Finland’s first F-35s will be based up north
The announcement to base the first F-35 multirole aircraft up north was made by the Finnish Air Force on Friday.
“The Air Force’s F-35 fleet will be commissioned first to the Lapland Air Force in Rovaniemi in 2026,” Air Force Commander Brigadier General Juha-Pekka Keränen said.
Olemme valmiit! Ilmavoimien F-35-kalusto otetaan käyttöön ensimmäisenä Lapin lennostossa Rovaniemellä vuonna 2026. Ilmavoimien komentajana 1.6. aloittava prikaatikenraali Juha-Pekka Keränen kertoi asiasta tänään vaihtokatselmuksessa Tikkakoskella. #ilmavoimat #laplsto #f35 pic.twitter.com/9u3UIwILjP— Lapin lennosto (@Laplsto) May 27, 2022
The airbase is located on the Arctic Circle, seven kilometers north of Rovaniemi City Centre, and is Finland’s northernmost base with fighter jets.
It was last December Finland announced it had chosen to buy 64 of the F-35 to replace the current fleet of F/A-18 Hornets. The first F-35s will arrive at Rovaniemi in 2026 and all 64, including those to be based further south in Finland, will be in operation by 2030.
With Finland’s decision to join NATO, the cross-border strength of the Alliance’s fleet of F-35s in northernmost Europe will be significant. Norway, which already has received 34 of 52 aircraft, has its main airbase at Ørlandet in the south, but a few of the planes are on so-called Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) for NATO at Evenes airbase north of the Arctic Circle.
On Thursday this week, two F-35s were scrambled from Evenes to meet two Russian military aircraft over the Barents Sea north of Finnmark region. The planes, a MiG-31 and a Su-24, did not violate Norwegian airspace.
F-35 identified two Russian aircraft north of Finnmark today. CRC Sørreisa reported the aircraft, and NATO ordered our F-35s on their wings. The Russian aircraft flew to the Norwegian Sea before returning east. F-35 is on permanent readiness for Norway and #NATO. #WeAreNATO #f35 pic.twitter.com/W41icYnhVK— Royal Norwegian Air Force (@Luftforsvaret) May 26, 2022
If NATO will deploy some of the Rovaniemi-based F-35s on QRA, the flying time north to meet Russian military planes flying west of the Kola Peninsula will be shorter than flying from the Evenes airbase in Norway. However, as part of Norway’s reassurance policy towards Russia, other NATO allies have so far not been allowed to use the airspace over the eastern part of Finnmark when flying missions to monitor Russian activities.
A flight from Rovaniemi to the Barents Sea will for a short minute or two have to cross over Norwegian airspace. Most likely, Norway will continue to facilitate for NATO’s QRA over northern waters, while Finland from 2026 will guard NATO’s new 1,340 kilometers long land-border with Russia.
Finland decided to apply for NATO membership on May 17 as a direct consequence of Russia’s brutal unprovoked military attack on Ukraine. On Friday, Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen announced the decision that Finland will invite partner countries for more military training, especially this summer.
“The main goal of the complementary training and exercise activities with close partners is to strengthen Finland’s defense capabilities and, with the presence of the troops, to show concrete support to Finland,” Kaikkonen said in a statement.
Extra training includes the air force, and will partly be arranged as cross-border operations into neighboring countries’ territories, like Sweden and Norway.
Complementary activities will improve Finland’s capacity to join NATO, the statement reads.