International Activities Develop Air Force Capability
International co-operation is a part of the daily activities of the Air Force. The objective of co-operation is to share information and expertise with the key actors in the Air Force’s operating environment and to create opportunities for cost-effective training in the service’s main tasks.
The Air Force has sought know-how and ideas outside Finland’s borders throughout its history in many different ways. When the Air Force was established in 1918, air corps were a new military branch everywhere and their development had only begun on a global scale a few years earlier, when World War I started.
It was natural for the young service to seek influences abroad, and maintaining international connections and following the development of air defence elsewhere has remained an important part of the Air Force’s activities all the way to the present.
Multinational training nearly every week
Through international connections, the Air Force gains a grandstand view of the global development of military aviation and an opportunity to practise its operations with the foremost air forces in the world. By participating in multinational training and exercises, the Air Force can adopt the best practices and operating procedures from around the world as a part of its own activities and compare its own capability to the international operating environment.
When Finland joined the European Union and the NATO Partnership for Peace programme in the 1990s, it signalled the start of more active and diverse international co-operation. During the last two decades, the Air Force’s international activities have expanded and developed in step with the Defence Forces’ international co-operation.
One important form of the Air Force’s international activities is participating in multinational air exercises in Finland and in Europe.
Multinational air exercises are typically planned to cater for pilots at a certain stage of flight training. Particular types of training missions offer pilots at the start of their career practice in basic tasks of military flight operations in an international operating environment.
The Air Force participates annually in multinational air exercises in different parts of Europe. Photo: Finnish Air Force / Oskari Tähtinen
The scenarios for missions flown in the more challenging exercises, which include diverse elements in the form of different kinds of air and ground units, provide a very realistic picture of the true course of air operations for the participants. It would be very expensive and challenging to organise such extensive training exercises without international co-operation.
The Air Force mainly participates in multinational exercises with Hornet multi-role fighters, but Hawk jet trainers and CASA C-295M transport aircraft have also been used in exercises on a smaller scale.
In late 2018, a Finnish Air Force Hornet contingent will take part in Red Flag Alaska tactical air combat employment exercise in the United States. Red Flag will be the first air exercise that the Finnish Air Force participates in outside Europe.
Co-operation in the north
Alongside the more extensive training events, the Air Force also carries out training operations with the Swedish and Norwegian Air Forces almost every week. The Cross Border/Over Border (CB/OB) training missions carried out in the countries’ airspace or at their borders are a way of organising cost-effective training that benefits all parties. The detachments participating in the CB/OB missions usually operate from their own home bases, which saves on the logistics costs of the exercise. Typically, aircraft from Finland, Sweden and Norway fly in the missions, but from time to time, participants from the air forces of other countries involved in the co-operation are also included. In addition to multi-role fighters, airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft as well as in-flight refuelling aircraft have also participated in the missions.
The co-operation between Finland, Sweden and Norway also includes the Arctic Challenge Exercise (ACE) that was organised for the first time in 2013 in the northern parts of these countries. In 2017, Finland was in charge of leading the ACE. The ACE, which brought together over 100 aircraft from the defence forces of eleven countries, is one of the largest air exercises of the year in the world.
Since 2015, the Air Force has also participated in bilateral combined missions with the detachments of the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom deployed from the Baltic countries. In the combined training missions the other exercise participant operates from the air bases in the Baltic countries in order to fly sorties in Finnish airspace.
Co-operation between the Finnish and Swedish Air Forces (FISE)
Co-operation between the Finnish and Swedish Air Forces is carried out in accordance with the security and defence policy definitions of the governments of the respective countries. According to the report Final Report of Deepened Defence Cooperation between Finland and Sweden signed by the Ministers of Defence of Finland and Sweden in 2015, the Air Forces of these countries aim to deepen their co-operation in three areas in particular.
These include the interoperability areas of air operations (Air Ops), base operations (Base Ops) and command and control systems (Command and Control).
In the Air Ops area, the goal is to deepen the co-operation between Finland and Sweden in exercises and operational activities. In the Base Ops area, the aim is to create logistics and other preconditions in Finland and Sweden so that the aircraft of one country can be supported by the other country’s air bases.
In the Command and Control area, the aim is to create technical preconditions and joint procedures based on which the Finnish and Swedish Air Forces can share the joint situation picture needed for the decision-making and leadership concerning operations, and to operate using compatible methods. The primary objective of co-operation is to achieve capability to carry out joint air operations.
On a practical level, the co-operation between the Finnish and Swedish Air Forces can be seen, in addition to the weekly Cross Border operations, in air exercises which develop capabilities in accordance with the goals set for FISE co-operation.
As the latest form of co-operation, the countries participate in each other’s air exercises focusing on national defence tasks. In September 2016, the Air Force’s Hornet detachment took part in the Flygvapenövning (FVÖ) 16 exercise of the Swedish Air Force emulating targets for the troops involved in the exercise. In the Ruska 2016 exercise in October, the Swedish Air Force in turn supported the training of Finnish troops with flights emulating the opponent by Gripen multi-role fighters from Kallax air base in Northern Sweden.
In 2017 the combined exercise activities have gained even more depth when the Air Force’s aircraft participated in the Swedish Armed Forces’ main tactical field exercise AURORA 17 as a part of the troops that train in air defence tasks. In turn, the Swedish Air Force visited the Finnish Air Force’s Ruska 2017 air exercise, playing a similar role.
Among other things, the co-operation between the Finnish and the Swedish Air Forces includes ensuring the ground support services for the aircraft at the other country’s bases. In the image, a Finnish aircraft maintenance officer instructs a Swedish colleague in the line maintenance of a Hornet. Photo: Finnish Air Force
Many forms of international activities
In addition to exercises, the Air Force’s international activities also take many other forms. Since 2010, the Air Force has been capable of providing a detachment of four Hornet multi-role fighters and 250 airmen to the pool of forces available for international military crisis management operations. The Finnish Government makes the decisions on participating in the pool and the availability of the detachment for operations. The Finnish Rapid Deployment Force Fighter Squadron has been entered in the NATO Response Force (NRF) Response Forces Pool (RFP) to be held in readiness for possible deployment in 2018.
The Air Force is also involved in Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) co-operation in which Finland and the countries in the neighbouring areas exchange information on the air situation.
In addition to this, Air Force personnel regularly attend flight test courses and General Staff Officer Courses as well as take part in flight instructor exchange programmes in the partner countries. For the years 2016–2019, the Air Force has agreed upon a flight instructor exchange with the United States Marine Corps. In the exchange, a Finnish Air Force’s Hornet flight instructor serves in the United States Marine Corps, and correspondingly a Marine Corps’ pilot carries out flight instructor duties in Finland for three years.
The Air Force has hosted several bilateral squadron-level visits in which a foreign detachment comes to Finland for a period of time for co-operation in training and exercises. The Air Force also carries out international co-operation in arranging in-flight refuelling training for its pilots.
Air Force personnel serve in crisis management operations as well in multinational projects, such as the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) programme producing strategic air transport capability for the 12 member states.
The training of the Air Force personnel and the compatibility of the materiel with a multinational operating environment form the basis of the international activities. In 2004, the Air Force started using English as the language of tactical flight training; English is the language used worldwide in military aviation. In flight operations, the metric units of measurement were changed to imperial units, which are more common in international aviation.
The mid-life upgrades MLU 1 and MLU 2 of the Hornet multi-role fighters, implemented in 2010–2016, also bolster the capability to participate in international operations. In connection with the upgrades, the radio and data link systems of the aircraft were updated so that they enable operation as a part of multinational exercise detachments as well as ferry flights in international airspace.