00:55 GMT08 March 2021
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    Sweden, which has recently stepped up its defense efforts on account of fictitious Russian "defense threats," has invited France and the United States to take part in the largest exercise in Sweden in 20 years.

    In the preliminary plan for the Aurora exercise, French and US troops are invited to participate, thus becoming the first ever foreign armed forces to practice with their air defense systems in Sweden, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.

    "To my knowledge, we have not practiced this way before. With both the American and French air defense participating, the Swedish units will receive very good training," Rickard Wissman, who is Head of Communications for the Aurora exercise, told SVT.

    According to him, live ammunition is unlikely to be used during the exercise. Instead, the emphasis will be put on learning the routines for handling various weapons.

    Previously, a government survey found that Sweden should procure a new medium range air defense system. Incidentally, both the US Patriot and the French Aster are among the likely candidates.

    According to the French manufacturer, the latest version of the Aster has a range of at least 100 kilometers and a maximum speed of 1.5 kilometers per second and may be used against air targets, such as airplanes and cruise missiles, as well as ballistic missiles.

    The Patriot is a US anti-aircraft missile system, which received a lot of attention when it was first used in the Gulf War in the 1990s. In NATO, the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain are the primary users of the Patriot. Recently, Poland voiced plans to procure the system. Earlier this year, US General Ben Hodges said he would like to test the Patriot in Sweden.

    "This is an air defense system that has quite a long range and can well protect a city like Gothenburg," Swedish Major General Bengt Andersson told SVT.

    Approximately 19,000 Swedish troops, including the Home Guard, will participate in the Aurora exercise, slated for September next year. Additionally, about 1,000 troops from the US, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France and Estonia are expected to participate in Sweden's largest military exercise in 20 years. In the course of the exercise, drills will be held at sea, on land and in the air. The main training grounds are Stockholm county, Gothenburg and the island of Gotland.

    According to Major General Bengt Andersson, American M1A1 tanks and combat vehicles are expected to participate, which will be the first time US tanks will roll on Swedish ground.

    Earlier this year, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist signed a new military cooperation agreement with the US against a backdrop of "escalating military tension in the Baltic Region," which facilitates the deployment of US troops in formally non-aligned Sweden. Additionally, a controversial Host Country Agreement was signed with NATO, which makes it easier for NATO members to operate in Sweden.

    Remarkably, Major General Bengt Andersson waved aside alleged connections between the exercise and Russia's deployment of Iskander missile complexes in its Baltic enclave Kaliningrad Region.

    "The exercise was planned a year and a half in advance, so what happened recently has not affected the planning," Bengt Andersson told SVT.


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    joint drills, Patriot missile system, France, Baltic Sea, US, Scandinavia, Sweden
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