When the Finnish ministry of defence, at the end of last year, announced that it had settled on a replacement model for its ageing fleet of warplanes, the choice should have caught few off guard. If the four manufacturers being considered all had an equal chance when the vetting process began in 2015, it was the F-35 (pictured above flying alongside a Russian bomber), a mostly-American production, that had distanced itself in recent years.
In part this was due to the F-35’s performance and the €8.4 billion cost of the 64 jets, associated weapons and a service agreement that made it the overall lowest-price option. A slew of reciprocal contracts for Finland’s defence industry allows decision makers in Helsinki to tout the choice as a win for the Finnish economy as well. And, indeed, this was one of the main reasons why a Swedish-built jet that had been a close contender was ultimately not selected.
Just as important for the choice of the F-35, though, was the steady increase in the number of other countries that have settled on the F-35 since it entered into service in 2015 as a “fifth-generation” fighter that is to replace today’s fighter jets, most of which were developed in the 1990s. To date, the F-35 has been adopted in 15 countries, including Denmark and Norway, two of Finland’s allies in Nordefco, a Nordic military alliance (Iceland though also member of the alliance, does not have an air force of its own, but it relies on allies who will be flying the F-35 to patrol its air space).
Finland’s F-35s are not due to enter service until 2027. By then, even more countries — including members of Nato — can be expected to be using it. Finland, which is not a member of the military alliance, has said that its choice of the F-35 is based on practical considerations and that it does not indicate an inclination to join Nato. Likewise, the length of time it has taken to select the jet and the delivery date show they are long-term consideration that is not a reaction to the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine.
Still, Finland — which is also a member of the EU and its budding military partnership — clearly leans to the west, and it co-operates closely with Nato members. Fielding what is fast becoming the Nato jet, and one that will probably in use until 2060 or beyond, means Helsinki sees a need to be aligned with the alliance for at least this generation.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
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