On 2 May 2024, the Finnish Minister of Defence, Antti Häkkänen, and the Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, signed a Letter of Intent in Helsinki, formally marking Finland’s entry into the United States National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP).

Through this partnership, the Finnish Defence Forces will gain access to enhanced training opportunities, joint exercises, and deeper sectoral cooperation, especially within the domains of the Army, Air Force, and cyber security.

Finland entered into Nato on 7 March 2024, after reconsidering its national security policy in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

US Air National Guard units are a significant element in Nato’s Air Policing mission, and ongoing mission intercepting Russian aircraft outstepping Russian airspace without flight clearance, and, in some cases, without activating transponders to properly identify and locate the aircraft. Nato intercepted Russian military aircraft more than 300 times in 2023. 

The State Partnership Program enables collaborative ties between the US National Guard—comprising approximately 340,000 personnel across various states—and foreign nations. Virginia, designated as Finland’s state partner, contributes 8,450 personnel to this force, engaged primarily in regional missions such as rescue operations, evacuations, and protection details.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced the partnership on 2 May: “Now more than ever, it is critically important we build and maintain key strategic relationships to enhance security and provide new avenues for economic development, and I have no doubt the Virginia National Guard’s partnership with Finland will bring greater peace, stability and opportunity,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “I know making this formal partnership a reality required tremendous effort and energy, and I want to thank our Virginia National Guard and the Finnish Ministry of Defense for their hard work.”

A relationship between the Virginia National Guard (VANG) and the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) has been established for over two decades, dating back to their joint deployment in 2001-2002. During this period, they served together as part of NATO’s SFOR-10 Stabilization Force in the Multinational Division North in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This longstanding cooperation laid the groundwork for the current VANG-FDF strategic partnership.

The VANG-FDF strategic partnership initially focused on Army Guard collaborations, but the partnership has expanded over the past two years to include the Air Guard, which has fostered a growing relationship with the Finnish Air Force. With Finland’s recent accession to Nato, these ties are anticipated to further strengthen, enhancing military cooperation between the two nations.

Finnish pilots visited Virginia Air National Guard in June 2023, with Lt. Col. Lawrence Dietrich, 149th Fighter Squadron commander, saying at the time that, “An official state partnership would be mutually beneficial to both Finland and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“The Virginia Air National Guard 149th FS is leading USAF efforts in Agile Combat Employment – an area where there is much to learn from the Finnish Air Force as they operate with an ACE mindset daily. Additionally, the 149th has tremendous experience with fifth-generation fighter integration tactics and can provide this expertise to Finland as they begin to procure F-35s and fly them alongside their existing F-18 fleet,” continued Dietrich.

This new partnership aligns with ongoing efforts to broaden the scope of defence collaboration between the United States and Finland, providing additional resources for the development of Finland’s military capabilities.

The State Partnership Program, established in 1993, currently includes around one hundred partner countries across Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia, with new partnerships forming annually. The US European Command (USEUCOM) plays a crucial role in facilitating these collaborations, particularly with European countries.