In April 2016, the Finnish Defence Forces' Logistics Command sent Requests for Information (RFI) concerning the replacement of the Finnish Air Force Boeing F/A-18 C/D Hornet aircraft (HX Programme) to the governments of four countries, who further sent them to their respective aviation industries.
In November 2016 five aircraft manufacturers responded through their governments to the RFIs. Their responses will be further analysed during this year and Requests for Quotation (RFQ) to replace the Hornet fleet will be sent through their governments to all five manufacturers in the spring of 2018.
The goal of the HX Programme is to replace the capability of the Finnish Air Force’s Hornet fleet, which is being phased out from 2025 onwards, with a solution based on multi-role fighters.
The responses to the Requests for Information (RFI) sent to the four governments came from BAE Systems (Eurofighter Typhoon) in the United Kingdom, Dassault Aviation (Rafale) in France, Saab (JAS Gripen E) in Sweden as well as Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet) and Lockheed Martin (F-35) in the United States.
The RFIs contained scenarios illustrating the operating environment of the Finnish air defence system. The manufacturers were requested to provide solutions for replacing the capability of the Air Force’s Hornet fleet in accordance with missions from the scenarios for the post-2030 security environment.
In addition to the actual aircraft, the areas to be reviewed in the responses include weapons, training equipment, personnel training, C2 systems and maintenance arrangements.
Manufacturers were also given the opportunity to present solutions which include several types of aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles that could contribute to the capabilities of multi-role fighters.
During the winter of 2016–17 experts in the Finnish defence establishment conducted a preliminary review of the responses, which contained thousands of pages of mainly classified information.
The manufacturers’ responses provide versatile and wide-ranging solutions to the scenarios presented by the Finnish defence administration. All of the responses recommend replacing the capability of the Hornet fleet with solutions based on multi-role fighters. The responses also depicted the interfaces among multi-role fighters and several types of manned or unmanned aerial vehicles carrying out tasks in accordance with the scenarios.
The responses from the fighter manufacturers differ, among other things, in terms of stealth technology and electronic warfare solutions. It is possible to integrate each candidate into the Finnish Air Force’s surveillance and C2 system without any significant modifications.
The training systems will more effectively utilise the merging of virtual and simulated environments with actual flight training.
Judging by the responses it is possible to fully replace the capability of the Hornet fleet within the programme’s projected spending limit of EUR 7–10 billion.
All of the candidates’ responses indicate that operating and maintenance costs can be covered from present-level defence budgets.
Precise, comparable price information for the different aircraft types will be compiled from the responses to the Request for Quotation. Then the procurement will comprise the multi-role fighter and the required ancillary systems, sensor and other mission configuration as well as the weapons required by an Initial Operational Capability (IOC).
The Requests for Quotation will be sent in the spring of 2018
The responses to the Requests for Information for the HX Programme provide a solid foundation for preparing a comprehensive and demanding Request for Quotation appropriate to Finland’s defence system for replacing the Hornet fighters.
The analysis of the HX candidates will continue in 2017, during which time the responses to the RFIs will be further specified together with the fighter manufacturers for the purpose of preparing the official RFQs.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Finnish defence establishment will gather supplementary information for the responses to the RFIs by conducting tests, test flights and simulator flights in the manufacturing countries.
The process of acquiring more detailed information for the RFIs will also utilise the responses to the preliminary Request for Information on suitable weapons and other task-related external equipment for the Hornet’s successor sent by the Finnish Defence Forces' Logistics Command in March 2017.
The official Request for Quotation will be sent to all five aircraft manufacturers that provided responses to the RFI, through their four governments, in the spring of 2018. The goal is to start the fighter candidates’ environmental testing in Finland in 2019.
The final procurement decision for replacing the Hornet fleet is to be taken in 2021. It will be based on four decision-making criteria: the multi-role fighter’s military capability; security of supply and industrial participation; life-cycle costs; and the security and defence policy effect of the acquisition.
The new multi-role fighter fleet will be introduced from 2025–30 while the Hornet fleet is being phased out.