Finnish Defence Forces

Finnish Defence Forces

The tower and the lion is the symbol of the Finnish Defence Forces.
Current form 1918
Service branches

Finnish Army
Finnish Navy

Finnish Air Force
President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö
Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö
Chief of Defence General Jarmo Lindberg
Military age 18
Conscription 165, 255 or 347 days term
Available for
military service
1,155,368 males, age 16–49 (2010 est.),
1,106,193 females, age 16–49 (2010 est.)
Fit for
military service
955,151 males, age 16–49 (2010 est.),
912,983 females, age 16–49 (2010 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
32,599 males (2010 est.),
31,416 females (2010 est.)
Active personnel 22,000 conscripts
Reserve personnel 900,000[1]
Deployed personnel 525
Budget 2.886 billion; 2016
Percent of GDP 1.37%; 2016[2]
Domestic suppliers Patria
Foreign suppliers  United States
 Soviet Union

The Finnish Defence Forces (Finnish: Puolustusvoimat, Swedish: Försvarsmakten) are responsible for the defence of Finland. A universal male conscription is in place, under which all men above 18 years of age serve for 165, 255 or 347 days. Alternative non-military service and volunteer service by women (about 500 volunteering annually[5]) are possible.

Finland is the only non-NATO EU country bordering Russia. Finland's official policy states that a wartime military strength of 230,000 personnel constitutes 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.

Finland's defence budget equals approximately 2.9 billion euros or 1.4 percent of GDP. The voluntary overseas service is highly popular and troops serve around the world in UN, NATO and EU missions. Homeland defence willingness against a superior enemy is at 76%, one of the highest rates in Europe.[6]


Civil War

White Guard in Nummi. White Guards were appointed as the official military forces of the Finnish government on 25 January 1918.

After Finland's declaration of independence on 6 December 1917, the Civic Guards were proclaimed the troops of the government on 25 January 1918 and C.G.E Mannerheim was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of these forces the next day. Fighting between the White Guards (as the Civic Guards were commonly known) and the Red Guards had already broken out about a week before around Viipuri, in what became known as the Finnish Civil War.[7]

In the war, the Whites were victorious in large part thanks to the leadership of Mannerheim and the lead by example offensive mindedness of 1,800 German-trained Finnish Jägers, who brought with them German tactical doctrine and military culture. The post-war years were characterized by the Volunteer Campaigns that came to an end in 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Tartu, which ended the state of war between Finland and Soviet Russia and defined the internationally recognized borders of Finland.

Interwar years

After winning the Civil War, the Finnish peacetime army was organized as three divisions and a brigade by professional German officers. It became the basic structure for the next 20 years. The coast was guarded by former czarist coastal fortifications and ships taken as prizes of war. The Air Force had already been formed in March 1918, but remained a part of the Army and did not become a fully independent fighting force until 1928.[7]

The new government instituted conscription after the Civil War and also introduced a mobilization system and compulsory refresher courses for reservists. An academy providing basic officer training (Kadettikoulu) was established in 1919, the founding of a General Staff College (Sotakorkeakoulu) followed in 1924, and in 1927 a tactical training school (Taistelukoulu) for company-grade and junior officers and NCOs was set up. The requirement of one year of compulsory service was greater than that imposed by any other Scandinavian country in the 1920s and the 1930s, but political opposition to defense spending left the military badly equipped to resist an attack by the Soviet Union, the only security threat in Finnish eyes.

World War II

Finnish soldier equipped with Lahti-Saloranta M-26 during the Winter war.

When the Soviets invaded in November 1939, the Finns defeated the Red Army on numerous occasions, including at the crucial Battle of Suomussalmi. These successes were in large part thanks to the application of motti tactics. While the Finns ultimately lost the war and were forced to agree to the Moscow Peace Treaty, the Soviet objective of conquering Finland failed, in part due to the threat of Allied intervention. During the war the Finns lost 25,904 men, while Soviet losses were 167,976 dead.[8]

Finnish troops equipped with Panzerfaust antitank weapons walk past a destroyed Soviet T-34 tank during the Battle of Tali-Ihantala. The lead soldier is also armed with a Suomi KP/-31.

Finland fought in the Continuation War alongside Germany from 1941 to 1944. Thanks to German aid, the army was now much better equipped, and the period of conscription had been increased to two years, making possible the formation of sixteen infantry divisions. Having initially deployed on the defensive, the Finns took advantage of the weakening of the Soviet positions as a consequence of Operation Barbarossa, swiftly recovering their lost territories and invading Soviet territory in Karelia, eventually settling into defensive positions from December 1941 onwards. The Soviet offensive of June 1944 undid these Finnish gains and, while failing in its objective of destroying the Finnish army and forcing Finland's unconditional surrender, forced Finland out of the war.

Cold War

The demobilization and regrouping of the Finnish Defense Forces were carried out in late 1944 under the supervision of the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission. Following the Treaty of Paris in 1947, which imposed restrictions on the size and equipment of the armed forces and required disbandment of the Civic Guard, Finland reorganized its defense forces. The fact that the conditions of the peace treaty did not include prohibitions on reserves or mobilization made it possible to contemplate an adequate defense establishment within the prescribed limits. The reorganization resulted in the adoption of the brigade -in place of the division- as the standard formation.[9]

For the first two decades after the Second World War, the Finnish Defence Forces relied largely on obsolete wartime material. Defence spending remained 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 the strengthening of the defence of Finnish Lapland by the establishment of new garrisons in the area. From 1968 onwards, the Finnish government adopted the doctrine of territorial defence, which requires the use of large land areas to delay and wear out a potential aggressor. The doctrine was complemented by the concept of total defence which calls for the use of all resources of society for national defence in case of a crisis. From the mid-1960s onwards the Finnish Defence Forces also began to specifically prepare to defeat a strategic strike, the kind which the Soviet Union employed successfully to topple the government of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In an all-out confrontation between the two major blocs, Finnish objective would have been to prevent any military incursions to Finnish territory and thereby keep Finland outside the war.

Recent history

The collapse of the 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.


The Finnish Defence Forces are under the command of the Chief of Defence (currently General Jarmo Lindberg), who is directly subordinate to the President of the Republic in matters related to the military command. Apart from the Defence Command (Pääesikunta), 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 authority of the Ministry of the Interior but can be incorporated fully or in part into the defence forces when required by defence readiness. All logistical duties of the Defence Forces are carried out by the Defence Forces Materiel Command (Finnish: Puolustusvoimien materiaalilaitos), which has three Logistics Regiment for each military province.[10]

The Army is divided into eight brigade-level units (Finnish: joukko-osasto). Under the brigades, there are 12 military districts (Finnish: aluetoimisto), which are responsible for carrying out the draft, for training and crisis-time activation of reservists and for planning and executing territorial defence of their areas.[11]

The Navy consists of headquarters and four brigade-level units: Coastal Fleet (Finnish: Rannikkolaivasto), Coastal Brigade (Finnish: Rannikkoprikaati), Nyland Brigade (Swedish: Nylands Brigad), and Naval Academy (Finnish: Merisotakoulu). The Coastal Fleet includes all the surface combatants of the Navy, while Coastal Brigade and Nyland Brigade train coastal troops.[12]

The Air Force consists of headquarters and four brigade-level units: Satakunta, Lapland and Karelian Air Commands (Finnish: lennosto) and Air Force Academy (Finnish: Ilmasotakoulu). They are responsible for securing the integrity of the Finnish airspace during peace and for conducting aerial warfare independently during a crisis.[13]

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). This association provides reservists with personal, squad, platoon and company level military training.[14]:§17 Most of the 2,000 instructors of the association are volunteers certified by the Defence Forces, but when Defence Forces materiel is used, the training always takes place under the supervision of career military personnel.[14]:§20 Annually, the Defence Forces requests the Association to run specialized exercises for some 8,500 personnel placed in reserve units, and an additional 16,500 reservists participate in military courses where the participants are not directly selected by the Defence Forces.[15] The legislation concerning the association will require that the chairman and the majority of the members of its board are chosen by the Finnish Government. The other board members are chosen by NGOs active in the national defence.[14]:§9[16]

Military service

Figure illustrating the organization of Finnish conscript training

The Finnish defence forces is based on universal male conscription. All men above 18 years of age are liable to serve either 6, 9 or 12 months. Some 27,000 conscripts are trained annually. 80% of Finnish men complete their service. The conscripts at 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.[17] 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.[18]

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 5 and 11.70 euros per day, depending on the time they have served. The state also pays for any rental and electricity bills the conscripts incur during their service. 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. 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.

The training of conscripts is based on joukkotuotanto-principle (lit. English troop production). In this system, 80% of the conscripts are trained to fulfill a specific role in a specific wartime military unit. Each brigade-level unit is responsible for producing specified reserve units from the conscripts it has been allocated. As the reservists are discharged, they receive a specific wartime 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 new training for these duties, if the defence funding permits this.[19]

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. In conscription, women have consideration time of six weeks, during which they have the choice to halt their service without any other specific reason. After the said six weeks, all the same laws and jurisdictions apply to them as to men. Unlike in many other countries women are allowed to serve in all combat arms including front-line infantry and special forces.

Military ranks

Finnish Navy Master Chief Petty 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.[20] The 2nd lieutenant is a reserve officer rank, active commissioned officers beginning their service as 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

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.


Finnish Leopard 2A4 main battle tank on parade, Riihimäki, Finland.
Finnish Air Force F-18C Hornet.
Equipment Numbers[21]
Main Battle Tanks
120 + 80 Leopard 2A6 arriving 2016-2019
Armoured Personnel Carriers
Infantry Fighting Vehicles
Armoured vehicle-launched bridges
Heavy Mine Breaching Vehicles
Mobile surface-to-air missile launchers
Anti-aircraft artillery
Anti-tank guided missile launchers
Recoilless rifles
Self-propelled artillery
Multiple Rocket launchers
Assault rifles
350,000 Rk 62, 40,000 Rk 95 Tp and unknown amount of Rk 56 Tp and Rk 72
Fighter aircraft
Combat-capable advanced trainer aircraft
Transport aircraft
25 + 14 (Border Guard)

Finland does not have attack helicopters, submarines, long-range ballistic missiles (Finland has however updated its M270 MLRSs capable to shoot ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles). Legislation forbids nuclear weapons entirely.

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[22]

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.

Finnish IFOR troops with their Sisu XA-180 Armored Personnel Carrier.

International operations Finland is participating in by deploying military units (personnel strength in parenthesis):[23][24]

Other international operations Finland is participating in with staff personnel, military observers and similar (personnel strength in parenthesis):[23][24]

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 society may be diverted to ensure the survival of the nation. 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 presidential decision verified by parliament in the case of a crisis.[25]

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 doctrine are

The defence planning is organised to counteract three threat situations:

A figure illustrating the principle of territorial defence. The enemy is worn down from the border onwards, and the invasion force is stopped before it captures vital areas. On the 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 key wartime army units in 2015 are

The total number of territorial and regional units is undisclosed. 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 peacetime 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 peacetime, the career personnel have a much more visible role in the wartime 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.

Key wartime units


Air Force

The total number of regional and territorial units is undisclosed. Wartime strength in 2015 is approximately 230 000 troops.[26]


According to Yle, the Finnish Army has joined a battle on mandatory military service. Numerous pro-conscription letters and columns by officers and regional army heads were published in the summer of 2013 praising the benefits of military service,[27] although political activism is not one of the army's official tasks.[28]

The Defence Forces has been accused of providing misleading information on the economical effects of conscription. The commanders of the Defence Forces have repeatedly claimed that conscription is a cost-effective method to defend the country.[29][30] Professor of Economics Roope Uusitalo says that the claim is not supported by economic research.[31] Professor of Economics Panu Poutvaara has stated that an all-volunteer army would produce a stronger army using less resources.[32]

See also


  2. "Puolustusbudjetin osuus bruttokansantuotteesta" (in Finnish). Finnish Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
  3. "Gil/Spike/NT-Dandy". GlobalSecurity.Org.
  4. Egozi, Arie (26 October 2011). "Finland extends unmanned systems evaluation". Flightglobal.
  5. <
  6. "Maanpuolustustahto" (in Finnish). Findikaattori. 10 December 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  7. 1 2 Kronlund, p. 558
  8. Anna Ruha (1 January 2014). "Tapaus nimeltä talvisota" (PDF) (in Finnish). University of Helsinki. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  9. Text from PD source: US Library of Congress: A Country Study: Finland, Library of Congress Call Number DL1012 .A74 1990.
  10. Puolustusvoimien kokoonpano. Finnish Defence Forces. 2015-01-02. Retrieved 2015-12-28. (Finnish)
  11. Maavoimien organisaatio 2015. Finnish Defence Forces. 2014-12-19. Retrieved 2015-12-28. (Finnish)
  12. Perustietoa merivoimista. Finnish Defence Forces 2014-12-31. Retrieved 2015-12-28. (Finnish)
  13. Air Force Units. Finnish Defence Forces. 2014-12-31. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
  14. 1 2 3 Laki vapaaehtoisesta maanpuolustuskoulutuksesta (556/2007). Finlex database. Retrieved 2015-12-28. (Finnish)
  15. Hyppönen, H. (2015) Muutos on mahdollisuus – näkymiä reservin koulutuksesta. In Ylisipola, J (ed.) Reservin koulutus ja vapaaehtoinen maanpuolustuskoulutus: VELVOLLISUUS, VAPAAEHTOISUUS, OMATOIMISUUS: Puolustusvoimien koulutustoimialan vuosiseminaari 2015. Finnish Defence Command, Training Department. ISBN 978-951-25-2707-6. Retrieved 2015-12-28.(Finnish)
  16. Hallinto. Finnish National Defence Training Association. Retrieved 2015-12-28. (Finnish)
  17. The Finnish legislation concerning conscription was completely overhauled in 2007. The new legislation which was approved by the Parliament of Finland came into force January 1, 2008. No changes were 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)
  18. 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).
  19. Asevelvollisen pitkä marssi Ruotuväki 9/2004. Retrieved 11-19-2007. (Finnish) The cited source includes a very good overview of the system, paraphrased here.
  20. Finnish Defence Forces: Insignia of rank Retrieved 14 February 2007
  21. Equipment of the Finnish Army
  22. Hölkkäri On Web - Rauhanturvaajien yhteisö - In the Service of Peace
  23. 1 2 Rauhanturvaajille. Finnish Defence Forces. 2015-09-19. Retrieved 2015-12-28. (Finnish)
  24. 1 2 GLOBAL EXCHANGE OF MILITARY INFORMATION: Annual Exchange of Information: Republic of Finland: Valid as of 01/01/16. Finnish Defence Forces. 2015-12-04. Retrieved 2015-12-28
  26. "Finnish Security and Defence Policy 2012". 1 January 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  27. "Army joins battle on mandatory military service".
  28. "The Finnish Defence Forces - Main Tasks".


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