Finland’s HX fighter programme to replace the Finnish Air Force’s F/A-18 C/D Hornet has entered its evaluation phase with the country set to evaluate entrants from Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Lockheed Martin and Saab ahead of awarding a contract in late 2021. Finland’s air force currently operates 62 legacy F/A-18 Hornets. The government received proposals from four countries, including the United States, Sweden, France and Britain.
Helsinki plans to select a winner during 2021, with the chosen type to replace its air force’s F/A-18C/D combat aircraft from around 2025. Operations with its legacy Hornets are due to conclude by 2030.
The Hornets are set to start being phased out starting in 2025 and the competition recently entered crunch phase, with the Finnish Ministry of Defence now starting to evaluate the competitors’ entrants against their claims ahead of a contract decision late next year. The new jets will enter service as the old Hornets are phased out and will be delivered through till 2030.
Finland kicked off its quest for a new fighter jet in 2015 when then Prime Minister Sipilä’s office launched the programme to find a replacement for the ageing fleet of F/A-18 C/D Hornets. This triggered the preliminary stages of the programme, which recommended that the Finnish Armed Forces look to acquire a fleet of multi-role fighter jets.
The Finnish operating environment is different to other countries but comparable to Canada, Norway and Sweden. Following the Typhoon’s participation ( 9-17 January), the programme’s other candidates will undergo vigorous evaluation process. These are the Dassault Rafale (20-28 January), Saab Gripen E (29 January-6 February), Lockheed Martin F-35A (7-17 February) and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (18-26 February).
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
Boeing told in a press release that as a follow-up to the Hornet, the infrastructure to support the Finnish Air Force in flying the Super Hornet essentially already exists. With many existing industry partners in Finland already up and running it would be possible to perform assembly of the aircraft or components in the country. Boeing emphasized this easy switch, saying: “You could have a Hornet flying today and a Super Hornet flying tomorrow.”
The Super Hornet is a mainstay of the US Navy’s aerial power, with Boeing saying the Block III Super Hornet can engage threats across air, land and sea.
Boeing explained: “The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the world’s most proven and affordable multi-role fighter and will continue to evolve with the development of the next-generation Block III Super Hornet.
“The Block III configuration adds capability upgrades that include enhanced network capability and processor, longer range, reduced radar signature, advanced cockpit system, enhanced communications system, as well as the life of the airframe being extended from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours.”
This history of providing the legacy fleet of Hornets means a large amount of the infrastructure needed to support a fleet of Super Hornets is already in place, with Boeing estimating that around 60% of existing Hornet tooling can be used to support the newer aircraft, increasing cost savings of the programme.
Boeing added: “Ultimately, its entirely new airframe, proven capabilities, low-risk and known, affordable acquisition price, low documented life cycle costs, and guaranteed delivery schedule, make Super Hornet ideally suited to meet Finland’s fighter aircraft requirement.”
Unlike the rest of the pack, Dassault has been somewhat muted in its decision to offer the Rafale to the Finnish Air Force for their HX programme. This week two aircraft from the French Air Force arrived in the country for its turn at evaluations in the cold.
The aircraft is the main fighter of the French Air Force and is also used by several foreign customers including India, Egypt and Qatar. The aircraft comes in a number of variants including a carrier fighter. Finland has been offered the Rafale C aircraft; a twin-seater Rafale B is also available which can be used for training and more intensive missions.
According to Finnish media, Dassault has offered Finland the ability to operate the aircraft independently from France with the potential for the airframes to be assembled in the country if so desired.
Dassault describes the aircraft on its website as “the right answer to the capability approach selected by an increasing number of governments,” adding that the Rafale offers the ability to “carry out the widest range of roles with the smallest number of aircraft.”
Dassault describes the fighter jet as ‘omnirole’ rather than multi-role saying that it the Rafale is: “relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats, it addresses the emerging needs of the armed forces in a changing geopolitical context, and it remains at the forefront of technical innovation.”
Lockheed Martin F-35A
Lockheed Martin makes its thoughts clear on its dedicated F-35 site describing the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter as the ‘best choice for Finland’ citing the fighter’s advanced features and ever-decreasing price tag as benefits for the Finnish Armed Forces.
Lockheed Martin says that it will support Finnish security of supply for the fighter by establishing maintenance facilities in the country, and by maintaining an adequate level of ‘materiel stock in country’.
Lockheed also touts the large international user base of the F-35 as a potential advantage of the fighter, increasing interoperability with several of Finland’s allies both in Europe and across the world. The F-35 will ‘help Finland ensure its national security and its ability for building partnerships and interoperability for decades to come,’ according to Lockheed.
The company says use of the aircraft within Europe is a means to increase partnership opportunities and cost-sharing ability, which would also help to reduce through-life costs. The aircraft is set to operate long into this century, with its service life projected through to 2070.
Lockheed first confirmed its interest in the HX programme at Paris Air Show 2019, and the F-35 is set to undergo evaluation trials 7 – 17 February.
Describing why the aircraft is a good fit for the Finnish Armed Forces, Saab Gripen campaign director for Finland Magnus Skogberg told Air Force Technology: “Gripen E/F features the latest available technology for the continuously changing and very challenging operational environment.
“Gripen has been designed from the start for the challenging operations and threat scenarios very similar to those in Finland. It is built for road-base operations, harsh climate and easy maintenance by conscript mechanics.”
The Gripen has undergone evaluation on January 2020 and will face the same tests as its competition. A number of countries already use the Gripen, including Sweden and Hungary, as well as other customers across the world.
Saab is offering the E/F variant which features an advanced electronic warfare package designed to detect threats before they locate the aircraft.
Skogberg added: “In addition to a substantial weapon and sensor package as well as the necessary equipment and associated services needed for operating the system, our offer to Finland includes also the world’s most advanced AEW&C system GlobalEye, which brings Finnish situational awareness to a whole new, strategic level.”
Skogberg added Saab’s bid would come hand-in-hand with a number of promises to bolster Finnish industry. He said: “We offer a true industrial partnership with the aim to build extensive national capabilities in Finland for Security of Supply. Our offer includes transfer of maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities to local industry, production of aircraft and an establishment of a Gripen and GlobalEye sustainment and development centre in Finland.”
On 10 January, the Typhoon became the first of the five possible fighters to take part in the competition’s HX challenge phase, with the aircraft’s performance being tested under the operation of UK Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots.
A key test for the Typhoon will be cold-weather testing to make sure it can handle Finnish environments and still perform to expectations.
Commenting on the trials, Typhoon Chief Test Pilot Steve Formoso said: “We believe Eurofighter meets every operational requirement of the Finnish Air Force today and is already optimized to defend Finland for many decades to come. There are close to 500 Eurofighters in Europe and, through that, we have demonstrated the aircraft can operate in the most difficult and demanding of conditions.
“For example, Eurofighter provides to the defense of the Falkland Islands from RAF Mount Pleasant in the South Atlantic, operating some 13,000km away from ‘home’ bases in the UK. On top of that, Eurofighters from across the European air force regularly undertake NATO Baltic Air Policing and over their own airspace.”
Like many of the other fighters on offer, the Typhoon has seen extensive service with European Air Forces including the German Luftwaffe, the UK Royal Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare.
BAE Systems Finland Managing Director Paul Hitchcock emphasized this, telling Air Force Technology: “We believe that by choosing Eurofighter, the Finnish Air Force would not only be acquiring the most advanced multi-role aircraft on the market, and one proven in service across the globe, it would be choosing everything Finland needs to independently operate, maintain and control its own aircraft in peacetime and times of crisis.”
Side by Side Comparison
|Manufacturer||Saab Group||Eurofighter Consortium||Dassault Aviation||Boeing Defence||Lockheed Martin|
|Country of Origin||Sweden||EU||France||America||America|
|Aircraft Generation||4.5||4.5||4.5||4.5||5th Generation|
|Mission||Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike||Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike||Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent||Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent||Air patrol, EW, Reconnaissance, Area denial, air dominance, Maritime Strike, Nuclear Deterrent|
|Weapons carried||Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship||Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship||Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship||Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship||Air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-radiation, anti-ship|
|Weapon Origin||EU and US||EU and US||EU and US||US and EU||US and EU|
|Engine||GE F414-GE-39E turbofan||Eurojet EJ200 turbofan||Snecma M88 engines||GE F414-GE-400 turbofan||Pratt & Whitney F135|
|Speed||Mach 2||Mach 2+||Mach 1.8||Mach 1.9||Mach 1.6|
|AESA Radar||Raven ES-05||CAPTOR-E||RBE2||AN/APG-79||AN/APG-81|
|Combat Radius||800 nm||1,500nm||1,000nm||449nm||669nm|
|Ferry Ranges||2200 nm||2,050nm||2,000nm||1,800nm||1,500nm|
|Service Ceiling||50000 feet||65,000 feet||50,000 feet||50,000 feet||50,000 feet|
|BVRAAM||Meteor, AIM-120C/D||Meteor, AIM-120C/D||Meteor, MICA||AIM-120C/D||AIM-120C/D|
|SRAAM||IRIS-T, AIM-9, A-Darter (Brazil)||IRIS-T, AIM-9||IRIS-T, AIM-9, MICA||AIM-9X, ASRAAM (RAAF)||AIM-9X, ASRAAM (RAAF)|
|Bombs||GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II||GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II||GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II||GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II||GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-22 Paveway III, GBU-24 Paveway III, GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II|
|Cruise Missile/ Anti-radiation||MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG, SLAM-ER, JSOW||MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG||MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG||SLAM-ER, JSOW, JASSM, LRASM||SLAM-ER, JSOW, JASSM, LRASM|
|Sensors||EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod||EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod||EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod||EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod||EW Pod, IRST, Targeting Pod|
|Countermeasures||Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, Electronic countermeasures||Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, Electronic countermeasures||Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, Electronic countermeasures||Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, electronic countermeasures||Chaff, Missile Approach warning receiver, electronic countermeasures|
|Data Link||Link 16||Link 16||Satellite, VHF, UHF||Link 16||Link 16|
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