In recent years Russian warplanes have violated Finnish airspace just four to six times annually. But in late August alone Moscow’s aircraft penetrated Finland’s borders three times.
Now the Finnish air force is stepping up its readiness with extra sorties by the air arm’s F-18 Hornet fighters.
Air space violations—usually by Russians—have become bolder and more frequent as Moscow asserts its influence over Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. Finland is not alone in boosting its defenses. Sweden has increased its own aerial patrols after multiple U.S. and Russian incursions. And NATO has deployed extra fighters along its eastern frontier.
According to the Finnish media outlet Yle, one Russian incursion occurred on Aug. 28, when a Russian An-72 transport plane entered Finnish airspace over the Gulf of Finland and flew within Helsinki’s highly-regulated air zone for four minutes.
Other violations occurred on Aug. 23 and 25.
Even though the Russian transport didn’t penetrate very deeply into Finland’s territory on Aug. 28, the frequency of the recent incursions has alarmed Finnish authorities—to the extent that the Finnish air force has moved some of its American-made F-18s to southern bases for surveillance missions.
Finland’s border with Russia is no less than 1,300 kilometers long and poses a huge planning problem for air-defense commanders. Finland possesses 62 twin-engine Hornets and normally distributes them across three air bases—one each in the north, center and south of the country.
To ward off Russian jets, some of the F-18s have begun flying from rudimentary “support bases” in the south, including Seutula and Vantaa. The patrols will take the fighters over the capital. “Hornets will be seen in the skies above Helsinki for as long as the operation continues,” military spokesperson Mika Kalliomaa told Yle.
Finnish Hornet pilots also train to operate from public roads, in the extreme case that air bases become too vulnerable to attack.