Back in March this year Paul Hitchcock hopped in a cab from Helsinki airport to the city centre. En route the driver asked him what he was doing in Finland and Paul explained he works in the aerospace industry. The driver mentioned Finland’s intention to buy new combat aircraft, immediately gave his passenger a perfect synopsis of the competition so far and provided an outline of the five runners and riders.
That little incident sums up just how closely this competition is being followed in Finland, says Paul. “Everyone is watching. The public are really engaged,” says Paul, who as Managing Director Finland for BAE Systems, lives in the country during the week. “If you stopped anyone in the street the majority of people would have a rough idea of the contenders and some would have a preference based upon what they’ve read or been told.”
Finland’s requirement is for 64 aircraft and when the Request For Information (RFI) came out in 2016 it was one of the most comprehensive RFIs that Paul and the team had ever seen. This year the competition ramped up a notch. In April Finland issued a formal Request For Quotation (RFQ) and expect responses in January 2019. Further rounds of discussions and refinement are likely to follow before a decision is made in about 2020 and a contract placed in 2021.
“They’ve got an acquisition budget of somewhere between 7 and 10 billion Euros. In anybody’s world, this is a huge competition,” says Paul.
The outline requirement is for a multi-role fighter. Something that can both protect their sovereign airspace and has a ground attack capability. It also has to provide a deterrent effect and possess impressive electronic warfare and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities.
Eurofighter, championed in this campaign by the UK government and BAE Systems, is competing against Lockheed Martin and the F-35, Boeing with the Super Hornet, Saab with the Gripen and Dassault with the Rafale.
So how is the campaign shaping up from a Eurofighter perspective?
“There are a lot of genuine reasons that give us confidence that we have a real shot at this,” says Paul.
There are a number of key aspects under consideration, including operational evaluation of the aircraft, the industrial partnership on offer, price, security of supply and the broader national defence and security considerations. And when considering all those major elements, Paul believes that the Eurofighter bid stacks up well.
“Fighter jet competitions are often defined by the capability, and there’s no doubt Eurofighter really does fit the military need both for today and decades to come. Our team and the Royal Air Force have carefully looked at the operational scenarios that have been sent out and said, ‘You know what? That’s exactly what this aircraft does.’ In terms of the Eurofighter product and the growth paths we have, we believe they fit very neatly with the type of aeroplane that Finland wants to buy.
“Then when you look at the industrial side of the equation, this is the kind of thing that’s in the company’s DNA. We understand the need to provide an economic return into countries. It’s what we do with all our partners. We have enjoyed a good relationship with the Finnish company Patria for decades and have worked fantastically well together on Hawk, which means we fully understand their capabilities.
“In fact, BAE Systems’ land business signed a contract with one of Patria’s companies in Estonia, Milrem, earlier this year to support the Estonian CV-90 infantry fighting vehicles. It’s a good example showing we are happy to partner with people to support our products. On the industrial side we will put our best foot forward.
“Security of supply and the ability to operate independently in times of crisis are also extremely important requirements for the Finns. We have an approach which we believe will satisfy all of Finland’s key requirements in this area.
“When you look at price, Eurofighter offers exceptional value for money through-life. We can definitely learn from the benefits we are seeing on the Typhoon Total Availability eNterprise (TyTAN) programme in the UK and deliver this learning into our Finnish proposal.
“In terms of the broader security and defence aspects, we’re really emphasising that ours represents ‘the’ European solution and, whilst Finland are not NATO members, they are part of Europe, which is very important to them in a defence and security sense.
“The British Government is front and centre in terms of leading the campaign, and as their industrial partner, we’re alongside them, but we also have our German, Italian and Spanish partners alongside us too. As we say to the Finns - whilst they are speaking to the Brits they’ve all of our European partners alongside.
“That’s an important theme for us: this is Europe’s solution - European aeroplanes defending European skies.”
One key requirement is that Finland wants an aircraft that’s going to be in service until around 2060 and Paul believes recent announcements around the Eurofighter show that they are more than capable of meeting that demand.
“We know that Eurofighter is going to be the backbone of the Royal Air Force and Eurofighter’s partner air forces for decades to come,” he says.
He also points to potential new orders as evidence of the longevity in the weapons system. “Anyone coming on board in the next few years will actually be joining a very vibrant and active Eurofighter club.
“Initiatives like the UK’s Project Centurion already strengthen the aircraft’s air to ground capability but when you factor in other planned product improvements and look at potential new orders across the world, you can see that we will have aircraft in service for 30, 40, 50 years. That sort of fits perfectly with the Finnish.
With the contest ramping up Eurofighter is ensuring the wider public get their chance to see first-hand what’s on offer.
“The Finns often describe themselves as a nation of engineers. As I said earlier they are really engaged in the process and that’s why it’s important to explain our proposition to that broad population. To show them: this is Eurofighter, this is what it does, this is what it will do in the future and this is why it’s the right choice for you.
“That’s why appearing at air shows and events like the Finnish Air Force’s 100th anniversary celebrations this year is important.
“There’s no doubt that since we have engaged with the public the perception of Eurofighter has changed, particularly after the air show last year. There was a full Eurofighter display, the weather was perfect and the RAF’s Display Pilot, Flt Lt Ryan Lawton, who came over produced a rip-roaring display. That moved the Eurofighter narrative forward in Finland. That’s why we’ll do it again to bring that wow factor to a different set of people.
“It’s funny, you can produce glossy brochures and detailed RFI documents, packed with data and facts, but sometimes it’s only when the aircraft turns up and screams around the sky for 10 minutes higher, faster, tighter, than anything else that people look at it and truly understand the capability Eurofighter offers.”