Sweden’s military to get six billion kronor boost

Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist has announced that the country's navy is upgrading its fleet of ships in order to improve its ability to locate rogue submarines in Swedish waters, following a huge search for a foreign vessel last autumn.

Sweden's military to get six billion kronor boost
Swedish ship HMS Gävle will be modernized under the plans. Photo: TT
Peter Hultqvist announced on Thursday that the government planned to boost protection from potential intruders in Swedish waters, by increasing defence spending by six billion kronor ($696 million) between 2016 and 2020.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven previously mooted strengthening the country's navy after revealing that Sweden had "conclusive proof" that a foreign vessel was present in Stockholm's archipelago in October, following a search that made international headlines.
Sweden’s armed forces later estimated that as many as four submarines were operating in the Stockholm Archipelago last autumn.
"Submarine hunting is a priority. We've had incidents showing that it is very important to have an increased capacity for anti-submarine warfare. We must do what we can to maintain and develop our skills. It is very important to protect Sweden's sovereignty," Hultqvist told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter ahead of a media briefing.
He added that Sweden's navy would take part in more military exercises, naval ships would get larger crews and ships and boats would be taken out of action if they were not seen to be suitable for use in the current climate.
Two key military ships, Gävle and Sundsvall, are set to be significantly modernized with new sensors and other technical equipment designed to help Sweden better spot submarines in its waters.
Sweden will also return troops to Gotland in the Baltic Sea, following a decade-long absence from the waters.
Around 150 soldiers are set to be stationed on the island which is Sweden's largest and lies between the Nordic nation and Latvia.
"We are devoting a considerable sum of money to this mid-term modification," said Hultqvist.
But critics argue that the six billion kronor pledge is much less than the armed forces need to modernize their fleet and that the Swedish military is set to come under increasing financial pressure when  government plans to raise payroll taxes for employers hiring young people come into action.
The Chairman of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, Allan Widman from the centre-right Liberal Party, told the TT news agency: "It's too little money too late in the [parliamentary] term".
According to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, the armed forces asked for 16 billion kronor. However the publication says that the finance ministry initially offered two billion kronor, so the figure released on Thursday is an improvement on that.
Sweden has historically portrayed itself as neutral, but the country's defence capabilities have been called into question since last October's submarine hunt and as Russia's military presence in the region continues to grow.
Last month, Estonia-based international think tank International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) warned that Sweden might not be able to defend itself against Russia, should its Baltic neighbour become more aggressive in future.
Sweden has already announced closer military cooperation with both Finland and Denmark, but has so far ruled out joining Nato.
A bill on the proposed fresh spending will be introduced to parliament at the end of April and is expected to be passed following an agreement between the centre-left coalition and the country's centre-right Alliance parties to cooperate on security and defence issues.


Sweden steps up Baltic defence in ‘signal’ to Russia

Sweden's defence minister has said his country is carrying out military exercises in the Baltic Sea to 'send a signal' to countries including Russia.

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in 'signal' to Russia
Swedish troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Photo: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten/TT

The so-called “high readiness action” means the Swedish army, navy and air force are currently more visible in the southeastern and southern Baltic Sea and on the island of Gotland.

No details have been disclosed about the number of troops involved in the action.

Sweden is “sending a signal both to our Western partners and to the Russian side that we are prepared to defend Sweden's sovereignty,” Hultqvist told news agency TT.

Ground troops on Gotland. Photo: Bezhav Mahmoud/Försvarsmakten/TT

“There is currently extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea, conducted by Russian as well as Western players, on a scale the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War,” the Swedish Armed Forces' Commander of Joint Operations, Jan Thörnqvist, said in a statement.

“The exercise activities are more complex and have arisen more rapidly than before. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has caused global anxiety and uncertainty. Over all, the situation is more unstable and more difficult to predict,” Thörnqvist said.

A Visby-class corvette and two Jas Gripen jets in the air. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten/TT

Hultqvist said Sweden was also monitoring developments in Belarus “very closely”.

Non-Nato member Sweden, which has not been to war in two centuries and which slashed military spending at the end of the Cold War, reopened a garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.