, as well as cyber-fighting units and nuclear weapons forces.
Officially, Russia is hacking up its exercises, all in order to avoid current Western inspections. According to the OSCE’s Wi-Fi document, more than 13,000 exercises have to be pre-advertised, as countries such as Sweden and Finland, as well as the NATO Alliance, have the right to send their own observers.
But this border is on the side of Russia, and takes advantage of the opportunity to test preparedness.
Emergency preparedness checks need not be pre-notified in accordance with the Wiendokument and are without obligation to invite observers. So what the paper is a little exercise, or several small ones is in fact a giant exercise that Russia keeps visitors away from.
And here’s an important difference between NATO’s open, transparent and long-term practice and Russian secret culture.
The exercise also means full mobilization in Kaliningrad, and that the reserves for the 76th airland division in Pskov have been called up.
Exercise in Russia has also been used several times to mask future military operations against other countries. During Kavkaz-08, the Russian troops remained in the field to shortly attack Georgia.
Zapad-13 was used to pinch and plan for the aggression against Ukraine, which was then carried out in 2014.
Center-15 was used as “cover up” to hide what kind of help was sent to Assad in Syria.
Last week, two Russian fighter aircraft violated Swedish airspace east of Gotland. It is based on this experience that nervousness in the West is particularly great, what really happens after the exercise? US Commander in Europe, General Ben Hodges, has been warned that Zapad may be a “Trojan horse” that places Russian soldiers and equipment in Belarus and can then be moved on.
And there are signs of increased number of provocations. Last week, two Russian fighter aircraft violated Swedish airspace east of Gotland.
Russia’s attempt to send the Kruzenstern school ship with 164 cadets on board to Mariehamn on Åland during Zapad-17 was stopped this week. Åland’s demilitarized position means that Finland is responsible for the defense of Åland without being allowed to prepare for this in peacetime.
But Finland also has the power to deny “state ships” to call at Åland. What is now used with Kruzenstern. The Finnish Chief of Staff has announced refusal, without further explanation. The most likely is Russia wanted to test Finland’s reactions with the visit, although a nightmare scenario is the ship would have been used for “green men”. “Green men” refers to masked soldiers in unmarked green army uniforms and carrying modern Russian military weapons and equipment that appeared during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014.
Åland’s demilitarized status and the legal basis of the 1921 Åland Convention and the bilateral peace agreement with the Soviet Union in 1940 (as confirmed in Paris 1947) makes the island’s vulnerability at least as great as Gotlands in the increasingly hot Baltic region.
Instead, the Russian propaganda now learns to grind additional laps of fears of terror from the event surrounding the school ship.
The official reason behind the planned schooling visit was a visit because Mariehamn wants to host Tall Ships Race 2021. Instead, the Russian propaganda now learns to grind additional laps of fears of terror from the event surrounding the school ship.
But already the week before the current visit, Åland is visited by a Swedish-Russian “peace action”. There, activists from Sweden and Russia will conduct activism during an escalating scenario. From Sweden, two environmentalist parliamentarians, Carl Schlyter and Annika Lillimets participate.
No participant from Finland is expected to have a strong reaction to being just an external influence on Åland. “Peace activists” thus help to increase the security policy tension.
Finland has also announced that it is running local defense exercises to improve government cooperation, among other things. It should also be read in plain text to be able to handle “green men”. The troops practice in Kajanaland, South Karelia, South Savolax, Southern Finland and Satakunta.
The message that Finland is close to its friends was strengthened when President Niinistö visited Donald Trump in the White House on Monday evening, Swedish time. There, the US President stressed the ties to Finland and that the USA was “very protective, extremely protective” in the Baltic Sea Region.
At the same time, Trump avoided direct questions if he regards Russia as a threat, yet stressing that if threats appear “we’ll handle them.”
“We are doing everything to preserve peace in the Baltic Sea area,” said President Sauli Niinistö from the Speaker’s Court in the White House. “When I met Putin a few weeks ago, I asked about the Chinese navy practicing Russia. Putin replied that that exercise was not aimed at anyone. Then I found out that we are practicing with the United States and Sweden, and it is not aimed at anyone either. ”
Prior to Zapad’s practice, NATO has strengthened with, among other things, 600 skid hunters in the Baltics. It is not an impressive numeral but should be seen as a signal to Russia that if one finds something, one gets to fight with more Americans, and in itself it can be war-restrained.
In Sweden, Zapad partially coincides with its own defense defense exercise Aurora 17 (18-27 September), where almost half of the Swedish defense team participates in 19,000 people together with connections from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Lithuania, France and the United States.
Aurora is the largest Swedish exercise of nearly a quarter of a century and an important reconciliation in the work of getting a defense consisting of two brigades. This is comparable to the fact that the Swedish defense in 1971 had 31 brigades.
But despite the fact that the Russian exercise is expected to be closer to five times as big as the total Swedish defense and twelve times as high as Aurora-17, the Swedish debate and media reports are more dominated by various peace activists demonstration plans and questioning of Swedish practice.
One who walks in these footsteps is Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt who equals the level of provocations between the Russian offensive nuclear weapons exercise with the defense force’s defense exercise.
Some major protests against the Russian aggressive exercise, including nuclear weapons, we can not see from the peace movement in Sweden. So Gudrun Schyman, Sven Hirdman, with several teachings, continues to wear shades, earlobes and eyelashes to continue living in another reality.
And as the Ukrainian Security Council notes on its website: “Zapad-17 is another step for Russia to promote confrontation on the European continent. It requires a truly serious response from both West and Ukraine. The state leadership, Ukrainian defense and other security and detention agencies are now taking the necessary steps to protect our state. ”
The warning for autumn storms in the Baltic Sea area is thus here. There may be a lot of cold to handle both accidental and deliberate incidents.
By the way, Peter Hultqvist is the best defense minister Sweden can have in this position.
By Patrik Oksanen, security and defense policy consultant for several of the MittMedia Group’s liberal and center party leader pages. Oksanen is a daily editor of Hudiksvalls Tidning and currently a political editor at ÖP.
All of the three services of the Finnish Defence Forces will participate in the AURORA 17 exercise organised by the Swedish Armed Forces. The exercise will be take place in areas around Stockholm, Gotland and Gothenburg and in the southern Baltic Sea 11-29 September 2017. Approximately 19,000 soldiers and other authorities from Sweden are participating in the exercise, as well as troops from Lithuania, Norway, Poland, France, Denmark, Estonia and the United States.
The Finnish Defence Forces’ total strength in the exercise is 300 persons. From the Finnish Army, the participants include a conscript infantry company in training in Pori Brigade’s Finnish Rapid Deployment Force, two NH90 transport helicopters, and staff officers. From the Finnish Navy, the participants consist of 15 staff officers from the headquarters of the Swedish-Finnish Naval Task Group. The Finnish Air Force contingent will consist of 6-8 F/A-18 multirole fighters operating from bases in Finland and Sweden.
The exercise is a part of planned military cooperation between Finland and Sweden. The goal of the participation is to develop bilateral military cooperation between Finland and Sweden and to develop skills of operating in a multinational environment. Additionally, the services have their own operational goals.
The exercise Northern Coasts (NOCO-17) will be arranged between 8 September and 21 September 2017 in Sweden. The exercise is the German navy´s international invitation exercise for NATO and EU countries, as well as for NATO partner nations. The exercise is led by Sweden and there will be 16 participating countries.
The aim of NOCO-17 is to exercise the multinational command and control and how to act in crisis management operations. Activities related to international co-operation and command and control will be enhanced during the exercise. Finland´s participation in the exercise will support the goals and objectives of the Finnish-Swedish co-operation (FISE), with a view to obtaining common defense capabilities and co-operation in naval operations.
The exercise is divided into two phases, an initial phase and a tactical phase. During the first phase of the exercise, the units will be training in different fields of naval operations, such as maritime surveillance, surface warfare, anti-aircraft warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine hunting and clearing. During the tactical phase, the units will practice how to act in a fictitious, but realistic scenario in a multinational crises situation at sea. The exercise will be conducted in the waters around Gotland and in the southern Baltic Sea.
This year Finnish staff officers, conscripts and employed staff will participate in the exercise. Participating ships from Finland will be a Hämeenmaa class minelayer, a Rauma class fast attack missile craft and two Katanpää class minehunters. Staff officers from the Swedish-Finnish Task Group will continue the exercise within the framework of the exercise AURORA, which is the main war exercise of the Swedish Armed Forces this year. AURORA 17 will be conducted by the Finnish and Swedish navies and it will partly overlap with the NOCO-exercise.
The Finnish Navy participates in the Northern Coasts exercise according to its annual exercise plan. The NOCO exercises have been conducted since 2007 and Finland has participated every year.
Sweden will be hosting a total of 16 countries for the 2017 edition of the German Navy-sponsored exercise Northern Coasts 2017.
The international exercise is taking place between September 8 and 21 off Gotland and in the Southern Baltic Sea.
A general goal of the drill is to develop skills in maritime surveillance, anti-surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and mine counter-measures. At a tactical stage, a fictitious but realistic scenario will see participants respond to a multinational crisis in maritime areas.
Northern Coasts is a recurring exercise which has been taking place in the Baltic Sea since 2007. European naval ships will be operating in multiple task groups composed of up to seven ships from different nations.
The previous two editions of the exercise were hosted by Germany in 2015 and Denmark in 2016.
Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, is located in the Baltic sea between Sweden and Latvia, and represents the most strategically important defensive stronghold in the entire Baltic region. The Swedish government decided in March 2015 to begin reestablishing a permanent military presence on Gotland, starting with an initial 150 troop garrison, consisting primarily of elements from the Swedish Army. It has been reported that the bulk of this initial garrison will make up a new motorised rifle battalion, alternatively referred to in other reports as a “modular-structured rapid response Army battalion”. A later report claimed that plans were at an advanced stage for a support helicopter squadron and an Air Force “fast response Gripen jet squadron” to also be based on the island to support the new garrison and further reinforce the defences. Prior to the disbandment of the original garrison, there had been a continuous Swedish military presence on Gotland in one form or another, for nearly 200 years.
The original Gotland garrison, also known as the Visby Garrison, could trace its roots back to at least 1811. That was the year the Gotland National Conscription was formed to strengthen the islands defences after the Russians had briefly occupied the island two years before. Although, the “new” garrison was just the latest in a long line of Swedish military forces protecting the island, and consequently the rest of Sweden, continuously since the 1640s. The exception being the 23 days when Russia occupied the island during the Finnish War (1808–1809), after Gotland had been left undefended due to errors in overall Swedish strategy early in the war.
In 1887, a new country wide conscription system replaced a number of previous regional recruitment and reserve systems, including the Gotlands nationalbeväring (the Gotland National Recruitment) The existing regiment defending Gotland under that system was reorganized into two new regiments, the Gotland Infantry Regiment and the Gotland Artillery Regiment. Those two units would go on to provide the bulk of the garrison forces both directly and indirectly, throughout the various crisis that threatened to overtake Sweden (including two World Wars and the Cold War), for most of the next two centuries right up to the final dissolution of the garrison in 2005.
From 1811 to 1873, the commander of military forces on Gotland (at that time, effectively a military district in its own right) also served as the governor of the island and during the existence of the Gotland National Conscription (1811–1892) the commander was by default the senior officer of that regiment. Under the military reorganisation of 1892, the then commander and his successors (up until 1937) automatically became the senior officer of the Gotlands infanteriregemente that succeeded the Gotlands nationalbeväring. He remained in charge of army troops on the island, even though Gotland was no longer the center of a military district under the new 5 area (district) system which lasted up to shortly before World War II.
During World War II, Gotland was part of both the VII Military area [area=army district] (from 1942) and the Gotland Naval District, both of which the senior military officer on the island acted as head of. Army and air force units assigned to Gotland came under the former, while naval, marine, and coast artillery units based on/out of Gotland came under the jurisdiction of the latter. With a change in the Naval Districts (see naval section below) in 1957, the commanding officer lost his maritime responsibilities, but regained them in the 1966 military reorganisation that created the Gotland Military Command (the Gotlands militärkommando), or MKG, and which changed the VII. Military area into the new expanded Eastern Military District or Milo Ö (also known as Milo Z) which was now headquartered out of Södermanland.
This command structure continued relatively unchanged until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, when Milo Ö was stood down in 1991. The MKG remained operational into 2000, albeit increasingly downgraded in importance despite concerns,with a corresponding steady reduction in the units and capabilities under the MKG. In the now discredited Swedish Defence reform of that year, the MKG was replaced with the, in theory, autonomous Gotlands Military District (the Gotlands militärdistrikt) or MDG, which despite its name, only had control over the island itself (that control was also severely constrained by the existence of the, later infamous, post-Cold War Swedish Fortifications Agency). In practise this meant the MDG was responsible for overseeing the Army garrison units remaining on the island, along with coordinating with any reserve and civil defense elements still in place. There were, and as of 2015 still are, no maritime or coastal defense units remaining on the island, with the exception of a couple of naval units that did not come under the new MDG and which in any case were withdrawn in 2004. The MDG was stood down in December 2004, with the remaining garrison forces being abolished in 2005.
Alongside the Swedish Army, the Swedish Navy have played a major role in the garrisoning of the island over the last two centuries; not only helping to defend the island but also using it as a well placed base to defend Sweden and its interests in the Baltic Sea. Prior to (from 1931) and during World War II, Gotland was the headquarters of the Gotland Naval District. In 1957, during the Cold War, Gotland became part of the (now defunct) Sound Naval District, headquartered at the Muskö naval base. The Sound Naval District itself came under the new joint Eastern Military District in 1966, with operational control of naval units (including coastal defense forces) in the area of the former Gotland Naval District being returned to the commanding officer of the new MKG centered on Gotland.
In the early part of the Cold War (late 1940s to late 1950s), elements of one of the three major task forces that then made up the navy’s front line strength, including cruisers and destroyers, were based out of Gotland’s various anchorages and harbours. This was in addition to locally based elements of the Coastal Artillery’s significant support fleet, which included coastal minelayers, inshore minesweepers, and patrol craft. However, in 1958, a doctrinal switch from heavier surface combatants to smaller ASW combatants (increasingly corvette sized and smaller) and Fast Attack Craft began with most of the former being retired without replacement. The operations of these new combatants were still coordinated with submarines though, which, along with the fact that some major combatants weren’t immediately retired (e.g. the two Halland-class destroyers), ironically helped to disguise the problems with relying so heavily on light combatants in the short term. In the late 1960s, this shift towards lighter types accelerated, though more for political and economic reasons than military.
For Gotland, this meant that the naval units based out of the island by the 1970s were mostly light combatants such as FACs with relatively short range, though there were still a few larger corvettes mixed in. Submarines were generally not based out of Gotland at this point, being housed in purpose built bases such as Muskö, though they still made port visits.
By the early 1980s, flaws with the “FAC based doctrine” had become impossible to ignore, with incidents such as the so-called Whiskey on the rocks confrontation proving that the Swedish Navy had become outgunned in the Anti-surface warfare arena, and that even in areas where it should have had a local advantage in such as Anti-Submarine Warfare it was materially outmatched by potential aggressors, with intruding submarines able to breach Swedish waters almost at will.
In the short term, the navy and government attempted to address these issues with various emergency measures and programs, such as the hasty revamping of the Ytattack-81 (the Surface combatant-81) project into what would become the Stockholm corvette program. Another hastily introduced program was the construction of four new heavy coastal missile batteries based around the Rb-15 missile, one of which was placed on Gotland. Delivery and installation of the systems was to take place from 1987 to 1992. Existing installations such as coastal gun batteries and mine stations were continuously upgraded. In the longer term, among the new programs that were started in the late 1980s were two to provide replacements for various FAC and corvette classes; the Ytstridsfartyg Mindre (the Surface Combatant Small) and the Ytstridsfartyg Större (the Surface Combatant Large) programs. In the post-Cold War cutbacks of the early 1990s, those two programs were merged into a single program, the YS2000 (the Surface Combatant 2000) program, that later became the Visby-class stealth corvette. Originally, it was planned to have a class of 10 in two variants; the ASuW/Anti-Air ‘Series II’ and a lower cost ASW dedicated ‘Series I’. Finally, only four Series Is and a single Series II were built in the 2000s (with a second Series II being cancelled), and even those were not fully manned or equipped as part of further economy measures to support other non-defence areas. As a result of this reduction in class size being decided on in the late 1990s, plans for some of the Visby-class corvettes to be based out of Gotland were scrapped. This was against a background of severe cutbacks for the navy at that time, which would continue into the 2010s. Those cutbacks apparently also led to the cancellation, just prior to the disbanding of all coastal defence units on Gotland, of plans to install elements of the KAFUS coastal/underwater surveillance network in and around the island.
In an echo of events from over 60 years earlier, the navy would lose its Marinflyget in 1998, with its helicopter units being absorbed by the air force’s new ‘joint’ Helikopterflottiljen (Helicopter Wing) (the Army also losing its helicopters to this new wing). The air force then promptly retired the former navy ASW helicopters without any immediate replacement.
The resulting lack of ASW helicopters, along with the operationally incomplete state of the Visby-class corvettes, were issues that would become apparent just under a decade and a half later, during the ‘October 2014 Submarine incident’ when the military made a prolonged search without any public results, for alleged underwater activity.
Swedish Air Force elements have operated from the island since the late 1920s. The Swedish Air Force was created by the amalgamation of the air arms of both the army and the navy in 1926. The formation of the new air force would leave the navy without an air branch until it was reestablished in the late 1950s with the navy’s first helicopters. Swedish Naval aviation had already established a major presence on the island in the late 1910s, so the air force was able to take over or share some facilities with the navy, as well as building ones of its own, such as the Bunge and Roma airfields in the late 1930s. By the outbreak of World War II, the Flygvapnet was well established on Gotland. The air force’s general wartime strategy in regards to Gotland was primarily based around bombers, in particular 20 B-17s based at Bunge airfield and seaplane torpedo bombers out of Fårösund. The intention was to use them against enemy ships in the support of the navy and coastal defence units (including both gun batteries and minefields), that were the islands first line of defence against an invasion. The air force also had fighters and reconnaissance aircraft based on the island to further support the island’s defence, the latter also including seaplanes.
Even into the Jet Age, and the Cold War, the Swedish Air Force insisted on remaining being able to operate from semi-prepared airstrips and dispersed emergency airfields, which influenced its equipment development and procurement choices greatly along with the development of tactics and strategies. This allowed the air force major flexibility in its role of defending Gotland and the rest of Sweden against intruders. In some respects, this flexibility made the air force more capable than most NATO member air-forces who, especially before the advent of such aircraft as the Harrier and the A-10, were arguably over reliant on permanent airbases and long concrete runways, unlike their Soviet foes, who put in at least as much effort as Sweden into being able to disperse and operate their tactical aircraft from semi-prepared airstrips and other temporary or semi-permanent locations, including those based around specially strengthened stretches of road.
For Gotland, this meant the air force was not only able to operate out of Visby Airport (especially after its BAS-60 upgrade in 1968) and its existing airfields such as Bunge and Roma, but also from semi-prepared sites such as the Visby 1 and Visby 2 highway strips, which were officially classified as dispersed emergency (wartime) airfields as per Sweden’s general overall Cold War doctrine.
Apart from the threat of direct Soviet aggression against Gotland and the rest of Sweden, another potential wartime problem was to increasingly weigh on the minds of both the island’s defenders and Sweden’s politicians: cruise missile transits. In the event of an all out war, the airspace of neutral Sweden was seen by both NATO and Warsaw Pact planners as a possible handy shortcut for the flight paths of cruise missiles that both sides were developing, and in the case of the United States had already deployed, during the 1980s. The airspace in and around Gotland was one of the areas of Sweden seen as especially vulnerable to transit by cruise missiles en-route to their targets. A particular worry in Sweden in the early 1980s was that the US would program some of their new nuclear armed cruise missiles to fly through Swedish airspace on their way to targets in the Soviet Union. This was seen as a violation of the country’s neutrality, so Sweden officially stated that it would be obliged to shoot down any such missiles that were fired over Swedish territory in wartime. In light of this policy a number of major anti-cruise missile exercises were held by Sweden during the 1980s, at least one of which was held in and around the island. As the decade went on, fears grew that the Soviet Union would be at least just as likely to violate Sweden’s neutrality in this manner; such fears regarding the two superpowers were only partially eased by the advent of the (defunct as of 2014) INF Treaty.
Late 1980s plans to reinforce the air cover over Gotland, including one for the reactivation and deployment to the island of an additional J-35 Draken squadron to take place in the early 1990s, were to be overtaken by world events such as the Revolutions of 1989 and the Soviet dissolution.
After the end of the Cold War, the air force’s presence on Gotland had rapidly diminished to practically nothing by 1992, with the final withdrawal of deployed elements of the F13 Wing including a Saab 37 Viggen fighter detachment from Visby Airport. This was a direct result of the initial cutbacks by Swedish politicians seeking the peace dividend in order to, among other things, to fund increasingly costly social programs in an economic downturn (in part caused by the fall of the Soviet Union). Due to this, the Bunge airfield was closed in 1991. The Roma airfield had been deactivated in 1988. In the intervening years, the air force has been absent from Gotland, with only the occasional transport or support aircraft (such as ASC 890 Airborne early warning and control) making visits to Visby Airport as part of an exercise or similar.
In the 2010s, the relatively dilapidated state of the county’s defences had to be addressed by the Swedish government, with a newly resurgent Russia stepping up probes of Sweden’s defences alongside those of her neighbours with both air and sea incursions. The most noted of these to date occurred in March 2013, when two Russian Tupolev Tu-22M nuclear capable bombers, escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27, were able to enter Swedish controlled airspace unimpeded and simulate strikes against targets in and around Stockholm with the Swedish Air Force unable to effectively respond at any time during the incident. During their operation, the Russian aircraft skirted around Gotland. In the aftermath of this highly controversial failure to avert the intruders, the air force for the first time in many years deployed a detachment of four Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighters to Visby Airport. This short lived deployment was followed by another smaller one the following year, consisting of two Gripens. However, because of their strictly limited nature, these deployments were seen by observers as unsuccessful PR exercises rather than a coherent response. By the close of 2014, Swedish public confidence in the government’s ability to defend the country had dropped to 20% or lower, depending on the poll. This was a continuation of a general trend that could be traced back to even before the Stockholm incident, but which had rapidly worsened in its aftermath.
In late March 2015, it was reported that plans were at an advanced stage for a support helicopter squadron and a “fast response Gripen jet squadron” to be based on Gotland in order to support the new garrison and further reinforce the island’s defences.
In April 2015, a decision was made to reestablish troops permanently on Gotland within three years. The recruitment started in September 2015. The Battlegroup Gotland is to consist of 300 personnel, half of which are soldiers and half a permanent staff. As of 2016, the main issue of where to house the battle group was still unresolved. The barracks in Visby formerly owned and used by Gotland Regiment were evacuated and sold to a private company in 2006. Since 2006, the property is used by the Gotland County Administration and several private companies.
The re-militarization of Gotland once again reopened the debate about a possible threat to Sweden from Russia and Sweden’s accession to NATO.
The Battlegroup Gotland (18th Battlegroup) will fall under administrative control of the Skaraborg Regiment, which will also train the troops destined for Gotland. The battlegroup will be based at the Tofta firing range near Visby and will field 301 men.
18th Battlegroup (18. Stridsgruppen):
180th Staff Company “Havdhem”
181st Armored Infantry Company “Roma” with 12x Strf 9040B infantry fighting vehicles, 1x Bgbv 90 armored recovery vehicle and 1x Bandvagn 309 tracked ambulance vehicle
183rd Tank Company “Lärbro” with 11x Stridsvagn 122 main battle tanks, 1x Epbv 90 forward observation vehicle, 1x Bgbv 120 armored recovery vehicle, 1x Strf 9040B infantry fighting vehicle and 1x Bandvagn 309 tracked ambulance vehicle
185th Logistic Company “Garde”
In the meantime, before the 18th Battlegroup is ready for deployment on Gotland (originally scheduled to begin in 2018), it was hoped that a combination of an increase in training rotations by mainland based regular army units to the Tofta range, combined with some rather public exercises around the island by the Särskilda operationsgruppen since late 2015, would be enough to discourage any Russian adventurism.
However by Autumn 2016, the regional situation was considered to have deteriorated even further. So much so that following representations from the current Supreme Commander Micael Bydén, the Swedish Government reluctantly agreed that Gotland’s defences would have to be reestablished on a much shorter timescale than previously mooted (despite ongoing major divisions within the current ruling parties with regards as to the strategy & resources required to defend Sweden). To this end, the Supreme Commander announced on the 14th of September 2016 that not only would the deployment of the 18th Battlegroup to Gotland would be moved up to the first half of 2017, but also a rifle battalion from the Skaraborg Regiment which was then in the middle of a training rotation at Tofta, would now be held in place on Gotland as a interim garrison. A few Giraffe 40s normally on the strength of the Luftvärnsregementet (Lv 6) are to be attached to the battalion to provide some early warning capability. Despite this though, neither air defence vehicles such as the Luftvärnskanonvagn (lvkv) 9040, nor MANPADS have been attached to the garrison battalion to take advantage of this local radar coverage.
The plan is to within a few months relieve the battalion with another battalion or a equivalent formation, which will then remain in place until the 18th Battlegroup is ready to take up it’s posting.