The new shells are called Excalibur and have become operational three years ahead of schedule. They are the result of a collaboration between Bofors and American defence giant, Raytheon.
American forces are keen to take delivery as soon as possible and they should be in Iraq in March.
According to Raytheon, Excalibur is the world’s first GPS-guided shell. Later versions are expected to have a range of 60-70 kilometers, almost twice as far as conventional artillery shells.
Bofors is owned by international concern BAE. The shells are assembled in the USA. Bofors has developed the technology which means that the shells remain intact on firing and which gives them their extreme range.
The Americans have plenty of artillery in Iraq but are having difficulty using it. A conventional shell can land 200 metres from the target, which means their troops have to stay at a distance. An Excalibur is thought to land at most ten metres from the target, reducing the chances of unnecessary damage.
It’s possible to guide the new shells when they’re on their way to the target. This means they can be steered away if the nature of the target area changes.
Bofors has the Swedish government’s permission to participate in the project and sell Excalibur parts to the USA.
When the Iraq war broke out Swedish weapons exports to the USA were questioned. American forces have previously procured Swedish weapons, such as the armour piercing ammunition, AT4. But Excalibur represents the development of an entirely new weapon. The government justifies the deal by saying it would damage Swedish defence and security policy if they were to discontinue working with the United States.
The cost of the shells is secret, but according to American press reports, they cost about 200 000 kronor each, compared to a cost of 7 500 kronor for a conventional shell. They have the same accuracy as a Tomahawk missile, which would cost a hundred times as much.
Left party leader, Lars Ohly, is very critical of Swedish arms being used by American forces in Iraq.
“It’s completely insane,” he said. “When we’ve made previous protests about Swedish involvement in the American war effort it’s concerned old contracts. This is a new weapon and a new contract. It’s in breech of parliamentary decisions, which have already been twisted beyond recognition by all the exemptions,” Ohly continued.
The Left party is set to take up the issue with the Export Control Council, thus forcing the government to defend their decision in parliament.
Ohly conceded that defence exports represented an area of difficulty in the Left party’s alliance with the government.
“Having a policy on the one hand of contributing to the American war effort by providing weapons materials and on the other other of condemning American human rights violations is not a credible position.”
The Greens are also critical of the arms exports.
“This is the downside of the kind of arrangement we have [with the government],” said Greens spokeswoman Maria Wetterstrand. “We’ve given [them] free rein. We’re not comfortable with it and it’s one of the reasons why we don’t want to continue working [with them]. We can’t do much whilst a majority is in favour of the exports.”
The Greens believe the exports are in breech of arms trade legislation.
“We don’t believe we can export any weapons to the United States whilst they are still at war. We would have liked to have cancelled previous contracts. Drawing up new ones makes the situation even worse – if that’s possible,” added Wetterstrand.