The Swedish Air Force (Swedish: Svenska flygvapnet or just flygvapnet) is the air force branch of the Swedish Armed Forces.
The Swedish Air Force was created on July 1, 1926 when the aircraft units of the Army and Navy were merged. Because of the escalating international tension during the 1930s the Air Force was reorganized and expanded from four to seven squadrons.
World War II
When World War II broke out in 1939 further expansion was initiated and this substantial expansion was not finished until the end of the war. Although Sweden never entered the war, a large air force was considered necessary to ward off the threat of invasion and to resist pressure through military threats from the great powers. By 1945 the Swedish Air Force had over 800 combat-ready aircraft, including 15 fighter divisions.
A major problem for the Swedish Air Force during World War II was the lack of fuel. Sweden was surrounded by countries at war and could not rely on imported oil. Instead domestic oil shales were heated to produce the needed petrol.
About 250 aircrew were killed in crashes 1939-1945 according to statistics that were not disclosed during the war years but published afterwards.
Expansion during the Cold War
The Swedish Air Force underwent a rapid modernization from 1945. It was no longer politically acceptable to equip it with second-rate models. Instead, the Air Staff purchased the best it could find from abroad, e.g. P-51D Mustangs, De Havilland Mosquito NF.19 night fighters and de Havilland Vampires, and supported the development of top performance domestic models. The Saab 29 Tunnan jet fighter was introduced around 1950.
In the late 1950s the Swedish Air Force introduced the Bas 60 air base system, which revolved around force dispersal of air squadrons across many wartime air bases in case of war in order to make it complicated for an opponent to destroy the air force on the ground. Road runways were also introduced as backup runways. Bas 60 was developed further into Bas 90 during the 1970s and 1980s.
During the Cold War large amounts of money (including funds intended for the Swedish nuclear weapons programme) were spent on the Swedish Air Force and domestic airplane production. In 1957 Sweden had the world's fourth most powerful air force, with about 1,000 modern planes in front-line service. During the 1950s, it introduced fighters such as the Saab J 29 Tunnan, Saab A 32 Lansen and Saab J 35 Draken.
In June 1952 the Swedish Air Force lost two aircraft on Cold War operations, in what became known as the Catalina affair. A signals intelligence Douglas DC-3 was intercepted by Soviet MiG-15s over the Baltic, and shot down with the loss of three aircrew and five civilian technicians. A PBY Catalina rescue seaplane was then also downed, the five-man crew being rescued from the sea by a freighter.
In the air defence role the Swedish Air Force also operated surface-to-air missiles. Svea Air Corps (F 8) operated de Havilland J-28B Vampire jet aircraft in 1949 being replaced in 1953 by Saab J-29 Tunnan and in 1957 by J-34 Hunter fighters. As of 1961 F 8 reroled into missile defence role becoming the air force technical training centre for using the new RB-68 Bloodhound systems in 2 squadrons until 1974.
These Swedish units also operated the RB-68 missile system (1 squadron each):
Death toll during the Cold War
In the Cold War era, more than 600 Swedish fighter pilots were killed in crashes during peacetime exercises and training in the 1945–1991 period. In the 1950s–60s era the flight training curriculum was deficient and the training regimes were too risky and some aircraft types had design flaws. In the 1950s, about 21 pilots were killed annually.
In the 1960s the average number of killed were 13 per year, which meant Sweden had sixfold mortality rate per 100,000 flight hours compared to the United States. In the 1960s flight safety starts to become a consideration, not due to the death toll but because the aircraft were getting increasingly expensive. In October 1960, a Lansen fighter crashed into a farmhouse and killed 7 people. In the 1970s the death toll was reduced to 6–7 per year. In subsequent years, it continued to fall and from 1996 onwards, no fatal accident has been recorded.
The Swedish Air Force has seen involvement at some level in three wars, the Finno-Soviet Winter War in 1939–40, in which volunteers took part, the Congo Crisis, 1961–64, and in the 2011 Libyan civil war.
When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in November 1939, Sweden came to its neighbour's assistance in most ways short of joining the war outright. A Swedish volunteer infantry brigade and a volunteer air squadron fought in northern Finland from January to March 1940. The squadron was designated F 19 and consisted of 12 Gloster Gladiator fighters and four Hawker Hart dive-bombers.
The Swedish Air Force saw combat as part of the United Nations peace-keeping mission ONUC during the Congo Crisis in 1961 to 1964. It established a separate air wing, F 22, equipped with a dozen Saab 29 Tunnans, which performed well under the rough conditions in central Africa. The secessionist adversaries possessed only a small number of aircraft with poor combat capabilities, e.g. Fouga Magister trainers.
1990s – restructuring
With the end of the Cold War the Swedish Armed Forces underwent a massive restructuring process. During this time, several air bases were deemed unnecessary and closed with fighters like the Saab 37 Viggen retired prematurely. In 1994 the air force had over 400 fighters, by 2005 the number had sunk to fewer than 150.
On March 29, 2011, the Swedish prime minister announced that eight Saab JAS 39 Gripens would support the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya. The announcement responded to a NATO request for assistance. The Swedish fighters were limited to supporting the no-fly zone and were not authorized to engage in ground attack sorties. The deployment was approved by the Swedish Riksdag on April 1, 2011 and the first jets departed for Libya on April 2. A C-130 Hercules accompanied the fighters for mid-air refueling.
A Gripen performing at RIAT
Note: Three C-17 Globemaster III's are available through the Heavy Airlift Wing based in Hungary.
The Air Force has deployed the Gripen in service. Designated Saab JAS 39 Gripen— JAS standing for Jakt (Air-to-air), Attack (Air-to-surface) and Spaning (Reconnaissance), and means every Gripen can fulfill all three mission types—, it is a modern multi-role fighter designed to replace the Draken and Viggen. Capabilities of Gripen include a short runway requirement, advanced data link equipment, and canard delta design with lateral instability and fly-by-wire.
Sweden originally ordered 204 Gripen aircraft. Out of these 80 remain in service in the Air Force today and an additional 28 are leased to the Czech and Hungarian Air Force (14 each), with an option to acquire them when the lease period expires. Furthermore, 12 aircraft were sold to the Royal Thai Air Force.
Swedish Air Force main bases
There are three wings of fighters:
The aviation units that were formerly under the Swedish Army ("Arméflyget") and the Swedish Navy ("Marinflyget") have been merged with the helicopter units of the Air Force to form the single Helicopter Wing (Helikopterflottiljen, abbreviated Hkpflj) for the entire Armed Forces. The wing has been placed under the authority of the Air Force and consists of:
- 1st Helicopter Squadron (1 Helikopterskvadronen, abbreviated 1 Hkpskv)
- 2nd Helicopter Squadron (2 Helikopterskvadronen, abbreviated 2 Hkpskv)
- 3rd Helicopter Squadron (3 Helikopterskvadronen, abbreviated 3 Hkpskv)
Air transport and special units
The air transport units perform airlift operations, and are used in both national and in international missions. The unit also organizes the Swedish part of the Heavy Airlift Wing in Hungary. Signals reconnaissance units conduct electronic combat reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
- 71st Air Transport Division (71 Transportflygdivisionen, abbreviated 71 Tpdiv)
- 7th Transport and Special Air Unit (7 Transport- och specialflygenheten, abbreviated 7 TSFE)
Future of the Swedish Air Force
A Gripen over at RIAT
The Swedish Air Force is being adapted to new future tasks. With the collapse of the only military threat, the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, the Swedish government has cut the Swedish armed forces budget, including the Air Force and its fighters. Today about 80 Gripen C/D fighters remain in service. Some orders have been made on the helicopter side and about 40 new units will join the air force in the coming years. Saab has also joined the primarily French project for the unmanned future stealth plane Dassault nEUROn.
In 2008 and 2010, the Swedish armed forces wanted to retire even more fighters and close air bases to relocate money to other branches. However, because of negative response from the public and pressure from the Swedish government, no cuts happened As of 2011
Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors responded to the Russian purchase of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships by saying that the Swedish Air Force would need "sea targeting capabilities".
In 2013, the USMC introduced Swedish helicopter units to the forward air control airborne mission profile for better air-ground coordination. In the same year, 60 further modified E class Gripens were ordered with the first plane to join the Air force in 2018. In April 2014, the Swedish government proposed another 10 fighters making the total order 70 planes.
By 2019 there were also plans to keep some of the Gripen C planes in service to keep to numbers of fighters to current levels.
Saab JAS 39 Gripen E
Today the Swedish Air Force main fighter is the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, in the C/D versions. By 2018 95 fighters were active with about 30 of these being updated from the A version.
The heavily modernised E version will replace the current fleet of Gripen Cs. The new aircraft includes a new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, and is powered by the General Electric F414G. It carries more fuel and weapons. The upgrade also includes new weapon systems like the Meteor missile system. In 2013, Saab signed an agreement with the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration for 60 new Gripen in the E version. The first aircraft is to join the Swedish Air Force by 2018. There are also plans to buy further 10 aircraft.
Military transport aircraft
The Swedish C-130 Hercules (TP 84) were bought from the United States in the 1960s and has been updated several times. By 2020 the current version will not be able to fly because of new restrictions to civilian air space. The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration has been tasked to update the aircraft so they can remain in service to 2030. There are also plans to buy new aircraft by 2024 to replace the current fleet. As part of the Heavy Airlift Wing cooperation, Sweden also operate three Boeing C-17 which are located at Pápa Air Base in Hungary.
Sweden uses the Saab 105 as the primary jet-trainer. About 40 planes are today operational. Designed in the 1960s the aircraft is starting to show its age and will gradually be replaced. The Swedish Air Force has selected the Grob G 120TP as its new Basic Trainer Aircraft, designated SK 40. Seven aircraft and one computer-based training system are on order, with delivery expected in 2022 and service starting in 2023. The Saab JAS 39 Gripen D will be used as Advanced Trainer Aircraft.
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