Royal Air Force joins Finland for agile combat employment exercise

Finnish Air Force

The Finnish Air Force is hosting its annual road base exercise, Baana 23, from September 18 to September 22, 2023. This year, the exercise will involve aircraft from allied nations.  

Every year, Finnish pilots and technicians undergo training to ensure they can rapidly spread across the country in case their primary base is compromised. One of the highlights of this exercise is the practice of highway strip take-offs and landings in both day and night-time conditions. 

During wartime, this dispersion strategy enables an air force to make it more challenging for the enemy to target them by creating multiple operational sites. The concept, which gained prominence during the Cold War era, has experienced a resurgence of interest in the doctrines of Western armed forces.  

The concept was since named Agile Combat Employment by the United States Department of Defense and gained traction among other NATO air forces. 

“The threat from Russia or the actions from Russia with the cruise missiles and ballistic missiles (in Ukraine) proves that the concept of dispersed operations is right,” Colonel Vesa Mantyla, the head of the Finnish Air Force Academy, said during the 2022 edition of the Baana exercise. 

Each year, the responsibility for organizing the exercise shifts to another Finnish Air Force unit. This year, the Karelia Air Command took the lead. As part of the exercise, the regional road 551 which connects Karttula and Tervo in central Finland was closed to establish a road base.  

F/A-18 fighters and various other Finnish Air Force aircraft will participate. However, what sets Baana 23 apart from its predecessors is the involvement of aircraft from allied nations. The exercise will host Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35s and Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons. The British fighters will operate from the nearby Rissala Air Base, located on the shared-use Kuopio Airport (KUO). 

While Finland, and to a lesser extent its neighbors Sweden and Norway, has continued dispersed operations training into the post-Cold War era, the renewed focus on this doctrine in the United Kingdom is a recent development. Under the leadership of then-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, a campaign called Agile Stance was launched in 2020 with the aim of the Royal Air Force relearning dispersion skills. The first exercise took place in autumn 2021. 

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