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Finland invited to join Air Force exercises in US

The Finnish Air Force is considering an invitation to send Hornet fighter jets to take part in military exercises in the western United States. The news comes amid an ongoing controversy over whether Finland should participate in US-led exercises over Estonia this spring.

Finland has just over 60 Hornet F-18 aircraft. Image: Lassi Tolvanen / Yle

The Finnish Air Force has been invited to join so-called Red Flag exercises, which the US Air Force bills as its “premier air-to-air combat training exercise” giving  “pilots the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment”. This year’s four Red Flag events take place between now and late August in Nevada and Alaska.

“Red Flag may be the most demanding of all international exercises,” says Col. Jari Mikkonen, planning chief at the Finnish Air Force. “If we join in, we’ll want to gain experience in a challenging exercise environment and to test our own abilities.”

Planes from neighbouring Sweden – which like Finland is a NATO partner but not a NATO member – have taken part in Red Flag war games. So far the Finnish Air Force has only sent observers, which is in the plans for this year as well. No decision has yet been made as to whether to send Finnish Hornet jets, but it is being considered.

"Possible later in this decade"

“I’d say it may be possible later in this decade. It’s largely based on resources,” Mikkonen tells Yle. A total of six planes would probably be sent, he adds.

So far Finnish participation has been held back by the cost. Transferring fighter jets such a long distance would require expensive in-air refuelling, for instance.

“Our most distant international exercises so far have been in the Netherlands and Iceland,” Mikkonen notes. Finland has around 60 American-made Hornet F-18 planes.

The issue may come up on Wednesday morning when the Parliamentary Defence Committee discusses the Air Force’s international operations for this year. Defence Minister Carl Haglund is expected to explain last week’s confusion over the Estonian exercises.

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