JAS-39 Gripens Train With US Bombers In ‘Russia’s Backyard’ As Sweden Set To Boost NATO’s Might

Shortly after Hungary removed the final obstacle preventing Sweden from joining NATO and confirming the latter’s ticket to the European security alliance, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets teamed up with US B-1 Lancer bombers on February 26 to train against an array of threats in Russia’s backyard.

The US Air Force announced in a press release that two B-1 Lancers from Ellsworth Air Force Base teamed up with Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighters on February 26 -27 in the Arctic and Baltic Sea In preparation for the surface assault, air interdiction, and close air support scenarios.

The mission, Vanguard Adler, was carried out as a component of Bomber Task Force 24-2. The goal was to combine American bombers with Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighters and combined terminal attack controllers that operated in the Baltic and Arctic.

The release said, “The capability to generate sorties from locations like Luleå is a key focus area for US Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa. Through Vanguard Adler, BTF 24-2 sought to exercise the ability to quickly integrate forces and equipment at Allied and partner locations.” All training objectives were met, according to officials.

Lt. Col. Benjamin Jamison, 37th Bomb Squadron, director of operations and leader of Bomber Task Force 24-2, said in the release: “This timely opportunity for our crews to exercise our collective defense capabilities … in the Arctic region is incredible.”

“It demonstrates our ironclad commitment to our partners and allies, demonstrates our expansive reach, and sends a strong deterrent message to potential adversaries,” he added.

On February 23, B-1 Lancers arrived at Luleå-Kallax Air Base after taking off from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, U.S.A. Aiming to “build partnerships and increase readiness,” this was also the first multi-day deployment of American bomber aircraft to Sweden as part of the Air Force’s BTF mission.

This was only the second American bomber to land in Sweden. A pair of US Air Force B-1 bombers kicked off a historic deployment when they landed in Sweden for the first time in June 2023. Although American B-1s have previously flown in Swedish airspace and participated in exercises with the Swedish Air Force, the bomber landing in Sweden was a first.

The recent deployment came on the same day Hungary dropped its opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership after holding it up for 18 months.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, sits on a landing pad alongside two Saab JAS 39 Gripens at Luleå-Kallax Air Base, Sweden, Feb. 26, 2024, during Bomber Task Force 24-2. BTF missions enable crews to maintain a high state of readiness proficiency, and validate an always-ready, global strike capability. BTF operations provide U.S. leaders with strategic options to assure Allies and partners, while deterring potential adversary aggression across the globe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Jacobsen)
File Image: A US Air Force B-1B Lancer alongside two Saab JAS 39 Gripens at Luleå-Kallax Air Base, Sweden.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both Sweden and Finland applied for NATO memberships. Finland formally joined the alliance in April 2023, while Sweden’s application was delayed because of opposition from Turkey and Hungary. After negotiations with Turkey were concluded late last year, Hungary was the last hurdle.

After extensive discussions, Hungary finally held a Parliamentary vote on February 26. The final result — 188 to 6 in favor of the resolution — paved the way for Sweden to join the NATO alliance. Interestingly, just days before the vote, Swedish manufacturer SAAB signed an agreement to supply the Hungarian Air Force with four Gripen fighter jets.

The Swedish fighter jets, unable to find any buyers in recent times, have risen in prominence and catapulted Sweden into the NATO alliance after a tedious waiting period.  

The United States has strengthened its relationship with Sweden since the latter submitted its application to join NATO last year. Observers believe that Washington was sending a clear message with these exercises that the two countries were staunch allies.

The exercise taking place over the Arctic and Baltic region was significant given that NATO has progressively tightened its grip on the Baltic Sea, which serves as a vital seaport for the Russian fleet, responsible for maintaining facilities in the heavily fortified Kaliningrad exclave close to St. Petersburg. Sweden’s membership of NATO will essentially shut off Russia’s access to the sea from the north.

Against that backdrop and with the anti-Russian alliance moving closer to Russia’s frontiers, it is no wonder that the Kremlin has issued a stern warning to NATO.

Kremlin’s Warning To NATO

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on February 28 that Russia would retaliate against Sweden.

“We’ll closely monitor what Sweden does in the aggressive military bloc, how it will implement its membership in practice,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a weekly press briefing.

File Image: Putin

The types of NATO weaponry and units Sweden deploys, as well as the kinds of drills and tactics it employs as a member of the military alliance, will determine Moscow’s “military and technical” reprisal, the spokesperson stated.

“Based on that, we’ll develop our response policy, as well as military and technical steps, to stop the threats to Russia’s national security,” she added.

Her remarks are in line with the earlier warning issued by the Russian Embassy in Stockholm on February 27, which stated that Moscow’s response would depend on the “conditions and scale of Sweden’s integration into NATO, including the possible deployment of NATO units, strike systems, and weapons.”

The Russian ambassador to Stockholm also announced last year that the newly admitted members of NATO would be “a legitimate target for Russian retaliatory measures.”

The admission of Sweden to NATO is considered a boon to the alliance as the country boasts of a navy admirably suited for the Baltic Sea. Additionally, equipped with locally produced Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighters, the Swedish air force is prepared for any likely Russian attack.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said, “The parliaments of all NATO member states have now voted in favor of Swedish accession to NATO. Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security.”

Russia certainly does not seem pleased with that.