When Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO bid moves forward, the alliance is already looking at their fighter jets
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May and the alliance is moving quickly to receive them.
The two countries already have a close relationship with the military alliance.
NATO leaders see the two countries as immediate benefits – especially their fighter jets.
As Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO progressed rapidly, the alliance’s already close partnership with the Nordic countries was shown in the skies over northern Europe in early June.
On June 2, the Swedish and Finnish air forces drilled with their British, French, German, Norwegian and Belgian counterparts along Norway’s west coast.
About 45 aircraft participated in the exercise, which was intended to demonstrate the ability to perform complex flight operations over long distances.
The commander of the Norwegian Air Force sa it was “the first time we are conducting such an advanced exercise with NATO and partner nations, which also includes Sweden and Finland.”
From 5 June to 17 June, Finnish and Swedish forces joined the military from 14 NATO members, including the United States, for Baltic Operations 2022. The 51st iteration of the maritime-focused exercise involved more than 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft and 7,500 personal.
During an exercise, a US Air Force KC-135 tanker refueled American, Finnish, Swedish and German jets, which means that they can continue to fly over the Baltic Sea.
The exercises in June showed not only the strong relationship that Finland and Sweden have with their NATO neighbors, but also their own significant military capabilities, which will significantly strengthen NATO’s air component and deterrence in the north.
Finland currently operates a fleet of 55 McDonnell Douglas F / A-18C Hornets, which it acquired in the 1990s. Despite its age, single-seater F / A-18Cs are capable aircraft and can change quickly between fighter and attack configurations. It is also operated by the US Navy and Marine Corps and a number of US allies, and has seen fighting in North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.
Finland Ministry of Defense has said that its Hornets will be phased out by 2030, making room for the 64 F-35As that Helsinki ordered in December in the country’s largest military procurement ever. Its first F-35 is scheduled to be delivered by 2026.
Fifth generation F-35A is becoming increasingly popular among US allies. The Stealth jet can act as a combat or attack platform and use its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to improve the efficiency of friendly air and ground forces.
Sweden’s only fighter aircraft is the Saab JAS.39 Gripen, a domestically designed and built aircraft that is less advanced but very efficient.
“The Gripen does not have the sneakiness of an F-35 or the brain’s performance as an F-15, but it is a reliable and cost – effective aircraft that brings a number of important capabilities into the fight,” says flight analysts and Sandboxx editor-in-chief Alex Hollings told Insider.
The grip is also versatile. Its small size allows it to “take off and land on strict runways or even highways while carrying extremely effective air-to-air weapons” that Meteor and AMRAAM missilesin Hollings.
The Swedish jet is one of the few fighter aircraft in service that can supercruise, maintain supersonic speeds without dumping fuel in the afterburner. It increases an aircraft’s endurance at supersonic speeds by lowering its fuel consumption, allowing it to fly faster and carry less fuel.
The US-made F-22, the French-built Dassault Rafale and the multinational Eurofighter Typhoon are the only other jets that can supercruise. None of Russia’s jets have the capacity.
The Gripen program has had controversy, Hollings said, referring to allegations of fraud in part of its overseas sales, but it was designed to be “easy to fly, inexpensive to maintain and quick to absorb upgrades and that makes for a convenient jet to carry around in a fight,” he added.
Although it has never seen combat, the Swedish jet has proven its value in exercises. Notably, during the first day of a major U.S.-led exercise in Alaska in 2016, it received 10 fatalities against peer-to-peer aircraft, including a 4.5-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, without suffering an injury.
The Swedish Air Force operates the 71 Gripen C and has ordered the 70 Gripen E, an upgrade compared to the -C model, which will be delivered in 2027.
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Despite their capabilities, it will not be easy to integrate two air forces with a combined fleet of 126 aircraft into NATO operations.
Although F / A-18C and Gripen are both used by other NATO members, tactical integration is achieved through frequent joint exercises, such as those conducted in June.
“There are always challenges in mixing national air forces and the platforms they operate,” Hollings told Insider. “Once you work through interoperability (in terms of both technology and tactics), a mix of aircraft becomes a potent tool in a large-scale battle.”
Increasing the diversity of NATO aircraft will give the Alliance a tactical advantage.
“Fighters work a bit like cage fighters, in that pilots want to play according to the strengths of their own aircraft and the opponent’s weaknesses,” Hollings said. “When you go into a fight with a variety of fighters at your disposal, who all play to their respective strengths, you really complicate the battle calculation for your opponent.”
The F-35A and Gripen Es will make the Finnish and Swedish air forces more capable, but even without the advanced jets, NATO leaders are keen to have Finnish and Swedish forces in the alliance.
General Christopher Cavoli, who will take over as head of the US European Command and as the Allies’ highest commander in Europe in July, said during his nomination negotiation in May that the Finnish and Swedish militaries will add “quite a bit of capacity and capacity to the alliance from day one.”
“I look forward to Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to the alliance from a military perspective,” Cavoli added.
Constantine Atlamazoglou works with transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree in security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. You can contact him at LinkedIn.
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