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Sweden embarks on its largest military build-up for decades

“AN ARMED ATTACK against Sweden cannot be ruled out,” warned Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, as he introduced a defence bill on October 14th. It promises the country’s largest military expansion in 70 years. The reason is not hard to discern. Russia’s assertive behaviour across Europe, from invasion to assassination, has alarmed Swedes.

Over the past year Sweden has accused Russia of violating its airspace and waters several times, most recently with a pair of warships west of Gothenburg in September. Sweden has accordingly deepened military ties with NATO (though it is not a member of the alliance), America and its Nordic neighbours. If the new bill is passed in December, the defence budget is slated to rise by SKr27.5bn ($4.3bn) between 2021 and 2025, a 40% boost that will bring expenditure to around 1.5% of GDP—the highest level in 17 years.

The new cash will fund a 50% growth in the armed forces to 90,000 personnel, a figure that includes regular soldiers, conscripts and local reservists in the Home Guard, no longer the Dad’s Army of yesteryear. The army will grow from two mechanised brigades to three, each of around 5,000 soldiers, with a smaller brigade for the Stockholm area.

The draft, abolished a decade ago and reintroduced for both genders in 2017, will double in size to 8,000 conscripts a year and five new local defence battalions will be established around the country, entrusted with defending supply lines from the Norwegian ports of Oslo and Trondheim. An amphibious unit will be re-established in Gothenburg, Scandinavia’s largest port.

There are goodies for the other services, too. The air force can look forward to newer Gripen fighter jets with longer ranges and better radar, some of which will go to a new air wing in Uppsala, 60km north of Stockholm. The navy will get an extra submarine, money to design a new type of warship and air-defence missiles that its ships have lacked for 15 years.

Civil defence is also getting attention, with funding for cybersecurity, the electricity grid and healthcare. “We’ve begun to rebuild a newer version of what we had during the cold war,” says Niklas Granholm of FOI, Sweden’s defence research agency. A major exercise to test national resilience was held this year. The aim is to enable Sweden to hold out in a crisis or war for at least three months, until help arrives.

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It is a dramatic expansion, but much of it is to patch up a creaking force. “The armed forces were in a state of crisis for the last 20 years,” says Henrik Paulsson of the Swedish Defence University. In 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden’s top general admitted that his forces could only defend part of the country, for one week. Even today Sweden’s army has only two-dozen artillery pieces. They are located in the north of the country, more than ten hours’ drive from the brigades they are supposed to support, says Mr Paulsson.

The new bill promises a more respectable 72 artillery pieces, spread over many new units. “We are finally getting our house in order,” says Mr Granholm. But he warns that “new budgetary black holes” could open up from 2026. “The debate about the bill after this one has already begun.”

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Author: | Post link: https://www.economist.com/news/2020/10/19/sweden-embarks-on-its-largest-military-build-up-for-decades
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