The Swedish Navy is one of the biggest navies in the Baltic Sea together with the Russian Baltic Fleet. These two countries alone have more naval power then their neighbors and as such they determine the balance of power in the Baltic Sea.
The Swedish armed forces face themselves in a strange situation. On one side they are not a NATO member but on the other hand they are a part of the European Union (EU) of whom most member states are NATO members. This complicated situation means that in case of war involving NATO, Sweden would be neutral but any war involving the EU would mean Sweden does have to be involved as well. This makes defense politicians wonder in what kind of scenario’s Sweden would be involved in which ones they would remain neutral.
Thus Sweden poses a great unknown in the Baltic Sea. It is therefore important to understand the strength of the Swedish Navy in order to understand what military force Sweden can decide to deploy inside the Baltic Sea and beyond.
The Swedish Navy has in its inventory a decent arsenal of diesel-electric submarines.
The oldest submarines in the Swedish navy are the 2 Södermanland class submarines (or the A-17 class) . Originally constructed in 1988, these submarines underwent a major modernization program in 2003-2004 with the installation of air-independent propulsion (AIP), allowing these submarines to stay under water for several weeks. Also during these modernizations there was an update on their filter systems and cooling units. These are now converted to operate optimally with cooler, less saline water. As such, these submarines are well suited to operate in the northern Atlantic Ocean or Baltic Sea, meaning their mean adversary would be the Russian Navy. These 2 submarines are planned to be retired around 2019-2020 and will be replaced by a new class of submarines.
The 3 submarines of the Gotland class (A-19) are the backbone of the Swedish submarines. Commissioned in 1996, these submarines operate with AIP. Their engines can use the surrounding sea water as a heat sink, therefore diminishing the need for cooling pumps, generally believed to be the loudest piece of equipment on board of a submarine. A high degree of automation on these submarines allow them to operate with a minimum crew. In retrospect, a diminished crew allowed to build better living spaces on board which in turn improves the overall endurance of the crew.
The Gotland class operates two type of weapons. The four 533mm torpedo tubes are used to fire anti-ship torpedo’s. These torpedo’s are wire guided and can be steered on their target from the submarine. The two smaller 400mm torpedo tubes are used to fire anti-submarine torpedo’s.
All 3 Gotland class submarines are planned to be overhauled to increase their life span to 2025. The overhaul is currently ongoing and is expected to end in 2017.
|Gotland class submarine|
Given the nature of the Swedish coastline, small corvettes are more suited to defend the littoral waters and protect the Swedish sovereignty. Sweden can rely on a small but modern and well equipped force of corvettes to protect its shores.
Commissioned in 1986, the two Stockholm class corvettes are the oldest corvettes in the Swedish Navy. These two corvettes were rebuild and modernized in the 1999-2002 period and are capable of serving in the Swedish Navy until halfway the 2010’s. Armed with anti-ship missiles and a 57mm gun these ships are designed for anti-surface warfare.
Just like the Stockholm class, the last two remaining Götenborg class corvettes are designed for littoral combat and anti-surface warfare. Commissioned in 1990 and 1993 these ships are going through a mid-life modernization to extend their service life to the mid 2020’s.
The by far most renowned corvettes in the Swedish surface fleet are the Visby class corvettes. These five stealth corvettes are Swedish most modern vessels. The main role of these ships are mine countermeasures (MCM) and anti-submarine warfare. This emphasizes Sweden’s view on its Baltic position in which many mines can still be founds and many nations have quite submarines, as lately has been proven by what was thought to be a Russian midget submarine operating in Swedish territorial waters.
For the anti-surface warfare capabilities the Visby class relies on anti-ship missiles and a 57mm gun. The ship can also deploy 400mm torpedo’s, depth charges and rocket-powered grenade launchers to perform an anti-submarine warfare role. The Visby class is also capable of letting helicopters land, refuel and take off from its deck but lacks a hangar to store a helicopter.
|Visby class stealth corvettes|
In the future the Swedish Navy plans to replace their two Götenborg class corvettes with two K-40 class corvettes. The K-40 is envisioned to be an enlarged Visby class corvette up to a frigate size. The commissioning of these two vessels is planned in the mid 2020’s.
The Swedish Navy can, aside from the previous mentioned main naval forces, count on several other vessels. 12 Trapper class coastal patrol boats with machineguns as well anti-submarine rockets, depth charges and mines add another force capable of defending and patrolling the Swedish coast. Adding to this capacity are up to 147 CB90 combat patrol boats and although these belong to the Swedish Naval Brigade, they can be used to patrol the coast as well.
Sweden can also count on 5 minehunters from the Koster class to deal with any mine treath. The most important support ships are the Orion that can collect intelligence and the Belos that is being used as submarine rescue ship.
The Swedish Navy operates two distinct navies. It’s green water navy with diesel-electric submarines and modern corvettes are all aimed to operate in the Baltic Sea. It’s brown water navy of patrol boats are used for coastal defense as well as patrols in the littoral.
Sweden is a neutral country, and it has the tools to enforce its neutrality. However at the same time Sweden is carefully looking towards the Russian Baltic Fleet. As Sweden and Russia have always been at odds with each other it is naturally that Sweden views the Russians as their main opponent. As such, Sweden will always try to match the Russian combat power in the Baltic Sea both in numbers as well as in quality.