Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sweden: Russia’s Baltic Operations Burden Swedish Air Force

The increased tempo of operations by Russia’s armed forces over the Baltic Sea is putting a burden on the Swedish air force’s flying operations, the country’s air chief says.

With Russian military aircraft operating over the Baltic Sea close to Swedish airspace, Sweden’s Gripen fighters and airborne and ground radars are being more heavily utilized, Maj. Gen. Micael Byden told a meeting of the Swedish air force’s fan club in Paris on June 14.

“We are launching double the number of scrambles than we did two years ago,” Byden said. “I would say there is a 50% increase in how we make use of sensors, our Sigint [signals intelligence] aircraft and airborne sensors.”

These additional flying hours by fighters means that limited flight hours are being used up faster, forcing chiefs to make the choice of cutting back on either training, force development or exercises. Byden said he would rather cut back on the number of exercises. But he also hinted that the issue could affect whether the Swedish air force would be able to lease jets to Brazil as part of a bridging program to prepare pilots to fly the Gripen NG, which will enter service with that country’s air force by the end of the decade. Lease negotiations are still ongoing, and Byden says the situation with Russia makes him more reluctant to release assets than he would have been two years ago.

Byden also said that while Russian aircraft were regularly probing Sweden’s defenses, there had been only one recorded case of an airspace violation by a Russian aircraft. He is more concerned about Russia’s continuing intelligence-gathering flights with transponders turned off and not responding to radio calls.

Byden pointed to a pair of incidents last year involving near collisions with airliners departing Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport. The airliners came into close proximity with Russian air force Il-20 “Coots” operating in midlevel altitudes in international airspace near where the airliners were climbing to cruise height.

Byden said work was ongoing to improve communication. But giving air traffic controllers access to primary radar data, like that used by the military for air defense, was unlikely due to security concerns.