HELSINKI — Finland has joined Sweden in provisionally agreeing to form a pan-Nordic Air-Policing unit (NAP), headed by NATO neighbors Denmark and Norway, which will police Icelandic airspace on a rotation basis.
The Finnish government, which insists its role does not signal any change in its policy of military non-alignment, will seek final approval to participate in the NAP in December. The NAP’s first operations are due to commence in 2013.
The inclusion of two military non-aligned states, Finland and Sweden, in what will effectively be a NATO run project, will also require the approval of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s most senior political governing body.
“Although the project is being led by Norway, which is a NATO member, Finland sees this as a concrete opportunity for closer collaboration on Nordic defense. Our participation in patrols and exercises over Iceland will constitute an important step in the development of Nordic security cooperation,” said Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces.
Brigadier Gen. Lauri Puranen, commander of the Finnish Air Force (FAF), said he envisaged that some 60 of the projected 70 flight hours Finnish F-18 Hornets would fly over Iceland during any given three-week rotation period can be incorporated into combined exercise sessions with other Swedish, Danish or Norwegian air forces.
While Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, described the operation as carrying no tangible risks to the country’s policy on neutrality and having “virtually the entire support of the Swedish parliament,” critical voices have been raised to the project in Finland.
“Given that this project is led by a NATO country and by extension NATO itself, I think it is time to stop talking about Nordic cooperation. In practice, this joint air-surveillance venture over Iceland moves Finland another step closer to NATO membership,” said Jussi Niinistö, a member of parliament with the right-wing True Finns party, and chairman of Finland’s Parliamentary Defense Committee.
The need for a new air-policing solution for Iceland arose out of a U.S. decision to phase out air-surveillance duties and its permanent Naval Air Station at Keflavik in 2006. The U.S. had guaranteed Iceland’s defense through its fixed military presence from 1951 to 2006 under an agreement between the two countries. NATO assumed the air-policing duties vacated by the U.S. after 2006, with Norway playing a leading role.
In a related Nordic move, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland have signed an agreement on the future pooling and joint operation of a common fleet of military transport aircraft sourced from national air force heavy transport assets.
Sweden has the biggest military air transport fleet, operating eight C-130 Hercules aircraft, while Norway and Denmark each operate four C-130 Hercules transport planes. For its part, Finland will contribute its EADS CASA C-295 aircraft to the joint Nordic fleet. Iceland, which has no standing Army or Air Force, has pledged funding to help buy more jointly owned aircraft.