Finland Selects F-35 Fighter As Hornet Replacement

 - December 10, 2021, 8:27 AM
A Finnish Hornet flies with an Italian air force F-35A during an exercise. (Finnish air force)

The Finnish government today confirmed the selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Block 4 to answer the air force’s HX Hornet fighter replacement program on December 10. The announcement was made in a press conference presided over by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, following earlier leaks in the national press.

The F-35 was selected over the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab Gripen E after an exhaustive evaluation, which included in-country demonstrations of the competing types in the HX Challenge. The government has now authorized the Finnish Defence Forces Logistics Command to sign a contract with the U.S. government. The deal covers 64 F-35As plus training, equipment, and sustainment/maintenance services until the end of 2030.

"We are honored that the government of Finland through its thorough, open competition has selected the F-35, and we look forward to partnering with the Finnish Defence Forces and Finnish defense industry to deliver and sustain the F-35 aircraft," said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin's vice president and general manager of the F-35 Program. "The F-35 will provide Finnish industries unique digital capabilities that leverage fifth-generation engineering and manufacturing. The production work will continue for more than 20 years, and the F-35 sustainment work will continue into the 2070s."

The Finnish defense ministry quotes the overall procurement costs as €8.378 billion ($9.48bn), comprising €4.7bn for the aircraft, €754.6 million for AIM-120 ASRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and €2.92bn for equipment, training, spares and services. Other weaponry slated for the Finnish F-35s includes the GBU-39 SDB and GBU-53 Stormbreaker small-diameter guided bombs, JDAM GPS-guided bombs, the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile, and AGM-158B JASSM-ER. These will be procured later as part of the funding and fielding roadmap.

During the HX evaluation, the F-35 passed all criteria and placed highest of the bidders in terms of operational effectiveness and growth potential. It was considered the lowest in terms of procurement cost while operating/sustainment costs are below the €254 million annual budget. The defense ministry noted that no single bidder provided significantly lower operating costs than any other.

In terms of Finnish industrial participation, the F-35 scored highly, including the manufacture of forward fuselage sections to contribute to the overall F-35 program. There is also the offer of the final assembly of the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engines. The estimated impact in terms of employment amounts to 4,500 direct-impact and 1,500 indirect-impact person-work years.

Military capability was the evaluation segment where the F-35 stood out, placing either first or joint-first in every mission area. In particular, the ability to conduct joint-domain operations across land, sea, and air received high marks. As for future growth, the report noted that the F-35 program development is guaranteed into the 2060s.

Ilmavoimat (the Finnish air force) plans to phase out its F/A-18 Hornet fleet from 2025, the year in which the first F-35A is due to be handed over. However, the first aircraft will initially remain in the U.S. to allow the training of aircrew and technicians. The first F-35 is expected to be ferried to Finland in 2026, with the equipment of front-line units taking place between 2028 and 2030.

F-35 Finland
Two F-35As were evaluated in Finland in 2020 as part of the HX Challenge. (Photo: Finnish Ministry of Defence)