Tag Archives: Gotland

Analysis: “RC-135 over Sweden fleeing from Russians”

The USAF operates the RC-135 Rivet Joint already for decades. (Image Master Sgt. Scott Wagers © USAF)
The USAF operates the RC-135 Rivet Joint already for decades. (Image Master Sgt. Scott Wagers © USAF)

LATEST UPDATE 4 AUGUST 2014 | The US Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint that illegally penetrated Swedish air space and flew right over two of Sweden’s most strategic islands in the Baltic Sea on 18 July 2014 was on the run for the Russians.

The US European Command has acknowledge the analysis put forward by Airheadsfly.com on 2 August on its Facebook page. “U.S. European Command acknowledges that a US RC-135 aircraft was vectored into Swedish airspace on July 18. The aircraft commander, acting in a professional and safe manner, maneuvered the aircraft to avoid a possible encounter by Russian aircraft. The US aircraft was directed towards Swedish airspace incorrectly by US personnel, and vectored out of the airspace once the Swedish air traffic controllers informed them of the error.”

Sources within the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs already confirmed the nationality of the plane over the weekend, in a telephone conversation with Swedish quality newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, although that seems to have been done by mistake.

Russian fighter jets – likely one or two Russian Naval Aviation Su-27s – were either scrambled from the Russian Kaliningrad enclave situated between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea, or happened to be airborne at the time of the RC-135 flight. Late Saterday night 2 August US officials confirmed the Rivet Joint was fleeing the area. Although the initial explanation was that the crew was “very concerned” about a ground based Russian radar system that was tracking the aircraft.

Radar track
Judging the leaked radar track the fairly sudden break left from a northernbound route and subsequently unlawful entering of Swedish airspace, the overflight of the northern tip of Gotland, the hiding within the Swedish airspace over the island of Öland, it already looked very much like an unplanned getaway. Moreover, sources say the big US Air Force four-engine requested – and was denied – clearance all the way through southern Sweden, via Jönköping and Göteborg and from there possibly to RAF Mildenhall in the UK. Although US EUCOM says the plane’s crew corrected the mistake as soon as they were made aware of the illegal entry by Swedish air traffic control, this does not seem to be correct. According to Swedish sources Swedish radar was already tracking the aircraft for 1.5 hours prior to the incident, with ATC personnel fully aware of the RC-135s every move.

International airspace
What exactly happened in the air or why the USAF crew didn’t have a back-up plan to use the few miles (4 km) of international airspace between the Swedish islands of Gotland and Öland in case of a possible Russian intercept, is unclear.

Good guys
What we do know is that Sweden didn’t sent up any fighter aircraft to intercept the trespasser. If that was because the duty commander feels the Americans are the good guys, or that there was no fighter or fighter pilot available due to budget restraints is unclear. Meanwhile US diplomatic and military channels have been opened to persuade Sweden to open its airspace automatically for US aircraft next time a similar incident occurs. No word yet from the Swedish side about this.

Long run
Several theories exist that go further than both the official Swedish and US statements. One of them is that the US used the Russian fighter jet – hardly not the first time the Russian sent one or more up – as an excuse to test the Swedish reaction or to probe overflight possibilities of Sweden in the future. Earlier this year Sweden granted NATOs E-3 Sentry Airborne Surveillance and Control planes free overpass from Norway to Central Europe and vice versa in order to monitor Russian activities in Ukraine.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

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MiG-29s, Typhoons and F-16s to protect Baltic states

A Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum-A taking off from Berlin-Schönefeld during an airshow in 2008. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum-A taking off from Berlin-Schönefeld during an airshow in 2008.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

With several offers on the table and Russia showing no sign in easing its military readiness exercises nor its concentration of forces on the border with Ukraine, NATO is eager to semi-permanently increase its Baltic Air Policing detachment from four to a dozen aircraft.

NATO officials confirmed on 9 April 2014 four Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrums, four Royal Air Force Typhoon FRG.4 and six Royal Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters will start their four month air defence mission of NATO’s in May this year. The force might get even more back-up as France is expected to send four Rafale or Mirage 2000s to a Polish air base.

The former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are since 2004 part of NATO. Since they lack proper air defence assets themselves, other NATO members jump in on the joint task to protect the airspaces of its member nations. The same defence agreement also counts for the NATO countries of Luxemburg, Iceland and Slovenia who all lack fighter aircraft. Until Russia took control of the Crimea peninsula further southeast, the NATO Air Policing mission consisted of four fighter jets making 15 tot 20 flight hours per month of a combined total of 320 flight hours. The mission rotates between member states.

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)
Lakenheath USAFE F-15Cs at Šiauliai Airbase, Lithuania, in April 2014 (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)

Game changed
Shortly after the US Air Force took responsibility for its 4 months, the game changed. In stead of the usual quartet of fighter jets on a relatively low-key mission, loads of Russian combat planes move in the proximity of the Baltic republics. The Russian flew high-readiness missions, including live fire drills as close as 30 miles of the Finnish and Baltic borders and in the Russian Kaliningrad enclave squeezed between Poland and Lithuania. Moreover, Russia increased fighter and AWACS presence in neighbouring Belarus. The US government responded by sending an addditional six F-15C Eagle air-supiority fighters and a KC-135 tanker aircraft from its bases in the UK. Moreover, a dozen USAFE Aviano F-16s landed in Poland.

Royal Danish Air Force F-16AM from Esk 727 with serial E-599 taking off (Image © Marcel Burger)
Royal Danish Air Force F-16AM from Esk 727 with serial E-599 taking off (Image © Marcel Burger)

Two airbases
To spread the air coverage and to take some of the nervousness amongst the Baltic states away the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission will use two airbases from May on. Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania will still be the main base of operations, with the RAF Typhoons and the Polish MiG-29s arriving for their four month tour of duty at the end of April. A quartet of Danish F-16s and about 50 Danish military personnel will deploy to Ämari in Estonia, confirmed the Danish Forsvaret on 9 April 2014. Ämari is situated in the northwest of Estonia. Another two RDAF Vipers will be on dedicated Baltic scramble alert at Skrydstryp in Denmark, ready to forward deploy to Estonia as well if necessary.

Two Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen fighters at Šiauliai in Lithuania in April during a pre-planned NATO Partnership for Peace exercise with USAFE F-15s (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)
Two Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen fighters at Šiauliai in Lithuania in April during a pre-planned NATO Partnership for Peace exercise with USAFE F-15s (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)

Sweden
Despite the fact that Sweden is not part of NATO the biggest country of Scandinavia has also increased its military readiness. SAAB JAS 39 Gripen fighter planes are forwardly deployed to Visby Airport at the big Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Moreover, a pair of Swedish Air Force Gripens trained with the USAF F-15C Eagles and Lithuanian defences in the beginning of April flying from Šiauliai in Lithuania as part of a pre-planned Partnership for Peace exercise. Several Swedish sources report increased flying activity of the Flygvapnet Gulfstream IVS or S 102 B Korpen as it is known is Swedish service. Two of these aircraft have been especially modified to gather electronic information (SIGINT) on behalf of the Defence Signal Intelligence Agency (FRA). The Swedish national security police Säpo recently called Russia a threat to the the Swedish state, for the first time in more than 20 years.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger

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RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)
RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)

Sweden bolsters Baltic defences, Russian movements

Three Flygvapnet JAS 39 Gripen break over Ronneby Airbase (Image © Marcel Burger)
Three Flygvapnet JAS 39 Gripen break over Ronneby Airbase (Image © Marcel Burger)

UPDATE 5 MARCH 2014, 12:30 UTC | Swedish armed forces have decided to immediately increase their military readiness levels at Gotland on Tuesday 4 March 2014. The island is strategically located in the middle of the Baltic Sea near the shipping lanes from and till Russia. Although the military headquarters in Stockholm doesn’t want to disclose how the defences will be bolstered, standard “incident readiness” deployments normally consist of six to eight SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen fighter jets. Budget restrains might lower the number this time.

In fact, a defence ministry spokesperson confirmed Tuesday evening that only two Gripens plus supporting personnel landed at Visby during the day. But the number or the type of readiness might change depending on the situation, he adds. In fact, during crew changes there could be temporarily be four Gripens on the island. According to a Swedish armed forces spokesperson the transfer of units to Gotland is “very normal considering the amount of Russian military movements in the Baltic Sea region”. However, during many earlier Russian actions the Swedes didn’t leave the mainland.

In April 2013 there was even a political outcry, when Swedish airborne defences remained on the ground when a pair of Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers simulated attacks on military targets in the Stockholm area. Escorted by four Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers 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.

A Tupolev Tu-22M3 of the type that simulated attack on Sweden during Eastern 2013 (Image © Max)
A Tupolev Tu-22M3 of the type that simulated attacks on Sweden during Eastern 2013 (Image © Max)

TP 84 Hercules
There is even a possibility that Sweden will activate its tank platoon at Gotland. Fourteen Leopard 2s are stored in a depot at Gotland since 2013, after the Swedish parliament demanded reversal of the withdrawal of those main battle tanks. They were just transported there in 2013, after the Swedish parliament expressed its concerns about the Russian military threat.

Tank crews and maintenance personnel just have to be flown in from Skövde deep into the main land. So if the tank platoon will be activated, it would mean Flygvapnet Lockheed TP 84 Hercules aircraft will ferry troops from the local Skövde airfield or F7 Såtenäs Airbase, home of the Skaraborgs Flygflottilj (Skaraborg’s Wing F7) and its Hercules fleet. Other assets to be flown in are likely Saab Dynamics RBS 70 short-range surface-to-air missile systems and their three man teams.

But the activation of the ground forces are more of a phase 2 of readiness. It is more likely the deployment will be limited to Gripen fighters at first, maybe backed-up by a Airborne Surveillance and Control aircraft and possibly a SAR or ASW helicopter if the presence will be maintained for a longer period of time.

Swedish Air Force TP 84 (C-130H-30) Hercules during earlier operations in 2006 at the airport of Visby, Gotland (Image © Adnreas Karlsson / Flygvapnet)
Swedish Air Force TP 84 (C-130H-30) Hercules during earlier operations in 2006 at the airport of Visby, Gotland
(Image © Andreas Karlsson / Flygvapnet)

Airfield
Gotland is about 170 by 35 km (105 by 21 miles) big, a 3.5 hour cruise from Stockholm. Since the end of the Cold War the Baltic Sea Island is largely demilitarized. A small group of about fourty military personnel, of which only 25 are civilians, is located on the island, mainly to prepare the arrival of forces from the mainland. Moreover about 250 armed reserves and another 200 unarmed reserves can be called in (equivalent to the US Army National Guard). The only usable airfield is located near the island capital of Visby, of which its walled-in Medieval innertown is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Although there is a small secondary landing strip near the former garrison town of Färösund and at least one public road that can be turned into landing strip.


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ASC 890
Gotland has been repeatedly in focus during planned large scale readiness exercises of the Swedish armed forces. In September 2013 the island was a strategic location in the international exercise Northern Coasts as well and German paratroopers jumped from a Luftwaffe C.160 tactical transport aircraft on a field in Fole to move towards and secure the airport of Visby. A regular part of those exercises and the Swedish “incident readiness” is to send up the SAAB ASC 890 Airborne Surveillance & Control aircraft with Erieye radar boom on the back.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger. Part of this article is also available in Dutch, produced for press agency ANP and published by national media like de Telegraaf newspaper and news website nu.nl.

Saab S 100B Argus AEW&C aircraft of the Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force), reg. no. 100002, with the Erieye radar (Image © Marcel Burger)
Swedish Armed Forces Materiel Agency (Forsvarets Materielverket) has further developed the Saab S 100B Argus AEW&C aircraft of the Flygvapnet shown here. The newer version is named after its radar designation: ASC890
(Image © Marcel Burger)

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Check out the Sweden Armed Forces Orbat at Scramble.nl

A typical Swedish "incident readiness" flight of two JAS 39 Gripen fighters - here on an unarmed training mission in 1998 - fly by the city of Visby, the main town on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. (Image © Flygvapnet)
A typical Swedish “incident readiness” flight of two JAS 39 Gripen fighters – here on an unarmed training mission in 1998 – fly by the city of Visby, the main town on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. (Image © Flygvapnet)