Analysis: Finland’s War Games Take to the Skies

Swedish aircraft join the Finnish air force to defend Finland's airspace against an unnamed enemy.

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Finnish F/A-18C and Swedish JAS 39C / Credit: Ilmavoimat

By Petri Mäkelä

The Finnish Air Force, Ilmavoimat, is holding its largest exercise of the year, Ruska 17, alongside Swedish air assets this week. The exercise was announced more than a year ago.

The exercise focuses on training an integrated air-defense force to fight against an unnamed peer-level adversary. It involves everything from base security and logistics to advanced command centers and fighter jets.

Ruska 17 includes roughly 5100 conscripts, reservists and professional soldiers, 30 Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornet fighters, 14 BAE Hawk trainers, CASA C-295M transports, Pilatus PC-12NG and Learjet 35 A/S liaison aircraft from the Finnish Air Force. Additionally the Finnish army will provide some troops and an unspecified number of NH-90 helicopters.

Most Finnish Airforce personnel don’t actually fly / Credit: Ilmavoimat

The Swedish Air Force is participating in the annual RUSKA-series of exercises for the second time. In 2016 Swedes operated as an aggressor unit and the two air forces fought each other over the skies of Finland.

This year, for the very first time, Sweden’s Flygvapnet joins the Finnish Ilmavoimat and both are training together to defend Finnish airspace against a hostile air force. In September, the Finnish air force, together with the army and navy, participated in Sweden’s Aurora17 exercise.

The Swedish Air Force brings its Saab JAS 39C Gripens to the fight. While the Gripen is an extremely capable aircraft and the sheer number of the fighters Sweden can provide will allow a much wider fighter coverage than what would be possible with only the 64 Finnish Hornets, the real force multiplier that Sweden brings to the table is the Saab 340B AEW&C Aircraft.

Saab 340B with erieye radar / Credit: Saab

The Saab 340B and its Erieye AESA radar can provide information about enemy movements more than 400 km away. The enhanced situational awareness gives a defending air force significantly more time to scramble and position it’s fighters for an intercept. The Erieye is a capability that Finland desperately needs, but can’t afford to buy in the foreseeable future.

Both the Finnish and Swedish aircraft are operating during the exercise from dispersed airfields and at least one road base. The Vieremä road base was established during the Baana 17 exercise last week.

This dispersed fighting style has been a trademark of the Ilmavoimat since the 1930’s and the Flygvapnet has also employed it extensively. Operating so close to a hostile force, that has the ability to attack the air bases with cruise and ballistic missiles it’s imperative to use all available means to enhance the survivability of the combat aircraft and the vital support systems.

The Finnish Air Force has also just sent a request for information (RFI) to seven nations regarding the weapon systems for the successor of the F/A-18 Hornet. At the moment it seems that the competition for the new fighter is on schedule and the air defense of Finland will continue to improve in the future.

Petri Mäkelä is a writer and analyst from Finland who follows security and foreign policy issues. News Now Finland presents text from subject-area experts as solely the opinions of their authors. They do not necessarily represent the views or editorial policy of News Now Finland.