Finland is proceeding with a multi-billion dollar deal to acquire as many as sixty-four F-35 Lightning II fighters. The purchase will make Finland a major addition to the growing list of international F-35 buyers.
Finland’s interest in the F-35 is significant for a number of reasons. Several other European nations, including Norway, are part of the F-35 program. Some countries have already begun to operate the fifth-generation fighter jet. Denmark has received its first F-35s to begin training with the aircraft. Switzerland also plans to purchase the F-35. This presents a formidable force of European aircraft both within and outside NATO operating the F-35.
Several of these countries are within striking range of Russia, given the jet's combat radius and the proximity of European countries to one another. Finland shares a lengthy border with Russia and is therefore uniquely positioned to fortify the West’s deterrence posture. Norway and Poland also border Russian territory.
Finland and other Northern European countries border the Baltic Sea. The Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea also borders Russia. Naval assets from the United States and other NATO nations, possibly including the F-35B and F-35C variants, could also operate in the region.
The possibility of a large European F-35 force could help deter Russia, given the relatively small number of fifth-generation Su-57 fighters operated by Russia. Moscow only expects to operate seventy-six of the fighters by 2028, with production happening at a trickle.
This number is far fewer than the number of F-35s that will operate in Europe by that time. While the combat performance of an F-35 compared to an Su-57 may be uncertain, a much larger force of fifth-generation stealth fighters would create a strong deterrence posture in the region.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.