Finland Works Its Fighter Replacement Program


At the beginning of the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland established a stance of enhanced independence when it purchased Hornets from the United States and began a process of working with Western allied airpower.

In an article published on February 16, 2018, we looked forward and backwards to the Finnish fighter capability.

The Finnish government is set to acquire 64 new fighter jets for its air force.

This is occurring as Nordic defense is being reworked, and the Northern European states are sorting out how to deal with what the Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö has referred to as the “new normal” in Russian behavior.

“It’s important that our armed forces have the equipment that they need to fulfill all of their fundamental roles,” said Niinistö.

Niinistö has described Russia’s more unpredictable behavior in the greater Baltic Sea region, particularly in the areas of political influencing methods and security policies, as the “new normal”.

“Changes in the security environment and the multi-purpose use or threat of power have become a new normal. Russia has shown in Ukraine and Syria that it possesses both the capacity and the will to use military power to push its goals,”

The new combat aircraft will be part of an integrated Finnish defense force in the evolving strategic environment of the 2020’s.

It is important to remember that the last major acquisition also occurred in a significant period of change for Finland in its strategic neighborhood.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the dynamics of change in the new Russian republic, Finland was able to negotiate its way out of the Cold War agreement with Russia in which Finland was committed to cooperate with Russia militarily in the case that an aggressor was threatening to use Finnish territory to attack the Soviet Union.

The agreement required mutual affirmation of the threat and the engagement but nonetheless was a major curb on Finnish military independence.

With the end of this agreement, and then the unification of Germany, and the opening of a new chapter in the development the European Union, Finland positioned itself for membership in the European Union in 1995.

The EU treaty contains a mutual security agreement for all of the members as well.

It was in this period of dynamic change, that Finland acquired new fighters for its air force, F-18 Hornet aircraft.

The fighter replacement program is being conducted under the auspices of the Strategic Projects Program.

According to the Finnish Ministry of Defence:

A sector called Strategic Projects Programme operates directly under the Director General of the Resource Policy Department. This programme is led by Project Coordinator Lauri Puranen.

Strategic projects include the replacement of the capabilities of the Hornet fleet (HX project) and the replacement of the Navy’s vessels which are scheduled to be decommissioned (Squadron 2020).

The Strategic Projects Programme is responsible for steering and coordinating strategic projects in the Ministry of Defence so that national defence policy objectives and timely replacement of ageing military capabilities are ensured while taking into account the security policy environment. 

The Strategic Projects Programme plans and manages external quality assurance, prepares funding models for projects and formulates the decision-making criteria for security and defence policy areas when procurement decisions are dealt with. The Programme is also responsible for a project-based coordination of cooperation, communications and travels to gather information. 

Furthermore, it maintains project-based situational awareness and prepares meetings as part of the steering process. The unit cooperates closely with other units in the Ministry of Defence as well as with organisations responsible for the Defence Forces’ strategic projects.

And earlier this month, Lauri Puranen provided an English translation of articles which he had published earlier in Finnish about the fighter replacement program.

Review of the blogs on the HX programme during the past 12 months

Lauri Puranen

I write a blog in Finnish about the background of and current matters related to the HX programme. If it was translated into other languages, my blog would probably have more readers; but so far it has been only in Finnish.

This rather long review published exceptionally in English is a compilation of the HX blog posts over the past year. My aim has been to put together the most relevant points about the background and developments of the programme.

In March 2018 I wrote this about the HX system and the goal of the HX fighter programme:

With the available resources, our task in the HX programme is to ensure that the best possible capability be procured for Finland’s defence system. Therefore, it is not a matter of a particular fighter plane’s features or its performance in air combat but what is desired for the Air Force’s entire combat capability in the future.

Its capabilities will be based on multi-role fighters: integrated sensors, aircraft self-protection systems, data exchange systems and other systems.  In addition to effective missiles, bombs and cannons, the capability of multi-role fighters to engage targets in the air, on land and at sea is based on electronic warfare systems, which all have been integrated into multi-role fighters and their systems.

The information from the aircraft’s own systems is not enough; the effectiveness of modern weapons and electronic systems requires also data acquired outside and input in advance about, for example, the location of targets and the parameters of systems used by the enemy. When all these elements work seamlessly together, the result is a combat-ready multi-role fighter.

A single multi-role fighter can be compared to a single ice-hockey player. More points will be scored only when the team consists of top-level individuals who play seamlessly together. In air warfare, a team corresponds to a section formed of four multi-role fighters and an air combat leader.

The effectiveness of this section is dependent on the capabilities of the fighters, the networking between fighters and the air combat leader and networking with other actors in the defence system. Here networking means immediate sharing of information on targets, target indication and aircraft position with the section’s other aircraft and air combat leader.

This is how all aircraft of the section can have a real time and comprehensive situation awareness that is notably more comprehensive than that of a single fighter.

Finland must be able to use the capabilities discussed above for thirty years. In April 2018, I wrote on the decision-making model of the HX fighter programme:

The procurement decision will have a substantial effect on the defence system’s capabilities and credibility. The Air Force’s high preparedness and high-performing multi-role fighter systems will play a significant role in securing a preventive threshold.

The replacement of the Hornet fleet will define the Air Force’s entire combat capability into the beginning of the 2060s. It is therefore vital that development prospects of each candidate aircraft will be critically evaluated for all areas of key importance when making a procurement decision. High performance, security of supply and appropriate operating costs are Finland’s key requirements for the coming decades.

Since the capabilities in Finland’s environment that challenge our defence evolve all the time, multi-role fighters must bring added value to the defence solution for their entire 30-year life cycle. It must be possible to develop the systems and features of the multi-role fighters over time, thus maintaining the defence capability also in the future. Avionics, radar, weapon and electronic warfare systems are software-defined but the “hardware”, computers and weapons, requires upgrading as well.

When considering the procurement decision, it is similarly essential to evaluate the candidates for the number of aircraft in use and the extent of the user community over the projected life cycle into the 2060s. Other user nations will share the costs with us.

Selecting a multi-role fighter is based on five decision making areas: the multi-role fighter’s military capability, security of supply, industrial cooperation, procurement and life cycle costs, and security and defence policy implications. (Editorial remark: Military capability is the only decision-making area where the candidates will be compared. The other areas are assessed as pass or fail. Defence and security policy will be assessed separately).

Since the procurement will have an impact on the Defence Forces’ operational capability and define the Air Force’s entire combat capability into the 2060s, a system with the greatest capabilities, including supporting elements, should be selected.

The quotations will be placed in an order of priority, based solely on military capabilities; as to the other decision making areas, the quotation shall meet the strict requirements laid down in the Request for Quotation.

Towards the end of 2018, public discussion on the number of aircraft became more heated.  I took up the needs of and justifications for defence:

As to the number of fighters, claims have been made that full capabilities could be achieved with fewer, more effective modern fighters.  Some comments have even proposed reducing capabilities.

Since full replacement of capabilities requires a procurement of the same size as that of the Hornet fleet, Finland invited tenders for 64 multi-role fighters. There are three key factors that impact this number: Finland’s military operating environment, tasks set for the Defence Forces and resources allocated to defence.

Changes in the security environment

Since the 1992 decision to procure Hornets, Finland’s security environment has changed and has become more challenging. The situation in Europe is also more strained. These changes do not support the idea to decrease the number of fighters, quite the contrary. Although the significance of the procurement contract extends beyond the current security political situation and defence planning cannot depend on the political climate, the impact of the HX Fighter Programme is monumental in creating a credible defence capability.

Tasks of the Defence Forces

The Defence Forces have clearly set tasks to maintain a credible and preventive defence capability and the capacity for defending Finland’s entire territory. These tasks have not changed since the procurement of the Hornet fleet.  Finland as a militarily non-allied country is responsible for its own defence, despite the increased international cooperation.

The foundation of the Defence Forces’ deterrence capacity is a proven, flexible and proactive preparedness control, with a credible capacity for repelling an attack, based on a sufficient amount of equipment fit for combat, competent personnel and the will to defend the country.

Defending Finland’s airspace and supporting the other services engaged in combat require that a sufficient number of fighters must be available in all situations; only fighters in the air increase the defence capability.  The operational range of a fighter is about 500 km, which means that in Finland it is necessary to be able to operate simultaneously in two directions. In one operational direction, several four-fighter sections are needed, and when necessary, they will have to be fuelled and armed on the ground. Some of the fleet are always out of use because of servicing.

Undisputedly the new fighters will be more effective than the Hornet fleet, but so are the adversaries in the air who also employ new aircraft; military technology evolves everywhere. It is a fact that the new multi-role fighters have capabilities not exceeding those of the Hornets’ with similar operating speed, radius and time. Moreover, the arming and fuelling time on the ground for a new sortie needs to be roughly the same.

In view of the Defence Forces’ tasks, the full replacement of the Hornet fleet requires that the current number of fighters will be kept.

Allocated defence resources

Resources in the defence system consist of funding, defence materiel, personnel, competences and infrastructure. These must be able to produce the Defence Forces’ peacetime activities and results. Simply put, we currently have resources for just over 60 fighters to be maintained and operated by the Air Force. The existing infrastructure, personnel, training system, flight hour adjustment, and the command and control system can be exploited when new multi-role fighters are introduced.

It has been stated that while the new multi-role fighters will be financed from outside the regular defence budget, their operating and maintenance will have to be financed from the regular defence budget.

Even if it was to some extent justified to procure more fighters than what the current number is, the size and resources of the Air Force influence what can be done. In this respect, sixty-four is the right number of new multi-role fighters for our defence system.

In January 2019, before tenders were received, I published a blog where I reflected on coming events in 2019:

The received tenders will be analysed during this spring and, based on them, negotiations will be conducted with the tenderers. As to reaching a procurement decision, 2019 is too early for drawing conclusions. Instead of making comparisons, the aim this spring is to analyse and fully understand the concept and the whole package offered by the tenderers, and to continue the negotiations to reach the best possible solution for Finland. After the spring negotiations and possible steering by the new government, a more specified Request for Quotation (RfQ) will be issued. The goal is to send the RfQ in early autumn 2019.

To evaluate the tenders, an HX Evaluation Handbook was written to ensure an accurate implementation of the evaluation.  By means of the Handbook it is possible to ensure impartiality and to enable making comparisons in all areas of the decision model.

The responses to the preliminary RFQ build around the package of 64 aircraft. It is assumed that the system packages of the five tenderers are very different from one another because of different sensors, weapons, data, and training and servicing solutions. Each tenderer has, of course, a different flying platform.  All tenders are very likely to fall within the price range of EUR 7 to 10 billion as defined in the government’s Defence Policy Report.

Tough competition is in the buyer’s advantage. Keeping in mind the requirements for full replacement of capabilities, the aim is to procure best possible capability for Finland and as advantageously as possible. The final procurement costs will become more accurate after analysing the tenders, based on the new government’s steering.  Preventive and defence capabilities as part of the defence system are to be the key criterion for the system to be procured.

The ultimate capabilities and components, including the number of fighters, will become clear in the course of the tendering process and evaluations.

All tenders are confidential and their contents cannot be published as they contain both secret information on required capabilities and commercially confidential information.  The defence administration will inform of the progress and stages of the project.

To conclude, here is a blog I published some weeks ago on the start of the negotiations:

Negotiations started in March and they are being conducted in Finland, with a similar time frame reserved for each candidate. All areas of the decision model will be addressed: evaluation of capabilities, security of supply, contract terms, cost information and industrial cooperation.

The first round of negotiations will be concluded in May. The second round will be conducted in the course of summer, with the aim to discuss complementary information requested and received from tenderers, and to address any other business that may rise. The third round of negotiations will be conducted in early autumn, preparing the candidates for receiving a more specific RfQ

After the first stage or the three rounds of negotiations, a more specific RfQ will be sent in autumn 2019.

The second stage will start after answers have been received.

The final tenders will be requested in 2020 and the procurement decision will be made in 2021.

Lauri Puranen

Program Director, MoD

Major General, ret.