Finland’s HX program is ostensibly a multi-role fighter competition, but Saab has taken the step of adding the force-multiplying GlobalEye airborne early warning (AEW) and intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) platform to its offer of the Gripen E/F so that it can generate a wider set of capabilities. By leveraging the GlobalEye’s state-of-the-art AEW/ISR suite, the overall combat effectiveness of the Gripen force can be considerably enhanced, and its use in the AEW role can download the burden on the fighter force by negating the need for combat air patrols in certain scenarios.
On January 29, Saab Gripen E 39-10, one of three new-build development aircraft for the new-generation Gripen E/F, touched down at Pirkkala airfield near Tampere. It had arrived to take part in the HX Challenge in-country evaluation associated with the HX program to acquire a new multi-role fighter to replace the F/A-18C/D Hornets of the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish air force). In so doing the Gripen E was making its first trip outside Sweden.
As 39-10 was being introduced to the media on the following day, Ilmavoimat officers were flying over southern Finland in a GlobalEye as part of the evaluation of the overall Saab offer. The two-seat Gripen 39-7—a JAS 39D modified with many Gripen E/F features, including Leonardo Raven AESA radar—subsequently joined 39-10 at Pirkkala. The two Gripens, and the GlobalEye flying from Linköping in Sweden, have been undertaking a series of Ilmavoimat-set tests that verify manufacturer’s claims on performance and operational capability in the harsh conditions of the Finnish winter.
The flight program, conducted over four days, tested the Gripen in the five missions required by the HX program. Missions and systems tested comprised seven flights focusing on air-to-air sensors; air-to-ground sensors; counter air; ISR; night operations; anti-surface/long-range strike; and counter land. Of the HX missions, “counter air is the most critical,” commented HX program director Colonel Juha-Pekka Keränen.
The HX requirement, which once specified 64 fighters, has been relaxed so that bidders have more freedom to offer what they see as the best solution, and the number of fighters has been removed. The principal figures of this design-to-cost approach, according to Keränen, is that “€10 billion is the maximum budget for everything,” including all infrastructure and initial set-up support, and that the operational costs are at “the same level as those for the Hornet.” There is also a 30 percent industrial offset requirement.
Currently, manufacturers are responding to a revised Request for Quotation with a Best And Final Offer (BAFO) due for submission in December, after which a decision is to be made next year. Initial operational capability is planned for 2027, with full capability to be achieved in 2030.
While Boeing is expected to offer the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare platform alongside the closely related F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Saab is the only bidder offering two complementary aircraft types. No details of aircraft numbers have been revealed, but the company claims that the Gripen’s low operating costs have allowed it to add the GlobalEye to the offer at only a small cost to overall fighter numbers, yet offering expanded operational capabilities.
The Saab offer includes both single-seat Gripen Es and two-seat Gripen Fs, the latter being seen as ideal for complex long-range strike and electronic warfare missions, for which the recently flight-tested Electronic Attack Jammer Pod (EAJP) is being included in the proposal. The GlobalEyes for Finland would be based on the Bombardier Global 6500 platform rather than the 6000 used for the three aircraft soon to be handed over to the UAE Air Force.
Other elements include all training systems and simulators, ground support equipment, a weapons package, and an in-service support package to cover the force implementation phase from 2025 to 2030. The industrial program would likely include local assembly of Gripens in Finland and some parts manufacturing. Moreover, a systems center would be established in Finland to support Ilmavoimat operations and permit Finland-specific developments to be undertaken in-country.