Dispersed basing - traditional Swedish air force method for protecting its aircraft

(Note: This was written in 2001 and slightly updated in 2008. Today the air force does not rely as much on dispersed basing as it used to. Actually, not at all, really. But it has the ability to operate from unprepared sites.)

We like it, in part, because if you do have the space to spread out, dispersal and mobility is a more cost effective solution for protecting your aircraft and their ability fo fly missions than hardened shelters. It also gives the air force the capability to concentrate forces in different directions without overcrowding, as the bases together have the capability to handle more aircraft than the air force owns.
It should be noted that in our case, "dispersed basing" is and has not been a question of relocating off the ordinary bases when they've been subjected to attack, the dispersed bases are the main bases, with the wings' ordinary location mainly being peace time training establishements.

Background and history

The early years

The air force was created in 1926 from the army's and navy's aviation units and took over the very few airbases existing then. For several years, there wasn't new building done, this in spite of the air force being the only part of the defence forces which wasn't reduced in size with the 1926 defence budget. Still, it wasn't until a decade later any real build up was started.

The situation in 1939

The air force had gotten a few more air bases, but more were needed and planned for, partly as a consequence of the increasing number of aircraft foreseen.
The defence forces by then planned for two main cases of war, against Germany or the USSR. In both cases there would be a number of rear bases for the bombers but the actual attacks would be launched from dispersed forward bases which were to be grouped three and three, one for each squadron in a bomber wing, with dispersed parking spaces for each air field.
The air fields were grass by this time and sown with patterns of different types of grass so the three landing "strips" wouldn't be seen clearly from the air. The buildings were also camouflaged to look like normal farm buildings.
For a war against Germany the southern and Gotland forward bases were to be used, against the USSR Gotland and the ones along the northern coast.
In the event, the air force grew more and got a significant fighter component added, so more dispersed air bases were built, but according to the same principles.

The 1940's buildup

By 1945 there were a total of 60 bases across the nation. Very few with anything but grass runways, but a few of the newest ones and a very small number of civilian airports had concrete runways.
By this time another dimension was added to the protection of aircraft on the ground, as at some wings like F 9 in Göteborg and F 8 and F 18 in/outside Stockholm were built with underground hangars deep in solid bedrock.

1950's: Jets require stronger runways

During the 1950's the number of bases were reduced to 30, because building hardened runways in all locations wasn't feasible.
Backup runways were often built as parts of nearby roads, but in at least one case, Ålem, the term "road base" was literally correct.
Bases had the capacity to keep more than one squadron at a time in the air and generally had the main task to fully serve either attack/reconnaissance squadrons or fighter squadrons and always a secondary task to at least refuel and launch any kind of aircraft.

The modern era

BAS 90 / Basbataljon 85

Until the 1980's more or less the same concept was retained and developed. But then it became clear that something better would be needed to counter newer threats.
The number of bases was reduced to 24. Partly this was because the exposed strategic location of some bases near the coast, partly because the air force no longer had as many fighter squadrons.
This didn't necessarily mean a decrease in capability, as in some cases nearby bases were merged into one and all BAS 90 was to have four or five runways.
24 bases is the number deemed right for 16 fighter squadrons + miscellaneous transport and support units, so still like earlier there are more bases than fighters squadrons and every base has the capacity to serve more than one squadron.
The ground unit for a BAS 90 is designated Basbataljon 85 and consists of 1500 - 2700 persons, including 48 civilian employees, spread out over an area around 20 x 40 km, where there is also army units for its protection both against against ground borne threats and with anti-aircraft units. The air force has also some specialized counter commando units as protection.
The infrastructure includes one main base where all activity is concentrated, with one long runway plus tree to four 800 m short runways and usually one backup base some distance away with one short runway. There are two bunkers on the base, one for command of ground base operations and one for air operations. Everything having to do with maintaining and operating aircraft is fully mobile.
One BAS 90 has as its two main tasks to support the operation of several fighter squadrons as well as transport and liasion flights.
A BAS 90 is capable to function while under attack, either from long range or from commandos on or near the base. If it's functionally disabled activity moves to the auxilary base, runways are cleared and repaired and activity returns. It can sustain operations and resist attack for about 14 days and generate at least 80 aircraft sorties per day for five days.
In 1996 force reductions decree that the number of BAS is decreased to 16, with 16 full and two short base battallions, making a total of about 20 air bases, with each of the six wings organizing up to four BAS 90 (earlier F 21 had had five and was the first wing to have them all rebuilt to BAS 90 standard, but after this reduction only three were left). This, among other things, means every batallion has to take charge of a larger geographical area.
Plans for an ambitious development of the BAS 90 concept, BAS 2000, which is later abandoned as being to expensive and not totally suited for modern operations as for example the threat level is lower started in 1993. BAS 2000 was supposed to be much like BAS 90, but with even more runways and mobility over much larger areas.

BAS 04 / Flygbasbataljon 04

The BAS 04 which partially builds on the BAS 2000 has been trialled during 2000, training has started and all units are to be trained, organized and equipped for it by the end of 2003.
One of the main features of BAS 04 is that it's fully independent of infrastructure, apart from runways of course, nothing else is needed where it will operate. This means it's not as tied in to specific locations as BAS 90 and precessors was. As a result of this, it's also suited for international operations as everything is mobile and it's easier to upgrade to more modern equipment as needed, and should the threat become more serious it's easier to enhance the organization with more resources.
Compared to BAS 90 the numerically smaller personell, 122 officers, 550 soldiers and 42 civilians, is based more concentrated, but not necessarily in the same place over time, and is more mobile within the bases.
BAS 04 has one main task to support one fighter squadron. Additionally it can also as a secondary task support transport and liason flights.
The organization is designed to be split up in order to sustain operations simultaneously on two different airbases, while still being led as a single unit. It's capable to withstand attack in shorter term than BAS 90, but to otherwise sustain operations indefinitely.
For international operations starting in 2002 the air force will have the ability to start operations at a foreign location 30 days after the word go. One battalion will have this readyness as well as one fighter squadron (optimized towards reconnaissance) and one transport flight with Herculeses.


Since BAS 04 doesn't need prepared sites, more than a runway, and the air force's strength was reduced, only a few bases were kept in 2007.
Any other air field in Sweden can be used, in case of mobilisation.
Remaining are two fighter wings, F 17 and F 21, each with two squadrons of JAS 39 Gripen and one auxilary base each.
F 7 is the Gripen training centre and a transport base.
Halmstad is a technical school.
Malmslätt the flying school and special flight (SIGINT and VIP) home as well as main helicopter base.
Karlsborg is used to support army airborne units.
Uppsala supports international missions.
Vidsel is a test and research site with a large live fire range, also used by foreign air forces.
F 17G is a forward base.
Kallax, Ronneby and Halmstad are dual use airports, with civilian aircraft, private and airliners, using them too.

Aerial photos and maps

At Eniro you can find maps and aerial photos of all of Sweden.

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