TROLLHATTAN, Sweden – Aurora 2017 was a Swedish exercise designed to increase the national and joint military capabilities necessary to protect their homeland. The exercise, the largest for Sweden in 23 years, included over 19,000 Swedish personnel along with an estimated 1500 personnel from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway and the United States. Not only was it the largest exercise for Sweden in 23 years but it was also the first time in 20 years that Sweden’s parliament exercised its wartime powers.
“Aurora is the largest exercise in 23 years, in which the army, air force and navy is participating in a joint exercise. The exercise sends an important signal about our security policy,” said Swedish Minister for Defense Peter Hultqvist. “It raises the deterrent threshold against different types of incidents and provides important data for evaluation of our military capabilities.”
U.S. Special Operations Command Europe contributed personnel as well as special operations aircraft in support of the exercise.
“Any opportunity to train with a joint partner, in another country or region of the globe, in in valuable,” said Lt. Col. John Leachman, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces mission commander. “Swedish SOF enhance our own training by providing our aircrews with professional and highly capable users which gives us realistic tasks and challenging scenarios.”
In addition to the direct benefits that multinational training provides, the exercise also served as a way to strengthen the strategic partnerships between the U.S., NATO allies and partners, and the Nordic countries in particular. The ability to work alongside foreign militaries is not a simple task and one that exercises such as Aurora helps build into the capabilities of those participating.
“Anytime you work in another country the way they operate is completely different,” said a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces C-130 Hercules crewman. “We operate with different militaries from around the world so training in a different country gives you the real-world experience but in a safer setting.”
The special operations forces participating in the exercise not only helped the Swedish military by enabling them to train against a capable opponent but also gave the U.S. air crews a unique challenge.
“In terms of flying, the weather is very unique here,” said a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces CV-22 Osprey pilot during the exercise. “The forecast on one airfield does not necessarily translate to the surrounding areas. Unlike what we are used to where if you have a forecast of the cloud height it is generally widespread without much variation. Here in Sweden, it can have a large variance over the area we are flying.”
The training during the exercise will undoubtedly prove to be valuable to those involved, however, Sweden itself left its mark on the Soldiers participating.
“Sweden is a beautiful country, full of friendly people and wonderful places,” said Leachman. “The food, countryside, and hospitality have been incredible.”