The Finnish Ministry of defense and Air Force is going to send that Pretender over HX fighter repair a replacement program later in this spring. the candidates are as I’m sure everybody is aware of Eurofighter typhoon, Boeing F/A-18 E/F/G Rhino, Dassault Rafale, F-35 of Lockheed Martin and SAABs JAS 39 Gripen E.
What might not be in general knowledge outside Finland is that Finland is committed to 60 planes in future procurement and this is of course good news 2 most expensive planes of the competition namely Lockheed Martin F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon. As you know this hanging oneself in to 60 or 69 or 68 planes all the senseless because more bang in the back when you get more airplanes. so while I’m sure that both F-35 and typhoon would be great buys and I think this announcement really makes it easy for Eurofighter to up its efforts to get the nod.
But the fact remains that even 68 Fighters is too little amount to be truly effective in defense of Finland. There is a lot of air space to cover. And as all of the competitors are “about as fast” between them there is not much great difference that you would be able to buy space with speed. Of course there are areas, for example some parts of a northern Lapland, that do not require that much air defense. For example areas around Helsinki and in Åland Islands be or I will be needing but still want to place can 1 plane cannot be in very many places at the same time. 60 planes is a limitation that our glorious leader mr. Stalin gave to Finns end in peace talks in Paris in 1948 so it would definitely be time not to read that patent document anymore. In fact any number of Fighters below 100 is too little.
Also in my humble opinion as International Studies have shown the specialized squadrons, for example in the United States Air Force found F-15 C squadrons and A-10 squadrons performed best in their duties, OCA/DCA for Eagles and ground attack for Warthogs, compared to “multipurpose” F-16 and F-15 E squadrons. This is because the humans are the limiting factor. F-15 C squadrons perform better in defensive and offensive air combat operations than F-15 E squadrons who also do OCA/DCA, but E squadrons also perform ground attack activities and thus have to spend some time practicing ground support and then they just cannot be as proficient as if F-15 C drivers are due F-15 E drivers more limited OCA and DCA operations training time. This doesn’t mean that F-15 E drivers are “badder” just that they have to practice more things they have to be able to do and then they cannot be as well versed in all aspects of their trade.
In Finland this would mean that squadrons down South, for example, could concentrate more on Maritime Strike operations above actions against enemy shipping and air defense and for example in units in Lapland could concentrate maybe in ground attack and some others testing defensive and offensive counter air. Basically the airplanes with perform all but as I said humans are the limiting factor here
The Ministry of Defense lists deciding factors of procurement as: Capabilities, Costs, Security of Supply and domestic industry’s role and Security and Defense policy impacts.
I called people about this and asked about the approximate impact of different Air war disciplines in CAPABILITIES. Most important disciplines are Defensive and offensive Counter Air and then survivability. Combined with target number of 64 planes this sounds good for the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning: If you are nailed to certain number of planes it makes sense to buy the “the bestest” capabilities regardless of cost. This is only sensible because in this kind of calculus of power: number of planes multiplied by greatest coefficient brings about most capability. If you went the other way and looked what is the greatest capability over all, you calculate numbers of planes with respective coefficients and see how many planes your money can buy. In this kind of calculus the price tag of single plane starts to factor in more heavily. In very rough terms two “best” planes will beat two good planes, but 100 good planes will beat 60 best planes. So here the price of plane starts to factor in more heavily.
of course the “survivability” is not alone centered on the plane but also their use and doctrine. All Eurocanards should have state of the art EW/self protection capabilities in their respective systems. All have gone against low tier Air defence network in Libya in 2011, but none have gone against state of the art integrated Air Defense system such as Russia has. JAS-39 Gripen may have a slight advantage here due their brand new AREXIS pod, but the pod can be integrated to all current competitors in HX race. Some edge can also be gained from Gallium Nitride electronics that are understood to be part of next generation Gripen Es EW/self protection suite. Praetorian and Spectre still rely, in 2018, to conventional electronics in their systems, but this may change before 2025 when final decision in HX program is made.
US planes, F/A-18 E and F-35, are on a bit different footing here. Rhino is tried and true and will remain in USN use until late 2040ies at least so there is still way forward with this plane, and current Trump administration seems to be keen of getting Finland to buy the F/A-18 E. And F-18 E/F/G would indeed be a good plane: it offers dedicated SEAD platform and would offer great synergy benefits for FAF to enjoy.
As costs go there are two factors: pricetag of the plane and how much it costs to keep the plane flying per hour. As plane price tags go F/A-18 E is maybe the cheapest with little over 60 M€ per plane followed closely by JAS-39 Gripen. MAYBE. SAABs target per plane price tag for Gripen is “about 60M€” Dassault Rafales 68 M€ is in the neighbourhood as well. Then Typhoon with its over 90 M€ per plane is pretty far away not to mention F-35 very high and yet to stabilize 100-150 M€ price tag range. I was called out on this By Michael and yes I was wrong: listprice of F-35 in 2018 is 85 M$, or about 77 M€ a plane. So thank you Michael!
Weapons are pretty much the same, or “western standard” for all participants with France and Israel coming in to provide some competing and augmenting capabilities. So no tie breakers there. Stores and armaments cost what they cost and that is all she wrote.
Jet engines are compact and light compared to their power output, but they have one drawback: the damned things guzzle up JP5 about the same rate idling and in full power. Not to mention afterburner at all, which hikes the consumption up by some 60%. So by this rule plane with two engines use up almost two times the fuel. (Considering power output obviously.) So two engines cost about double to fly, and they add some survivability as you can hope to bring plane to the ground after jettisoning stores and flying back home staying on safe side of flight envelope.
SECURITY OF SUPPLY AND DOMESTIC INDUSTRY INVOLVEMENT
All competitors apart from Lockheed-Martin offer the option of assembling planes in Finland that would factor in “Security of Supply and Finnish domestic industry involvement”. It is important to have the capability of repairing your operational assets at home. And this may indeed be important factor against Lockheed-Martin: What ever happen, your fighter would need to be shipped all the way to Italy to be repaired or serviced.
I feel that in “view of war time supply security” this has a very little to do with anything: As Finland is not a NATO ally, we will be last to receive anything anyway. And I’m sure any enemy Russia worth its salt would destroy all enemy fighter plane factories in prudent manner.
So no tie breakers here either. Only that Lockheed-Martin may have sort of pushed themselves out of the safe space here. Obviously paying jobs and industry is important in Finland as well, and will factor in but it will not be the deciding factor.
DEFENSE POLICY IMPACTS
HX fighter will tie Finland to west. There is no doubt about it. But in current cold war in Baltic the scent of neutralness or ties the acquisition builds will be important as barometer of Finnish defense and foreign policy. Some dingbats even believe it is possible to stay out of NATO Russia conflict in Baltic region. This is just not possible. How ever you play it you will be at war. So better wake up and decide whose side you are on.
Sweden and SAAB would be easy. They are as “neutral” as Finland, but would not thus add “allyfactor” into equation. Eurofighter may be the next most neutral, as it is EU fighter, and Finland is already part of EU so it should not hurt either way. Same holds true to France’s Dassault Rafale, but would tie Finland into Frances procurement processes and whims to great extend. US planes would have maybe the greatest “allyness” but would really rub Mr Putin’s face wrong way.
So here are where the tie breakers lie: How we see Finland’s part in future conflict in Europe? Will EU hold or break up? Will Finnish hopes of NATO-light agreements with Great Britain and USA hold in real world?
AS A CONCLUSION
The HX-programs resolution seems to really resolve in two categories: Capabilities and defense policy impacts.
If Finland decides to go with two planes F/A-18 E and F-35 will be the strongest pair followed by Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35. But this two plane scenario is unlikely.
If Finland decides to go with 1:1 number of fighters this maybe favours most Typhoon and somewhat Dassault Rafale. This is IMHO most senseless and idiotic way to go, but nobody asked me.
SAAB will be leftie greenies fighter of choice: It is cheap so you can save money to your pet projects, its Swedish so Uncle Wladi won’t get mad at you. and Sweden, every leftie greenies wet dream country, will be happy. Lefties felt during presidential election of 2018 that 18-36 fighters would be enough though.
F/A-18 would be maybe the most economical choice, but still would bring potent capabilities to FAF. It may not be spectacular, but it has all that counts. Plus it will tie Finland’s fortunes more closely to USA.
The black horse of the race is Dassault Rafale. It is pretty devastating in all categories, but not it headlines all the time. It is not as hard blow to Socialists and Russia as F-35 would be, it is not as expensive as Typhoon would be, and it it is indeed well thought of plane.
One should not put too much stock of other nations fighter procurement programs: SAAB Gripen and Boeing decided to drop Belgian competition because Boeing felt that belgians favoured the F-35. and Swedes were not willing to meet Belgium’s demands of tanker support and such. And Belgians are not happy with the French because the French believe the Belgians, as francophones, are obliged to buy their plane.
Typhoon has not met great successes in export market, because of price, but it offers great OCA/DCA capabilities that rival F-22. But it lost Swiss program to Rafale(as pilots choice) and Gripen (as politicians choice). But in the end Swiss bought no planes. People didn’t want them. Swiss scenarios are not really applicable to Finland.
So game is still open.