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Nato jets over Finnish Lapland as Rovaniemi hosts major military exercise

Trident Juncture, Nato’s biggest military exercise since the Cold War, is partly based in Finnish Lapland.

Naton tankkauskone Rovaniemen lentokentällä.
A Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refuelling aircraft in Rovaniemi. Image: Annu Passoja / Yle

The Lapland Air Command, based in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, is taking part in massive international war games this week.

“Finnish Air Force fighter jets have participated in international exercises ever since the turn of the millennium. This exercise only differs in that it also includes a large number of ground and naval forces. The actual operations in the air do not really differ at all from the major annual exercises,” says the commander of the Lapland Air Command, Col. Antti Koskela.

Nato’s biggest exercise in decades includes about 50,000 troops from all 29 of the alliance's member states as well as Partnership for Peace members Finland and Sweden. The war games involve defence against an imagined attack on Norway, with which the two non-Nato participants share long borders.

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Lapin lennoston komentaja, eversti Antti Koskela
Col. Antti Koskela Image: Annu Passoja / Yle

“Since this kind of exercise is being arranged in northern Europe, it is to Finland’s advantage to take part and see how Nato operates in a crisis situation. It is also to Nato’s advantage to see how militarily non-aligned countries Finland and Sweden operate,” Koskela tells Yle.

Millions of litres of kerosene

The Lapland Air Command is serving as base for a Nato exercise for the first time. Taking off from its airfield will be Finnish Hornets as well as US and Belgian fighter jets and aerial refuelling planes. The base is hosting nearly 400 foreign troops, under the host nation support agreements which Finland and Sweden signed with Nato four years ago.

“Host nation support entails many different types of actions, starting with providing accommodation and food for the service members and fuel for the aerial refuelling planes. We’re reimbursed for some of these under the agreement, while other services are provided free of charge,” the commander explains.

Amid freezing weather in Lapland, the Finnish hosts have had to consider how to ensure sufficient space in heated halls and how to efficiently supply millions of litres of kerosene to the US air-to-air refuelling planes. Hundreds of thousands of litres of aviation fuel is being transported daily for the exercise.

Valuable cold-weather experience

US Air Force Col. Brian Montgomery praised the Finnish hosts for their arrangements and particularly for their know-how in operating in cold conditions. He said such a northerly exercise provides valuable experience for forces from countries such as Greece and Italy.

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eversti Brian Montgomery Yhdysvaltain ilmavoimista
Col. Brian Montgomery Image: Annu Passoja / Yle

“The personnel is one thing – we can give them coats and hats – but it’s important to see how equipment operates in these kinds of conditions. If we have to work together, we also have to get our equipment to withstand the cold, not just for a day or two, but for however long the situation requires,” he said.

Montgomery said that operating in a non-Nato country requires more paperwork and a different approach to preparations.

“The biggest difference is probably in the planning phase. When the exercise begins and the pilots climb into the planes or the crew boards a ship, then there is very little operational difference. There’s a common professionalism and skills, and that’s what matters,” he said.

Stoltenberg: "Good for Finland and good for Nato"

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, told Yle that it is useful for non-Nato members such as Finland to take part in such a collective defence scenario.

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Naton pääsihteeri Jens Stoltenberg tapasi toimittajia Trident Juncture -harjoituksen yhteydessä Trondheimin liepeillä.
Jens Stoltenberg spoke to reporters near Trondheim. Image: Gorm Kallestad / EPA

“We can decide to operate together, but we do not have the same obligation to do so [as with member states],” he said.

“This is good for Finland and good for Nato, because we can operate together, protect one another and help one another,” he added.

About 600 Finnish troops are taking part in the two-week Trident Juncture. The live field exercise began on 25 October and runs through 7 November.

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