Aurora 17 is the largest Swedish exercise in more than 20 years, and is intended to exercise Sweden’s defense capability against a larger, sophisticated opponent.
According to the Swedish Ministry of Defence:
In order to increase military capabilities, Swedish Armed Forces will conduct Exercise Aurora 17 – a national exercise that will build a stronger defence and increase the overall capability to face an attack on Sweden.
The overarching mission of the Swedish Armed Forces is to defend the country´s interests, our freedom and the right to live the way of our choice.
Deterrence lies at the core of a strong defence, one that rises to all threats and overcomes all challenges. It is designed to deter potential attackers, and force them to carefully consider the risks of attacking our country.
For a deterrent to be effective, it needs to be credible and visible. Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defence forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible.
Aurora 17 will be conducted in the air, on land and at sea. Units from all over Sweden will be involved, but the main exercise areas will be the Mälardalen and Stockholm areas, on and around Gotland, and the Gothenburg area.
The Exercise will contribute to the development of Sweden’s total defence capabilities. Therefore, it is planned that around 40 other agencies will participate. In addition, in order to have as good an exercise as possible, and at the same time exercise Sweden’s defence capability against a larger, sophisticated opponent, other countries have been invited to participate in Aurora 17.
The exercise is the largest in Sweden for more than 20 years and involves the forces of several other nations, including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Norway, Lithuania, and the United States.
More than 20,000 troops are involved.
According to an article published in The Express on September 11, 2017:
The three-week Aurora 17 drill kicked off on Monday and will chiefly take place around the strategic Baltic Sea island of Gotland and the regions surrounding Stockholm and Goteborg.
But the show of military might has rattled Russia, who branded the drills aggressive and said it was not necessary as Russia posed no threat to Sweden.
The Swedish military said the exercise by the non-NATO nation is designed “to deter potential attackers, and force them to carefully consider the risks of attacking our country.”
The drills are being held amid fears over Russia’s military buildup in the region, which also has also seen several reports of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told the Financial Times: “If you control Gotland, you have control over the sea and the airways towards the Baltic states.
“It’s about handling the realities of the security situation in our part of Europe.
“It’s an important signal to the Swedish population and also to other countries and partners that we take this security situation seriously.”
It should be noted that Sweden is reintroducing conscription as well.
The Swedish government has decided to reintroduce military conscription – a move backed by the country’s MPs.
The decision means that 4,000 men and women will be called up for service from 1 January 2018, a defence ministry spokeswoman told the BBC.
They will be selected from about 13,000 young people born in 1999, who will be asked to undergo a military assessment, Marinette Nyh Radebo said.
Non-aligned Sweden is worried about Russia’s Baltic military drills.
In September, a Swedish garrison was restored to Gotland, a big island lying between the Swedish mainland and the three ex-Soviet Baltic states.
Why is this happening?
Ms Nyh Radebo said the return to conscription was prompted by “the security change in our neighbourhood”.
“The Russian illegal annexation of Crimea [in 2014], the conflict in Ukraine and the increased military activity in our neighbourhood are some of the reasons,” she said.
How will it work?
The 13,000 who undergo the military tests will be a mixture of volunteers and conscripts. “You are part of the conscript system once you’ve done the tests – men and women are treated equally,” Ms Nyh Radebo said.
“The authorities choose the ones who are willing, interested and motivated.”
The Russians have created their own impact from their actions in Ukraine and elsewhere which is creating significant concern and strengthening of defense capabilities in Northern Europe.
The Russian major ZAPAD 17 exercise has highlighted the capability of the Russian military to threaten directly the Baltic and Nordic states.
And it also underscores the question of providing operative reminders of the Russian ability to threaten these states might not be short sighted.
It is not unusual for Russia or the United States to exercise their forces and to test them in various scenarios.
Zapad 2017 is such an exercise but given its relative size and proximity to an area of clear European and American concern (the Baltics) significant political sensitivities are raised.
The challenge always is to ensure that an exercise is not a prelude to an actual military operation something which Baltic states have more than a little historical reason to be concerned with.
And as the most significant area of NATO undergoing modernization is Northern Europe, the exercise is likely to enhance the positions of the Nordics, the UK and other NATO states about the need to reinforce Northern European defense.
That is why the political and military cost to Russia might well outweigh whatever training benefits might accrue to the Russian forces.
(For a Russian discussion of ZAPAD 17 in which we participated, see the following:
In the video below, Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Europe take part in Exercise Aurora 17 on
Gotland Island, Sweden.
Video by Staff Sgt. Emma Mayen
This article was first published on 2017-09-26.