The Gripen – a flying Swedish holiday spoiler for Russian tourists everywhere Ukraine is under attack by Russia. Putin irrevocably has given up all pretense of being a democrat or a man you can trust and work with. Now he is walking down the same path as other pariah dictators like Hussein, Milošević, etc. before him. What nations and people he will wage war against next is up to anyone’s guess, but we can be sure neighboring nations unwilling to prepare for the day Russia’s war machine turns on them will be first.
As currently Putin’s attention is fixed on Eastern Ukraine, the nations most under threat: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have been given some time to prepare. While Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, with their gas and oil wealth and strong ties to Turkey will look to Turkey for arming and upgrading their militaries, the three Baltic nations must look to their few true allies, who too understand and take the Russian threat serious. Namely: Ukraine, Poland and Sweden.
Together these six nations have almost 100 million inhabitants and a combined GDP of nearly $1700 billion. Together they are a power to reckon with. Poland and the Baltic nations as members of NATO and the EU cannot rely on NATO to come to their defense. Surely the UK and Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway would honor their article 5 commitment as would probably Spain and Portugal, but there is a serious risk that France, Germany, Italy and other nations would block the invoking of article 5. Therefore, it is imperative for the three Baltic nations and Poland to plan for their defense in case NATO will crumble and dissolve in the face of Russian aggression.
This means to expand, improve and upgrade their armed forces. This means to preposition forces and materiel. This means to integrate command and control. But only by adding Ukraine and Sweden to their defensive alliance can Poland and the Baltics ensure that the costs for any military aggression against them by Russia would escalate so quickly and massively that Russia will be deterred from ever trying it. Ukraine would bring manpower and production facilities to the alliance and Sweden the technology and strategic depth for the Baltic nations.
In short: it is in the interest of all six countries to cooperate closely on research, development, procurement, training and defense planning:
- Ukraine urgently needs modern Western equipment to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing aggression. In the longer term Ukraine must rebuild its defense industries with Western help and move its strategic factories away from the East towards the Western part of the country and thus closer to Poland.
- Poland needs to upgrade its defense capabilities as fast as possible and move its armed forces towards the East of the country, closer to Ukraine and Belarus. At the same time Poland needs to speed up the upgrading of its military by licensing advanced weapon systems and needs to reduce costs by shifting production to low cost territories, like i.e. Western Ukraine.
- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania need to upgrade and expand their armies and unify them under a single command. Even more urgently the three nations need to agree on a joined procurement authority to standardize the equipment they deploy. I.e currently each of the three nations fields different, outdated artillery howitzers, which need to be replaced by a modern system in the nearest future. Buying the same system for all three nations would reduce field logistics, improve interoperability, lower procurement costs and send a strong signal of unity and defense readiness. Last but certainly not least, it is imperative for the Baltic nations that Sweden bases vast numbers of long-range anti-ship and anti-air missiles on the island of Gotland. Whoever controls Gotland controls the Baltic Sea. Swedish control of the Baltic Sea will deny Russia the ability to undertake amphibious landings and ensure the Baltic nations can be reinforced by sea and air in case Russia cuts the land connection to Poland.
- Sweden needs to expand its defense capabilities to defend its territory from Russian air and sea attacks. Most importantly Sweden needs to improve the defense of Gotland to ensure Russia cannot land forces on the island. It is in Sweden’s interest to help defend the Baltics, as a Russian attack against the three nations would inevitably lead to Russian attacks against Sweden’s territory. Furthermore it is in Sweden’s economic interest to help the aforementioned nations to arm themselves.
I am not suggesting that these six nations should enter a mutual defense commitment, but that they coordinate procurement, research and development, and their defense plans closely, just as neutral Austria coordinated procurement and defense plans with NATO during the Cold War, increasing Austria’s military capabilities and enhancing its deterrence capabilities against the Soviet Union. Such an alliance would be highly attractive for other nations under threat by Russia. Nations like Romania and Moldova for example, who would add another 24 million people and $400 in GDP to the alliance.
Every nation joining this alliance would have to commit itself to spend at least 2.25% on defense. NATO advises its members to spend at least 2% on defense; yet 2% is just what a nation ought to spend during peacetime to keep up capabilities, while there is no imminent threat of war. If there is a real risk of war 2% are not enough: the United States currently spends 17% of all government spending or 3.58% of GDP on defense. Germany at the end of the Cold War in 1989 spent 15.13% of all government spending or 2.8% of GDP on defense. Russia this year spends 20.7% of all government spending or 5.2% of GDP on defense and a further 16.5% of government spending on its intelligence services and their troops; and Russia will increase its defense budget by at least 15% next year. Russia spends for war!
Spending 2,25% on defense would capitulate an alliance between Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the top ten defense spenders in the world: a total of $38 billion would be available for defense; a significant rise from the $21.5 billion currently spent. The biggest beneficiary of such increased spending would be Sweden as it is the only nation in the alliance with the advanced technology the other members so urgently need.
- Sweden’s SAAB Group produces the JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet and Saab 340 AEW&C airborne early warning and control aircraft. Poland’s PZL-Mielec, Ukraine’s Antonov and Vinnytsia Aviation Factory, as well as Romania’s Avioane Craiova cannot design such advanced weapon systems, but they can massively lower the costs of production if SAAB Group would partially outsource production to these companies. Lower production costs would mean that Poland, Romania and Ukraine could buy, and buy more, Gripen than at current prices. Even the Baltic nations could then afford to procure 24 Gripen for a tri-national fighter wing. In return Antonov could provide alliance members with tactical and strategic transport planes, while Avioane Craiova can provide the basic design for an advanced jet trainer.
- Sweden’s Kockums produces the Visby-class stealth corvettes. Installing a more powerful 76mm Otobreda Super Rapid gun and adding a self-defense surface-to-air missile capability would turn the Visby corvettes into ships capable to defend Ukraine’s and Romania’s coast against Russian amphibious landings and give Poland and the Baltic nations a weapon system to deny Russia control of the Baltic Sea. Furthermore Kockums has the designs for an advanced submarine ready to enter production: the A26 submarines could replace the seven outdated submarines currently fielded by Poland, Ukraine and Romania, as well as the two oldest submarines in Swedish service. Ukraine’s Mykolaiv, Kherson and Kyiv shipyards, Poland’s Gdańsk, Szczecin and Gdynia shipyards, as well as Romania’s Galați, Mangalia and Constanța shipyards could provide low cost production and allow all three nations to acquire more corvettes and submarines than currently planned.
- Sweden also produces some of the most advanced land systems, which the Baltics and Ukraine urgently need:
- The CV-90 tracked infantry fighting vehicle and the ARCHER Artillery System are produced by BAE Systems AB. Estonia already ordered CV-90 vehicles.
- The ARTHUR artillery radar is produced by SAAB Electronic Defense Systems.
- The BAMSE medium-range air-defense system and the ASRAD-R short-range air-defense system are produced by SAAB Dynamics.
- SAAB Dynamics also produces the RBS-15 long-range anti-ship and land attack missile, which can be fired from planes, ships and truck-mounted systems and is already in use with the Polish Navy and coastal artillery.
- Furthermore, SAAB Dynamics produces the tank-killing Strix guided mortar round and the BILL-2 and NLAW anti-tank guided missiles. All three would help a nation under attack by Russia destroy Russian armored formations quickly and efficiently.
Neither Ukraine, nor Poland, nor Romania have the technology to design and produce such advanced combat systems on their own, but they have the capability to produce CV-90 combat vehicles, produce trucks and parts for the ARCHER and ARTHUR systems, with Poland’s Bumar Electronics also capable to produce electronic parts and Ukraine’s Yuzhmash and Yuzhnoye capable to work on missile systems. Therefore, Sweden ought to license as much as technically possible for production, while ramping up production of parts, which its alliance partners cannot produce yet. At the same time Poland needs to license its KTO Rosomak wheeled infantry fighting vehicle and AHS Krab tracked self-propelled howitzer to Ukraine and Romania, while speeding up development of its PL-01 armored fighting vehicle.
Stealth drones to observe and target enemy formations are urgently needed by all nations confronted with Russia’s heavy use of artillery. Even though no member nation has such a drone ready for production, SAAB, with the help of the other nations, could develop such a drone within a few months. However in the long term SAAB needs to design an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft similar to the Royal Air Force’s Sentinel R1 pane, which would allow commanders to observe over 40.000 square kilometers of battlefield in real time.
There remain a few areas where the alliance at the moment lacks ready to produce weapon systems. Namely:
- Long-range air-defense systems, which would have to be either acquired from the United States (MIM-104 Patriot) or Italy and France (SAMP/T).
- Blue Water naval capabilities in the form of air-defense frigates, which are actually of little use in the constrained areas of the Baltic Sea and Black Sea. But such capabilities could be acquired from Italy as it currently offers eight Maestrale-class frigates for sale.
- Attack and transport helicopters, which could be licensed produced at Poland’s PZL-Świdnik and PZL-Mielec plants as they are owned by AgustaWestland, producer of the T129 attack helicopter, and Sikorsky, producer of the UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter respectively, while Ukraine’s Motor Sich company as the world’s largest helicopter engine producer could quickly provide all engines needed.
- Modern Main Battle Tanks are of urgent need for Ukraine and Romania; less so for Sweden and Poland, which both acquired used German Leopard 2 tanks. Poland’s OBRUM and Bumar Łabędy, Ukraine’s KMDB and Malyshev Factory and Romania’s ROMARM all kept to updating old and obsolete Soviet tanks over the last years, while Sweden has given up on main battle tank development altogether. Poland’s PL-01 armored fighting vehicle is a stealthy CV-90 variant with a 120mm battle tank gun, yet lacks the armor to confront Russia’s modern tanks. As the PL-01 is a joint venture between OBRUM and Britain’s BAE Systems – the producer of the Challenger 2 main battle tank and CV-90 – it would be desirable to license produce the Challenger 2 for the nations of the alliance or develop a new main battle tank with “discreet” British help.
Ultimately every nation would profit from such a procurement and development alliance. Sweden would quickly see employment and profits rise in its defense sector and would be able to offer its products cheaper on the global market as production in Eastern Europe will lower costs significantly. Lower costs and production in Ukraine, Romania and Poland would enable these nations to acquire advanced weapons and acquire more of them, while developing their nation’s defense industries. Furthermore such an alliance would enhance each nation’s security, as all of them would acquire new, modern and compatible equipment that will raise the costs of a possible Russian aggression significantly and thus might deter Putin from further attacks and wars.
However, if the nations mentioned in this article refuse to unite and coordinate, then Russia can and will take them down one by one and easily so, as none of them has the capability to withstand a Russian attack on its own. Sweden knows this feeling well, as it was threatened with and had to prepare for a Russian/Soviet attack for almost fifty years. During those years Sweden developed a formidable defense industry, which if properly funded and allowed to share weapons development and production with Sweden’s neighbors under threat, can provide almost all needed equipment, weapons and materiel to successfully deter Russia attacking ever more nations.
Hopefully, the politicians in the mentioned nations will have the foresight and backbone to ignore Russian threats and small yet loud parts of their electorate classifying martial preparedness to deter aggression as aggression. Yet preparing to deter is only considered aggression by fools and those that are actually deterred by such preparedness. The incessant whining of the current Russian leadership about nations that do increase defense spending proves how much Russia’s leadership wants its neighbors to be weak and easy to invade. Therefore, increasing defense spending and close cooperation on defense is imperative for all nations bordering Russia, because one must never forget: Russia spends for war!