US bombers fly over Sweden as Nato gets to know its new borders

Arctic drills simulate an attack on Nato's new territory in Sweden and Finland

An American B-1B Lancer and B-52H Stratofortress, escorted by Swedish Gripen fighter aircraft, fly over Stockholm. AFP
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Two US warplanes flew over Sweden’s capital on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with Nato’s soon-to-be newest member, as allied troops get a feel for their new borders in drills in the freezing Arctic.

The two strategic bombers, a B-1B Lancer and a B-52H Stratofortress, staged the flyover after Hungary provided the final necessary signature for Sweden to join the transatlantic security alliance.

With Finland joining last year, Nato will now encompass all of Europe’s far north, and the Arctic war games have been widened from Norway to simulate an attack on the whole region.

More than 20,000 troops, 100 fighter jets and 50 warships as well as tanks, submarines, helicopters and surveillance aircraft are taking part in the 12-day Nordic Response drills.

The manoeuvres are a chance to “sand off any corners that might exist when we bring some forces together for the first time”, Maj Gen Robert Sofge, who commands US Marines in Europe and Africa, said on Wednesday.

“Nato was strong before, and it’s stronger now. It’s better,” he said.

“Those are professional militaries, professional people and greatly skilled in the craft of fighting in the high north. There’s more people, there’s more opportunity.”

Nato exercises in Europe – in pictures

Sweden and Finland applied to join Nato after Russia’s attack on Ukraine sent shockwaves through Europe.

Finland became the 31st Nato member last year. Sweden is poised to become the 32nd “in the coming days”, western officials say, after Hungary ended more than a year of foot-dragging.

Two Swedish Gripen warplanes flew in formation with the US bombers over Stockholm, after Sweden struck a deal for Hungary to buy four of the fighter jets.

As well as the fleet of Gripens, Sweden brings resources such as submarines tailored to Baltic Sea conditions.

In the high north, the Nato drills began with an imaginary attack on the Arctic tundra.

This would trigger Article 5 of Nato’s founding treaty, in which members pledge to come to each other’s aid.

Nato was shaken last month by a threat from Donald Trump that he would ignore Article 5 if allies do not pay more for defence, a prime grievance for the presumptive US Republican nominee.

About 2,500 US Marines are involved in this month’s drills, with Maj Gen Sofge playing down fears of an American pivot away from Nato.

“Right now, there are more marines in Europe than there have been in almost anyone’s memory,” he said.

“The marines are forward and ready and we’ll go where we’re needed.”

Parts of the exercise will be only 500km from the Russian border. Moscow says it considers the exercise “provocative” and is bolstering its defences.

Nordic Response is part of a wider set of Nato war games known as Steadfast Defender 2024, the largest the alliance has held since the Cold War as it beefs up its defences against Russia.

Poland, which has been at the heart of military aid to Ukraine, is leading an exercise called Dragon 24 involving US, British and French troops.

Finland’s accession more than doubled the length of Nato’s land border with Russia. Western diplomats call this a strategic blunder by the Kremlin, which had wanted to curb Nato enlargement.

Sweden and Finland’s applications were held up for months by Turkey, which demanded they take a tougher line on Kurdish militants. Hungary’s reservations were less specific but related to criticism by Swedish officials.

The final stage is for Sweden to file an instrument of accession with the US government, which looks after the Nato treaty.

Updated: March 06, 2024, 1:55 PM