F-35s And Eurofighters Perform First European Road-Runway Operations

Eurofighter Typhoon
Credit: Finnish Air Force

LONDON—British Eurofighter Typhoons and Norwegian Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters have performed their first landings and takeoffs from road runways in Finland as NATO countries try to boost the survivability of their fighter fleets through concepts such as Agile Combat Employment (ACE). 

A single Royal Air Force Eurofighter and a pair of Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35s operated from the highway strip at Tervo near Kuopio on Sept. 20 and 21 as part of the Finnish Air Force’s annual Baana 23 exercises.  

The Finnish Air Force practiced road-runway operations during and after the Cold War, recognizing their airfields would be primary targets on the first day of a conflict.  

The service regularly flies its Boeing F/A-18 Hornets from the roadways and plans to continue the tradition with the arrival of its F-35 fleet, the first aircraft of which is due to be delivered in 2026. 

Neighboring Sweden also has resumed the practice of operating from highway strips, having largely abandoned it in the post-Cold War era. The Swedish Air Force now is expanding the number of locations from which its Saab Gripens can operate. 

Flights of the Norwegian F-35s from the strip would confirm the aircraft can be operated from an austere location, although questions would remain about the maintenance of its low-observable features and coatings under repeated operations. 
Norwegian officials say the F-35s landed and carried out an engines-running refueling before taking off again. 

“This is a milestone, not only for the Air Force, but also for the Nordic countries and NATO,” says the Norwegian Air Force chief, Maj. Gen. Rolf Folland. 

“Fighter planes are vulnerable on the ground, so by being able to use small airfields—and now also motorways—we increase survivability in war,” Folland explains. 

The F-35’s operation from the Tervo strip is believed to be the first time F-35As have operated from roads, although the U.S. Marine Corps has flown its F-35Bs from roads in the U.S.

Imagery of the Eurofighter operating from the strip shows the aircraft being refueled on one of the hard standings at each end before performing several takeoffs, landings and missed approaches.

The Royal Air Force air and space commander, Air Marshal Harvey Smyth, who has been one of the proponents of expanding the service’s ACE capabilities with regular deployments of fighters to austere locations, says the Typhoon’s ability to operate from roads was a “another golf club in our agility bag.” 

Meanwhile, Poland also is resuming the practice of road-runway operations after a 20-year hiatus. The country’s air force is resuming its so-called “airport road section” exercise, having previously performed it in 2003. 

The exercise is due to use a section of road on the 604 highway near Ruskowo. Polish officials say the exercise will see Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29s Fulcrums, Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters, Lockheed Martin F-16s and Leonardo M-346s operating from the road.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.