Finns Analyzing Fighter Trials Data
Finnish procurement officials say they expect all five contenders in the country’s HX Fighter competition to remain in the race until the end.
The comments by the Finnish defense ministry’s head of strategic projects, Lauri Puranen, emerged following the conclusion of the HX Challenge. The challenge saw each of the aircraft types deployed to Finland in January and February for flight trials to confirm that the proposed aircraft have met the specifications promised by the manufacturers.
But in an interview with the Finnish business newspaper Kauppalehti, Puranen said the trials showed that not all the specifications promised by the manufacturers had been met.
He said officials were “partially satisfied” and “partly not,” although not all trial data had been analyzed.
“There will always been surprises, but it was known some machines will have shortcomings,” he told the newspaper.
Finland wants to purchase up to 64 fighters to replace its fleet of F/A-18C/D Hornets. Five Western combat aircraft have entered the fray. The British government is leading the marketing effort for the four-nation Eurofighter Typhoon, while Washington is pushing both the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. France and Sweden have answered with the Dassault Rafale and the Saab JAS 39E/F Gripen.
Saab announced in June that its offer included its GlobalEye airborne early warning platform. Boeing’s proposals also are believed to include several EA-18 Growler electronic warfare platforms.
Puranen did not say which aircraft suffered shortcomings, although he questioned why four F-35s were sent for the deployment but only two arrived. He noted that one was subsequently unserviceable.
“It [the F-35] could not fly all flights. The other flew all the flights,” he told the newspaper. Finnish media have questioned why such a large footprint was sent with the aircraft, as well as the tanker that supported the flight across the Atlantic. The F-35s were also joined by two U.S. Air Force C-17s carrying support equipment. None of the other fighters deployed had such a large footprint, even Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, which also made the crossing. They were joined by a KDC-10 tanker from Omega.
The trials saw a total of 40 missions flown to test aircraft performance, systems and sensors against targets in the air and on the ground.
“Through a joint effort we could create a comprehensive testing environment here in Finland,” said Col. Juha-Pekka Keranen, the Finnish Air Force’s HX Fighter program director.
“Our geographical location and the candidates’ security requirements had imposed limitations on the testing of the most sensitive electronic warfare capabilities in Finland. However, we will be able to verify these vital capabilities in the candidates’ main operators’ own test areas,” Keranen said.
He noted that some of the candidates may still have “aces up their sleeves” in terms of capabilities that could be released after the procurement has been made.
Trials tested the aircraft sensors at range, as well as their resolution and ability to maintain tracking while targets used maneuvering or employed countermeasures. They also determined the workload and speed associated with preparing the weapon system to attack a ground target, and in the case of a long-range attack with standoff weapons, if the aircraft can be provided with more specific target data by a datalink. The flights were also used to measure the each of the fighter’s capability to identify and locate electronic signals and produce situational awareness of the target area.
“In a combat situation, it is vital to know whether the sensors produce sufficiently precise data on both stationary and moving targets, and whether it is possible to utilize the target data in accordance with the requirements of different weapons and weapon systems,” Keranen said.
Defense officials note that the process is still some way from a decision, with a final comparison only possible once the contenders have handed in legally binding best offers, due at the end of 2020.
Finland wants the selected platform to be operational into the 2060s and will judge the bids on military capability, security of supply, industrial cooperation, procurement and life cycle costs, and security and defense policy implications.
“Our Design-to-Cost model aims to maximize the HX’s military capability within the budget,” Keranen said. “However, each change in the HX packages is likely to have an impact on the decision-making areas, meaning that we have to look at the big picture when optimizing the tenders with the manufacturers.”
Helsinki is expected to make a selection in 2021.