With an 830-mile border with Russia and the recent incidents with Russian Spetnaz close to Finnish territorial waters, Finland has been soliciting the assistance of drone pilots to mobilize drone militias in time of war. This move also fits into the larger Finnish Defence Force’s strategy to implement the so-called “readiness units” (Fi: valmiusyksitöt).

According to the Helsinki newspaper Ilta-Sonomat, every person (professional or hobbyist) that has applied for a license from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (Trafi) was contacted by the FDF with a document laying out the requirements for volunteers.

  1. The participant must be a Finnish citizen.
  2. They cannot be currently employed by the police or the emergency services.
  3. The pilot must have completed the mandatory national service in Finland.

If the participant is eligible and willing, they must agree to attend reservist training once a year provisionally. According to the chief communications officer for the Finnish General Headquarters, Max Arhippianen, the military is testing several commercial drone-related concepts. However, he emphasized that the research is small-scale and a final decision on this militia concept has not been made.

After successful trials in 2017, the Finnish Border Guard — a paramilitary force style force — decided to introduce drones in their everyday operations. At the time of this writing, they have 50 drones in operation that will be fielded for ISR, training and further testing. The final decision to incorporate drones for border guards, however, will be made in early 2019.

The Finnish Police demonstrated recently the potency of drones, when they used a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera to track and locate a lost elderly man in the woods of North Karelia in November. Since, Finland is covered 75% in forests and shares an 832-mile border with Russia, you can see the enthusiasm of utilizing drones for ISR by the Border Guard.

However, Finland must also deal with adversaries employing drones at its borders. In 2017, the Border Guard received reports of a crashed drone in Penttillä, South-East Finland. When it was located, the drone and 45 packs of cigarettes were confiscated. This marked the first documented drone smuggling operation from Russia to Finland. Since, the whole Eastern border is restricted airspace — EFR 100 — this incident is also an aviation crime.

The frustrating part of drones breaching restricted airspace is that the military, police and border guard are not allowed to take drones down lawfully in most cases, even if the drone is flown in a dangerous manner. Although, in November the Finish government proposed new laws that give police power to take down disruptive drones. On January 1, 2019, the FDF will receive more possibilities “to temporarily take control of, by force or with technological devices, to prevent the use of or otherwise interfere with the course of” UAVs in military designated areas.

During WWII, Finland lost 2% of its population in two brutal wars with the Soviet Union. And with Northern Europe’s largest standing military, outside of Russia, it is well equipped to fight a conventional war. However, the invasion of the Crimea and its lessons were not lost on the Finns. Today, it needs to combat “quickly escalating crisis” — a euphemism for hybrid warfare — and it is looking at creative ways to prepare. The implementation of drone militias and readiness units could be a game changer in 21st century conflict.