Historically, Finland has been a neutral country. Following the Second World War, Finland became non-aligned, as it sided with neither the United States nor the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
However, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland expressed interest in abandoning its neutrality. On May 18, 2022, Finland applied to join NATO. Turkey initially threatened to veto Finland’s joining NATO; however, after negotiating different security-related issues, Turkey agreed to welcome Finland into NATO. On June 29, 2022, Finland was formally invited into NATO, and on April 4, 2023, the nation formally became the 31st member of the organization. With Finland’s border with Russia stretching 832 miles, doubling NATO’s front, this offers the United States the strategic opportunity to further its interests in Europe.
A nation with mandatory military service embedded in its history and culture, Finland has demonstrated its commitment to bolstering its air defense in recent decades as it has embraced a strategy that complements its rugged geography. The strategy includes prioritizing the denial of air dominance to invaders in recognition that enemies would have to utilize significant amounts of airstrikes and air transport to navigate the heavily wooded Finnish landscape.
Air Defense Capabilities
One facet of Finland’s air defense capabilities is the F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighter. In 1992, the Finnish government first purchased the Hornets, which were then delivered between 1995-2000. Before the acquisition of the Hornets, Finland’s air defense systems were dependent on the dated MiG-21 and Draken interceptors. Since then, the Finnish Air Force has continually upgraded and maintained the Hornets. However, these aircraft are reaching the end of their service lifespan, with the Finnish Air Force planning to decommission 62 Hornets between 2025 and 2030, to be replaced by F-35s. [i]
Between 2012 and 2016, the Hornets underwent upgrades to improve their air defense capabilities. The upgrades consisted of the use of Link 16 datalinks, raising interoperability and system performance, as well as equipping the Hornets with AIM-120 active radar-guided advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAM). In 2015, the Finnish government launched the HX Program to find new air defense capabilities to replace the Hornets. [ii]
The advanced Short Range Air Defence System (ASRAD-R) is the primary ground-based air defense in Finland. In 2002, Finland placed the first order for the ASRAD; between 2004-2008, the deliveries of 16 anti-aircraft systems were completed. A mobile anti-aircraft system made by Rheinmetall and Saab Bofors Dynamics, the ASRAD holds four Robosystem 70 (RBS 70) at ready. The ASRAD is attached to Finnish brigades. [iii]
Finland also uses the RBS 70 Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) as a ground-based short-range air defense system. In 2009, Finland purchased RBS 70 MANPADS, Sentinel radars, and ground-launched AMRAAM missiles to build a more comprehensive air defense architecture, attempting to deny air superiority to any invaders.
Finland maintains a handful of French-built Crotale NG systems, beginning in the 1990s. [iv]
Missile Defense Capabilities
Finland’s missile defense capabilities are provided by the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS). After its initial purchase in 2009, NASAMS became Finland’s primary medium-range missile defense system and has an arsenal of 12 NASAM batteries. [v]
In January 2019, Finland placed an order for an Israeli-made counter-battery radar system made by ELTA Systems, the EL/M-2084 Multi-Mission Radar. [vi] Delivered in 2021, it provides Finnish forces with the capability to locate and track incoming rockets, artillery shells, and mortar fire. [vii]
In October 2020, Finland invited several defense companies to pitch missile defense systems for the country to purchase. In March 2022, Finland announced that it intends to purchase either the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Barak MX or Rafael’s David’s Sling. [viii]
In February 2022, Finland finalized its purchase of 64 F-35s. One major component of the F-35 is its Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), which allows pilots to share their situational awareness data with other F-35s automatically. Moreover, it is equipped with an X-band AN/APG-81 AESA radar, enabling pilots to engage targets at long range. Finland intends to receive its F-35s beginning in 2026. [ix]
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