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Air Force

Figure 21. Air and Coastal Defense, 1988

The peacetime missions of the air force (Ilmavoimat) were the patrolling of Finnish air space and the surveillance, identification, and interception of intruding aircraft. In an average year, ten to twenty violations of Finnish air space were detected. If conflict developed in the region, the air force would have the tasks of preserving territorial integrity, preventing overflight of hostile planes and missiles, preventing Finnish territory from being used as a base for attack, and supporting army and navy operations. The protection of Finnish air space in the event of East-West hostilities was considered a highly salient aspect of the air force role. The possibility that Finnish air space would be violated on the flight paths of bombers and cruise missiles of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces was an issue of intense concern. As of 1988, Finland was in the process of acquiring further capability to detect, to intercept, and to destroy cruise missiles crossing Finnish territory.

To fulfill these missions, Finland had given priority in the late 1970s to the upgrading of its interceptor and reconnaissance capabilities. Its three combat air squadrons were equipped with Soviet MiG-21bis and Swedish Saab J-35 Draken fighters. The forty-seven Hawk Mk-51s purchased from Britain for advanced training and reconnaissance were not counted as combat aircraft under the limits prescribed by the 1947 peace treaty, but they could be fitted with racks for bombs, rockets, and missiles for use as light attack aircraft. Air force transport capability was limited, consisting primarily of three Dutch F-27 Fokkers and six Soviet Mi-8 helicopters (see table 24, Appendix A).

Air force headquarters was located at Tikkakoski in central Finland. The country was divided into three air defense regions (see fig. 21). Each air defense region was the operational zone of an air wing, functioning in coordination with the corresponding military areas. Each of the three command centers was individually responsible for its regional air defense, based on directives issued by the air staff. One fighter squadron was assigned to each wing, but the necessary basing and support infrastructure was in place to enable the air force commander to concentrate all air force resources in a single region if necessary.

As of 1988, the Lapland wing, consisting of eighteen Drakens, was based at the joint civilian-military airfield near Rovaniemi; the wing's headquarters were in a nearby hardened shelter complex. The Satakunta wing, with twelve Drakens based at Tampere-Pirkkala, was responsible for southwestern Finland. All of the wing's command facilities, workshops, and aircraft shelters were hardened, having been blasted out of granite cliffs. Defense of southeastern Finland came under the Karelian wing, which had a squadron of thirty MiG-21bis plus several Hawks for training and patrol duties, operating from Kuopio-Rissala. All three wings had facilities in place permitting the use of alternative military and civilian airfields, as well as prepared highway strips.

In addition to the three combat squadrons based at wing headquarters, the transport squadron was based at Kouvola-Utti and the training squadron was based at Luonetjarvi, adjacent to the flying school at Kauhava. Primary air surveillance was carried out by a fixed long-range radar system supplemented by mobile low-altitude radar, fixed in peacetime, but transportable to concealed, hardened sites in wartime. The civilian air control network was also closely linked to the military system. Automatic long-range radar, ordered in 1988 from the French firm of Thomson-CSF, will be installed at six or seven sites, including one in the far north at Kaamanen that will extend surveillance over the Arctic Ocean and the Kola Peninsula.

Flight training was conducted at the Air Force Academy at Kauhava. The Valmet L-70 Vinka was used for primary training (forty-five hours of flight time). Students then made the transition to jet training on the Hawk (100 hours of flight time), preceded by considerable practice on flight simulators. An intermediate trainer was not considered necessary. Conversion to the Draken or the MiG-21 and advanced tactical training were carried out after assignment to the fighter squadrons. A fully qualified interceptor pilot underwent a total of seven years of preparation. More pilots were being trained than Finland needed for its existing combat aircraft. Moreover, basing and logistical facilities were sufficient for about three times as many combat aircraft as were in the peacetime inventory.

Data as of December 1988

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