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Finland’s Army: How Strong Is It (And Can It Take on Russia?)?

Finland
A Leopard battle tank of the Armoured Brigade takes part in the Army mechanised exercise Arrow 22 exercise at the Niinisalo garrison in Kankaanpaa, Finland May 4, 2022. Picture taken May 4, 2022. Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.

Much to Vladimir Putin’s chagrin, the Scandinavian nations of Finland and Sweden signed on to join NATO this past July. This earth-shaking decision on the part of these longtime neutral nations directly contravened Putin’s objectives of not only preventing NATO expansion but indeed possibly even rolling NATO’s numbers back to pre-1998 levels

The thought of getting rematched against Finland in particular in a hypothetical shooting war has to be particularly concerning for Russia in light of the previous wartime history between the two nations. In the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Soviet Union emerged victorious, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, as Finland’s tiny military force inflicted severe casualties on the Soviet invaders in exchange for relatively small territorial concessions. Now that present-day Finland, along with present-day Poland, stands among the easternmost bulwarks against a would-be Russian adversary of NATO territory, it’s worthwhile to examine how the current Finnish Army would stack up against Russia’s. 

By The Numbers

The Finnish Army component – known in the country’s native tongue as the Maavoimat – of the Finnish Defence Forces is a conscript army with compulsory military service; as one former Maavoimat truck driver stated on Quora, “Political leaders don’t like to say that it is ‘because of Russia,’ but that’s the case.” In that sense, the rationale for conscription is somewhat analogous to that of Israel’s mandate for service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on account of being surrounded by historically hostile nations. The Finnish Defence Forces’ English language page provides the following useful information:

“The Finnish Defence Forces’ reserve comprises approximately 900,000 Finnish citizens. The wartime strength of the Finnish Defence Forces is 280,000 soldiers, and this strength is resupplied by other reservists as applicable…As a person liable for military service you will be part of the reserve until you turn fifty or sixty. Those in the rank and file transfer into the auxiliary reserve at the end of the year when they turn 50, whereas the reserve officers and non-commissioned officers remain in the reserve until the end of the year when they turn 60.”

That 280K wartime strength is divvied into six branches: infantry (armor falls under this branch), field artillery, anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), materiel, signals, and engineers. As of May 2022 GlobalFirepower.org website ranks Finland 53rd of 142 out of the countries considered for the annual GFP review, with a “PwrIndx*” score of 0.8149 (a score of 0.0000 is considered ‘perfect’).

The senior ranking officer is Kenraaliluutnantti (Lieutenant General) Pasi Välimäki, who has served his nation in uniform since 1985 and assumed his current position as Maavoimien Komentaja (Commander of the Ground Forces) on New Years’ Day 2022. Meanwhile, overall command of the Finnish Defence Forces is overseen by Kenraali (General) Timo Kivinen, who began his military service in 1979 and attained his current senior leadership role in August 2019.

The elite of the Finnish Army is comprised of the Utti Jaeger Regiment, which is described as “home to the Army Special Forces Unit and the helicopter operations of the Finnish Defence Forces, along with branches that support these areas,” with 400 so-called “hired personnel” and 220 conscripts. 

Weapons and Equipment

The primary infantry weapon for the Maavoimat is the RK 62M 7.62x39mm assault rifle, which is a gas-operated, rotating bolt weapon, capable of semi-automatic or full-automatic fire with a cyclic rate of fire of 700 rounds per minute (rpm) a sustained rate of fire (including magazine changes) of 120-180 rpm, and an effective range of 300 meters. Needless to say, Finnish infantry rifles have come a long way from the bolt-action Mosin-Nagants of the Winter War.

Finland is said to have the largest artillery capability in Western Europe, and at least one Finnish Army reservist blogger, with the username Corporal Frisk, proclaims it to be “The Best Artillery in Europe;” the numbers amount to 700 howitzers, 700 heavy mortars and 100 multiple rocket launchers, namely the PSH K9 FIN 155mm self-propelled armored howitzer, 120 KRH 120mm heavy mortar, and the 298 RSRAKH 06 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). 

Tank-wise, Finland’s army has a total of 239 of the highly capable German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs). The Finnish Defence Forces website elaborates: “The Finnish Defence Forces acquired used Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks from the Netherlands in 2014-19. The Defence Forces also has in use an earlier model of the Leopard main battle tank 2A4 acquired second hand from Germany. Mine clearance, bridge-laying and anti-aircraft air tanks have also been built on the Leopard 2A4 chassis. Compared to the earlier variants of Leopard, the 2A6 model has improved firepower, ballistic protection and protection for the crew.”

Ready for Russia?

As was the case in 1939, Finland’s army, not surprisingly, is significantly smaller than the Russian Army, which, according to Al Jazeera, numbers 1,013,628 servicemen as of 2018. Of course, that latter number doesn’t factor in Russia’s grievous casualties suffered during their seemingly endless “special military operation” in Ukraine, nor does it account for the fact that, unlike 1939, Finland wouldn’t be going it alone in a future war, thanks to that newly minted NATO membership.  

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Omega 13

    September 21, 2022 at 3:44 pm

    Finland just needs to defend against Russia, which is already fighting a one-front war. They lack the ability to maintain a two-front war.

    It’d be easy to bottle up the Baltic fleet, especially if Finland and Sweden join NATO, whereas Finland also has a number of minelayers to use in the Gulf of Finland.

    Blow up the Karelian train tracks and you remove a good part of the overland access, except in winter.

    Finland will never win a war against Russia, but they can easily defend themselves. Think of them as the porcupine of northern Europe.

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