Saab takes on the HX Challenge with Gripen E in Finland
Saab has commenced its HX Challenge by deploying Gripen E - registration 39-10 - to Pirkkala. Test aircraft 39-7 technology demonstrator, which features a Gripen E rear cockpit, will also join the week-long verification period, as will a GlobalEye. Finland has sent a test team to fly aboard the GlobalEye from Sweden. An aircraft is also expected to visit Pirkkala during the challenge.
With both BAE Systems and Dassault having enjoyed near-perfect weather for its HX Challenge periods, the arrival of the Saab Gripen coincided with the arrival of low cloud and heavy snow in Tampere. Only Gripen E 39-10 was present for the media day, with Gripen Demo 39-7 expected to arrive on Friday. A local familiarisation flight planned for the media day was cancelled due to the poor weather. As an optional mission it was understandable why this was cancelled from a pure aviation standpoint, however, it was unfortunate the standard Finnish winter weather halted flying for the day.
The addition of GlobalEye will have an effect on the number of fighter aircraft Saab includes, but the way the HX competition is structured means it’s about offering the best solution. Saab believes GlobalEye and Gripen mix offers an optimum solution, according to Jonas Hjelm, head of business area Aeronautics.
Magnus Skogberg, Saab HX campaign director says the Swedish bid includes both Gripen E and F, and GlobalEye, which adds "20 minutes extra pre-warning time" with coverage out to 550km for targets above 9,000ft and low level targets out to 450km. Saab is already present in Finland with 120 employees and a tech centre in Tampere for R&D for current products, according to Anders Carp, head of sensor and C2 business.
The HX Competition
Finland’s HX competition serves as a useful barometer of success and potential across the five aircraft involved. Finland has run an impressive campaign for its €10 billion ($11.1 billion) HX requirement to replace its F/A-18s between 2025-30. A preliminary request for quotation was issued in April 2018 and this launched the opening negotiation phase, during which preliminary candidate-specific procurement packages were set out. A second negotiation phase in 2019 saw the final procurement packages fine-tuned for each candidate. This will continue this summer, after which the five companies tendering for HX will submit their best and final offer (BAFO) in July. The Finnish government will then take the HX project findings and make a decision in 2021.
Each military aircraft - those that have already participated and those still to come - will follow the same schedule, arriving in 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.
Following the Gripen's participation, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II (7-17 February), and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (18-26 February) will take part in the HX Challenge.
Finland has listed aircraft 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.
The country has pledged €10bn to provide the airforce with a next-generation fighter aircraft. The budget includes military 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 the 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 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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