Historically a proponent of neutrality, Sweden has recently announced plans to join NATO in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Turkey initially threatened to veto Sweden’s joining NATO; however, after negotiating different security-related issues, Turkey agreed to welcome Sweden into NATO. On June 29, 2022, Sweden was formally invited into NATO. Sweden’s foreign policy focuses on supporting democracy and nuclear disarmament, which are key due to Sweden’s proximity to Russia.[i]
Air Defense Capabilities
While not a member of NATO, Swedish territory does sit within the NATO air-defense systems that reach from the Northern shores of Norway to Iceland and Greenland.
Sweden has operated the Robosystem 70 (RBS 70) man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) since 1977 as a low-cost, easy-to-use, effective short-range air defense system. The RBS 70, designed by Saab, replaced the MIM-23 Hawk system and the Bofors 40 mm automatic Gun L/70 that were in place since the end of WWII. The RBS 70 is operated by at least 19 countries, has an effective range of at least 9000 m, and can cover altitudes up to 5000 m. In the 1980s, the RBS 70 was fitted to landing gear used for the Swedish tank-destroyer, Pansarvärnsrobotbandvagn 551, and created the short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft missile vehicle called the Luftvärnsrobotvagn 701. The RBS 70 anti-aircraft vehicle was discontinued in 2000. However, the RBS 70 is still operated as a MANPAD.
Missile Defense Capabilities
In March 2021, the Swedish Armed forces reactivated its Launch Unit 23, a medium-range air defense system that had been in material reserve for several years. The system was developed in the 1990s and completed in the early 2000s. It consists of a mounted gun carriage with six launch-ready missiles, an eight-meter-long mast with command radar, and an infrared camera. The Launch Unit 23, an upgrade from the Air Defense System 15, can be towed by any type of pulling vehicle and is currently stationed in Gotland, Sweden.
In November 2021, Sweden received the US-made Patriot PAC-3 missile defense system, bringing their total arsenal to consist of two types of missiles, three different launchers, a command post, combined reconnaissance, and a fire control radar. Referred to as the LvS103 in Sweden, the missile defense system will utilize the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor, allowing it to engage long-range missiles and air attacks.
In December 2021, the Swedish Armed Forces announced the Patriot air-defense system had reached initial operational capability (IOC) and is ready to defend Sweden from enemy aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles. The Patriot capability represents a large upgrade from previous air and missile defense systems and highlights essential interoperability with other Patriot operating countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
Most recently, it has been reported that Sweden is taking interest in the procurement of Israeli radars related to air and missile warning and defense. These announcements come as Russia has threatened retaliation over Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO.
Sweden has steadily increased its defense budget in recent years in order to improve capabilities, rebuild capacity, and increase readiness. In 2020, the Swedish parliament approved a 40% rise in the defense budget, which will increase from $7.2 billion in 2022 to $11 billion by 2025. Sweden intends to further increase its budget in the near future so that it can reach the NATO goal of 2% of its GDP by 2028.[ii] Along with Finland, Sweden is currently considering the purchase of Israeli defense systems and weapons to complement its continued production of Swedish-made Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets.[iii]