You do have to feel for Swedish defence planners. Following a rather long and arduous journey, Sweden finally got a new long-term defence plan approved in 2020. And less than two years after that, Sweden decides to join NATO and several of the underlying premises flew out of the window. As such, the government asked the Swedish Commander in Chief for new recommendations with priorities under the new situation. This was published a while ago, and in general can be described as “It would be good to do more faster, though we have to keep an eye on not shuffling too much resources and personnel to growth so readiness starts to suffer”. However, there are some changes which are worth a more detailed comment, and I will focus on the changes to key systems in usage as they are easy to get a grip of in this rather limited overview. Several of the major changes envisioned are on the process and organisation side, and getting an accurate take on their potential impact would deserve a significantly longer analysis.
A quick note: these are recommendations provided by the Swedish Armed Forces, and as such have not been decided upon yet. During the process leading up to the 2020 plan the politicians did shift focus and major decisions quite drastically from those supported by the Armed Forces, and can certainly do so again. About the structure of the report, the 2024 to 2030 period is described in some detail, while the 2031 to 2035 is painted with broader strokes of the brush.
In the ground arena we see some significant changes. The three mechanised brigades will all get an additional fourth battalion to allow for greater staying power on the battlefield. Battlegroup Gotland would also receive reinforcements to give it a more well-rounded capability. These changes would come before 2030, while the Battlegroup Mälardalen would be transformed into a full (motorised) infantry brigade (Livgardesbrigaden, IB 1) in the period following that. That unit is tasked with defence of the greater Stockholm-region.
The equipment of the mechanised units is growing old, and a new infantry fighting vehicle is in the cards during this decade. My personal guess is that this would be a new version of the CV 90, or potentially a new design from BAES Hägglunds. The current fleet of Strv 122 (Leopard 2A5 with Swedish modifications) is to undergo an MLU to allow it to serve past 2035. While the paper does not include any details, Frank Lobitz in his grand book on the Leo 2 “Gesamtwerk Leopard 2” (published by Tankograd Publishing earlier this autumn) caused some raised eyebrows by outlining in some detail that Sweden had decided upon an upgrade program. The report now make it seem like Lobitz’s information might be correct, and in that case what we are looking at is the introduction of the Leopard 2A7S as the Strv 123A/B. This would include the conversion of a first batch of 44 tanks with the L/55 A1 gun, updates to the fire control system (including new functionalities with advanced HE-rounds), and an auxiliary power unit (APU). Notable is that there is no mention of an active protection system. More engineering armoured vehicles are also in the plans.
Rocket artillery will be acquired, and in addition there will be studies whether these could be used for the anti-ship mission as well. Significant improvements are envisioned when it comes to the air defence units of the brigades and of the division. Loitering munitions and more UAS are in the cards. With these also come a general increase in ISTAR-capabilities, with more ISR-units and improvements to the sensor capabilities.
In general Sweden will maintain a mix of standing units and units which are to be mobilised, where the former provide the ability to react rapidly and buy time for the mobilisation of the later – which will continue to make up the majority of the force. A single new unit is proposed, a minor detachment in the north to focus on host nation support.
The Swedish Navy remains too small and new vessels are too far into the future. I covered it in detail over at Naval News, so go over there to read about the details. I will mention that while some have read the news that YSF 2030 (Visby 2.0/Next-Gen) will sport increased air defence capability making it a part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defence (NATO IAMD) to mean it will have missiles capable of intercepting ballistic missiles, it could also mean missiles in Aster 15-class and a serious radar able to feed the situational picture.
The proposal for the Swedish Air Force can be summed up in more airframes, missiles, and capabilities – with one crucial exception, which we will get to. More air-to-air missiles followed by more anti-ship and cruise missiles acquired in the 2031-2035 time span. A decision on the future of the fighters post-2040 will need to be made within this decade, and a new advanced trainer aircraft (ATA) to replace the 39C/D currently used in that role will have to be acquired. Instead, the 39C/D will be kept in service and developed further alongside 39E throughout the whole timespan and beyond 2035 to ensure a fleet of 120 multirole fighters – a significant step up from the ambition level just a few years ago when it seemed like the 39C/D was on its way out as soon as the 39E would be available in numbers.
An additional C-130J to bring the fleet up to five aircraft is also in the cards early in the period, and the Armed Forces is looking into the possibility of cooperating internationally and in particular among the Nordics when it comes to tactical transports. This sounds close enough to what Finnish Air Force commander major general Juha-Pekka Keränen mentioned earlier this autumn that I reached out to the general to ask if we are involved. The answer was that “there’s nothing official on the part of Finland, and we haven’t been discussing it in depth. The other three countries [Sweden, Norway, Denmark] are discussing possible synergies when it comes to training and operations. I’ve said that we are looking into the question, but that it needs to be looked at as a part of integrating with NATO and is more a question of logistics rather than Air Force operations.”
Sweden would also like to look into a further developed airborne sensor- and C2-capability in a Nordic cooperative framework, something they mention in the same sentence as S106 GlobalEye. If this is the Swedish Armed Forces way of saying that it would be nice if Finland would buy the GlobalEye and the Swedish government should contribute towards that goal is unclear to me, but it certainly is one read. The production line is still hot as far as I know since the Swedish order is yet undelivered, making it somewhat plausible that a Finnish order could be handled for a relatively modest price tag, but it would be a bit of a surprise if the money would be found for that kind of investment.
The big topic was however the helicopters. The fate of the NH 90 in Swedish service is to be retired early, and that include both the tactical transports and ASW/maritime helicopters. However, the Swedish fleet of Leonardo A109 LUH (locally known as HKP 15) are also to be retired starting during the 2024 to 2030 timespan and finishing up during the next five years. While the A109 is the smallest of the three Swedish helicopters, the fleet still number a total of 20 airframes (12 of the ‘army’-version HKP 15A and 8 of the naval-version HKP 15B). While often described as a training helicopter, Swedish helicopter pilots receive their basic training at the Heeresfliegerwaffenschule in Bückeburg, Germany, a move that has freed up the light helicopters for numerous operational missions where having a light helicopter available is more valuable than not having a medium helicopter. In particular for the Navy, the small fleet of HKP 15B provide important service day in and day out, including for ship-based operations.
For a Swedish Armed Forces that are supposedly growing as fast as they can, it’s hard not to notice the fact that while an additional twelve UH-60M are acquired to cover the nine NH 90TTH (HKP 14E) and nine new maritime helicopters are acquired to cover for the naval NH 90TTH (HKP 14F), that still sees the number of operational helicopters shrink from 53 (18 NH 90, 15 UH-60M, 20 A109) to 36 (27 UH-60M, 9 HKP 17?), meaning almost a third fewer helicopters available (32 %).
The answer is that the new helicopters will be more capable than the A109, but it is still clear that quite a number of missions won’t be carried out in the future. In particular the naval squadron will be hard-hit, as they lose almost half of their fleet during the next ten years. While some missions likely will be transferred to unmanned systems, it is still a significant loss in capability, in particular as the cost of average flight hours probably will rise with the fleet consolidated on larger and more expensive platforms.
As for what will replace the NH 90, as mentioned more UH-60M will be acquired for a total fleet of 27 Blackhawks, most likely equipping two squadrons, based in central and northern Sweden respectively. For the naval side of things, when the project was kicked off a year ago, the talk was that the alternative if the HKP 14F was withdrawn was to acquire MH-60R Seahawks for an all-Hawk-fleet. For this end, trials were to take place with the Romeo in the Baltic Sea to evaluate how the sensor suite works in Swedish conditions, something which as far as I know has not been confirmed to have taken place, but on the other hand the USS Kearsarge brought quite a few opportunities for that to happen during its cruise.
Now however it is stressed that a decision on the new maritime helicopter has not been taken. It might be that the realisation that thanks to US DoD bureaucracy there are no major synergies between an Army and a Navy helicopter has struck, or it might be that the Swedish Armed Forces wants to host a serious competition to get a better price tag on the eventual deal. It is also unclear whether the new helicopter will receive the localised sensor suite and mission systems of the HKP 14F, or whether an existing solution would be sought. In any case, the competition isn’t overly big, in particular as the NH 90NFH is a non-starter. The MH-60R was beat by the AW159 Wildcat in South Korea, while France will acquire the Airbus H160M Guépard for the naval role – though it may arrive a bit too late for the Swedes and I am unsure to what extent it will be ASW-capable in the version actually ordered (there certainly are concepts for fitting it with a sonar). Speaking of sonars, the ALFS of the MH-60R is from the same Thales FLASH-family of sonars as the Sonar 234 (Thales FLASH S) mountedon the HKP 14F, which might or might not be relevant to the discussion.
Since this blog is what it is, someone is bound to ask whether Finland would want additional NH 90? My understanding is that the current fleet is roughly what can fit under the budget, though considering the expected lack of enthusiasm on the market for used NH 90s I can certainly imagine Finland buying a small number of HKP 14E for close to scrap-value to use for spares. When asked the question about the ASW-helicopters last year I very confidently stated that there is no chance we could fit those inside the budget and I haven’t heard anyone even dreaming of getting a naval flying unit for Merivoimat. In the year since, however, I have in fact heard a person with insight voice their personal opinion that the Navy really need to acquire an airborne ASW-capability, so who knows. Hashtag bring back Pommituslentolaivue 6, as the cool kids say.
On the positive side, the helicopter squadrons will finally get mobile base units, allowing them to better use the strategic mobility when it comes to basing that is one of the inherent benefits of helicopters compared to fixed-wing aircraft.
While there is significantly more in the 66 pages of the unclassified document that we won’t look at in this short overview, there is one thing I can’t skip as the comments would tear this post apart.
The restaurants and catering on the military installations are planned to be brought back under the ownership and operation of the Swedish Armed Forces.