Top Swedish defense officials have thrown their weight behind Saab’s bid for the multibillion-dollar HX fighter competition in Finland, arguing the Gripen aircraft would enable unprecedented cooperation between the two countries in thwarting a hypothetical attack by Russia.
The HX Challenge was carried out in Finland with tests performed under Finnish winter conditions, with the purpose to verify the data previously reported by the fighter manufacturers. The solution offered by Saab features the latest technology available for operating in a continuously changing and highly challenging operational environment.
The Finnish race is one of two big-ticket aircraft competitions in Europe — Switzerland being the other — where major vendors from both sides of the Atlantic are jockeying for position. Finland has requested final offers by the end of April from Airbus for the Eurofighter; Dassault for the Rafale; Boeing for the Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin for the F-35; and Saab for the Gripen E/F.
Helsinki has budgeted roughly $12 billion for the program.
Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said the aircraft competition comes during a “deteriorating security situation” around the Baltic Sea, which he blamed on Russian military flexing. He framed greater defense cooperation among the Scandinavian countries as a prerequisite for standing up to Moscow’s “aggressive moves.”
“Air defense is a vital part of this,” Hultqvist said during an online press conference on February 16 2021.
Brig. Gen. Anders Persson, the Swedish deputy chief of the Air Force, zeroed in on Sweden and Finland as potential points of incursion for Russian forces. Adversarial airplanes could enter their airspace in large numbers, benefitting from the countries’ long northeast orientation, he said.
In such a case, the more exposed Finnish air fleet could fall back west on bases in neighboring Sweden, a feat that would be more easily accomplished if both countries had the Gripen, Persson argued.
“We’ll be like one air force with two commanders,” he said.
Saab CEO Micael Johansson dangled the prospect of enhanced industrial cooperation with Finnish companies, especially because the customer would get a role in developing new features on the Gripen.
“This aircraft has an architecture that makes it upgradeable in a very short time,” he said.
Johansson also praised the capabilities of another aircraft: the GlobalEye early-warning and spy plane, which Saab is offering to Finland for the country’s military modernization program. The aircraft’s sensors would essentially nullify stealth features of attacking aircraft, he claimed.
Warplane makers have been pulling out all the stops, often with help from their respective governments, to advertise their aircraft in the Finnish and Swiss competitions. Saab’s Gripen offer was eliminated from the Swiss race in 2019 because the “E” version of the plane wasn’t fully ready for the Swiss government’s flight demonstration regime at the time.
However, Saab is still banking on international expansion led by a sale of the Gripen to Brazil, Johansson said.
Gripen Successfully Completed Evaluation
Saab has successfully completed its participation with Gripen E and GlobalEye AEW&C in the Finnish HX Challenge, the Finnish Air Force testing and evaluation event at Pirkkala Air Base in Finland. The flight evaluation is part of the capability assessment in the on-going HX programme, the procurement of new fighter aircraft to equip the Finnish Air Force.
High-tech Sensors Package For Finland
As part of its proposal, Saab is offering a substantial weapon and sensor package, as well as the necessary equipment and associated services needed to operate the system. The offer also includes an industrial co-operation programme aiming to build extensive national capabilities for Security of Supply in Finland. Transfer of maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities to local industry, parts production and final assembly of aircraft as well as an establishment of a sustainment and development centre in Finland are included.
“During the past week we have successfully completed the planned tests, and hence demonstrated the capabilities of Gripen and GlobalEye, a solid and highly capable solution responding to the needs of the Finnish Air Force”, says Jonas Hjelm, Senior Vice President and head of Saab business area Aeronautics.
Saab Submitted Final Offer
Furthermore, on 31 January Saab submitted a revised offer in response to the revised Request for Quotation for the Finnish HX programme. Saab’s offer to Finland is a comprehensive solution for air power and air defence. With Gripen E/F fighter aircraft, designed for the most challenging operations and threat scenarios very similar to those in Finland, combined with GlobalEye – the world’s most advanced AEW&C solution – as a force multiplier, the offer provides a substantial contribution to the joint operational capability of the Finnish Defence Forces.
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