A Swedish Air Force JAS 39C Gripen fighter at Linköping-Malmen (Image © Marcel Burger)

Swedish Air Force embarrassed again

A Swedish Air Force JAS 39C Gripen fighter at Linköping-Malmen (Image © Marcel Burger)
Swedish Air Force Gripen fighters didn’t lift off to mark Swedish territory on 18 July (Image © Marcel Burger)

The Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) got embarrassed on 18 July 2014, when a foreign military or government aircraft flew a whole 113 nautical miles (130 miles or 210 km) through the airspace of the biggest Scandinavian country, after being denied entry and without Swedish fighter jets scrambled to intercept. It is not the first incident where Flygvapnet Gripens remain on the ground.

This information from classified Swedish defence documents apparently leaked and was published by the Swedish press on 30 July 2014, including the normally well informed quality newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

The nationality of the foreign aircraft and the type have not been disclosed, but rumours suggest a US Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint spy plane was involved. According to details from the official report the plane flew over the Baltic Sea, staying somewhat south southern Skåne before turning to the big Swedish island of Gotland, strategically situated right in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

From there it apparently flew a whole 9 minutes over the island, before turning south towards Öland, the second largest Swedish island right in front of the coast of the city of Kalmar, where it allegedly flew another five minutes inside Swedish airspace. The trespassing occurred on 18 July 2014 between 17:00 and 18:00 local time, with the Swedish air defence tracking the plane for at least 1:30 minutes prior to the incident. The foreign aircraft penetrated the Swedish airspace about 30 nautical miles (35 miles or 55 km) deep.

According to sources within the Swedish armed forces no Gripen planes were sent up, after the Air Traffic Control re-established radio contact with the penetrating aircraft in question. Officials say there was never a threat to Swedish integrity and the monitoring of the airspace is done continuously and thoroughly.

Tupolev bombers
During Easter 2013 foreign military operations near Swedish territory in the Baltic Sea led to a political outcry. When the Russian Air Force executed a mock attack against military targets near Stockholm, some say including the headquarters of the Swedish Defence Intelligence Agency FRA (the “Swedish NSA”), with two Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers. Then they came within 40 kilometres (22 nautical miles) of Swedish aerospace, quite close to the rock Gotska Sandön north of Gotland. Only after the Russians were long gone, the Swedish Flygvapnet sent Gripen planes to Gotland for a temporary deployment. They were later drawn back.

Earlier this year the Swedish armed forces place two Gripen fighters on temporarily alert status at Visby Airport on Gotland, when Russian movements and Russian against Ukraine made not only Sweden, but also Finland and NATO nervous resulting in them beefing up their air defences with additional fighter coverage and alertness.

Lakenheath USAFE F-15Cs at Two Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen fighters at Šiauliai Airbase, Lithuania, in April 2014 (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)
Swedish Air Forces do train with NATO, like at Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania in April 2014 with Lakenheath USAFE F-15Cs, but in case of a real crisis Sweden can as a non-NATO member only count on itself
(Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)

“Military vaccuum”
The Swedish armed forces (Försvarsmakten or FVM) are struggling to financially and operationally keep up with the country’s defence issues. The current state of the FVM got neighbours worried. Finnish experts have warned Sweden for its “military vacuum” it has created by cut-backs so large that the country cannot defend itself anymore. Even the Swedish military commander-in-chief has said that his forces could only hold a limited area of the country for about a week before Sweden needs military assistance.

That assistance might not come. Sweden is able to contribute to NATO, but as a non-member of the Western military alliance Scandinavia’s biggest country is principally on its own when it needs help.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

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