Finland kicks off HX Challenge at Pirkkala

Finland in search of a new fighter

Finland has commenced its HX Challenge, the latest phase in its search for a new fighter to replace its fleet of F/A-18C/D Hornets. The five candidates are being evaluated individually at Pirkkala AB near Tampere.

Finnish defence ministry programme manager Lauri Puranen says the HX Challenge is a testing and verification event for HX candidates. It will test the fighters in specific scenarios to validate the performance data in the individual bids in an open and fair manner in Finnish conditions.

HX Challenge

The Eurofighter Typhoon bid, led by BAE Systems, began this process on January 9 with two aircraft in the latest configuration. They will fly missions alongside Finnish Air Force aircraft in an intense period of evaluation running from January 9-17.

Following Typhoon participation, 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).

HX Challenge - Eurofighter [Jamie Hunter]
A single-seat Typhoon FGR4, registration ZK356 (c/n 423/BS117), and a two-seat Typhoon T3, registration ZK303 (c/n 207/BT017) on frosty ground at Pirkkala AB, ready to begin Finland's HX Challenge trials. The aircraft wear the colours of the RAF's No 41 Test and Evaluation Squadron, but are based at BAE Warton, Lancashire. Jamie Hunter

Each aircraft will follow the same schedule, arriving to Pirkkala AB on the first day of the evaluation period. The second day features briefings in the morning and optional ground testing in the afternoon. Day three focuses on the aircraft’s sensor kits, with Finland evaluating the platform’s air-to-air and air-to-ground sensors. The fourth day will see Finland assess the competing aircraft’s counter air and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Night operations will also take place. On the fifth day, evaluation will take place on the platform’s anti-surface warfare, long-range strike (LRS) and counter land capabilities. Day six acts as a back up day for the assessment if one of the other days is called off due to adverse weather or aircraft serviceability. On day seven, the fighters leave Pirkkala AB as the next contender to be assessed arrives.

Finland has listed requirements that it will validate when evaluating each platform. In terms of operational requirements, the country will assess the candidate’s individual mission performance, its ability to provide agile combat support and capacity to conduct operational-level wargames. In terms of capability requirements, the HX Challenge will assess task performance, the platform’s strengths and weaknesses and its ability to provide live and kill chain analysis (Ps/Pk). Finally, Finland will assess contending aircraft in line with the system requirements outlined by the HX Challenge. This will see validation and verification of each platform’s system functionality and capabilities.

The requirement categories (system, capability and operational) – will be assessed individually in three separate phases. The results from each will add up to the aircraft’s overall ranking in the HX Challenge. The platform which tops that will be recommended for procurement going forward.

A platform for future growth

On top of this Finland is looking for a platform which will provide 30 years of service life and has the potential for future growth, opening the door for further development, upgrades and system/weapon integration on its desired platform in the future.

Each contender can offer a weapons package based on capability, so the fact that Finland currently employs the AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile and Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) are not a factor. The Eurofighter bid will offer MBDA’s Storm Shadow long-range air-to-surface cruise missile and Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM).

On the second day of the Typhoon’s participation in the HX Challenge (January 10), the German deputy ambassador to Finland said that Germany has decided to procure up to 38 Tranche 4 Eurofighters to replace its Tranche 1 platforms, adding that contract negotiations were ongoing but production will start in 2025 to align with Finland’s procurement plan.

Typhoon Line-Up [Khalem Chapman]
A multi-national static line up of Eurofighter Typhoons at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) 2016. Khalem Chapman 

The country has pledged €10bn to providing the air force with a next-generation fighter aircraft. The budget includes aircraft and armament procurement, infrastructure development and training. Finland is looking for a platform with life support costs that are “about the same” as its air arm’s current F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet. The procurement follows a decision-making model, which places security of supply and affordability above the platform’s overall military capability.  

The HX Challenge’s decision-making model will define and negotiate a solution and procurement package with each tendered, then identify whether Finland can operate the solution independently, followed by the affordability of the platform – both in procurement and in operational costs. After confirming a secure industrial participation, the platform’s performance and future growth potential defines whether the platform fits best for Finland’s capability requirements. The best fit will go through security and defence policy analysis before the Finnish government makes a final decision.  

The next phase of the HX Challenge will see a revised Request for Quotation - which allows the potential suppliers the opportunity to competitively cost the final chosen solution - followed by a negotiation round. A best and final offer (BAFO) request is expected to be issued in July with a scheduled response by Finland in December.

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