The Post-War Finnish Air Force from 1944 to the present

The Period of Reconstruction – 1945-1960

With the end of the war, the operations of the Finnish Air Force were cut back drastically, and the service did not start to recover in full until the latter half of the 1950s. The end of the Continuation War almost brought the Finnish Air Force to a complete halt. The prohibition of all combat types from flying duties came into effect from the truce between Finland and the Soviet Union during 1944 to August 1945. Further restrictions imposed by the Allied Control Commission brought flight training to a complete standstill.

Valmet Vihuri (VH-18) Keski-Suomen ilmailumuseo.
Valmet Vihuri (VH-18) Keski-Suomen ilmailumuseo.

The domestic made Valmet Vihuri advanced trainer helped the Finnish Air Force to make it through the difficult post-war years. The aircraft was built making use of war surplus materials to the maximum extent.

The peace also implied material cutbacks and changes in the service’s doctrine and structure.

The Paris Peace Treaty signed in 1947 established that the number of Finnish Air Force combat aircraft should not exceed 60 and the number of airmen was set at a maximum of 3,000. The Treaty also prohibited aircraft capable of carrying internal bomb loads. In addition, missiles and nuclear weapons were also prohibited.

Count von Rosen’s swastika was replaced by the blue and white roundel still used today as the national insignia on Finnish military aircraft.

The restrictions led to a considerable reduction of the aircraft fleet from its wartime strength and the retirement of large numbers of Finnish Air Force personnel.

The majority of the bombers and older fighters were scrapped. About a hundred war-weary Messerschmitts remained the mainstay of the fleet.

In 1952, the Air Force underwent an organizational reform. The four flight regiments set up at the end of 1944 were superseded by three wings based at Luonetjärvi, Tikkakoski, in Central Finland, Pori on the west coast of Finland and Utti in the south east. The main mission of these units, later named the Häme, Satakunta and Karelia Wings, respectively included counter air operations, flight training and reconnaissance. In the years after the wars, international military aviation developed rapidly. Piston engine propeller driven aircraft gave way to high-performance jet fighters.

The post-war years had been meagre, and it was not until the late 1950s that the Finnish Air Force was in a position to embark on new capability boosting projects.

The Vihuri advanced trainer designed and built by the Government Aircraft Factory for service entry in 1951 was an important milestone on the road to the modernization of the service. The aircraft brought a welcome relief to the aircraft shortage keeping Pilots current in flying training hours until the end of the decade.

De Havilland Vampire VA-2 Ilmailumuseo.
De Havilland Vampire VA-2 Ilmailumuseo.
De Havilland Vampire VA-2 and VT-9 Ilmailumuseo.
De Havilland Vampire VA-2 and VT-9 Ilmailumuseo.

The de Havilland Vampire (The FB.52 and T.55 above) inaugured the jet era in the Finnish Air Force.

In 1954, the Air Force got its first jet when it purchased de Havilland Vampires from Great Britain. In 1957, the Vampire was followed by higher performance Folland Gnats from the same country.

Folland Gnat Mk.1 (GN-101) Keski-Suomen ilmailumuseo.
Folland Gnat Mk.1 (GN-101) Keski-Suomen ilmailumuseo.

The Folland Gnat was the most capable asset of the Finnish Air Force in the beginning of the jet age. By the standards of the 1950s, it was a rather high performance jet fighter but could not fully meet the challenges of the decade to come.

The year 1958 also saw the purchase of two other aircraft that turned out to be very good deals indeed. The Swedish Saab Safir trainers and French Fouga CM170 Magister jet trainers served well into the 1980s. They provided a good platform for basic and advanced flying training, which in turn facilitated conversion for even higher performance fighters in the coming decades.

That same year, the Bristol Blenheim bomber, the last aircraft having served in the war, was retired from service.

The 1950s saw the first steps in the building of a modern, nationwide air surveillance radar network and that of underground air defense sector operations centre.

Supersonic era (1960s)

At the turn of the 1960s, the rapid development of aviation technology posed increasing demands on Finland’s air defense.

At the beginning of the decade, the Finnish Air Force could respond to new air threats by limited means only. The Ilmavoimat’s twelve Folland Gnats were capable of only subsonic speed in level flight with a service ceiling of 12 kilometers were the Finns best performing aircraft. The surveillance and command and control systems did not fully meet the standards of the time, their limited range finding capabilities combined with the few Folland Gnats on strength restricted the Ilmavoimat’s ability to put up an effective air defence in the rapidly changing environment of the Cold War era.

The situation improved in 1962 when MiG-21F interceptors were acquired from the Soviet Union. They were allocated to the Karelia Wing that had relocated from Utti to Rissala in Eastern Finland and to the Häme Wing operating from Luonetjärvi.

The MiG, with the maximum speed of Mach 2 and a service ceiling of almost 20 kilometers, was, at the time of its acquisition was a modern fighter with excellent flight characteristics. Its engagement capability was considerably enhanced by the heat-seeking K-13 air-to-air missile included in the aircraft’s weapons suite pursuant to a modification negotiated to the Paris Peace Treaty.

Suomen Ilmavoimat MiG 21F.
Suomen Ilmavoimat MiG 21F.

In addition to counter air operations, the Air Force’s command and control, surveillance and air base systems were developed considerably. The air defense radar network had been built to cover the entire country as early as the 1950s, but the long-range radar system acquired in the following decade expanded its surveillance capability considerably.

Furthermore, during the 1960s, air defense sector operations centres were built adjacent to the three combat wings. Forest dispersals, new road infrastructures and supply facilities were also developed in the event that the country maybe invaded by a foreign power.

New units established during the decade included the Transport Squadron in Utti which was separate from the Karelia Wing, and the Air Force Technical School was upgraded to an independent training unit but remained collocated with the Air Force Academy at Kauhava.

The Air Force Signal Battalion moved from the city Hämeenlinna in southern Finland to Luonetjärvi and was renamed the Air Force Signal School. The Test Pilot’s School, which had its roots at Härmälä near the city of Tampere in southern finland before the wars, relocated some 70 kilometres northwest to the Halli airfield in the municipality of Kuorevesi.

To supplement the MiGs, two other completely new aircraft types were introduced into service. The first were SM-1 helicopters manufactured in Poland which served for four years. The second type, the Ilyushin Il-28 jet bomber was purchased from the Soviet Union for target towing and surveillance.


Ilyushin-28 Target Towing Aircraft.
Ilyushin-28 Target Towing Aircraft.

All weather intercept capability attained (1970s)

The 1970s have been characterized as the era when the Finnish Air Force finally achieved modern standards as far as its aircraft and operations were concerned.

Aircraft acquisitions made up a key contribution to the development of the capability of the Finnish Air Force during the 1970s. In 1973, the service took an important step towards achieving an all-weather intercept capability as the first Swedish Saab Drakens were introduced into service.

In comparison with previous aircraft, the new key features of the Draken included a radar and semi-active radar guided missiles, so this was the first time that intercepts could be conducted in any weather and lighting conditions.

Another novel feature was a forward-aspect missile shot capability instead of firing from the rear sector, which had previously been the only shooting option available.

With the arrival of the Drakens, the coverage of air defense expanded markedly. Earlier, the Air Force’s fighter aircraft had been based mainly in Southern Finland, but now, the Häme Wing, which had upgraded from Gnats to Drakens, was relocated to a new main base at Rovaniemi in Northern Finland. The unit was subsequently renamed the Lapland Wing.

Saab Draken DK-213.
Saab Draken DK-213.

The all-weather intercept capability was further upgraded through a program launched in 1978 to purchase an improved radar-equipped version of the MiG-21. The new MiG-21bis aircraft were allocated to the Karelia Wing at Rissala to replace its existing Soviet-built fighters.

To supplement aircraft acquisitions, the air defense capability was also boosted by a domestic project to develop new low level surveillance radars and by the purchase of the first surface-to-air missiles for the Army.

In addition to the relocation of the Häme Wing, the organizational changes within the Air Force during the 1970s included the transfer of the Technical School from Kauhava to Halli, Kuorevesi. The Air Force Headquarters moved from Helsinki to underground facilities at Luonetjärvi in 1973.

The 1970s also saw the launch of the construction of a new base at Pirkkala near the city of Tampere for the Satakunta Wing that was still operating from Pori.

MiG 21bis
MiG 21bis

A project to replace the trainers purchased in the 1950s by aircraft that would enable effective conversion to the new fighters was also launched in the same decade. The development of the indigenous domestic Valmet Vinka primary trainer (the so-called Leko-70 project) was launched as was the acquisition of a jet trainer to replace the Fouga Magister. The BAE Systems Hawk was chosen to supersede the aging Fouga CM 170 Magisters after a thorough evaluation of several shortlisted candidates. All aircraft purchases made since then have involved the very same evaluation process.


Improving key capabilities (1980–1995)

In the 1980s, the Air Force improved its capabilities considerably: More modern fighter aircraft were acquired and replacements of other types of aircraft were carried out. At the turn of the decade, the service started preparations for the acquisition of a new air defense fighter.

The 1980s started out with the aquisition of new aircraft when the Satakunta Wing received its first BAE Systems Hawk jet trainers in 1980. The Hawk turned out to be a good tool for demanding fighter lead-in training offering vastly improved capabilities and being up to the standards in terms of performance.

Midnight Hawks BAe Hawk.
Midnight Hawks BAe Hawk.

In the early 1980s, liaison, transport and target towing aircraft were renewed. New aircraft entering service during this period included the Fokker F27, Learjet 35A/S and Piper Chieftain. Each of them were to have decades of service ahead of them, which proved that the acquisitions had been a success.

The renewed 1980s aircraft fleet included, among other types, Gates Learjet 35 A/Ss purchased in 1982 for target towing and aerial photography purposes.
The renewed 1980s aircraft fleet included, among other types, Gates Learjet 35 A/Ss purchased in 1982 for target towing and aerial photography purposes.

Up until the 1980s, the fighter aircraft of the Air Force were based in the Karelia Wing with its MiG-21s and the Lapland Wing flying Drakens. The main equipment of the Satakunta Wing comprised Fouga jet trainers and later Hawks.

In 1985, the Satakunta Wing moved from Pori to Pirkkala and was equipped with new Drakens. MiG-21bis purchases were pursued in parallel to replace the obsolescent MiG-21Fs operated by the Karelia Wing and the Reconnaissance Squadron at Luonetjärvi.

During the 1980s and 1990s all aspects of air defense were developed including fighter tactics as well as command and control and surveillance systems. The fighter fleet also underwent modification programs to maintain and upgrade its capability and extend its estimated service life till the turn of the millennium.

The 1990s saw the bolstering of the liaison aircraft fleet by the purchase of Valmet Redigos, so far the last Finnish manufactured and designed military aircraft. The Hawk fleet was also increased in numbers through the purchase of an attrition replacement batch in 1993.

At the end of the 1980s, measures were started to find a replacement for the Draken and MiG that were already aging and being left behind by aircraft acquisitions from neighbouring Scandinavian countries and Russia.

The candidates for a new air defense fighter were the French Mirage 2000-5, Swedish Saab 39 Gripen, the American Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornet, and the Soviet Mikoyan & Gurevich MiG-29. The first four were shortlisted for a thorough evaluation with flight testing taking place at Kuorevesi in the winter 1992.

In May 1992, the F-18 was declared the winner. As with the purchases of the Fouga, Draken and Hawk, the terms of the contract stipulated that the majority of the assembly work of the aircraft was to be done in Finland.

Fifty-seven single-seat F-18Cs were assembled in Finland and seven two-seat F-18Ds in the United States. The training of personnel to operate and maintain the new type started in 1994 when an initial batch of trainees were dispatched to the United States.

The era of Hornet (1995–)

The acquisition of the F-18 Hornet marked the beginning of a new era in the Finnish Air Force. A modern and efficient multi-role fighter fleet has since laid a solid foundation for the development of the air defense of Finland.

HN-432 Finnish AF Boeing F-18C Hornet of HäLLv 21.
HN-432 Finnish AF Boeing F-18C Hornet of HäLLv 21.

The Hornets have been in service with the Finnish Air Force since mid-nineties.

The Finnish Air Force received its first Hornets, six F-18Ds which were ferried from the United States to Pirkkala, in November 1995. The following year, the first F-18C rolled off the Patria Finavitec’s production line. The entire series was completed in 2000, and that same year, each of the three Air Commands were equipped with the new fighter.

The shift to the F-18 that was more modern than the Saab Draken and MiG-21 by several fighter generations marked a quantum leap for the Air Force.

Some of the key features of the new aircraft included a modern pulse doppler radar and efficient AMRAAM radar guided missiles. They helped improve a pilot’s situational awareness and extended the range of the counter air capability markedly.

The F-18’s digital systems also ease the pilot’s workload considerably and enable versatile upgradability. Further, the aircraft could easily be integrated into the advanced domestic air defense command and control system introduced in the 1990s.

To the Finnish Air Force, the era of the Hornet has also marked the intensification of international cooperation.

After Finland had joined the European Union and the NATO Partnership for Peace program, the service has taken part in combined flight exercises in Finland and abroad since 2000.

International contacts afford the service a birds-eye view on the global development of military aviation and an opportunity to assimilate practices and procedures proven good abroad as part of its own operations.

What is more, in accordance with the obligation laid down in the Government Security and Defense Policy Report 2004, the Air Force established an expeditionary unit that it then submitted to a NATO evaluation program with outstanding results.

Since 2010, the service has had the capability of deploying a detachment of six F-18s and 250 airmen to military crisis management operations. These operations would, however, require an approval by the Government and the activation of unit.

After completing the F-18 acquisition program the Air Force replaced its supporting air operations fleet during the 2000s. Starting in 2007, CASA C-295M transports were purchased to replace the Dutch Fokker F.27s, and in 2010 Swiss Pilatus PC-12NGs began to enter service succeeding the Piper Chieftains and Valmet Redigos in the light transport and liaison roles.

CASA C-295.
CASA C-295.

From 2011 onward, pre-owned BAE Systems Hawk 66s purchased from the Swiss Air Force have been entering service. They will replace the legacy Hawks with the highest number of flight hours. All Hawks earmarked to remain in service are expected to undergo a cockpit modernization.

The aqcuisition of the F-18 was undeniably the biggest tranformation for the Finnish Air Force in the 1990s affecting every aspect of operations in the service, but also other minor changes were carried out. In mid-90s, Defense Forces’ helicopter operations were transferred from the Air Force to the Utti Jaeger Regiment and organized under the umbrella of the Army Aviation.

The Transport Squadron that had operated in Utti was transferred to Luonetjärvi in 1997 where it currently is operates as the Supporting Air Operations Squadron.

In the first decade of the new millennium, the training system of the Air Force was reorganized. The year 2005 saw the outsourcing of basic flight training provided with the Vinka to the Patria defense industrial concern which has, under various names, been involved in the maintenance, repair and assembly of aircraft since the early days of the Air Force.

To serve this cooperation, the Vinka fleet was relocated from Kauhava to Luonetjärvi.

In this conjunction, the Hawk fleet formerly distributed to the Air Commands was consolidated to Kauhava where all service pilots receive their advanced and tactical flight training.

At the same time, the Air Force Academy in Kauhava was renamed the Training Air Wing. The C3 Systems School in Tikkakoski, in turn, was redesignated the Air Force Academy.

Development of capability continues

The Finnish Air Force has strived to develop its capabilities throughout its entire history. At the very moment, the service is working on a number of projects to safeguard the strike capability of Finland’s air defense well into the future.

On 7 December 2004 the Finnish Air Force announced that their F-18C/D aircraft will be modified to improve their ground attack capability. The modifications will include upgrades to radars, avionics and sensors, and a number of advanced weapons (such as JDAM, JSOW, SLAM-ER, and AARGM) will be tried out. Additionally the FAF has obtained 250 AIM-9X and 300 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM missiles.

In December 2007 it was announced that the FAF had purchased ten AN/AAQ-28 LITENING AT Block II pods, which were to be integrated with its F-18s.

In April 2009, it was announced that the air force was considering both the AGM-158 JASSM and the Taurus missile for the aircraft. In March 2012, the Finnish Defense Forces placed an order valued at 178.5 million Euros for an unspecified number of AGM-158C missiles and the requisite software upgrades, training missiles and documentation for their F-18s.

Some 11 AGM-158C missiles with unitary warheads and 96 JDAM kits have so far been purchased.

The projects known as Mid-Life Upgrade 1 and 2 serve to boost the aircraft’s air combat capability and improve situational awareness.

By 2016, the air to surface capability will be integrated into the Finnish F-18 which was originally designed as a multirole fighter. This is how the Air Force will prepare itself, in addition to carrying out its main task counter air operations, to support its and the other services’ combat relying on a new stand-off weapon system.

This article was courtesy of the official Suomen Ilmavoimat website.






One thought on “The Post-War Finnish Air Force from 1944 to the present”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s