In the nation's service

When the air force takes charge of Sweden's national defence during the air force exercise, it is a throwback to an earlier capacity. During his time as an air force fighter pilot, Stefan Kaarle has seen the shift from national defence to an international focus and now, as of five years, back to a focus on the national defence.

During Air Force Exercise 2015, pilots from other squadrons have been using Uppsala for quick refuelling before going on their next mission. Photo: Louise Levin/Swedish Armed Forces
The exercise focuses on the command capacity of the Air Force from the tactical level to the formation level, and so the fighter pilots never know when they will go on their next mission. They sometimes have to wait in the cockpit for long periods of time before finally being given the order to take off. Photo: Louise Levin/Swedish Armed Forces

The Air Force Exercise 2015 is a command exercise for the staff of the air force's tactical response unit, where the focus is placed on leading the forces. The tempo is high and resources are maximised for a brief period of time. The exercise is based on an acute conflict scenario in which Sweden is subject to an armed attack.

"During the exercise, we practice the whole chain of command, from the orders given by the tactical response commander to the completion of missions. It is an intense situation and we work around the clock. We were at war from the very first day of the exercise, and our mission is to stop the enemy and prevent them from gathering strength," says Stefan Kaarle.

The exercise is intended to develop the air force's ability to assemble flight formations in the air, and tactical skills are developed for all roles involved, i.e. fighters, strikers and reconnaissance.

"I have been a pilot since 1992 and I was around during the Cold War, so I have seen the phasing out of the national defence. Now I am part of rebuilding it again.

He explains that his new yet familiar tasks are in no way comparable to what it was like twenty years ago.

"There's no comparison. The circumstances are completely different and there is a new playing field. We don't have the same infrastructure as we used to; things are different now. Many of the bases we used then have been decommissioned now for example."

Better today

The old version of Jas 39 Gripen was developed for national defence.
"Today, our focus lies on other tasks. We are better now: we can do things today that we could only dream of before."

He says that the circumstances are completely different now that they are flying the C- and D-versions of the plane.

"Jas 39 Gripen is unique and extremely interoperable. Today we are good at handling both national and international missions. It is up to the politicians to decide what capacity we should have."

The exercise is entering its last day. For four days, they have been flying around the clock. Operating in darkness and in a complex scenario is more difficult and requires a sharper focus. He can only see benefits with exercising twenty-four hours a day.

"We have to be able to handle this, and we can. It's both stimulating and important. The Air Force Exercise is great training: we get to see what we are made of and work around the clock. We find strengths and weaknesses, also among us pilots. It's a team effort and ultimately this is not, and can never be, just a regular job. It's about trusting one another in any situation," says Stefan Kaarle in closing.