Russia’s annexation of Crimea has rekindled discussion in Sweden about raising military spending and, potentially, pushing for NATO membership. In an email interview, Jan Joel Andersson, senior research fellow and head of the North America Program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, explained Sweden’s defense posture and how it may change after the Ukraine crisis.
WPR: What is the current size and strength of Sweden's military, in terms of both hardware and personnel?
Jan Joel Andersson: The Swedish armed forces have undergone a dramatic transformation since the end of the Cold War. Never a member of NATO, Sweden based its defense on universal male conscription and a comprehensive domestic arms industry. During the Cold War, the Swedish armed forces were prepared to mobilize an army of some 700,000 troops, dozens of submarines and one of the strongest air forces in Europe with some 500 front-line fighter jets. Once the Cold War ended, the Swedish armed forces were reduced and most fortifications and base structures closed down. Conscription was abolished in 2010. Today, the Swedish military is reorganizing into a small but well-equipped standing professional force of some 21,000 supplemented by an additional 9,000 part-time troops. This force is supported by an additional 22,000 local defense forces for territorial protection. The navy is currently down to five submarines, a number that will soon be further reduced to four, and the air force front-line fighter force is down to 98 Saab Gripen C/D fighter jets. Recent acquisitions include new Blackhawk and NH90 medium-sized helicopters. Announced new or updated equipment to arrive in the coming years includes upgrades to the army’s Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks, a new version (E/F) of the Gripen fighter for the air force and new submarines for the navy.