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Pencils down: bids in for Finland’s HX fighter programme

By Himaja Ganta and  By Harry Lye 29 Apr 2021 (Last Updated April 30th, 2021 12:45)

Finland has received final quotations from suppliers vying to supply the country’s next fighter jet. Lockheed Martin, Saab, Dassault, Eurofighter and Boeing are all in the running to replace the country’s ageing fleet of F/A-18 C/D Hornets.

Pencils down: bids in for Finland’s HX fighter programme
Right to left, the Boeing Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Lockheed Martin F-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Credits: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Saab, Dassault, and BAE Systems.

The Finnish Government will decide which of the companies’ fighters to purchase by the end of 2021. 

The programme is expected to cost €10bn (£8.7bn) with requirements including not only the aircraft but also ‘technical systems, training systems, necessary maintenance equipment, test equipment and spare parts, along with weapons, sensors’ and other support equipment. 

Finland set a bid ceiling of €9bn for each tenderer. Sticking within this budget, Finland has the option of the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35, and the Saab Gripen.

In a statement, the Finnish Defence Forces Logistics Command wrote: “Since the procurement will have an impact on the Defence Forces’ operational capability and will define the Finnish Air Force’s combat capability into the 2060s, it is important to select a system with the best possible capabilities, including supporting elements and development capacity over the entire life cycle.”

The Hornets are set to start being phased out starting in 2025, with the new jets entering service as the old Hornets are phased out. Deliveries are expected to continue through 2030.

Boeing Super Hornet and Growler

Local Finnish media have reported that Boeing is offering 50 F/A-18 Block III Super Hornets and 14 EA-18G Growlers for a total of 64 aircraft. 

In a short statement issued on Twitter, Boeing said: “It’s official: we have submitted our best and final offer in response to Finland’s #HXHanke. Our offer includes options for the F/A-18 Block III #SuperHornet, the electronic warfare #EA18G Growler and a robust industrial engagement plan for Finnish industry.”

Previously, Boeing told Air Force Technology that as a follow-up to the Hornet, the Finnish Air Force’s infrastructure in flying the Super Hornet essentially already exists. With many existing industry partners in Finland already up and running, it would be possible to perform assembly of the aircraft or components in the country.

Boeing emphasised this easy switch, saying: “You could have a Hornet flying today and a Super Hornet flying tomorrow.”

It is estimated that around 60% of existing Hornet tooling can be used to support the new Super Hornet – increasing potential cost savings.

Lockheed Martin F-35A

Lockheed Martin is offering a package of F-35A aircraft and a ‘sustainment solution’ it says is tailored to meet Finland’s security of supply needs. The company’s F-35 offer also is said to include many ‘first-of-a-kind’ opportunities for Finnish industry to work on the production and sustain of the fighter.

F-35 programme vice president and general manager Bridget Lauderdale said: “The F-35 will provide Finnish industries high technology job opportunities that no other competitor can offer,

“The production work will continue for more than 20 years, and the F-35 sustainment work will continue into the 2050s. Not only will Finland support its own F-35s, but it will directly support the global fleet of F-35s through the production of major components.”

Unlike some bidders, Lockheed Martin did not say how many aircraft it had offered Finland.

Lockheed Martin said that through ‘indirect industrial participation’ outside of F-35 production, it would build partnerships with the Finnish industry and academia to develop ‘advancing security collaborations.’

Previously, the company said the use of the aircraft within Europe could increase partnership opportunities and cost-sharing ability, which would also help reduce through-life costs.

To date, 630 F-35s are in service in 13 countries.

Eurofighter Typhoon

Eurofighter’s Typhoon bid is backed by the partner nations of the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain and includes more than 80 work packages for Finnish companies including a final assembly line and access to research and development projects headed up by MBDA.

Speaking at a press briefing on the Typhoon submission, UK Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quinn said: “The Eurofighter partnership on offer represents the best all-round package for Finland.

“It is affordable within the Finnish budget; it provides security of supply through industrial participation that delivers high-tech jobs for the duration of the aircraft’s service life, and it delivers outstanding military capability, all underpinned by a Government-to-Government partnership.”

BAE Systems did not say how many aircraft it was offering Finland as part of its best and final offer.

Like many of the other fighters on offer, the Typhoon has seen extensive service with European Air Forces including the German Luftwaffe, the UK Royal Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare.

BAE Systems – Air Europe and International managing director Andrea Thompson said that the Eurofighter offer ‘exceeded’ the direct and indirect industrial partnership targets set by Finland.

Thompson added: “The jobs that we are offering are high quality, long term jobs equating to over 20 million man-hours over 30 years, with the knock-on benefit to the wider economy driving this figure even higher, and I am proud to be part of the team submitting this offer into Finland today.”

Dassault Rafale

Dassault has not as of yet released any details of its best and final offer.

The aircraft is the main fighter of the French Air Force and used by several foreign customers, including India, Egypt and Qatar. 

The aircraft comes in several variants, including a carrier fighter. Finland has been offered the Rafale C aircraft; a twin-seater Rafale B is also available, which can be used for training and more intensive missions.

Previously, Air Force Technology reported that the company had offered Finland the ability to operate the aircraft independently from France and potentially build the airframes in the country.

Dassault describes the aircraft on its website as “the right answer to the capability approach selected by an increasing number of governments,” adding that the Rafale offers the ability to “carry out the widest range of roles with the smallest number of aircraft.”

Dassault describes the fighter jet as ‘omnirole’ rather than multi-role, saying that the Rafale is: “relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats, it addresses the emerging needs of the armed forces in a changing geopolitical context, and it remains at the forefront of technical innovation.”

Saab Gripen

Detailing its best and final offer, Saab confirmed its proposal comprised of 64 Gripen E fighter aircraft, a weapons package and two GlobalEye Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Commenting on the company’s bid, Saab CEO and president Micael Johansson said: “With Gripen’s outstanding capabilities and availability, Finland can renew its fighter fleet without compromising on the number of fighters. 

“Thanks to a truly competitive life-cycle cost, the Finnish Defence Forces will be able to stay within the budgetary targets, and even secure a margin for other vital defence capabilities over the years to come.”

The Saab offer includes several weapons systems, including Meteor, IRIS-T, SPEAR and KEPD350/Taurus.

The company touted the benefits of the inclusion of the two GlobalEye aircraft as a ‘strategic’ asset for the entire Finnish Defence Forces.

Saab is offering the final assembly of the engines and aircraft in Finland and the transfer of maintenance, repair, and overhaul capabilities to the local industry.

Johansson added: “With GlobalEye, we bring significant additional sensor capabilities that will provide strategic and real-time information to Gripen and the entire joint defence forces. We are happy to include GlobalEye as the world´s most advanced AEW&C platform,”

The company said it would also establish a ‘Gripen & GlobalEye System Centre’ in Finland designed to ensure ‘independent operations and continuous capability growth of the systems until 2060.’

Several countries already use the Gripen, including Sweden and Hungary, and other customers across the world.