By: Warren Gray
“Forward in the night.”
— Motto of the Swedish SOG.
The Kingdom of Sweden, with King Carl XVI Gustav, age 74, as its ruler, is a constitutional monarchy, bordering Norway, a NATO member, toward the west and non-aligned (but pro-NATO) Finland toward the far northeast. In ancient times, southern Sweden was the original, ancestral home of the fabled Goths, the fierce, Gothic warriors who later went on to fight and conquer much of Europe, from Spain to Cyprus, and Eastern Europe, as well.
Sweden also has 2,000 miles of rugged coastline along the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia, with its distant neighbors across the water including Denmark, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (all NATO members), and Russia’s heavily-militarized, exclave area of the Kaliningrad Oblast (a region only about half the size of Connecticut), sandwiched uncomfortably between Lithuania and Poland. Sweden is an officially-neutral nation, but it has been openly cooperating with NATO since 2009, due to increased threats of Russian aggression in the Baltic region.
Sweden’s Specialförbandsledningen (SFL, or “Special Forces Command”), currently commanded by Brigadier General Anders Löfberg, was established in 2000 as part of the Försvarsmaktens specialförband (FMSF, or “Armed Forces Special Forces”), which presently includes the SFL and Särskilda operationsgruppen (SOG, or “Special Operations Group”), and several small, support units, but first let’s examine some special operations units that are not formally part of the Special Operations Command.
The Swedish Army has the 323 Fallskärmsjägarskvadron, the 323rd Parachute Ranger Squadron, or “Airborne Rangers,” part of the 32nd Intelligence Battalion, based at Karlsborg, on the western shoreline of the 74-mile-long Lake Vättern, in south-central Sweden, and specializing in long-range reconnaissance, Arctic warfare, sabotage, and tactical diversions.
They also operate the Parachute Ranger School (FJS), the nation’s primary jump school for all paratroopers, which trains SOG operators in static-line and freefall parachuting from the Swedish Air Force’s five Tp 84 (C-130H) Hercules four-engine transports from the 71st Airlift Squadron at Såtenäs Air Base, and 15 Hkp 16A (UH-60M) Black Hawk troop-transport helicopters from the 2nd Helicopter Squadron and Special Helicopter Group (SHG) at Linköping/Malmen Air Base, only 42 miles to the east. The garrison itself has Karlsborg Air Base, with a 7,472-foot runway, directly adjacent to the Ranger base.
Airborne Rangers operate in eight-man, patrol teams, including a sniper, medic, communications expert, and two demolition experts with light machine guns. They have served in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Congo, Kosovo, and Mali, and are identified by their maroon berets and metal, “golden-eagle,” qualification badges.
Then, there’s the Arméns jägarbataljon (AJB, or “Army Ranger Battalion”), based at Arvidsjaur, in the far north, also known as the 193rd Ranger Battalion, created to carry out reconnaissance missions and direct action behind enemy lines. They’re trained in mountain warfare, unconventional warfare, and sabotage, as well, and they’ve seen action in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, and Mali. Army Rangers wear a rifle-green beret, and the Jägare (“Ranger”) tab on their shoulders.
The Swedish Navy has the famous, 202 Kustjägarkompaniet (“202nd Coastal Ranger Company”), or KJ, founded in 1956 as part of the Swedish Amphibious Corps, tasked with coastline defense, deep reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, amphibious warfare, direct action, and sabotage, and stationed at Berga Naval Base, near Stockholm. They were modeled after the British Royal Marine Commandos, and provide intelligence collection for the 1st Marine Regiment. The Costal Rangers operate in teams of four to eight men, depending upon the specific mission at the time.
These teams will normally consist of a team leader, a second-in-command, communications specialist/forward air controller, and medic, as an absolute minimum, usually adding two demolitions experts with light machine guns, for an average composition of six men. When required, however, they will add one or two snipers, and possibly a heavy-weapons specialist.
Coastal Rangers have seen action in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Chad, Kosovo, Mali, and Somalia. They wear a commando-green beret, and a “golden-trident,” qualification badge, in either metal or cloth. In addition, most Coastal Ranger teams carry at least one Hults Bruk (Swedish-made) Motala (named for a small, waterfront city at the eastern edge of Lake Vättern) double-edged axe, somewhat resembling an intimidating, Viking battle-axe, but it’s normally used for more-mundane tasks, such as felling small trees to make shelters in the forest.
The Swedish Air Force has the Flygbasjägarna (the FBJ, or “Air Force Rangers”), also known as the 25th Air Force Ranger Company, at Ronneby Air Base, with the primary tasks of personnel recovery, reconnaissance, forward air control, and force protection, for patrolling outside of Sweden’s air bases to hunt down infiltrators. This is a very small unit, comprised of only two platoons of six patrols each. The Air Force Ranger patrol team consists of six men, including a sniper and two medics, and a military working dog (K9.) They have served in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya, and Mali, and wear a rifle-green beret with a lynx-head insignia.
All of these specialized units wear the standard, M90F “splinter-pattern,” woodland-camouflage uniform (or M90K, or M90TR BE [Tropic Beige] desert-camo uniforms when deployed to the Middle East), known affectionally among Swedish soldiers as lövhögen, or “the leaf pile,” and black, leather combat boots. Their weapons are primarily the standard-issue, Bofors/Carl Gustav Ak 5Cassault carbine in 5.56x45mm, made in Sweden, with 13.8-inch barrel and 4x tritium sight, or the compact, Ak 5D Mk. 2 model, with 9.8-inch barrel (both based upon the FN FNC design), and the Pistol 88C/C2 (Glock-17) service handgun, or Pistol 88B/D (Glock-19.)
Additional, standard weapons include the Ak 417 (HK417) designated marksman rifle (DMR) with 16.5-inch barrel, the Psg 90/90B (Accuracy International AW) sniper rifle in 7.62mm NATO, Psg 08 (Sako TRG-42) sniper rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum, and Ag 90B/C (Barrett M82A1) sniper rifle in .50 BMG. The most-common machine guns are the Ksp 90B/C (FN Minimi) light machine gun in 5.56mm, or the Ksp 58E/F (FN MAG) medium machine gun in 7.62mm NATO.
Now, let’s return to the Swedish Special Forces Command (SFL), and its only, official, frontline, “Special Forces” unit, the elite, Special Operations Group (SOG), based at the imposing, Karlsborg Fortress in Karlsborg, and formed in 2011 by merging the previous, Special Reconnaissance Group (SIG) and Special Protection Group (SSG.) SOG reports directly to the Supreme Commander, General Micael Bydén, and the Director (of) Special Forces, and is tasked with special operations, direct action, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, military assistance/peacekeeping, personnel recovery, hostage rescue, personal-security detachments, and high-value-target raids.
They’ve seen combat action in Afghanistan (until 2014), Iraq (since 2015), the Balkans, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, and Mali, and are capable of operating in virtually any environment, including deserts, jungles, mountain/alpine, Arctic, and urban combat zones.
According to recently-declassified, jihadist reports, SOG commandos killed two noted, Saudi-born, al-Qa’ida insurgent leaders and bomb-makers in 2010 and 2011, Abdul Rahman bin Obaidullah, who was “killed by Swedish bullets…in the confrontation with Swedes,” and then Abdul Ilah Otaibi, who was “wounded and killed” by “‘mercenaries’ and ‘crusaders’ from Sweden.” But these were just two of probably hundreds of successful raids conducted in Afghanistan by Swedish SOG teams.
Selection for SOG is open to members of the armed forces from both sexes, although it is so arduous and demanding that only 10 percent of male applicants pass the selection course, and thus far, no women have served directly as a SOG operators, although some women serve in the Special Forces support units, which are also part of the overall, SFL command. These units are: the Special Helicopter Group (SHG), Special Maritime Transportation Unit (STE), Special Signals Group (SSE), and the Section for Operative Technology (SOT.)
Petra Malm, codenamed “Pam,” was Sweden’s (and possibly the world’s) very first female, Special Forces soldier, serving as a human-intelligence officer and interrogator, working “within SOG,” but her duties were actually more-indicative of an SSE support specialist, not an actual, SOG commando member. Yet she was still part of the Swedish Special Forces Command, and deployed to Afghanistan eight times, so she was definitely a pioneer in that role. After 10 years of that fast-paced, SFL lifestyle, she became a mother at age 35, left military service in 2017, and began a new career as a lecturer on leadership and group dynamics.
When Petra was interviewed in 2019, she stated that, “We were all there with one purpose, to defend Sweden. Within SOG, you know what you are going for, and do not have to assert yourself, or beat your chest…Today, I’m not afraid of anything. Thanks to the fact that I dared to challenge myself as an elite soldier for 10 years, I know that I can do anything I want.”
SOG commando teams are organized for speed, stealth, surprise, and high mobility, typically comprised of just four operators: a team leader, a communications specialist, a combat medic, and a demolitions expert, although teams may be augmented, as required, by adding forward air controllers, explosive-ordnance-disposal (EOD) experts, snipers, or military working-dog (K9) handlers, with three teams comprising a troop. There are a total of approximately 150 men assigned as SOG operators at any given time. Each SOG commando is a trained paratrooper and/or a combat diver, for infiltrating enemy territory. They will also occasionally use female, intelligence personnel, like Petra Malm, from the SSE for certain, human-intelligence collection tasks, language translation, and interrogation.
SOG members wear distinctive, Multicam, camouflaged uniforms from Crye Precision or Arcteryx instead of M90 field uniforms, and Gentex Ops-Core FAST MT ballistic helmets, just like most U.S. special operations forces. Black, Casio G-Shock wristwatches are also very popular, as seen in unit photographs. All SFL units wear the olive-green, Special Forces beret with a black, embroidered, cap badge, but SOG commandos never wear theirs in pubic, because their identities are classified.
SOG teams are frequently transported by the Special Helicopter Group (SHG), which is also classified, but has been described by a U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman as being “very, very small,” in size, probably no more than five Hkp 16A (UH-60M) Black Hawk helicopters, officially based alongside the 2nd Helicopter Squadron, whose remaining 10 Black Hawks are tasked with combat search-and-rescue, and troop transport, at Linköping/Malmen Air Base, but frequently operating from Karlsborg Air Base, next door to the SOG compound at Karlsborg Fortress.
These UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, painted overall, dark olive-green, are in the basic, “vanilla” configuration, without sophisticated, infrared FLIR sensors for exceptionally-detailed, night flying or targeting, but at least they employ night-vision goggles (NVGs) for a basic degree of nocturnal operations. They’re based at Linköping/Malmen to keep all Swedish Black Hawks in the same location for ease of maintenance and repair, but the handful of SHG aircraft often deploy to Karlsborg as needed for SOG support. One helicopter typically holds two four-man SOG teams, sitting in the open doorways, with room for three more men or extra gear inside the cabin, if necessary.
Currently, the only significant, military threat to the Kingdom of Sweden comes from the Russian Federation’s overly-militarized, Kaliningrad Oblast (Region), wedged directly between Lithuania and Poland. Kaliningrad hosts the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet, with 56 warships and their assigned, naval helicopters, as well as the 561st Naval SpetsNaz (Commando) Regiment at Parusnoye.
The special region is also home for the 16,000 Russian naval and ground troops of a motorized rifle brigade, a motorized rifle regiment, a naval infantry brigade, and two jet fighter bases, equipped with highly-advanced, Su-27SM Flanker-Bs, Su-30SM Flanker-Hs, Su-35S Flanker-E+s, and Su-34 Fullbacks.
Then, there is one air transport base, one artillery brigade, an armament storage base, an attack helicopter squadron, a missile brigade (with long-range, precision-guided, surface-to-surface missiles), an anti-shipping missile unit, an ultra-long-range, radar station, a laser/optical, space-surveillance system, at least three short-range, antiaircraft missile batteries, five long-range, SA-20 missile sites, three very-long-range, SA-21 and SA-23 missile sites, and 10 additional, early-warning radar sites. All of this aggressive, paranoid, military activity in very close proximity to Sweden (just 15 to 20 minutes away by jet fighter, or only six to seven hours by sea) and several NATO nations remains a major point of contention in the troubled region.
Sweden’s very serious concerns are entirely justified. A recent, NATO report confirms that on March 29, 2013, to cite just one example, a pair of Russian Tu-22M Backfire nuclear-capable bombers, escorted by four Su-27PFlanker-B jet fighters, simulated nuclear missile attacks against a Swedish, military facility near Stockholm, and a second facility in southern Sweden, flying within a mere 18 miles of Swedish territory on Gotland Island.
Two Danish F-16AM Fighting Falcons on a Baltic Air Policing patrol actually shadowed them for quite a distance. Then, on October 7, 2014, a pair of NATO fighters (either Canadian CF-188A Hornets or Portuguese F-16AMs, at the time) followed Russian fighters directly above the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea.
These dramatic incidents, as well as the Russian invasions of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in March 2014, served as a huge, wake-up call for the Swedish government, which has vowed to increase its defense spending by 50 percent (from one percent of their GDP to 1.5 percent) by 2025, and is laying the groundwork for a “total- defense” concept to push back any foreign (Russian) invasion. The Swedish Defense Council officially determined in February 2019 that “Russia is preparing for a large-scale war, and the aggressive policy of Moscow threatens Sweden...The objectives provide for the possible, Russian attack on Sweden.”
Tomas Ries, a lecturer at the Department of Security, Strategy, and Leadership at the National Defence College in Stockholm, pointed out that, “It’s obvious that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin dislikes when Finland and Sweden cooperate with NATO...Russia will increasingly use their growing, military capacity...(and) Sweden has always been something of a disguised partner with NATO...It’s probable that Russia will use military action...And if they wanted to do anything against us, we’re in great danger.”
Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia (from 2004 to 2013, including the stunning summer of 2008, when Russia actually invaded Georgia) wrote in March 2019 that, “Whenever Putin’s domestic popularity dips, he either escalates an ongoing conflict, or launches a new offensive...It is not a question of whether he will attack, but where...Russia’s most-likely target in the near future is either Finland or Sweden...By attacking a non-NATO country, Putin does not risk a proportional response in accordance with Article Five...(and) can expect to reap the rewards of public approval at home from voters who are desperate for a victory...Finland and Sweden meet both requirements...This may sound shocking, but Putin has shocked the world many times over. The West cannot afford to be caught off-guard again.”
The Swedish Defense Council determined in 2019 that, in the event of direct, Russian intervention, it will take the Swedish armed forces approximately one week to be fully mobilized, and up to three long months before any willing, allied ground forces from NATO nations would be able to arrive in force to assist in liberating Swedish soil. Meanwhile, the Swedish SOG and other specialized units will have to wage a relentless, guerilla war in order to reclaim their nation, training, advising, and leading various, military and civilian, resistance groups.
Consequently, Swedish SOG teams are armed with advanced, modern weapons to resist and overcome any possible adversary, and they are constantly upgrading their inventory. For example, their previous, H&K MP5A3submachine guns, whose 9x19mm bullets routinely failed to penetrate enemy body armor, have largely been relegated to the police by now, and replaced by the Kpist MP 7 (H&K MP7A2) personal-defense weapon in 4.6x30mm, with high-velocity (2,362 feet per second), armor-piercing ammunition.
Older, Diemaco/Colt Canada C8SFWcarbines in 5.56x45mm NATO, together with their classic, H&K G36Kand G36C Compact carbines, have now been mostly replaced by the LWRCI (Land Warfare Resources Center, International, of Cambridge, Maryland) M6 Individual Carbine, known as the IC-A5 SBR (Short-Barrel Rifle) in 5.56mm, finished in Patriot Brown, with a 12.7-inch, spiral-fluted barrel that reduces weight by 20 percent and improves barrel cooling. These IC-A5 SBRs have been seen with either Aimpoint Micro T2 red-dot sights, or EOTech (probably the EXP S3 model) holographic, red-dot sights, PEQ-15/16 laser-aiming devices, and SureFire flash hiders or suppressors.
Also, the once-standard, excellent, Sako TRG-42 sniper rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum is being replaced by the newer, bolt-action, Sako TRG M10 (Modular, 2010) Sniper Weapon System in Coyote-Brown finish, with interchangeable barrel systems, to fire either 7.62x51mm NATO (.308) ammunition, .300 Winchester Magnum rounds, or .338 Lapua Magnum ammo.
Otherwise, the standard, SOG handgun is the Pistol 88C/C2 (Glock-17) in 9mm, the standard, designated-marksman rifle (DMR) is the Ak 417 (HK417A2) with 16.5-inch barrel, and the standard, light machine gun is the Ksp 90B/C (FN Minimi.) Combat/survival knives are more a matter of personal preference, with the military-grade, Fällkniven (Swedish-designed, but actually manufactured in Seki, Japan) A1BKZ with 6.3-inch, black-Cerakote AH, high-carbon, stainless-steel blade ($232) as the most-likely, highest-quality choice, in military service since 1995. This is universally considered to be one of the very finest, military survival knives in the world.
SOG vehicles have included the Tgb 14/Tgb 15 (Mercedes-Benz MB 270CDI and MB 300CDI 4x4 jeeps), the Tgb 16 “Galten” (South African RG-32 Scout), and since 2016, the French-manufactured, ACMAT/Renault Bastion PATSAS 4x4 tactical reconnaissance vehicle (with turbocharged, Volvo MD5, Swedish engine), all with an available, Ksp 88 (FN M2HB-QCB) heavy machine gun mounted.
Across the full spectrum of military activity, from counterterrorism to special reconnaissance, peacekeeping, direct action, and resisting a possible, Russian invasion, Sweden’s Special Forces and special operations groups remain at the very forefront of national defense, constantly evolving their weapons and capabilities to adapt to modern warfare in an ever-changing, uncertain world.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.