Finnish Defence Forces: Wikis


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Finnish Defence Forces
Suomen Puolustusvoimien tornileijona.svg
The tower and the lion is the symbol of the Finnish Defence Forces.
Current form 1918
Service branches Finnish Army seal Finnish Army

Finnish Navy seal Finnish Navy
Finnish Air Force seal Finnish Air Force
Finnish Border Guard seal Finnish Border Guard

Commander-in-Chief Tarja Halonen
Minister for Defence Jyri Häkämies
Chief of Defence General Ari Puheloinen
Military age 18 years of age for voluntary and compulsory military service (October 2004)
Available for
military service
1,121,275 males, age 18–49 (2005 est.),
1,076,684 females, age 18–49 (2005 est.)
Fit for
military service
913,617 males, age 18–49 (2005 est.),
875,689 females, age 18–49 (2005 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
32,058 males (2005 est.),
30,519 females (2005 est.)
Active personnel 34,700 (ranked 79th)
Reserve personnel 357,000
Deployed personnel 1,009
Budget ϵ2.8 billion (ranked 43rd)
Percent of GDP 1.3 (FY06)
Related articles
History Military of the Grand Duchy of Finland
Military history of Finland during World War II
Ranks Finnish military ranks

The Finnish Defence Forces (Finnish: puolustusvoimat, Swedish: försvarsmakten) are responsible for defence of Finland. It is a cadre army of 16,500, of which 8,700 are professional soldiers (officers), extended with conscripts and reservists such that the standard readiness strength is 34,700 people in uniform (27,300 Army, 3,000 Navy, and 4,400 Air Force). A universal male conscription is in place, under which all men above 18 years of age serve for 6, 9 or 12 months. Alternative non-military service and volunteer service by women (about 500 chosen annually [1]) are possible.

Finland is the only non-NATO EU country bordering Russia. Finland's official policy states that the 350,000 reservists with mostly ground weaponry are a sufficient deterrent. The army consists of a highly mobile field army backed up by local defence units. The army defends the national territory and its military strategy employs the use of the heavily forested terrain and numerous lakes to wear down an aggressor, instead of attempting to hold the attacking army on the frontier.[2]

Military experts call for common defense, but are careful to avoid politics. Finland's defence budget equals about 2 billion euro or 1.4-1.6 percent of the GDP. The voluntary overseas service is highly popular and troops serve around the world in UN, NATO and EU missions. Homeland defence willingness stands at around 80%, one of the highest rates in Europe.[2]



The Finnish Defence Forces are under the command of the Chief of Defence (currently General Ari Puheloinen), who is directly subordinate to the President of the Republic in matters related to the military command. Apart from the General Staff, the military branches are the Finnish Army (Maavoimat), the Finnish Navy (Merivoimat) and the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat). The Border Guard (Rajavartiolaitos) (including the coast guard) is under the Ministry of the Interior but can be incorporated fully or in part into the defence forces when required by defence readiness.

The Army is divided into four military provinces (Finnish: sotilaslääni) (Southern, Western, Eastern and Northern) which bear the command responsibility for all brigade-level units and military districts. Subordinated to the military provinces, there are 19 military districts (Finnish: aluetoimisto), which are responsible for carrying out conscription, training and activating of reservists and planning and executing territorial defence of their areas. All logistical duties of the Army are carried out by the Army Materiel Command (Finnish: Maavoimien materiaalilaitos), which has one Logistics Regiment for each military province.

The Navy consists of headquarters, supporting elements and two maritime commands (Finnish: meripuolustusalue): Archipelago Sea and Gulf of Finland maritime commands. These commands are brigade-level units responsible for conscript training and the integrity of Finland's territorial waters. They include both ship and coastal units.

The Air Force consists of headquarters, supporting elements and three air commands (Finnish: lennosto): Satakunta, Lapland and Karelian Air Commands. They are responsible for securing the integrity of the Finnish airspace during peace and for conducting aerial warfare independently during a crisis.

In the beginning of January 2008, the Finnish Army organization was overhauled. The three Army commands and the 12 military provinces were replaced by four new operative military provinces, 3 territorial military provinces and 18 military districts. In the new system, the operative military provinces form the operative reqional headquarters, each consisting of several brigades, while the territorial military provinces and military districts conduct conscription, train and manage the reserve, found the bulk of crisis-time units, and take care of the local defence. Each military district has its civilian counterpart among the regions of Finland, which facilitates the civilian-military cooperation in total defence.

The military training of the reservists is primarily the duty of the Defence Forces, but it is assisted by the National Defence Training Association of Finland (Finnish: Maanpuolustuskoulutusyhdistys). The association provides reservists with personal, squad and platoon level military training. In the training, most of the instructors are volunteers, but when Defence Forces materiel is used, the training always takes place under the direct supervision of career military personnel. In addition, the Defence Forces support the voluntary training by providing instructors and giving logistical support. On the other hand, the Defence Forces may request the association to run specialized courses for personnel placed in reserve units. From the beginning of year 2008, the legislation concerning the association will require that the chairman and the majority of the members of its board are chosen by the Finnish Council of State. The other board members are chosen by NGOs active in the national defence.

Military service

The Finnish defence forces is based on a universal male conscription. All men above 18 years of age are liable to serve either 6, 9 or 12 months. Yearly about 27,000 conscripts are trained. 80% of the males complete the service. The conscripts first receive basic training, after which they are assigned to various units for special training. Privates who are trained for tasks not requiring special skills serve for 6 months. In technically demanding tasks the time of service is 9, or in some cases 12 months. Those selected for NCO (non-commissioned officer) or officer training serve 12 months. At the completion of the service, the conscripts receive a reserve military rank of private, lance corporal, corporal, sergeant or second lieutenant, depending on their training and accomplishments.[3] After their military service, the conscripts are placed in reserve until the end of their 50th or 60th living year, depending on their military rank. During their time in reserve, the reservists are liable to participate in military refresher exercises for a total of 40, 75 or 100 days, depending on their military rank. In addition, all reservists are liable for activation in a situation where the military threat against Finland has seriously increased, in full or partial mobilization or in a large-scale disaster or a virulent epidemic. The males who do not belong to the reserve may only be activated in case of full mobilization, and those rank-and-file personnel who have fulfilled 50 years of age only with a specific parliamentary decision.[4]

Military service can be started after turning 18. The service can be delayed due to studies, work or other personal reasons until the 28th birthday, but these reasons do not result in exemptions. In addition to lodging, food, clothes and health care the conscripts receive between 4.4 and 10.2 euros per day, depending on the time they have served. The state also pays for their rent and electricity bills. If the conscripts have families, they are entitled to benefits as well. It is illegal to fire an employee due to military service or due to a refresher exercise or activation. Voluntary females in military service receive a small additional benefit, because they are expected to provide their own underwear and other personal items.

The military service consists of lessons, practical training, various cleaning and maintenance duties and field exercises. The wake-up call is usually at 6 o'clock and the day's service lasts for 12 hours, including meals and some breaks. In the evening there are a few hours of free time. Roll call is at 9 o'clock in the evening, and at 10 o'clock silence is announced, after which no noise can be made. Most weekends conscripts can leave the barracks on Friday and are expected to return by midnight on Sunday. A small force of conscripts are kept in readiness on weekends to aid civil agencies in various types of emergency situations, to guard the premises and to maintain defence in case of a sudden military emergency. Field exercises can go on regardless of the time of day or week.

Figure illustrating the organization of Finnish conscript training

The training of conscripts is based on joukkotuotanto-principle (lit. English troop production). In this system, 80% of the conscripts train to fulfill a specific role in a specific war-time military unit. Each brigade-level unit has a responsibility of producing specified reserve units from the conscripts it has been allocated. As the reservists are discharged, they receive a specific war-time placement in the unit with which they have trained during their conscription. As the conscripts age, their unit is given new, different tasks and materiel. Typically, reservists are placed for the first five years in first-line units, then moved to military formations with less demanding tasks, while the reservists unable to serve in the unit are substituted with reservists from the reserve without specific placement. In refresher exercises, the unit is then given a new training for these duties, if the defence funding permits this.[5]

The inhabitants of the demilitarized Åland islands are exempt from military service. By the Conscription act of 1950, they are however required to serve a time at a local institution, like the coast guard instead. However, until such service has been arranged, they are freed from service obligation. The non-military service of Åland islands has not been arranged since the introduction of the act, and there are no plans to institute it. The inhabitants of Åland islands can also volunteer for military service on the mainland. Also exempt from military service are the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is also possible to serve either weapon-free military service of 270 or 362 days or undergo a 12-month-long non-military service. Finnish law requires that men, who do not want to serve the defense of the country in any capacity (so-called total objectors) be sentenced to a prison term of 197 days. As of 1995, women were permitted to serve on a voluntary basis and pursue careers as officers.

Military ranks

Finnish Navy Chief Warrant Officer (machine branch).

The Finnish military ranks follow the Western usage in the officer ranks. As a Finnish peculiarity, the rank of lieutenant has three grades: 2nd lieutenant, lieutenant and senior lieutenant.[6] The 2nd lieutenant is a reserve officer rank, active personnel beginning their service as 1st lieutenants.

The basic structure of the NCO ranks is a variant of the German rank structure, but the rank system has some peculiarities due to different personnel groups. The duties carried out by NCOs in most Western armed forces are carried out by

  • warrant officers serving in the ranks from lieutenant to captain
  • career NCOs serving in the ranks from enlistee (sotilasammattihenkilö), sergeant, staff sergeant, warrant officer, senior warrant officer and chief warrant officer (sotilasmestari)
  • contractual military personnel (sopimussotilas) serving in the ranks of lance corporal, corporal, sergeant and 2nd lieutenant (reserve officers)
  • conscripts in the ranks of corporal, officer student, sergeant and officer cadet.

In a case of war, most of the NCO duties would be carried out by reserve NCOs who have received their training during conscription.

The rank and file of the Finnish Defence Forces is composed of conscripts serving in the ranks of private, lance corporal and NCO student.


The Finnish Defence Forces traces back its roots to the time of the Swedish Empire, when Finnish troops were part of the Swedish Army and fought many wars in Northern Europe. Finland was established as an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia after 1809, where after the Swedish allotment system conscription was ended and only a few all-volunteer units were maintained by the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. Only during the Crimean War was the allotment system reintroduced. The allotment system was finally abolished in 1867. In 1878, Russia allowed Finland to establish a conscription system of its own. The Military of the Grand Duchy of Finland consisted of eight conscripted sharp-shooter battalions and existed from 1881 until 1903. The Finnish military was commanded in Russian by Finnish officers. The language of official business was Swedish. The Russian General-Governor of Finland acted as the commander-in-chief of the Finnish military. In 1903, the separate Finnish military was disbanded as a part of Russification efforts and the Finnish citizens were ordered to serve in Russian units. This proved hugely unpopular and in 1905, the conscription of Finnish citizens was abolished after wide-scale draft dodging.

During the 19th century, the most important Finnish unit was the battalion-sized Guard of Finland which fought as a part of the imperial army in several of Russia's wars. The unit was founded in 1827, received the junior guard status in 1830, senior guard status in 1878 and was disbanded in 1905. During their visits in Finland in the late 19th century, the Russian emperors usually donned the uniform of the Guard of Finland. In addition to the Guard, the Finnish Cadet School was an important training establishment which educated Finnish, Swedish-speaking officers for service in both Finnish and Russian units. Numerous Finnish officers reached general rank during the Russian era.

During World War I, Finnish volunteers secretly joined the Imperial German Army to receive military training. These Finnish Jäger troops, numbering about 2,000, arrived in February 1918 in the white capital city of Vaasa and formed the core of the White Army in the Finnish Civil War. The Russian revolutions had caused the creation of Red and White Guards in Finland. On January 25, 1918 the White Guard were declared to be the official troops of the white government. This marks the formation of the armed forces of the independent Finland. After the Finnish Civil War the armed forces were organised according to the German system. In February 1919 the White Guard separated from the armed forces and became an independent organisation. Conscription was instituted already during the Civil War, but continued also after this in the regular army.

In the 1930s the materiel situation of the forces deteriorated, and when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939, the forces were poorly equipped. Finland fought the Soviet Union in two separate wars (Winter War and Continuation War) and Germany (Lapland War) during World War II. Ultimately Finland avoided occupation but lost 10% of territory. Peace terms in the Continuation War included disbanding the White Guard.

The terms of the Paris Peace Treaty, imposed after the Continuation War limited the strength of the Finnish Army to 34,400 men, the Navy to 4,500 men and the maximum displacement of naval ships to 10,000 tonnes. The Air Force was limited to 3,000 men and 60 combat aircraft. Also certain weapons such as guided missiles, submarines, proximity mines, torpedo boats, bombers with internal bomb racks and any weapons of German origin were forbidden. In the 1960s, Finland was allowed by United Kingdom and Soviet Union to buy "defensive" missiles. This enabled the requisition of antitank, antiaircraft and coastal defence missiles. The force strength restrictions were interpreted to mean the peace-time strength of the Defence Forces and a large reserve was trained. In the late 1980s, the mobilization strength of Finnish Defence Forces was around 700,000. After the unification of Germany in 1990, all of the restrictions, except for the ban on nuclear weapons, were unilaterally renounced by the Finnish government, led by president Mauno Koivisto.

After the second world war, the Finnish Defence Forces relied largely on war-time material. The defence spending was minimal until the early 1960s. During the peak of the Cold War, the Finnish government made a conscious effort to increase defence capability. This resulted in the commissioning of several new weapons systems and strengthening the defence of Finnish Lapland by establishing new garrisons there. From 1968 onwards, the Finnish government adopted the doctrine of territorial defence, which require the use of large land areas to slow down and wear out a potential aggressor. The doctrine was complemented by the concept of total defence which calls for the use of society's all resources for national defence in case of a crisis. One of the aims of the new doctrines was to prevent a strategic strike which Soviet Union employed successfully to topple the government of Czechoslovakia in 1968. During 1970s and 1980s, the Defence Forces capabilities were developed from this basis. In an all-out confrontation between the two major blocs, Finnish objective would have been to prevent any military incursions inside the borders and, in this way, to keep Finland outside the war.

The collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 did not annihilate the military threat perceived by the government, but the nature of the threat has changed. While the concept of total, territorial defence was not dropped, the military planning has moved towards the capability to prevent and frustrate a strategic attack toward the vital regions of the country.



main battle tanks
armoured personnel carriers
armoured fighting vehicles
armoured recovery vehicles
armoured cars
self-propelled artillery
mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers
anti-aircraft artillery
anti-tank missile launchers
anti-tank artillery
short-range ballistic missiles
multiple rocket launchers
recoilless rifles
machine guns
fighter aircraft
helicopters and UAVs
transport aircraft
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Peacekeeping operations

Finnish soldiers at a polling place during operation EUFOR RD Congo in 2006.

Finland has taken part in peacekeeping operations since 1956 (the number of Finnish peacekeepers who have served since 1956 amounts to 43,000). In 2003 over a thousand Finnish peacekeepers were involved in peacekeeping operations, including UN and NATO led missions. According to the Finnish law the maximum simultaneous strength of the peacekeeping forces is limited to 2,000 soldiers.

Since 1956, 39 Finnish soldiers have died while serving in peacekeeping operations[8]

Since 1996 the Pori Brigade has trained parts of the Finnish Rapid Deployment Force (FRDF), which can take part in international crisis management/peacekeeping operations at short notice. The Nyland/Uusimaa Brigade has started training the Amphibious Task Unit (ATU) in recent years, a joint Swedish-Finnish international task unit.

Since 2006, Finland has participated in the formation of European Union Battlegroups. Finland will be participating to two European Union Battlegroups in 2011.

International operations Finland is participating by deploying military units:[9]

International operations Finland is participating by deploying staff officers:[9]

International operations Finland is participating by deploying military obervers[10]

Total defence

The Finnish military doctrine is based on the concept of total defence. The term total means that all sectors of the government and economy are involved in the defence planning. In principle, each ministry has the responsibility for planning its operations during a crisis. There are no special emergency authorities, such as the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. Instead, each authority regularly trains for crises and has been allocated a combination of normal and emergency powers it needs to keep functioning in any conceivable situation. In a war, all resources of the society may be diverted to serve the national survival. The legal basis for such measures is found in the Readiness Act and in the State of Defence Act, which would come into force through a parliamentary decision in a case of a crisis.

The main objective of the doctrine is to establish and maintain a military force capable of deterring any potential aggressor from using Finnish territory or applying military pressure against Finland. To accomplish this, the defence is organised on the doctrine of territorial defence. The stated main principles of the territorial defence are

  • military non-alliance,
  • general conscription,
  • territorial defence,
  • training of conscripts for wartime units,
  • dispersed mobilisation, and
  • flexible readiness responding to military threats of various degree.

The defence planning is organised to counteract three threat situations:

  • A regional crisis that may have effects on Finland.
  • Political, economic and military pressure, which may include a threat of using military force and its restricted use.
  • Use of military force in the form of a strategic strike or an attack beginning with a strategic strike aimed at seizing territory.
A figure illustrating the principle of territorial defence. The wearing out of the invader is started at the border and the invasion force is stopped before it captures vital areas. On sea border, the invasion is stopped on the coast. All services are used jointly to repel the aggressor.

In all cases, the national objective is to keep the vital areas, especially the capital area in Finnish possession. In other areas, the size of the country is used to delay and wear down the invader, until the enemy may be defeated in an area of Finnish choosing. The Army carries most of the responsibility for this task. The war-time army is combined of

  • two mechanized battle groups
  • three readiness brigades
  • two jaeger brigades
  • two motorized battle groups
  • six infantry brigades (territorial troops)
  • special jaeger battalion
  • helicopter battalion
  • specialized units under general staff
  • local defence units

The army units are mostly composed of reservists, the career soldiers manning the command and specialty positions.

The role of the Navy is to repel all attacks carried out against Finnish coasts and to safeguard the territorial integrity during peace time and the "gray" phase of the conflict. The maritime defence relies on combined use of coastal artillery, missile systems and naval mines to wear down the attacker. The Air Force is used to deny the invader the air superiority and to protect most important troops and objects of national importance in conjunction with the ground-based air defence. As the readiness of the Air Force and the Navy is high even during the peace-time, the career personnel have a much more visible role in the war-time duties of these defence branches.

The Border Guard has the responsibility for border security in all situations. During a war, it will contribute to the national defence partially integrated into the army, its total mobilized strength being some 11,600 troops. One of the projected uses for the Border Guard is guerrilla warfare in areas temporarily occupied by enemy.[11]

Defence White Paper 2009

The material goals for decade starting from 2010 are to equip following forces:

  • Army Corps Headquarters
  • Three Readiness Brigades
  • Two mechanized battle groups
  • Helicopter battalion
  • Special Jaegers battalion
  • Five (Regional) battle groups
  • Three fighter squadrons
  • Six main air force bases
  • Two missile fast attack craft squadrons
  • Two minelayers
  • Two MCM squadrons
  • Four ASM missile batteries
  • Two coastal infantry battalions

See also


  1. ^ <Women's voluntary service (in Finnish)
  2. ^ a b Jane's World Armies: Finland
  3. ^ The Finnish legislation concerning conscription has been completely overhauled in 2007. The new legislation which has already been approved by the Parliament of Finland will, most likely, come into force 1-1-2008. No changes are made to the service periods, which are given in Conscription Act (452/1950), 5§ and in the new Conscription Act, 37§. (Both laws in Finnish)
  4. ^ The reserve obligation is listed in the §§6–7 of the Conscription Act (452/1950) ((Finnish)) and in §§49–50 of the new Conscription Act ((Finnish). The old Conscription Act mandates the activation of the reserve only in case of full or partial mobilization (§10). The new Conscription Act allows for selective activation of reservists even in situations which do not require even partial mobilization (§§78–89).
  5. ^ Asevelvollisen pitkä marssi Ruotuväki 9/2004. Retrieved 11-19-2007. (Finnish) The cited source includes a very good overview of the system, paraphrased here.
  6. ^ Finnish Defence Forces: Insignia of rank Retrieved 14 February 2007
  7. ^ Equipment of the Finnish Army
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^ The whole of the section is based on leaflet: Finnish Defence Forces. Annual exchange of information on defence planning 2005 according to the Vienna Document 1999. [1] Cited 14-12-2006. Also the leaflet: Finnish Defence Forces. Finnish military defence, Finland's security policy, Organization of national defence. [2] has been used. Mobilization strength has been corrected as from the information of Ministry of Defense planning document Cited 2 March 2008.

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