The Finnish Air Force (Suomen ilmavoimat) F-18C/D

 

F-18

Background

The F/A-18 “Hornet” is a single- and two-seat, twin engine, multi-mission fighter/attack aircraft that can operate from either aircraft carriers or land bases. The F/A-18 fills a variety of roles: air superiority, fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defenses, reconnaissance, forward air control, close and deep air support, and day and night strike missions. The F/A-18 Hornet replaced the F-4 Phantom II fighter and A-7 Corsair II light attack jet, and also replaced the A-6 Intruder as these aircraft were retired during the 1990s.

The F/A-18 has a digital control-by-wire flight control system which provides excellent handling qualities, and allows pilots to learn to fly the airplane with relative ease. At the same time, this system provides exceptional maneuverability and allows the pilot to concentrate on operating the weapons system. A solid thrust-to-weight ratio and superior turn characteristics combined with energy sustainability, enable the F/A-18 to hold its own against any adversary. The power to maintain evasive action is what many pilots consider the Hornet’s finest trait. In addition, the F/A-18 was also the Navy’s first tactical jet aircraft to incorporate a digital, MUX bus architecture for the entire system’s avionics suite. The benefit of this design feature is that the F/A-18 has been relatively easy to upgrade on a regular, affordable basis.

The F/A-18 has proven to be an ideal component of the carrier based tactical aviation equation over its 15 years of operational experience. The only F/A-18 characteristic found to be marginally adequate by battle group commanders, outside experts, and even the men who fly the Hornet, is its range when flown on certain strike mission profiles. However, the inadequacy is managed well with organic and joint tanking assets.

F-18 2

F/A-18C/D Hornet

Following a successful run of more than 400 A and B models, the US Navy began taking fleet deliveries of improved F/A-18C (single seat) and F/A-18D (dual seat) models in September 1987. These Hornets carry the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and the infrared imaging Maverick air-to-ground missile. Two years later, the C/D models came with improved night attack capabilities. The new components included a navigation forward looking infrared (NAVFLIR) pod, a raster head-up display, night vision goggles, special cockpit lighting compatible with the night vision devices, a digital color moving map and an independent multipurpose color display.

F/A-18Cs have synthetic aperture ground mapping radar with a doppler beam sharpening mode to generate ground maps. This ground mapping capability that permits crews to locate and attack targets in adverse weather and poor visibility or to precisely update the aircraft’s location relative to targets during the approach, a capability that improves bombing accuracy. New production F/A-18Cs received the APG-73 radar upgrade radars starting in 1994, providing more precise and clear radar displays.

The F/A-18C Nigh Attack Hornet has a pod-mounted Hughes AN/AAR-50 thermal imaging navigation set, a Loral AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk FLIR targeting pod, and GEC Cat’s Eyes pilot’s night vision goggles. Some 48 F/A-18D two-seat Hornets are configured as the F/A-18D (RC) reconnaissance version, with the M61A1 cannon replaced by a pallet-mounted electro-optical suite comprising a blister-mounted IR linescan and two roll-stabilized sensor units, with all of these units recording onto video tape.

On the first day of Operation Desert Storm, two F/A-18s, each carrying four 2,000 lb. bombs, shot down two Iraqi MiGs and then proceeded to deliver their bombs on target. Throughout the Gulf War, squadrons of U.S. Navy, Marine and Canadian F/A-18s operated around the clock, setting records daily in reliability, survivability and ton-miles of ordnance delivered.

The Navy announced 18 May 1998 that its East Coast F/A-18 squadrons will relocate to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach VA and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in Beaufort, SC. The jets will move from Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Jacksonville FL which was ordered closed by the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Nine operational squadrons and the Fleet Replacement Squadron — a total of 156 planes — will move to Oceana. Two squadrons totaling 24 planes will move to Beaufort. The first squadron will move in the fall of 1998 and all 11 fleet squadrons and the Fleet Replacement Squadron completed their moves by October 1999.

Throughout its service, annual upgrades to F/A-18 weapon systems, sensors, etc. continued. The latest lot of the F/A-18C/D has grown to be far more capable (night attack, precision strike, low observable technologies, etc.) than the original F/A-18A/B; however, by 1991, it was becoming clear that avionics cooling, electrical, and space constraints would begin to limit future growth. Additionally, another operational deficiency was beginning to develop. As the F/A-18C/D empty weight increased the aircraft were returning to the carrier with less than optimal reserve fuel and/or unexpended weapons. The additional range and “bring back” is not as essential to shore based operations. F/A-18A/B/C/D aircraft will fly for years with the U.S. Marine Corps and eight international customers: Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand. Although the F/A-18C/D’s future growth is now limited, it will also continue to fill a critical role in the U.S. Navy’s carrier battle group for many years to come and will be an excellent complement to the larger, longer range, more capable F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Finland

A Karelia Air Command F-18 fighter home base in March. Image- Antti Karhunen /Yle
A Karelia Air Command F-18 fighter home base in March. Image- Antti Karhunen /Yle

The Finnish Air Force (Suomen ilmavoimat) ordered 64 F-18C/Ds (57 C models, seven D models). All F-18D were built at St Louis, and then all F-18C were assembled in Finland. Delivery of the aircraft started in November 1995 until August 2000. The Hornet replaced the MiG-21bis and Saab 35 Draken in Finnish service. The Finnish Hornets were initially to be used only for air defense, hence the F-18 designation. The F-18C includes the ASPJ (Airborne-Self-Protection-Jammer) jamming pod ALQ-165. The US Navy later included the ALQ-165 on their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet procurement.

 A Finnish F-18C Hornet in Lapland.
A Finnish F-18C Hornet in Lapland.

One fighter was destroyed in a mid-air collision in 2001. A damaged F-18C, nicknamed “Frankenhornet”, was rebuilt into a F-18D using the forward section of a Canadian CF-18B that was purchased. The modified fighter crashed during a test flight in January 2010, due to a faulty tailplane servo cylinder.

Finland is upgrading its fleet of F-18s with new avionics, including helmet mounted sights (HMS), new cockpit displays, sensors and standard NATO data link. Several of the remaining Hornets are going to be fitted to carry air-to-ground ordnance such as the AGM-158 JASSM, in effect returning to the original F/A-18 multi-role configuration. The upgrade includes also the procurement and integration of new AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. This Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) is estimated to cost between €1–1.6 billion and work is scheduled to be finished by 2016.

A Finnish F-18 Hornet fighter aircraft during the Arctic Challenge exercise September 24, 2013 over Norway.
A Finnish F-18 Hornet fighter aircraft during the Arctic Challenge exercise September 24, 2013 over Norway.

After the upgrades the aircraft are to remain in active service until 2020–2025. In October 2014 the Finnish broadcaster/Yle announced that consideration was being given to the replacement of the Hornet. The most likely contender will be the Saab JAS-39NG. In June 2015, a working group set up by the Finnish MoD proposed starting the HX program to replace Finnish Air Force’s current fleet of F/A-18 Hornet. The group recognises five potential types: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35, and Saab JAS Gripen.

In December 2015 Finnish MoD sent a letter to Great Britain, France, Sweden and the United States where it informed that the fighter project was launched in the Defence Forces. The goal of the project is to replace the Hornet fleet, which will be decommissioned as of 2025, with multi-role fighters. The project has been named as HX Fighter Program. JAS-39 is mentioned in the letter as a potential fighter for the program. The request for information concerning the HX Fighter Program will be sent at the latest in March 2016. A call for tender will be sent in spring 2018 and the buying decision is scheduled to take place in 2021

Over half of the fleet was upgraded by 1 June 2015. During that week the Finnish Air Force was to drop its first live bombs (JDAM) in 70 years, since World War II.

With increasing Russian activity along the Baltic Sea, Finnish F/A-18s are being forced to regularly intercept both fighters and bombers of the Russian Air Force. Russia has launched several missions  over the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea region in recent years. Russian sorties have increased to the extent that not only has Finland increased its interception rate, but the Baltic air-policing mission, a NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) consortium of NATO members have had to increase their activity in the face of an increased Russian presence in the region, in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Beginning on December 6 2015, the Russian Air Force has been particularly busy in international airspace close to the Finnish airspace forcing the Finnish Air Force to scramble its F/A-18 Hornets and shadow Moscow’s warplanes.

Tupolev Tu-95 Bear.
Tupolev Tu-95 Bear.

According to the Finnish air force, Tu-95s, Tu-22Ms, Su-34s, Su-27s, Su-24s and MiG-31s have been intercepted by Finnish Hornets in the past few months.

Russian Air Force Su-30SM.
Russian Air Force Su-30SM.

The Future

The next aicraft we will be talking about is the Gripen, which is a lightweight single engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab.The new Gripen NG  (Next Generation) will have many new parts and will be powered by the General Electric F414G, a development of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s engine. As compared to LCA TEJAS , the Gripen will have a supercruise speed of Mach 1.1. The combination of delta wing and canards gives the Gripen significantly better takeoff , landing performance and flying characteristics. It also has a built-in electronic warfare unit, making it possible to load more ordnance onto the aircraft without losing self defence capabilities.

Saab Gripen NG
Saab Gripen NG

The Gripen uses the modern PS-05/A pulse-doppler X-band radar, developed by Ericsson and GEC-Marconi. The radar is capable of detecting, locating, identifying and automatically tracking multiple targets in the upper and lower spheres, on the ground and sea or in the air, in all weather conditions.One interesting feature is the Gripen’s ability to take off and land on public roads, which was part of Sweden’s war defence strategy.

Given the capabilities of the Gripen NG, it represents a potent fighter aircraft for Finland’s future security and defence considerations.

References

  1. “Finnish Air Force today” (Web article). Finnish Air Force. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
  2. Shores 1969, p. 3.
  3. Keskinen, Partonen, Stenman 2005.
  4. A photograph of this plane can be found in the book by Shores 1969, p. 4.
  5. Heinonen 1992.
  6. “Armistice Agreement”. Heninen.net. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  7. “Finnish Air Force”. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  8. “Finnish Air Force History”. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  9. “WW2History-AirWarofContinuationWar.html”. virtualpilots.fi. 2005-09-19. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  10. Arter, David: Scandinavian politics today, Manchester University Press (1999), ISBN 0-7190-5133-9, p.254
  11. “Avslöjande: Sverige lagrade jaktplan för finska piloter” (in Swedish). Hbl.fi. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  12. “World Air Forces 2016 pg. 17”. Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  13. “Aircraft of Finnish Air Force:” Finnish Air Force. 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  14. “Puolustusvoimat”. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  15. Satakunnan lennoston organisaatio. Satakunta Air Command. Retrieved 2008-12-22. (Finnish)
  16. “Puolustusvoimat” (in Finnish). Ilmavoimat.fi. 2014-02-14. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  17. “Puolustusvoimat” (in Finnish). Ilmavoimat.fi. 2014-02-14. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  18. “Puolustusvoimat” (in Finnish). Ilmavoimat.fi. 2014-02-14. Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  19. “Puolustusvoimat” (in Finnish). Ilmavoimat.fi. 2014-02-14. Retrieved 2014-02-20.

 

 

10 thoughts on “The Finnish Air Force (Suomen ilmavoimat) F-18C/D”

  1. Interesting post Rich. The F-18 certainly is a more than capable aircraft and has proved itself on many occasions. The similarities between the Gripen and Typhoon are striking, I wonder which would have the edge in a combat situation should it ever arise.

    1. That’s a tough question Andy. The best way I can answer your question is to summarize the evaluation made by the RCAF. They are currently in the process of looking for a replacement for their CF-18s. I will list some categories, but be brief given that this reply could morph into a report of its own!
      1. Air-to-ground category; Both aircraft have sophisticated EW/ECM suites and fairly small radar cross sections (RCS). Result: a tie.
      2. Deep Strike: The Gripen does not carry as much fuel, however the Finnish Air Force has no need for a long-range strike aircraft. Result: Typhoon wins.
      3.Payload: Gripen NG 6 tonnes, Typhoon 7.5 tonnes.
      4. Close-Air-Support: the Gripen a slower stall speed and better handling at lower altitudes, it is also designed to operate from roads, allowing it to be much closer to the action, giving it a clear advantage when every minute counts. This rapid reaction capability is vital to the Finnish Air Force, given it’s close proximity to Russia. Result: Gripen wins.
      5. Air-to-Air: While the Gripen might be slightly harder to detect, the Typhoon does have its own strength here. Both aircraft will be equipped with an AESA radar with a novel “repositioner” allowing better coverage than a typical AESA radar. The Eurofighter’s CAPTOR-E stands out by having an additional 50% more T/R (transmit/receive) modules, about 1,500 to the 1,000 T/R modules of the Gripen’s Selex Raven ES-05. Both aircraft have similar IRST sensors.The Gripen does have a slightly smaller RCS and significantly smaller IR signature. Result: Slight advantage Typhoon.
      6. Beyond Visual Range: With its new GE414 engine, the Gripen NG closely matches the Typhoon. Thrust-to-weight ratios are nearly the same, and both aircraft are capable of supercruise while carrying A2A weapons. Speaking of weapons, both aircraft should be declared equal as well. They are both capable of handling the MBDA Meteor as well as the AMRAAM with a two-way data link. Result: Tie
      7. Dogfight: Again, both aircraft are near equally matched. Both aircraft sport the 27mm Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon, although the Gripen F might have to do without, as two-seat Gripens give up their sidearm to make room for the extra crew member. The Typhoon carries 30 additional rounds. The Gripen is a smaller target, however, and does boast of better performance at slower speeds and high angles of attack. As long as the Gripen is a single-seat model, it will likely have a slight advantage. Advantage: Gripen… As long as its a single-seat model. Result: Gripen.
      Versatility/Logistics: The Gripen goes a littler farther than the Typhoon in this regard, however. It is obvious by its designation if you speak Swedish; JAS-39. Jakt (Fighter) Attack (Attack) Spanning (Reconnaissance). The Gripen also has its famous rough field capability, allowing it a forward operating capability superior to just about ever fighter short of a STOVL. Bearing in mind that the Gripen can take off AND land in 600m, be refueled and rearmed in ten minutes by 1 technician and 5 conscripts, and can operate from country roads; whereas it takes the Eurofighter 300m take off and well over 900m to land, takes at least twenty minutes to refuel and rearmed by a team of 10 specialists, and has to operate from prepared airfields, the Gripen has a major advantage.
      8. Cost: Typhoon; £110 million. Gripen NG; £87 million.
      Hope this helps Andy.

      1. Wow a really in depth answer – thank you Rich. Looking at this I guess the Gripen may have a small advantage in terms of capability, but considering the requirements of each airforce that becomes negligible in the overall picture. In the hands of a good pilot either could win in a straight forward dogfight although whether or not they would get to that position is doubtful in itself. I guess slower stall speeds, quicker turn rounds and smaller target size are an advantage in some scenarios but man-on-man there’s nothing in it. Thank very much Rich. Great stuff!

  2. I remember following the build of the Frankenhornet in Air Forces Monthly. It was such an undertaking and it’s story has an almost British sense of despair to it. Very sad end to an aircraft with a fascinating history

    1. I think an aircraft that had been involved in a collision, with a replacement fuselage sought because of the Ilmavoimat had a shortage of twin-seaters, and then to investigate the possibility of grafting a twin-seat fuselage to the remains of the original aircraft was risky at best. A ‘B’ model front fuselage was purchased from Canada, (the donor fuselage being CF-188 188920), the rebuild took 100,000 man hours and finally crashed. And on top off it’s woes, it was unfortunately named “FrankenHornet’ which was going to be a bad idea from the beginning. As you say Tony, very sad indeed.

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