As Finland's and Sweden's accession to NATO moves ahead rapidly, the alliance's currently tight collaboration with the Nordic countries was on display screen 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 equivalents along Norway's western coast.
Some 45 aircraft participated in the exercise, which was indicated to demonstrate the capability to conduct complex air operations over long distances.
The chief of the Norwegian flying force said it was "the first time we are performing such a sophisticated exercise with NATO and partner nations, which also includes Sweden and Finland."
From June 5 to June 17, Finnish and Swedish forces joined the armed forces of 14 NATO members, consisting of the US, for Baltic Operations 2022. The 51st version of the maritime-focused workout included more than 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft, and 7,500 personnel.
Throughout one drill, a United States Air Force KC-135 tanker refueled United States, Finnish, Swedish, and German jets, allowing them to keep running over the Baltic.
The June exercises showed not just the strong relationship Finland and Sweden have with their NATO neighbors but likewise their own significant military capabilities, which are poised to substantially enhance NATO's air element and deterrence in the north.
Finland operates a fleet of 55 McDonnell Douglas F/A -18 C Hornets, which it got in the 1990s. Despite its age, the single-seat F/A -18 C is capable aircraft and can quickly change in between fighter and attack configurations. It is also run by the United States Navy and Marine Corps and various United States allies, and it has actually seen battle in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans.
Finland's Ministry of Defense has said its Hornets will be decommissioned by 2030, giving way for the 64 F-35As that Helsinki bought in December in the country's greatest military procurement on record. Its very first F-35 is set up for delivery by 2026.
The fifth-generation F-35A is increasingly popular amongst US allies. The stealth jet can function as a fighter or attack platform and utilize its intelligence, security, and reconnaissance abilities to boost the efficiency of friendly air and ground forces.
Sweden's only fighter jet is the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, a locally made and developed aircraft that is less advanced but highly efficient.
" The Gripen doesn't have the stealth of an F-35 or the brain-mashing efficiency of an F-15, but it's a trustworthy and economical aircraft that brings a number of important capabilities into the fight," the aviation expert and Sandboxx editorial director Alex Hollings told Insider.
The Gripen is likewise versatile. Its small size permits it to "take off and arrive on austere airstrips or even highways while carrying very effective air-to-air weapons" like the Meteor and AMRAAM missiles, Hollings stated.
The Swedish jet is among the few fighters in service that can supercruise, maintaining supersonic speeds without discarding fuel into its afterburner. That increases an aircraft's endurance at supersonic speeds by reducing its fuel usage, permitting it to fly faster and bring 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 ability.
The Gripen program has had controversy, Hollings stated, describing allegations of fraud in some of its foreign sales, but it was created to be "simple to fly, low-cost to maintain, and fast to adopt upgrades which all makes for a helpful jet to have around in a fight," he added.
Though it has never seen combat, the Swedish jet has proved its worth in exercises. Notably, during the very first day of a significant US-led exercise in Alaska in 2016, it scored 10 kills against peer aircraft, consisting of a 4.5-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, without suffering a casualty.
Sweden's flying force operates 71 Gripen Cs and has actually bought 70 Gripen Es, an upgrade over the C model, to be provided by 2027.
Building the best team
In spite of their capabilities, integrating 2 flying force with a combined fighter fleet of 126 aircraft into NATO operations won't be basic.
Though both the F/A -18 C and the Gripen are used by other NATO members, tactical combination is attained through frequent joint exercises, like the ones conducted in June.
" There are always difficulties inherent to mixing national air forces and the platforms they operate," Hollings told Insider. "Once you resolve interoperability (in regards to both innovation and strategies), a mix of aircraft becomes a potent tool in a large-scale battle."
Increasing the range of aircraft in NATO will offer the alliance a tactical benefit.
" Fighters run a bit like cage fighters, in that pilots wish to play to the strengths of their own aircraft and the weak points of the challenger's," Hollings said. "When you head into a fight with a variety of fighters at hand, each playing to their particular strengths, you actually complicate the fight calculus for your opponent."
F-35As and Gripen Es are set to make Finland's and Sweden's flying force more capable, but even without those innovative jets, NATO leaders are eager to have Finnish and Swedish forces in the alliance.
Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who is set to take control as head of US European Command and as supreme allied commander Europe in July, said throughout his election hearing in May that the Finnish and Swedish armed forces would bring "quite a bit of ability and capability to the alliance from day one."
He added that he looked "forward to the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance from a military point of view."