This weekend the first sections of FL 01 (Air Force Libya) will set course for the Mediterranean. Hopefully by the middle of next week, the first Gripen aircraft will be airborne and patrolling Libyan airspace.
“I feel confident about the mission,” says Force Commander, Wing Commander Stefan Wilson. Sweden’s contribution will provides considerable impact with few people.
Over the past week, Wing Commander Wilson has been working at Lidingövägen in Stockholm. Normally he works at F 17 in Ronneby, but in the initial planning stages, he has been involved in countless meetings at Headquarters. Sweden is now sending eight JAS Gripen, a Hercules Plan which will be used for air refuelling and a reconnaissance plane.
“The ten Jas-pilots we have, have a lot of flight experience, they have been in training and they have the right equipment as well as an extremely appropriate profile for our mission,” says Stefan Wilson.
Most of the Swedish contribution of around 130 people come from EAW (the Expeditionary Air Wing) who have been on standby for the Nordic battle group, which conists of about 110 people. The group is complemented by 20 specialist staff.
“Remember that our Swedish workplace moves wherever we move. All aspects must work including IT security and signalling protection, and we must have the opportunity to lock up our belongings/equipment in a safe manner. Swedish legislation applies even if we operate in southern Europe or northern Africa.”
Although pilots have participated in a series of exercises that have similar scenarios, the mission will still most likely make a difference for them.
“When it’s for real, with live ammunition, the tension level is higher than otherwise. Anything else would be a bit strange.”
It is not entirely clear at the moment what type of resistance they will be encountering. The Libyan air force is already under a lot of pressure as a result of the bombings that have been carried out, but there are batteries left. In addition, there may be mobile air defence. On top of that, a number of aircraft remaining in the Libyan air force.
“At the moment of speaking, I do not know how operational they are, what the condition of their planes is and whether there are pilots willing to fly them,” says Stefan Wilson.
For the pilots, the ability to rescue pilots who for whatever reason are forced to abandon their aircraft, is important. In the NATO operation in which Sweden will participate, helicopters stand ready round the clock to save people in trouble.
If a pilot has to leave his/her aircraft, an emergency distress signal is activated. One or more helicopters will be sent out immediately to pick up the individual.
And what about the difference between the Swedish contribution and other countries’ contributions? Well, with 130 persons, NATO will now receive skills for both air patrols and air refueling. Other countries that contribute with the same number of planes cannot – without increasing their numbers – provide air refuelling services.