Tag: NATO

The Finnish Navy to participate in the Northern Coasts exercise in Sweden

Rauma-class Fast Attack Missile Boat

PRESS RELEASE:

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.

NATO Maritime Commander and Frigate Group to visit Helsinki

Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1)

Allied Maritime Command Commander, Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, will make an official visit to Finland beginning on 24 August 2017.

The visit will be hosted by the Chief of Finnish Navy, Vice Admiral Veijo Taipalus.

In conjunction with the Commander’s visit, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) will arrive in Helsinki August 25 for a scheduled port visit as part of the group’s deployment in the Baltic Sea. The group will be hosted by Coastal Fleet.

Finland is one of NATO’s most active partners and a valued contributor to NATO-led operations and missions – it is one of five countries that has enhanced opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with NATO.

The leadership discussions and port visit are a practical outcome of Finnish partnership with NATO in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The Commander’s visit allows for discussions on Finland’s maritime cooperation with NATO and the port visit provides an opportunity for sailors from the group to work with their Finnish counterparts to exchange information and enhance interoperability.

During the port visit, the SNMG1 command team will meet with local civilian and military leadership in Helsinki. The port visit is also a great opportunity for the sailors to enjoy a break from operations.

SNMG1 is currently composed of the NATO group flagship, Norwegian frigate HNoMS Otto Sverdrup, Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown, Portuguese frigate NRP Francisco de Almeida and German tanker FGS Rhön.

Some of the ships will be open and welcome visitors aboard both Saturday 26 August and Sunday 27 August from 13.00 to 16.00. The ships will be at Hernesaari Quay, Helsinki Harbor, Henry Fordin katu 5.

Security measures during open ship

For security reasons, the following is not allowed to be brought on board:

. Large bags, backpacks etc.

. Weapons or dangerous objects

. Cameras, cell phones, tablets, computers etc

All visitors and their baggage may be subject to search before entry.

 

Sweden plans large joint military exercise with NATO

Swedish Sridsvagn 103 Amphibious Main Battle Tank.

The Swedish military has released a statement announcing plans to hold its largest joint military exercise in years with NATO members this September.

The exercise will be labeled Aurora 17 and will involve land, air, and sea elements of the Swedish military and participating NATO members.

It will count over 19,000 Swedish personnel and 40 government agencies, 1,435 troops from the U.S. and smaller contingents from France, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

A Finnish army Leopard 2A4 Tank Platoon.

“Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defense forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible,” the statement said.

There has been internal debate in Sweden and Finland concerning the possibility of joining NATO, and both have played higher profile roles in NATO summits. Russia’s increasing military assertiveness since its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine has raised concerns in neighboring countries and NATO.

Swedish army Stridsvagn 122, based on the German Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would see Sweden joining NATO as a serious encroachment and would demand a military response.

Aurora 17 will mark another in a string of increasingly large and elaborate military exercises taking place in the Baltics and eastern Europe.

Source: UPI.

 

Sweden, Finland, and NATO

The German Marshall Fund of the United States, By Christopher S. Chivvis, 30 June 2017

Burden-sharing and NATO’s role in counterterrorism have been at the forefront of discussions about the Alliance in recent months, but as NATO’s relations with Russia continue to trend downward, the issue of Sweden and Finland’s potential membership in the Alliance is likely to gain renewed salience. There are good reasons why both countries may eventually join the Alliance, but under current circumstances the best way forward is still for both countries to continue to draw closer to NATO. Linking their potential accession to the Alliance to Russia’s behavior offers NATO some leverage over Moscow. Additionally, NATO membership is not something that can be achieved overnight and the Alliance needs to be sure that if the pair joins the Alliance, the military requirements for their defense are fully understood and met beforehand.

The Baltic Sea region has received renewed attention in U.S. policy circles due to the deterioration in relations with Russia and broader concerns about the vulnerability of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to Russian aggression. The proximity of these countries to Russian forces in the Western Military District, combined with Russian deployments of advanced weapons systems to Kaliningrad oblast would make it difficult for the United States and NATO to defeat a committed Russian attack on the Baltic Allies without a sustained counteroffensive that could take months or even years.[1]

Kaliningrad Naval Base. Due to its location, Kaliningrad is an important geopolitical region for Russia.

Luckily, changes in U.S. and NATO posture in the region, especially the deployments coming as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence (EFP) and U.S. rotational forces,  are significantly strengthening regional collective defense by creating tripwires and raising the risks to Russia of any potential adventurism.[2] As the situation evolves, however, there are additional measures that the United States may wish to contemplate when it comes to the region, including further training and exercises, measures to improve situational awareness in the North Sea and along the Greenland, Iceland, and U.K. (GIUK) gap, the development of new weapons systems in areas where U.S. and NATO forces are currently outmatched by Russia, new foreign military sales that would strengthen deterrence, and further changes in posture.

In this context, the issue of potential Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance looms large. Sweden and Finland are already very important NATO partners; both countries are already enhanced opportunity partners (EOP), participate in the NATO response force (NRF), and exercise with the Alliance on a regular basis. From a U.S. perspective, they have  much to offer as strategic partners and military allies in general; as free-market democracies, both countries share the core political values on which NATO has been founded for 70 years. They also have advanced industrial economies with high-tech expertise and capabilities that have military significance in areas such as airpower, cyber, and civilian space. They are well-integrated members of the European Union, an important fact in an era when the EU and NATO need to draw closer together to strengthen cooperation against terrorism and other threats. Furthermore, other Nordic countries — specifically Norway, Denmark, and Iceland — are already NATO members. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from the perspective of the U.S. military, Sweden might serve an important role for basing aircraft in the event of a military crisis in the Baltic Sea region when the United States would need basing outside Russia’s Anti-AccessArea Denial (A2AD) bubble that extends from Kaliningrad and Western Russia over the Eastern Baltic Sea. Sea lanes of communication via the Danish straits might also be important for certain types of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea.

In light of these facts, some commentators have pushed hard for Sweden and Finland to join NATO. It is a consensus view among most experts that membership of one country implies membership of the other, or more specifically, that it would be difficult for Sweden to join the alliance if Finland were not to do the same.[3] The most compelling argument for pursuing NATO membership for the pair now is that waiting to do so could create a situation in which joining NATO creates a major crisis with Russia further down the line. (As one expert put it, join NATO “now while you don’t need to, because the circumstances that will make it necessary will also make it harder.”[4]

From a U.S. perspective, however, there are at least four other issues to consider before pushing hard for Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance:

First, membership in NATO is not something that can be achieved overnight. Finland and Sweden would have to undergo a potentially lengthy process of accession, during which the incentives for Russia to attack them would intensify. It would be preferable to ensure that they were well defended against any such attack prior to bringing them into the Alliance.

Second, and relatedly, from a strictly military perspective, bringing Finland into NATO is very different proposition militarily than bringing in a country such as Montenegro, which has no borders with Russia. The challenges involved in defending Finland’s 1,340 km eastern border should not be taken lightly. A credible defense of the Finnish border would likely require significant changes in posture beyond those already contemplated by the Alliance to strengthen deterrence in the Baltic states. Even if such changes were forthcoming, they would take time to implement, further exacerbating the risks from the time lag between proposed accession and Article 5 membership.

Third, adding any additional member comes at the cost of increasing complexity in an organization that is already struggling to achieve consensus on several important issues.  Although this may be a lesser order problem and should not in itself prevent new members from joining the Alliance, it is nevertheless a reality that ought to be weighed in the balance. Russia clearly benefits from lack of unity within NATO and anything that could further decrease unity should be given close examination.

Fourth, when it comes to deterring Russia from further aggression in the region, there may also be some benefit to leaving Swedish and Finnish NATO accession on the table, especially if it can be made clear to Moscow that further aggression will ultimately push the pair into the Alliance. In other words, linking Sweden and Finland’s disposition toward membership in the Alliance to the Kremlin’s future policies may offer the opportunity for some leverage over the Kremlin.

In light of this, the best policy for the time being is to continue to strengthen the political and especially military ties between these countries and NATO. There are several ways to do this: enhanced training and exercises; intensified staff exchanges; deeper cooperation on hybrid war and competition short of conflict, building on the Finnish Center for Excellence; encouraging continued deepening of sub-regional defense cooperation, for example through NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation); pressing them for greater contributions to training, policing, and civilian reconstruction in countries where NATO has needs such as Libya and Iraq; involving them deeply in future NATO pooling and sharing programs, for example on tankers; considering missile defense cooperation; examining mechanisms for rapid membership in the event of a crisis.[5]

It is important to recognize that even if Sweden and Finland are outside of NATO, the United States and other NATO members might still come to their assistance in the event they were attacked. The pressure to do so would be less, of course, than if they were Article 5 members of the Alliance, but for strategic reasons pressure would exist none the less. By demonstrating their importance to the United States and their European partners, Sweden and Finland can further increase this dynamic, increasing the chances that NATO Allies would come to their aid in the event of a Baltic crisis. In this case, neither country would go so far as to have Article 5 membership in NATO, but the guarantee could become implicit in the reality of the deepening cooperation. This, in turn, would enhance deterrence.

Circumstances can of course change and eventually both countries may well become members of the Alliance. The current situation, however, in which they are gradually deepening ties in response to the threat they feel from the trajectory on which President Putin has put Russian foreign policy, is optimal. History has shown that it is crucial to bear both political and military factors in mind in considering accession to the Alliance. In the case of this pair, military ties should run ahead of formal political ties. This will avoid a situation in which NATO’s political commitments create military vulnerabilities.


[1] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.

[2] For details see U.S. Army Europe, “U.S. Army Europe to Increase Presence Across Eastern Europe,” November 4, 2016.

[3] For example see Anna Weislander, “Can They Get Any Closer? The Case for Deepening the Partnerships between Sweden and Finland,” The Atlantic Council, October 12, 2016.

[4] Edward Lucas, “Why NATO Needs Sweden and Finland,” Europe’s Edge May 3, 2016.

[5] For more details, see Christopher S. Chivvis, et al., NATO’s Eastern Flank: Emerging Opportunities for Engagement, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2017.

 

Special Forces in Focus: Finland’s Utti Jaeger Regiment

NH-90 Egress.

The Utti Jaeger Regiment (Finnish: Utin Jääkärirykmentti, UtJR) is the Finnish Army training and development centre for special forces and helicopter operations. It consists of about 500 personnel of which about 200 are conscripts.

Colours of the Utti Jaeger Regiment.

The regiment undergoes training and preparation to operate throughout the country. The most visible part of our operations is formed by the NH90 tactical transport helicopters and MD500 light helicopters. We train together with all Army forces as well as Navy and Air Force units. In addition to this, we cooperate closely with other security authorities, such as the Police and Border Guard.

MD 500 mavoimat.

The regiment’s Helicopter Battalion maintains round-the-clock readiness to use its NH90 transport helicopters to support other authorities. If necessary, we also take part in other executive assistance tasks.

The Utti Jaeger Regiment has been a reliable operator in international military crisis management for a number of years. We have participated in crisis management operations in numerous locations, such as Afghanistan and Kosovo, and been part of EU battle groups and NATO rapid response forces.

Regiment composition

In addition to the HQ, the regiment comprises the Special Jaeger Battalion, Helicopter Battalion, Support Company and Logistics Centre.

Organisation

  • Helicopter Battalion (NH90, Hughes MD500), responsible for all helicopter operations of the FDF
  • Airborne Jaeger Battalion
  • Special Jaeger Battalion
  • Support Company

The Special Jaeger Battalion is responsible for training the Army special forces combatants. The Paratrooper Company handles the training of conscripts while the Special Jaeger Company is in charge of honing the skills of the Special Jaeger NCOs, who are part of the hired personnel. The training is provided in close cooperation with the Special Forces Qualification Course of the Defence Forces.

The Special Jaeger Battalion of the Utti Jaeger Regiment provides special jaeger training for reserve NCOs.

The Special Jaeger Battalion trains special forces for the Finnish Army. Conscripts are trained in long range recon, Sissi, MOUT and Air Assault operations. The Battalion includes an Airborne Jaeger Company for the training of conscripts, a Special Jaeger Company consisting of enlisted personnel who have a reserve officer or NCO training, and formerly also a Military Police School, responsible for the training of career military police personnel of the Finnish Defence Forces.

The Finnish Army Sissi units are trained to conduct long range reconnaissance patrols, gather intelligence from concealed observation posts, raid enemy installations (especially supply depots), conduct road side ambushes and pursue and destroy enemy special forces units.

Finnish army Sissi Long-Range patrol, gathering intelligence from concealed position.

In wartime, an unspecified number of reservists assigned to Sissi battalions would deploy and operate as small groups up to company size. They are meant to stay behind and covertly operate against enemy forces in their area of responsibility even if regular friendly troops have been forced to retreat. Sissi battalions are part of Finnish Army local troops, unlike the jäger and armored brigades meant for operational use. Sissi units are considered as the elites of the Army conscripts, and many of the units, such as the Paratroopers or Border Jaegers, are formed of volunteers.

The Finnish special forces trace their history to the four long-range patrol units (Kaukopartio-osastot) of the 4th Detached Battalion (Erillinen Pataljoona 4) which fought in the Continuation War in 1941 – 1944.

The Helicopter Battalion is responsible for the helicopter operations of the Defence Forces. All 20 of the NH90 tactical transport helicopters and seven MD500 light helicopters are located in Utti. The battalion is responsible for type training and further education of the helicopter personnel.

European Defence Agency – NH90 – Utti Jaeger Regiment – Ivalo, Finland.

The Support Company trains conscripts for support tasks that require special expertise and, in cooperation with the Logistics Centre, arranges a variety of logistics operations for the regiment.

GOTLAND: Sweden’s Fortified Baltic Island

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.

Map showing the strategic location of Gotland.
Map showing the strategic location of Gotland.

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.

gotland-bunker
World War II era Kulsprutebunker (Machine gun bunker) located near Brucebo, Gotland County.

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.

Boeing-Vertol 107/Kawasaki KV-107 - HKP 4A/B ASW Helicopter.
Boeing-Vertol 107/Kawasaki KV-107 – HKP 4A/B ASW Helicopter.

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.

JAS-39 Gripen at Visby Airport.
JAS-39 Gripen at Visby Airport.

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.

Stridsvagn 122/Leopard 2 MBT
Stridsvagn 122/Leopard 2 MBT

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.

Reference