Finland conducts first live bombing drills since Second World War

The Finnish air force is running live bombing drills against ground targets for the first time since the end of the Second World War, as it enters a new phase of testing its air-to-ground capabilities.

Finland is not a Nato member, however its armed forces have maintained a friendly relationship with neighbouring Nato allies, joining them in military exercises on numerous occasions. Last month Finland's air force, joined by Nato members Norway, Britain and Germany among others, as well as non-allied Sweden, kicked off Arctic Challenge exercises. The air force has also joined Baltic Nato allies today in joint exercises.

Over the next two weeks, however, Finland will also engage in air force exercises over its own territory which will see it test the air-to-ground strike capabilities of their newly upgraded Hornet jets, according to Finnish air force colonel Jari Mikkonen.

Finland's huge land border with Russia has seen increased violations of its airspace in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, as Russia has expanded what it calls unannounced 'patrol flights' across Europe. As many as five were recorded last year, compared to none in 2010.

Russia is also building a military base at Alakurtti in its Murmansk region, 50km from the Finnish border and it has frequently conducted exercises in the waters it shares with Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

The process to update the features of Finland's jets has been ongoing since 2003 but the drills over the coming two weeks will mark the first time Finland has dropped live bombs on ground targets since the Second World War.

According to Mikkonen, the bombing exercises were not related to the Arctic Challenge exercises with Nato members, nor are they related to the recent drills with Baltic neighbours.

Mikkonen says that the live bombing practice is taking place as part of the air-force's ongoing revamp to Finland's Hornet jets, the latest phase of which began in 2010. "Now a little over half of our fleet has been done," Mikkonen says. "So this a good moment for us to test our rocket capabilities and air-to-ground capabilities are a key part of the update."

Mikkonen added that the drills would take place over Finnish soil, at the remote Rovajärvi range in Lapland.