The Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics Command sent a Request for Information (RfI) on weapons and other equipment regarding the HX fighter project to the governments of seven countries to be forwarded to their respective industries. A request for a quotation (RfQ) will be drawn up on the basis of the responses received.
The main goal of the RfI is to determine what capabilities will be available to meet Finland’s estimated future needs and therefore the focus is on available potential and capabilities in the post-2025 period. RfIs were sent to a number of government representatives in France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Norway, Sweden and the United States to be further sent to designated companies.
The weapons and equipment will be procured on a separate contract alongside the aircraft and RfQs on them will be sent in spring 2018. The decision on the weapons and equipment will be made as part of the decision on the aircraft type. Procurement contracts are scheduled to be signed in spring 2021. Since the estimated total price to replace the Hornet fleet will also include weapons and sensors, the negotiations to procure them will be scheduled to take place alongside negotiations to procure fighters; this will ensure that aircraft-specific systems will be managed. It will be possible to use some of the systems in several multi-role fighters and this will be an important factor to consider in the contracts.
The official RfQ to replace the Hornet fleet will be made in spring 2018 after five aircraft producers who have responded to the RfIs have been selected. Testing the suitability of different fighters in Finland’s conditions will be started in 2019 and the final procurement decision will be made in 2021. The decision will be based on four considerations: military capabilities of the multi-role fighter, security of supply chain and industrial cooperation, life-cycle costs, and security and defence policy considerations.
The new multi-role fighters will be introduced in 2025-2030, at the same time as the Hornet fleet will be decommissioned.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Finnish Air Force today” (Web article). Finnish Air Force. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
Shores 1969, p. 3.
Keskinen, Partonen, Stenman 2005.
A photograph of this plane can be found in the book by Shores 1969, p. 4.