“Aurora has had a clear impact on our military capability”

Article in Svenska Dagbladet, 8 October 2017

The first exercise by the Swedish Armed Forces and the largest national exercise in more than 20 years – Aurora – is now over. Unlike other defence-related exercises, the collective capability of the Swedish Armed Forces was now put to the test by participation from all sections of the Armed Forces. Already now, we are able to state that Aurora has been seen as a distinct Swedish security policy signal indicating that Sweden contributes to the stability in our part of Europe, that the exercise has had a clear impact on Swedish military capability and that Sweden is serious in its preparation to provide assistance to and receive assistance from other countries in a crisis situation.

Aurora also signified a very distinct indication that Sweden is now focusing on increasing the capability of its national defence. This move in defence policy position has now been displayed with desired clarity.
In practice, the Aurora exercise signified that the new focus of the Swedish defence policy decided upon by a Riksdag majority is now a reality. The exercise was based on the two strategic prerequisites resolved by the Riksdag, namely increased military capability combined with stronger cooperation with other countries. The Swedish unit I met on Gotland viewed itself as part of a larger entirety whereby the challenge was in the cooperation between the air force, the navy and the army. The meeting between the Swedish units and units from other countries provided the opportunity to train against other weapon systems and military tactics than the normal. This has had a direct positive impact on our own military capability.

The visit to Berga and Trosa with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven highlighted the security policy dimension. The exercise was part of a strategy to tackle the new security policy situation. The scenario is the defence of Sweden and our own sovereignty. The development of events over time in our surroundings, with the illegal annexation of the Crimea, the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the pressure experienced by the Baltic States and the increase in military activities in the Baltic Sea area makes the upgrade of the national defence necessary. As Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven has paid several visits and had the opportunity to speak with personnel in conjunction with the Armed Forces exercises. This emphasises the fact that this government views the defence as a national interest – not a special interest.
The cooperation with the Baltic and Nordic countries, France and the US that was manifested during the exercise is clearly significant to the security policy. Cooperation is what generates stability and provides desired clarity in the security policy landscape. The exercise collaboration creates interoperability, meaning the ability to act together, which will prevent crisis situations and generate the necessary thresholds. Combined with diplomacy, transparency and confidence-building measures, exercises such as Aurora act as a preventive measure against crises in our surroundings. Accordingly, the Aurora exercise involving 19,000 participants was also relevant to the situation in other surrounding countries. Following contact with minister colleagues in several countries, particularly Europe, I know that our exercise has strengthened the image that Sweden seriously wants to assume its share of the responsibility for security in our part of Europe.

Consequently, there is high intelligence value and reports have been received about activities in close proximity to the exercise indicating interest in our soldiers, equipment and exercise operations from 'interested parties' that wanted to remain anonymous. With respect to Sweden, we acted openly and invited other countries to the inspection pursuant to the Vienna Document. During the same period, the Zapad exercise was conducted in Russia and Belarus. Sweden was invited to participate with observers in Belarus but Russia did not invite any observers to the exercise. Sweden has represented openness and transparency and Russia should also have done so.

During the exercise, we were also able to note that a message had spread that this was a "war manoeuvre," had "escalating impact" and was organised by NATO. This is disinformation about the exercise. The exercise scenario, which was about the defence of Sweden's sovereignty, is in line with the right of self-defence as stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. This can hardly be considered as "escalating." The invitations to the exercise were from Sweden and NATO did not even participate in the exercise. However, we cooperated with countries with whom we usually train and with whom we are partners. Unfortunately, this rhetoric has also been used by the media, which is regrettable.

The evaluation of Aurora will now be extremely important. It will provide an excellent basis for assessing the strengths and weaknesses in the Swedish Armed Forces. This applies, for example, to the planning for this type of large-scale exercises, the capability of joint operations of the armed forces, the role of the total defence and its capacity in crisis situations, logistics, command control, the capability for brigade combat, host nation support and mandatory refresher training for total defence personnel. This type of experience will be significant for future prioritisation and decisions about the future focus of the defence.
Between 2014 and 2020, defence expenditure will increase by 24.7 per cent, which is a major break in trend and a departure from previous prevailing conditions. This is based on three broad political agreements. The Armed Forces has one requirement to deliver against the background of the approximately SEK 26.5 billion that will be added to the defence finances up to 2020. It primarily involves increased exercise operations, investments in basic equipment needs for the defence and new weapon systems.

I regard the current cooperation between the Armed Forces and the government as good and this is important in order to achieve results. Building military capability takes time. The process is gradual and it is crucial that decisions and prioritisation are well thought out. For the government, content and results are more important than public bidding about who can invest the most money. Our line is to gradually strengthen the national defence through broad agreements. Aurora will be an important basis in this long-term work, as will the major total defence exercise planned for 2020.

Since Aurora 17 was conducted at several locations in the country and many people came in contact with the exercise, I would like to thank the general public for their positive and understanding approach.
Finally, I would like to thank all personnel, both military and civilian, who participated in the preparation and implementation of Aurora. Your efforts are important for Sweden!

 

Peter Hultqvist,
Minister of Defence