What Sweden Adds to NATO's Military Arsenal

Sweden's 21-month stay in NATO's waiting room ended this week, with Hungary's parliament long-awaited for its May 2022 membership application.

Stockholm's accession expands NATO's 32 members, which was prompted by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and met with repeated threats from President Vladimir Putin and his top brass.

Membership for Sweden and neighboring Finland — which joined in April 2023 — has changed NATO's security environment in northern Europe and the Arctic, adding an 830-mile border with Russia and drawing a NATO cordon around the Baltic Sea that some officials are already referring to. “NATO Lake.”

Through decades of official foreign policy neutrality – with close NATO cooperation and EU membership – Stockholm and Helsinki have long been bracing for Russian aggression. Now, with their abandonment of non-alignment, NATO gains two armies, while the relative minefields are designed specifically to frustrate and bleed Russia.

Photo-caption by Newsweek/Getty

Finland already spends 2 percent of its GDP on the military, according to Sweden's defense ministry. Newsweek It will do so by the end of 2024.

NATO expects its 18 members to reach the threshold by the end of 2024. The United States is one of the leaders spending 3.4 percent of its GDP, while Poland spends 3.9 percent of its allies.

Low-spending countries include Luxembourg (0.72 percent), Spain (1.26 percent), and Belgium (1.26 percent).

said Neil Melvin, director of international security at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in London. Newsweek: “Sweden is bringing a remarkably well-armed army to NATO, with more than a hundred advanced [jet] Fighters, a modern fleet including five submarines, as well as a technologically advanced defense industrial base.

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Extending the alliance's Article 5 collective defense commitment across Scandinavia is “part of making Northern Europe a NATO stronghold,” Melvin said.

Newsweek The Russian Foreign Ministry has been contacted by email seeking comment.

Ground Forces

Like Finland, Sweden brings a modern military to the alliance table. Its armed forces consist of approximately 24,000 active personnel, supported by 11,400 reserves and 21,000 Home Guards. Starting in 2025, Stockholm plans to add 8,000 conscripts to its reserves annually, up from 6,000 currently.

Sweden's infantry units are supported by around 500 armored infantry fighting vehicles, including the modern CV-90. Stockholm delivered 51 CV-90s to Ukraine in 2023 for use by Ukrainian forces.

Sweden has fielded 120 German-made Panther 2 main battle tanks by early 2023, although Stockholm said at least “one-tenth” of these were donated to Ukraine.

2023 Swedish tanks during a military exercise
Swedish tanks are pictured during the Aurora 23 military exercise at the Ringaby firing range outside Kristianstad, Sweden on May 6, 2023. Sweden's ground forces are small but modern.

Getty Images by JOHAN NILSSON/TT/TT News Agency/AFP

At the front, Swedish forces could call upon 26 self-propelled 155mm Archer artillery systems, designed to be more mobile to avoid counter-battery fire. The Archer—eight of which were donated to Ukraine—can set up, fire three target shots, and leave its firing position within 75 seconds. Its operators can modify the angle of fire and the number of charges to land all three bombs simultaneously.

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Its longest-range missiles—the US-made guided M982 Excalibur—can hit targets 31 miles away.

in the air

Sweden's most important NATO contributions are its formidable air and sea forces, designed to cover the country's 2,000-mile coastline, the Baltic Sea, and airspace stretching into the Arctic.

Sweden has around 100 Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets, considered one of the most versatile bases in the Western world. The Gripen is under consideration for delivery to Ukraine, as it was designed with Russia in mind.

RUSI's Justin Bronk wrote in February 2023 that Gripen was “obviously designed to be anti-Russian. [surface-to-air missiles] And fast jets fly very low and have an onboard electronic warfare suite, and are easy to maintain and operate from dispersed bases with mobile crews on vehicles.”

Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet 2023
A Swedish JAS 39 Gripen takes off from Orland Air Base in central Norway during the Arctic Fighter Meet exercise on August 23, 2023. Sweden has about 100 fighter jets.

Jonathan Knockstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Gripens can take off and land from damaged runways and highways; Another advantage that makes the platform attractive to Ukrainians.

Sweden fields four reconnaissance aircraft: two Gulfstream G-IV aircraft equipped for signals intelligence use, and two Saab 340 AEW&Cs for airborne prediction and control capabilities.

For ground protection, Sweden has four batteries of American-made Patriot surface-to-air systems with PAC-3 interceptors with a range of about 75 miles. The IRIS-T SLS, RBS 23 and RBS 70 platforms are capable of countering short-range threats.

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in the sea

Sweden will play a key role in NATO's control of the Baltic Sea, serving the key Russian ports of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad.

Sweden's submarines will be particularly important. The country currently has four Gotland-class ships and one Södermanland-class diesel-electric submarine. These will be augmented by two new A26 attack submarines Blekinge And Scan– It is scheduled to be launched in 2027 and 2028.

Swedish submarines are designed to operate in the shallow Baltic Sea, compared to larger NATO allies deployed in deeper waters elsewhere. It will help the alliance monitor Russian ships and prevent maritime developments such as sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline and interference with critical undersea telecommunications cables.

Other Swedish vessels included seven corvettes, eight minesweepers, one large patrol vessel and a dozen smaller patrol vessels. Of these, the stealthy Wisby-class corvettes are the most powerful and offer significant short-range air defense capabilities.

Swedish corvette HMS Visby in 2014
Swedish corvette HMS Visby pictured in Mysingen Bay on October 21, 2014. The Swedish fleet is designed for the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea.