PARIS --- The British and Swedish defense ministries announced separately on Friday that they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on future combat aircraft, but their written statements are so different that they seem to be referring to different agreements.
The Swedish statement, in just 186 words, says the two ministers have agreed “to examine the possibilities for joint development of future combat aircraft capabilities,” while the considerably longer (586 words) statement by UK MoD calls the MoU “a landmark agreement” which “sees us look to the future with a bold and shared vision of UK and Swedish air power.”
The contrast between Swedish reserve and British marketing hype is even more clearly illustrated when the Swedish statement cautions the MoU “does not entail long-term commitments between the countries,” while the British statement claims that it “commits both governments to work on a joint combat air development and acquisition programme” -- which are diametrically-opposed positions.
In fact, the Swedish announcement contains so many caveats and restrictions that one wonders why the two ministers bothered to sign an international MoU at all, when all they have agreed is to “analyse the conditions for deeper cooperation on the development of future combat aircraft capabilities.”
Sweden has not joined Team Tempest
It is tempting to see the difference in tone and content as a face-saving compromise to mask the fact that Sweden has not actually joined the UK’s Tempest program.
Swedish participation in Tempest was widely anticipated earlier this month by British newspapers, with the Financial Times reporting July 7 that “Sweden is poised to join forces with Britain in the race to develop a European future fighter jet, a move that will give the programme a much-needed boost,” after The Daily Telegraph had reported July 5 that “Sweden signs up to join Tempest fighter programme”
Whatever spin the British may now put on it, it is clear that Sweden has not committed to anything more than preliminary studies, which is also just as clearly not what the Ministry of Defence intended to announce.
This view is supported by more contradictions between the two statements.
Where UK MoD enthuses that “Today we usher in an exciting new era in which the talents of two great combat air nations will be combined to lift Swedish and British airpower into the stratosphere,” the Swedish statement soberly observes that “If and when Sweden decides to fully initiate a bilateral development and procurement project, additional, more detailed agreements will need to be signed.”
And where the British say “This agreement further deepens this partnership and sees us look to the future with a bold and shared vision of UK and Swedish air power,” the Swedes remain non-committal, saying it does not “prevent the countries from engaging in similar studies and analyses with other partners.”
Swedish focus on Gripen growth
The Swedish seem to view this MoU as being more focused on growing the capabilities of their JAS-39 Gripen fighter – which is mentioned three times in five paragraphs – when their statement adds that “this collaboration offers the opportunity to further insert advanced technologies into JAS 39 Gripen.”
The British, on the other hand, see it as a commitment “to partner on future combat air.”
Intriguingly, the same divergence can also be found, albeit less markedly, in the related announcements by BAE Systems and Saab.
Saab, like its government, “views the agreement as a starting point for exploring the opportunity for joint development of a future combat air system,” adding that it “will also read across into the continued long-term development of existing platforms including Gripen.”
By contrast, BAE Systems claims that “today is a significant milestone for [the Tempest project] as we welcome our first international partner,” a status neither the Swedish MoD nor Saab have mentioned.
Clearly, a lot more water needs to pass under the bridge before Swedish actions catch up with British aspirations for participation in Tempest.