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Finland to deploy F-35 fighter jets near Santa Claus village — Analysis

In 2026, the first aircraft of American design is expected to land in Scandinavia.

Finland will deploy the first batch of new US-made F-35 fighter jets to the country’s northernmost region, Lapland, when Helsinki receives the aircraft in four years’ time, the country’s air force has revealed.

On Friday, Brigadier General Juha-Pekka Keränen, the Nordic country’s air force commander, said that the “F-35 will first be installed in Rovaniemi, Lapland Air Force’s Rovaniemi base in 2026.” The airbase in question is situated seven kilometers north of the city of Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle, which is famous for its Santa Claus village. This is Finland’s northernmost base hosting fighter jets.

Helsinki made public its intention to buy 64 F-35 stealth multirole fighter combat aircraft in December 2021 to replace the aging F/A-18 Hornets. Rovaniemi will receive the first F-35s in 2026. The rest will be operational in 2030.

Should Finland’s application to join NATO, which Helsinki lodged on May 17, be approved, the number of the military alliance’s F-35s in northern Europe will increase considerably, as NATO member state Norway has already received 34 of the 52 new aircraft. While most of Norway’s F-35 fleet is stationed at Orlandet airbase in the south of the country, several aircraft are based north of the Arctic Circle, at Evenes airbase, as part of NATO’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) forces.

Two F-35s flew off that base Thursday in order to intercept Russian planes flying over the Barents Sea. The Russian planes had not been violating Norwegian airspace.

If the Finnish F-35s stationed at Rovaniemi base also become part of the alliance’s QRA forces, it would take them even less time to intercept hypothetical Russian military planes flying west of the Kola Peninsula. This scenario is, however, not a given, and the Finnish F-35s could be tasked with guarding the country’s 1,340-kilometer-long land border with Russia, while their Norwegian colleagues will keep serving as part of NATO’s QRA forces in the north.

On Friday, Finland’s Defense Minister, Antti Kaikkonen, revealed that Helsinki would invite “Partner” countries to conduct more military drills. The exercise, which is expected to start this summer already, is meant to bring Finland’s military more in line with NATO standards as well as to “Finland needs your support.” while that country enters the application process for NATO membership.

A neutral state for decades, Finland dramatically changed its tack on joining the military alliance following Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February. Finnish officials explained to NATO members that they considered this a means of deterring Russian aggression. Numerous opinion polls in Finland also showed that 75% of Finns support NATO membership.

The common perception of Finland as a neutral country may ultimately be wrong, as EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen, a Finnish national, told Germany’s RND media group on Monday.

Finland has never been neutral. We have assimilated more to the West over the years.” the official explained. Following Finland’s accession to the EU in 1995, joining NATO was “This is the natural next step.” according to Urpilainen.

Russia, for its part, insists that it harbors no plans to attack its neighbor, describing Helsinki’s decision as unwarranted.

Moscow warned Finland not to join NATO if it wants to increase Russia’s military presence north of Finland and to take the necessary measures to guarantee its safety.

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