Finland's 21st Century fighter

MILITARY FINLAND’S FUTURE FIGHTER

Finland is about halfway through the process for selecting the multi-role fighter that will replace its fleet of Boeing F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Ds. AIR International outlines the criteria for selection and takes a look at the contenders

Eurofighter

Finland, on the northeastern corner of the European Union, has an 1,340km (833 mile) long border with Russia. It is not a member of NATO but joined the organisation’s Partnership for Peace programme on May 9,1994. As such it can be seen as being in general terms in agreement with NATO’s aims but free to determine its own priorities for cooperation. Finnish forces participate in NATO exercises and drills.

In a similar way to its near neighbour Sweden, Finland has always demonstrated an individual style in selecting its fighter aircraft fleets. Unlike Sweden it does not build its own fighter aircraft and has no ambitions to do so, but neither has it followed the majority of European nations along the route of buying American equipment. In 1962 it replaced its Folland Gnat fighters with MiG-21F-13 supersonic interceptors, augmenting those with the more advanced MiG-21bis and Saab’s Draken over the following decades. By the late 1980s those early jet fighters were obsolescent at best and the llmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) launched a competition to select their successor. Five fighters were originally seen as contenders: the Miraae 2000-5 from France, the JAS 39 Gripen from Sweden, the F-16C and F-16D Fighting Falcon, the F-18C and F-18D Hornet from the United States and the MiG-29 from the Soviet Union. The MiG was eliminated from the competition early on but the other four were selected for further evaluation and on May 16,1992 the government announced that the then McDonnell Douglas Hornet had been chosen. A few days later, on June 5,1992 a letter of acceptance was signed for 57 singleseat F-18Cs and seven two-seat F-18Ds. Part of the deal was that the single-seat jets would be assembled in Finland by Valmet Aircraft Industry (now a part of the Finnish defence conglomerate Patria) while the F-18Ds would be built in St Louis, Missouri by McDonnell Douglas. The first six F-18Ds arrived at the Satakunta Air Command base atTampere- Pirkkala on November 7,1995. They were followed by the first Patria-built C-model in June the following year and deliveries of all 64 were completed on August 8, 2000.

The unique F-18 designation came about because the jets were intended to be used solely for air defence armed with AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) and the tried and tested AIM-9 Sidewinder series of missiles. To emphasise this the A used in the F/A-18 designation was considered to be not appropriate for Finland’s aircraft. However, a change in political stance led to two mid-life updates (MLU) for the Hornets and from 2016 they have taken up the American designation F/A-18, reflecting their newly acquired air-to-ground capability.

Planning for the new century

By the beginning of the 21st century Finland was planning the way it would protect itself and contribute to world peace in the decades to come. Part of that planning involved seeking a solution to what jet, or jets would replace the Hornets from the 2020s onwards.

In 2015, the HX Fighter Programme to select the next multi-role fighter was announced. Helsinki advertised its requirement for a new aerial defence system in an RFI (Request for Information). Running into thousands of pages, the RFI issued by Finland’s Defence Forces’ Logistics Command included the statement: “several types of aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles that could contribute to the capabilities of multi-role fighters” would be acceptable. When estimating the cost of a proposed solution

tenderers were urged to provide a breakdown of the quoted price divided among the costs of procuring, using and maintaining the systems. In addition to the actual aircraft, the items to be included in the price included weapons, training, command and control systems and maintenance arrangements.

The Finnish Defence Forces’ Development Plan mandated that the Hornets’ replacement would be a manned multi-role fighter; ground- based air-defence systems would not be able to provide the capability required on their own and neither would remotely-piloted aerial systems. However, both types of weapon system are considered to have an increasingly important role in the nation’s defence, either on their own or in concert with HX, in the future

The requirement for 64 Hornets was arrived at after considering what was needed to provide coverage for the whole country in different postures at the same time. The HX programme sees a requirement for at least the same number of fighter jets as are presently in service with the llmavoimat. According to the development plan some jets may be used on combat air patrols (CAP) while others will perform offensive sweeps and still more support ground forces in the air-to-ground role; different jets might be patrolling Finland’s extensive territorial waters. Air Force leaders have made it clear they consider the number of 64 to be the bare minimum to ensure Finnish sovereignty. It is important to remember that as a non-NATO member Finland cannot necessarily rely on NATO coming to its aid in times of crisis - an attack on Finland is not an attack on NATO.

Finland is increasingly concerned about a potential threat posed by its neighbour to the east. Events in Ukraine show that Russia has a willingness to conduct so-called ‘hybrid warfare’, mixing conventional military means with political threats and non-military means to achieve its objectives.

A road map

The age of the existing Hornets and the fact they had already undergone two upgrade programmes convinced planners that further modification of the jets to keep them in sen/ice would be expensive, ineffective and a false economy.

A road map for the way the programme was to proceed was published in June 2015 with a number of dates highlighted. The absolute latest date for the programme to be launched and have the new jets coming into sen/ice in 2025 was the autumn of 2015. The plan mandated that requests for information (RFI) and requests for quotation (RFQ) should be issued in the parliamentary electoral term running from 2015 to Sunday April 14, 2019. The orders to purchase the aircraft should be placed in the early 2020s.

Parliamentary approval to start the project was duly given in October 2015 and in December of that year potential supplier nations, the United Kingdom, United States, France and Sweden were given official notification that the programme had begun. It is worth noting that at that time the list of contenders included Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Boeing’s F-15. In April 2016, the Finnish government sent its RFI to five government entities responsible for the aircraft it was considering for HX:

• The United States Navy’s International Programs Office, responsible for the Boeing Company’s F/A-18 Super Hornet;

• The United States F-35 Joint Program Office

• The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence/ BAE Systems Eurofighter Typhoon;

• France’s Direction generate de I’armement/ Dassault Aviation/Rafale

• Sweden’s Forsvarets materielverk/Saab Gripen E/F.

In October 2017, a further RFI was sent to weapons systems manufacturers from seven nations; France, Germany, Israel, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The next stage, RFQ, was marked by a letter to the above entities on April 27, 2018. The letter noted that: “The objective of the programme is to achieve an effective and affordable weapon system capability enabled by a multi-role combat aircraft and its weapons and sensors, including associated support assets and services”. It stressed that deliveries must happen between 2025 and 2030, the same time period that the existing Hornet fleet will be retired. Initial operational capability (IOC) is aimed to be achieved in 2027 and full operational capability (FOC) in 2030.

On the last day of January 2019, the five companies duly submitted their legally binding replies to the RFQ with information on their solution to Finland’s multi-role fighter package requirement.

Having considered the submissions and discussed them with the manufacturers the Finns will respond with another RFQ later in the year and then provide the companies with another more nuanced RFQ. The second phase of negotiations will end in 2020. Manufacturers will then be requested to submit final tender documents. The Finnish government will make its decision on the HX in 2021

Finland’s requirements

Finland is a comparatively wealthy country but even so, 64 modern multi-role aircraft are not cheap. For that reason, the life-time cost of the HX programme will not come from the normal defence budget. A separate sum of €11.4 billion has been set aside for the programme. That sum is to include primary weapon system costs and service and maintenance overheads throughout the programme’s expected 30-year life cycle. Finland has determined that its defence capability will be safeguarded by buying proven off-the-shelf capabilities that are task- oriented and internationally interoperable. Achieving international interoperability as per NATO standards has been an objective since the end of the 1990s.

Decision-making considerations

Those Finnish officials tasked with deciding which jet to buy must will be guided by five criteria:

Military capability: The system’s capability to win fights during its service life;

Security of supply and domestic industry’s role: The usability of the system in times of war and peace and the extent of domestic industrial participation;

Affordability: Can Finland afford to purchase, use and develop the system throughout is life cycle? And;

A security and defence policy assessment: Potential impacts of the selection on Finland’s security and defence cooperation with other nations.

Military capability is the only decision-making area where the candidates will be compared. The other four criteria will be assessed as having passed or failed the requirement during the paper sift.

Military capability will be assessed using five main scenarios:

• counter-air (air-defence);

• counter-land (air-to-ground);

• counter-sea (air-to-sea);

• intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and,

• targeting and long-range strike.

Of the above five scenarios, counter-air is considered to be the most important and takes precedence over the other four. The chosen jet must be able to operate in contested airspace facing state-of-the-art air defence systems, both air- and land-based.

One of two EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft at Jyvaskyla-Tikkakoski Air Base, during the annual airshow.
Jerry Gunner

The chosen system will be expected to perform well in the other disciplines - a dedicated Sukhoi killer is not enough. The llmavoimat says: “Provision of support also plays an important role in the evaluation even if it is not given independent weight. In terms of operations, the flexibility and capability of support provision contribute to the results of each scenario

A sixth requirement is that the selected system will be expected to operate using Finland’s existing ground structures with minimal alteration. It will also be expected to be able to operate away from base - possibly within range of enemy long-range strike - in an austere environment, from make-shift runways using the nation’s road network.

The seventh criteria is that the jet must be capable of at least three decades of service. In December 2018 the out-going Chief of Defence Lt Gen Jarmo Lindberg, who had previously served as llmavoimat commander- in-chief, emphasised Finland must not be the only nation still using the platform as its main fighter when it comes time to replace it.

In a press release the llmavoimat explained how the more than 2,500 questions posed of bidders were designed to aid the selector’s decision making: “Operational requirements are assessed in scenarios describing military crisis situations and tasks set for multi-role fighters specifically drawn up for the request for quotation. In their responses to the request, the HX candidates aim at achieving the end results required in the scenarios by producing desired impacts with selected solutions”

The release goes on to say: “Military capabilities requirements, Level 2, sets the types of requirements that are anticipated to be needed in air operations in the 2030s. The request for quotation includes about 200 such capability requirements

Level 3 describes the system requirements set for the HX using a data model used in the Defence Forces. The system requirements - 200 in total involving military capability - involve restrictions and conditions set for the HX solution which aim at ensuring that the system will be able to be integrated into the Finnish defence system. Another objective is to collect enough information about the operation of the systems of the HX candidates to allow decision-making.

A contender will be assessed on how it meets each challenge posed in each part of any given scenario in a Finnish operational environment, not simply whether or not it achieved the final objective. The Finns believe this is a useful tool in distinguishing between the different contenders and how projected future developments in any given platform may affect the weapons systems suitability for HX.

Once these data have been gathered, extensive war games will be run to find out how each candidate performs in different Finnish operational scenarios. The aim will be to select an aircraft that can do every part of a mission well. It will be no good being excellent in an air-to-air role but take a long time to re-arm and re-fuel on the ground.

A system’s development potential will be assessed on a qualitative and quantitative estimate of an HX solution’s capacity to remain combat capable until the end of the 2050s. As well as a manufacturer’s prior performance in developing weapons systems the likelihood of Finland being able to influence the development of the system in future will be taken into consideration.

Saving money

For cost reasons it would be an advantage to be able to use some or all of Finland’s existing stock of weapons. Following the latest mid-life upgrade, the llmavoimat has recently introduced into service a number of expensive new weapons for use with its Hornets including the AIM-120C-7 version of Raytheon’s Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) purchased at a cost of around $450 million, 70 AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface StandoffMissiles for another $255 million as well as Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition and Raytheon’s Joint Stand Office Weapon. These weapons are already compatible with all but the French offering for HX.

“The primary purpose of Finland’s defence capability is to establish deterrence against the use of military force as well as the threat thereof, and to repel attacks on Finland.”

Lockheed Martin

Contenders

One could have been forgiven for thinking that the Finnish Air Force’s 100th Anniversary Air Show held at Jyväskylä–Tikkakoski Air Base, home of Ilmavoimat pilot training, in June 2018 was actually a trade show for HX contenders. Only the F-35 was not demonstrated in the flying displays; Gripen was represented by Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force) JAS 39Cs and a full-scale model JAS 39E with a Saab test pilot present to show folk around it. All five manufacturers had extensive chalets and promotional teams on site as well as aircraft on static display for the public. Lockheed Martin sent one of its full-scale F-35 models. The show presented a good opportunity to speak to the different teams, especially the Americans who are constrained by domestic legislation in what they can say about their bids – the offers of F-35 and F-18 are government to government negotiations. Surprisingly, at the time, Boeing flew two EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to Finland for the show. When the author asked a Boeing representative why he said: “Why not? A mixed fleet of Super Hornet and Growler is a perfect fit for Finland.”

Each offering is capable of doing a very good job indeed.

Boeing

As the supplier of Finland’s current fighter force, Boeing may be seen as having a slight edge over its rivals. It has long experience of working with the Finns and helping them develop their concept of operations. F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III, as offered to Finland, is a much-improved fighter compared with its predecessors and comes equipped with next-generation cockpits and sensors. Conformal fuel tanks for extended un-refuelled range, and/or the carriage of external stores on pylons formerly used for fuel tanks are an innovation on the jet. Although not strictly a stealthy aircraft, a decreased radar cross section in comparison with earlier Hornets makes it harder to detect with radar. The first order for the Block III, 78 aircraft for the US Navy at a cost of $4 billion, was awarded in March 2019. Boeing would argue that these jets, with a lifespan designed to be longer than that of legacy Super Hornets, are essentially a new aircraft and could very easily meet the Finnish requirement to be viable until the end of the 2050s. They have been designed for 9,000 flight hours, 50% more than earlier Super Hornets.

Boeing has not confined itself to offering the F/A-18E and two-seat F/A-18F. Permission was granted to the US Navy and Boeing by the US Department of Defense in February 2019 to offer the EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to Finland for HX. Australia is the only non-US operator of the type having purchased 12. Dan Gillian, Boeing vice-president, F/A-18 and EA-18G programmes said: “The combination of the Super Hornet Block III and Growler would provide Finland with superior technological capability particularly suited to Finland’s HX mission requirements.”

Dassault

The French are offering the F4 standard of Dassault’s Rafale, a so-called omni-role fighter with significant ground attack capability. The latest iteration of Rafale being delivered to France at the moment is the F3-R. The most important difference between it and its predecessors is perhaps a major advance in aircraft safety by the addition of AGCAS (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). AGCAS is designed to reduce the incidence of aircraft and aircrew losses resulting from controlled flight in to terrain. F3-R will also see the introduction of the MBDA Meteor long-range air-to-air missile, the Talios target designation pod and the laserguided version of the modular air-to-ground weapon AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire), adapted to hit moving targets. F4 will continue the process of upgrading the jet’s capabilities as it and its mission sets mature. A possible advantage for Rafale over its competitors, other than Gripen, is that it will be used by France as its sole combat aircraft. A singletype fleet of warplanes brings with it obvious economies. France has made it clear that in addition to the extensive suite of European weapons (MBDA’s Meteor is undoubtedly streets ahead of any other Western long-range air-to-air missile) it is open to integrating any other weapons system the Finns desire. There would of course be cost and time implications. Speaking to Dassault representatives at the Tikkakoski show last summer AIR International was struck by its claims that Rafale is second only to F-35 in terms of stealth. The French sales team was keen to remind us that the jet regularly flies from rudimentary strips in Africa on missions previously flown by Jaguars and Mirage F1s. On Opération Chammal, France’s anti-ISIS campaign over Syria and Iraq, Rafale regularly flies ten-hour combat air patrols. The type regularly surges up to 150 flight hours per jet per month. It should be remembered that neither of these impressive real world capabilities demonstrates that the Rafale is a stealthy aircraft.

Eurofighter

Eurofighter really pushed the boat out at Tikkakoski last summer. No fewer than six jets flew to Finland, at least one from all four partner nations, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. The Royal Air Force provided the flying display jet. Undoubtedly, in view of Brexit, this was done to emphasise to the Finnish public that Typhoon is a European, not a British programme, although the UK has the lead on the sales effort to Finland. The unambiguous message was that much of Europe has chosen Typhoon as its air defence fighter for the next several decades. Eurofighter was keen to emphasise that the purchase of Typhoon brings membership of a club that confers most of the privileges of access to technology and systems that are enjoyed by the four partner nations

Speaking to AIR International in February 2019, Paul Hitchcock, Managing Director of BAE Systems Finland explained that before it launched its Finnish campaign BAE Systems spent a lot of time and money ensuring that Typhoon met all of the Ilmavoimat’s requirements. He said BAE Systems asked its own people and the RAF how they saw Typhoon as a fit to the Finnish RFQ. The response was framed: “This is what Typhoon does for us today and this is what it is going to do for the RAF and its other users in years to come.” The conclusion was that Typhoon is a very good fit. Hitchcock confirmed that the Typhoon offered to Finland is the 2025 – 2030build standard fitted with the most modern, yet to be introduced, AESA radar, latest defensive aids suite, Litening pod and all the other bells and whistles foreseen in the next decade or so. That jet, configured to what is known as Phase Enhancement Four (PE4) standard will integrate further weapons and sensors and give its operators further options when defeating opponents in different scenarios. Hitchcock confirmed that in responding to the Finns’ RFQ his Typhoon team had responded to the Finnish scenarios with examples of solutions using different weapons, AMRAAM or Meteor for instance.

Hitchcock emphasised that industrial participation is of vital importance to the Finns. Sensibly, the nation’s two foremost defence conglomerates, Patria and Insta Group are banned from aligning themselves with any particular bidder. This is because they are both heavily involved in the Finnish side of the acquisition programme and their association with any one manufacturer would be inimical to Finland’s interests by perhaps tilting the competition in a particular way. That being said, behind the proper firewalls and in accordance with agreed protocols, both companies are free to discuss HX with all five competing companies. Hitchcock said BAE Systems already had extensive experience of working with Patria and continued to do so. He said the bid he leads was based on a holistic approach in which apart from military capability, industrial participation and the other selection criteria are considered as part of a whole. Industrial participation and security of supply, which is really the ability to support, maintain and upgrade the assets in Finland, are vital to the Finns and so is operational sovereignty. This philosophy led to the Typhoon bid suggesting Finland builds its own infrastructure to build, maintain and upgrade Typhoon in country with all the benefits that brings in terms of technology transfer and so on to the Finnish Defence Force and Finnish industry. Similarly, operational sovereignty can be ceded to Finland with no deference to other nations. As well as major industrial partners such as Leonardo and Eurojet, the Typhoon bidders have spoken to over 100 local SMEs and other businesses that could contribute to the enterprise. Hitchcock emphasised that industrial participation is of vital importance to the Finns. Sensibly, the nation’s two foremost defence conglomerates, Patria and Insta Group are banned from aligning themselves with any particular bidder. This is because they are both heavily involved in the Finnish side of the acquisition programme and their association with any one manufacturer would be inimical to Finland’s interests by perhaps tilting the competition in a particular way. That being said, behind the proper firewalls and in accordance with agreed protocols, both companies are free to discuss HX with all five competing companies. Hitchcock said BAE Systems already had extensive experience of working with Patria and continued to do so. He said the bid he leads was based on a holistic approach in which apart from military capability, industrial participation and the other selection criteria are considered as part of a whole. Industrial participation and security of supply, which is really the ability to support, maintain and upgrade the assets in Finland, are vital to the Finns and so is operational sovereignty. This philosophy led to the Typhoon bid suggesting Finland builds its own infrastructure to build, maintain and upgrade Typhoon in country with all the benefits that brings in terms of technology transfer and so on to the Finnish Defence Force and Finnish industry. Similarly, operational sovereignty can be ceded to Finland with no deference to other nations. As well as major industrial partners such as Leonardo and Eurojet, the Typhoon bidders have spoken to over 100 local SMEs and other businesses that could contribute to the enterprise.

Lockheed Martin

It is not clear which of the three basic versions of its F-35 Lightning II Lockheed Martin is offering. Each variant has different capabilities in terms of weapons and performance. The manufacturer is keen to emphasise the fifthgeneration capabilities of its F-35, particularly the force multiplying effect of its data fusion systems. There are over 280 F-35s in service worldwide today, and there are commitments to buy many thousands more over coming decades when it will be the West’s most important fighter. It has already proved capable of safely operating in similar climatic conditions to those found in the far north of Finland.

Stealth is probably not a game-changer for the Finns; but it would certainly help. All the other contenders say they have different ways of achieving roughly the same thing and advances in radar and other sensors make it less of an advantage than it was. AIR International suspects the other contenders are bound to make such statements. In so-called beast mode the F-35 can carry an impressive array of air-to-air missiles externally. Germany’s politically-driven decision not to buy the jet and instead to buy more Typhoons may have given the American team pause for thought. All points taken into consideration, the F-35 Lightning II remains a highly lethal and survivable fighter, one that any chief of the air staffwould like to have at their disposal.

Saab

There is a comprehensive overview of Saab’s Gripen E in the June 2019 issue but there are still things to be said.

Sweden and Finland have a history of close military cooperation which has and continues to grow. They are both Partnership for Peace members and their geographic closeness and shared interest in the Baltic are obvious. The Swedes are already committed to Gripen E and expect to induct the first jets into service this year.

Saab’s offer comprises 52 Gripen Es and 12 two-seat Gripen Fs. The bid has been predicated on a design-to-cost basis within the €7 to 10 billion budget allocated for the acquisition of the aircraft.

Magnus Skogberg, programme director of Saab’s HX-bid, spoke to AIR International on the telephone explaining his company’s approach. The company is impressed with the level of technological competence within Finnish industry stemming, Skoberg said, from the Nokia era. Saab is a serious investor in developing Finland’s technological base.

Saab says its offering is a true multirole aircraft, designed exactly for Finland’s requirements using the most up-to-date technology. Sweden and Finland have a similar operating philosophy for combat jets, and both use conscript mechanics in off-airfield operations in a similar climate. Gripen’s easy to upgrade future-proof design, Saab says, maximises operational effect – more bang for your buck. This is important because the less money spent on acquiring the jets themselves, the more there is for weapons and other add-ons.

The company is offering a comprehensive package including initial training, simulators and mission support systems and ancillary systems such as launchers, pylons and drop tanks. In-service support between 2025 - 2030 is included along with spares. That support includes helping Finland integrate the Saab system into its existing command, control, communications and computer networks and infrastructure.

Saab guarantees all this on a firm fixed price basis.

As for security of supply, Saab commits to enabling Finland to run its own fleet of fighters without outside interference. The Ilmavoimat has two levels of maintenance, ML1 and ML2. ML1 is carried out at a local level and ML2 is the more in-depth depot level sustainment activity. Saab expects the Finns to build up to being capable preforming 80 to 90% of avionics, engines and mechanical maintenance in house. A proposed Gripen System Centre would not only maintain the jets but help in developing the aircraft. Saab’s offer includes full Gripen product data, missions’ system rig and software development tools, conferring on the Finns the ability to direct their own national capabilities for sustained engineering and further development. The Finnish Gripen effort would normally be linked with the Swede’s but in times of crisis it could easily be run autonomously with no reference to Sweden. As for security of supply, parts production and assembly of engines and aircraft in Finland to build an MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) capability in country is a key part of Saab’s bid.

Next steps

And now we wait. The Finns will ask more questions later in the selection process. They may decide to have practical demonstrations from one or more of the contenders. For the three European manufacturers the Finnish order is a big deal financially; for the Americans, not so much. Beyond monetary considerations the Finnish HX Fighter Programme is a very prestigious contract to win and may guide other nations facing similar problems in replacing their fighter fleets. AI