Finland’s HX Program, aimed at finding a successor platform for the Finnish Air Force’s inventory of F/A-18C/D Hornets, has now closed on the finish line, with the government authorizing the Finnish Defense Forces Logistical Command on December 10 to sign a procurement contract with the United States for 64 Lockheed Martin F-35A Block 4 combat aircraft.
Reports emerged earlier in the week that the Finnish Defense Forces had tapped the F-35 as its preferred platform and recommended the fighter to the defense ministry, but that choice did not become official until the government approved and signed off on the purchase.
— Ilmavoimat (@FinnishAirForce) December 10, 2021
While the determination of the F-35 is reportedly based upon the aircraft’s superior combat, reconnaissance, and survival capabilities, an added factor was likely the adoption of the jet fighter by Nordic allies Denmark and Norway. Familiarity and commonality of platforms, training, and technical services had to be viewed as a plus.
The Finnish initiative to find a successor to the Hornet fleet – referred to by the Finnish Defense Ministry as HX – was given the green light in October 2015.
The Finnish Defense Forces Logistics Department issued Requests for Information (RFIs) to four different defense administrations in April 2016: those of Britain, France, Sweden, and the United States.
The inquiries pertained to four U.S.-sourced options – Boeing’s F-16 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and F-35 Lightning II – as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Rafale from France’s Dassault, and the Gripen E from Sweden’s Saab.
In 2018, the bidding competition was launched, with initial Requests for Quotation (RFQ) sent to the governments of France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. The offered solutions amounted to five fighters: the F/A-18 Super Hornet, F-35, Gripen, Rafale, and Eurofighter Typhoon.
An analysis of each fighter proposal followed in the first half of 2019, while a more detailed RFQ was issued by the Finnish Defense Forces Logistics Command in the latter half of the year.
The four key criteria set out by Finland for choosing a winning platform include capability, security of supply and industrial participation, life-cycle costs, and the security/defense policy effects of the acquisition. The industrial participation for local Finnish industry in any winning bid is set at a minimum of 30 percent of the total contract value.
On the industrial side, Finland will be granted participation in large-scale production of the F-35 front fuselage, production of structural components, as well as equipment testing and maintenance capability. Finland has also been offered an engine final assembly project for the Finnish Air Force-specific aircraft. All told, the industrial package offered to Finland should impact 4,500 domestic employees.
Under the outlines of the Finnish Air Force, the current Hornet fleet will be phased out starting in 2025. Finnish Air Force personnel will begin training with the F-35 in the United States that same year.
The first F-35 will be delivered to Finland in 2026. It will thereafter begin to succeed the Hornet in the fighter squadrons between 2028 and 2030. Once in service, the new fighters will be operable well into the 2050s.