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Finland Table of Contents


Arms Acquisitions from Foreign Suppliers

Until the late 1950s, strained economic conditions precluded the refitting of the Finnish armed forces, which had to be content with the large stocks of munitions and equipment remaining at the end of World War II. As the economy strengthened, a political decision was made to modernize the armed forces so that they could defend Finnish neutrality credibly. The government allocated a modest amount for new equipment in 1955, and it enacted a major new appropriation in 1957. These procurements stimulated a revival of the small Finnish armaments industry, although most major items continued to be acquired from abroad. Britain was initially the primary source of supply, providing tanks, aircraft, and a training ship. Jet trainers were purchased from France and Sweden, and antiaircraft guns and fire control systems were obtained from Switzerland. The decision reached in 1959 to rely more heavily on arms procurements from the Soviet Union was partly a political effort to demonstrate Finnish neutrality by balancing purchases from the East and from the West. Economic factors also played a part. Finland's trade with the Soviet Union was based on bilateral balancing, and imports from the Soviet Union had to be found to compensate for the high level of Finnish exports. Favorable credit terms offered by Moscow were a further attraction (see Foreign Economic Relations , ch. 3).

Among the heavy weapons deliveries from the Soviet Union during the early 1960s were T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled antiaircraft guns, and artillery pieces. The political crisis sparked by a Soviet call for consultations under the FCMA treaty in October 1961 convinced Helsinki that further efforts must be made to build up the nation's air defenses in order to demonstrate its determination to resist violations of its neutrality. Accordingly, an order was placed with the Soviet Union for thirty-five MiG-21Fs and associated Atoll air-to-air missiles. Since the MiG fighters did not have an all-weather capability, the Finnish air force turned to Sweden for Saab J-35 Draken all-weather interceptors; the first of these aircraft were delivered between 1972 and 1977. Beginning in 1981, the MiG-21bis, an all-weather fighter with a more powerful engine, was introduced to replace the MiG-21F. It was armed with a more advanced version of the Atoll missile. Extensive new purchases for the modernization of the armored forces began in 1981 with the acquisition from the Soviet Union of armored personnel carriers, followed later by T-72 tanks, armored transports, and BMP-1 assault tanks.

By the mid-1990s, the entire combat air force of Draken and MiG fighters will need replacing, and observers have surmised that the Soviet MiG-29 will be one of the models selected. Financing the purchase would be facilitated by the fact that an imbalance had developed in Finnish-Soviet trade as a result of the drop in the price of Soviet crude oil deliveries. Financing of a Western model, possibly the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen, was expected to present a difficult budgetary hurdle.

Finland was eligible to purchase materiel under the Foreign Military Sales Program of the United States Defense Department. Its principal acquisitions from the United States were advanced electronic equipment and I-TOW (improved tube-launched, optically sighted, wire-guided) antitank missiles.

Data as of December 1988