NATO drone on first time mission over Finland

The large surveillance drone flew along the border with Russia’s Karelia region. It improves situation awareness and strengthen national defense, the Finnish Defense Forces says.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - September 14, 2023
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Northrop Grumman RQ-4D Global Hawk aircraft, also known as the Phoenix, can stay in the air up to 30 hours. Photo: NATO

NATO confirms that this is the first time a drone from the alliance’s Ground Surveillance Force flew over Finland.

“The mission came as NATO Air Forces continue to step up their reconnaissance missions on the Alliance’s eastern borders in the wake of Russia’s full-fledged was against Ukraine,” a press statement says.

Finland’s military command underlines “there have been no recent changes in Finland’s military security situation or environment, but flight operations with partner countries are planned and part of normal bilateral and multilateral cooperation.”

It “improves joint situation awareness,” the statement from Helsinki reads.

Finland’s military will not reveal details of the flight “for operational security reasons.” The Barents Observer and others, though, could follow the flight patterns on Wednesday as the drone headed north into Finnish airspace north of Estonia and along the border with Russia’s Karelia region to about Kajaani.

The flight over Finnish airspace could be followed via civilian air traffic systems as the drone continued north along the border with Russia. Screenshot from FlightRadar24.com / Barents Observer

“The flight on September 13 also helped NAGSF operators to familiarise themselves with the new terrain,” NATO said.

According to Helsinki Sanomat, intelligence flights by NATO aircraft can gather signal intelligence about 500 km into Russia. From east of Kajaani, that covers areas into Severodvinsk and Nenoksa in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region by the White Sea.

The Global Hawk drone is remotely operated and among the world’s most advanced. The one flying over Finland is owned by NATO and Wednesday’s flight was conducted in joint cooperation with Finland, a country that became member of the North Atlantic Alliance on April 4 this year.

The drone is based in Italy and can stay in the air for more than 30 hours at a time.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu last December announced more Russian troops will be deployed near Finland’s border after the country announced its NATO membership application.

“Given NATO’s desire to build up military potential near the Russian borders, as well as to expand the North Atlantic Alliance at the expense of Finland and Sweden, retaliatory measures are required to create an appropriate grouping of troops in Northwest Russia,” Defense Minister Shoigu said.


Located in Kirkenes, Norway, just a few kilometres from the borders to Russia and Finland, the Barents Observer is dedicated to cross-border journalism in Scandinavia, Russia and the wider Arctic.

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