Sweden currently does not have armed drones, and there is no indication that Sweden is planning to purchase or produce its own armed drone, outside of its collaborative efforts in developing the European nEUROn drone technology demonstrator. However, Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016-2020 prioritizes air combat capability and improving sensors for situational awareness. Though not specified, the ‘diversification and strengthening of UAV’ capability is also mentioned.

Sweden does have domestic production of drones, with producers such as Saab and UAs Europe UB developing UAVs. Saab has created a medium-range SKELDAR V-200 unmanned helicopter, and UAs Europe UB develops ‘UAV/RPAS/UAS solutions that are aimed at both the civilian and military market’. Additionally, Sweden has reportedly provided drone technology to Vietnam, which wants to develop them for defence and security purposes. These drones are used for mapping traffic routes, the planning of projects, the surveillance of Vietnam’s borders and sea, and search and rescue missions, according to the chairman of the Vietnam Aerospace Association. In 2015, The Guardian reported that these drones could also be used to enhance Vietnams air defences.

Sweden is also involved in other parts of Asia; in November 2017, a joint venture was started between Saab and the Indian Adani group. Both companies are producing a broad portfolio of products including UAVs for the Indian Army.

The Swedish armed forces uses three drones: a US Textron Shadow 200, the AeroVironment Puma, and the Wasp in the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in Mali and in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led ISAF operation. In 2016, after a year of test-running, the Swedish Navy and the largest producer of civilian and military drones, CybAero, completed an advanced test program of the APID One helicopter system. This program focused on autonomous takeoffs and landings and included reconnaissance capability tests. It is expected to lead to a delivery order for CybAero and down-the-line deployment of the APID One on the Navy’s surface fleet. Reportedly, in March 2014 60 of these unmanned helicopters worth $7.5 million have been sold to a Chinese costumer, and will be used on Chinese ships too.

Articulate clear policy

There has been limited debate in the Swedish parliament on the national position and the legality of drones strikes. In 2013, in response to parliamentary questions, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt responded that there is no need for a legal framework to regulate armed drones. He stated that the international law on the use of force, the international humanitarian law, and the rules of human rights, are all applicable.

There is no public legal vacuum with regard to the use of armed drones. If there is an armed conflict the laws of war apply. All weapons, including drones, shall be used in accordance with the international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. If a drone attack – or an attack with any other weapon – does not take place in the context of an armed conflict, the laws of war do not apply. States’ ability to lawfully use force against individuals is thus sharply curtailed. The premise is that a suspect must be arrested and brought to justice in accordance with the procedural safeguards applicable under Human Rights Law. Attacks that take place without the permission of the state where the attack takes place may constitute an unlawful use of force and are therefore contrary to the UN Charter.”

Furthermore, he added that it is his fundamental belief that Sweden does not need new regulations, and that opening up the discussion about new regulations would even risk weakening the existing regulations. Beside this statement, there appear to be no other official statements from the Swedish parliament on the wider impacts of the use of drones, nor on targeted killings or how this is related to their national position.

Prevent Complicity

Sweden has shown interest in European drone development programmes. It is involved, together with France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, in the Dassault-led nEUROn programme, a technology demonstrator. Furthermore, Sweden is part of the “14 Eyes” intelligence-sharing coalition, which includes countries like the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Spain, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As Sweden is part of this network as well, it has to make sure that it prevents complicity. The Netherlands, for example, has been accused of contributing to unlawful use of drones in Somalia, by sharing data that was allegedly used for an extrajudicial killing. If Sweden will arm their drones in the future, it has to articulate clear and detailed policy in full compliance with international law to prevent unlawful targeted killings.

Sweden, one of the several non-NATO countries that provides soldiers to the coalition, has been accused of being improperly involved in approving strike decisions in Afghanistan, despite rules of prohibiting them from doing so. Peter Semneby, a Swedish ambassador to the European Union, expressed concerns that a Swedish officer was present inside a coalition headquarter when kill orders were being discussed. The Ministry of Defence secretary denied being involved in the decision-making or execution of counterterrorism operations. She said that officers only relayed information and requests between coalition headquarters and the regional command in northern Afghanistan, where Swedish and German troops are predominantly based.

Control proliferation

Data on Swedish export of drones is insufficient, although the Swedish companies Saab and UAS systems have supplied small unmanned aircraft systems to organizations all over world such as USA, Germany, Spain, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Lithuania and Bulgaria. As mentioned earlier, Swedish companies have also started joint ventures with companies in Vietnam and India and have exported unmanned helicopters to a Chinese company. Sweden has signed the Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, though it is not clear what it’s involvement is in the follow-up process. Sweden, as part of the EU, has signed up to the EU Common Position on Arms exports, where common rules for governing control of exports of military technology and equipment have been defined. Furthermore, Sweden is member of the Wassenaar Arrangement which was the first global multilateral arrangement on export controls for conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use goods and technologies, and of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which aims to restrict the proliferation of, amongst others, missiles, complete rocket systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Skeldar V-200 (c) UMS Skeldar
Skeldar V-200 (c) UMS Skeldar

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