Finland has set its sights on a high-performance multi-role fighter
For Finland, the new aircraft will represent a multi-billion investment, which will also require funding from outside the defence budget.
“The key aspect of the new multi-role fighter will be its performance. The decisive factor will be the new plane’s ability to meet our defence requirements during its entire lifespan. The fighter must be able to bring significant added value to Finnish defence capabilities. Life cycle costs will also play an important role, because we need to be able to afford to fly the aircraft as well as purchasing them,” says Lauri Puranen, project coordinator for the preliminary assessment working group.
Major and rapid changes have occurred in the political landscape related to defence policy in Finland’s neighbouring areas: Russia has occupied the Crimean peninsula and the trouble in Ukraine continues. However, such changes in the atmosphere surrounding defence policy have no direct bearing on the purchase of a new fighter.
“Our purchase of new fighters is simply attributable to the fact that our current fighters will reach the end of their life-cycle. However, with regard to having a deterrent, the purchase of a new fighter plane will play a crucial role, as without a credible air force Finland would be a great deal more susceptible to incursions into our security environment,” Puranen comments.
Finland has special requirements with regard to the support and maintenance of the new fighter, because we are solely responsible for defending our territory and have no access to the kind of networking available to Nato countries. Owing to its fleet of Hornets, Finland has developed a functional and cost-effective maintenance capability. The Finnish Defence Forces and Patria have a strategic partnership agreement in place, enabling them to perform life-cycle updates, structural repairs and other maintenance operations in an effective manner.
“During my term as Commander-in-Chief of the FINAF, I challenged Patria and my own organisation, the FINAF, to engage in continuous development. However, we should not be lulled into a false sense of security, while lagging behind development. We are continuously improving our operating methods and cost efficiency. Such work is precisely what we mean by strategic partnership,” Puranen comments.
Although a domestic support and maintenance capability will play a key role in the fighter’s purchasing process, the requirements set for the aircraft must be compatible with cooperation carried out with European countries and within the framework of the Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme.
“It is important that we are not the world’s only user of the fighter after its production has been discontinued. The more technical and sophisticated the various systems become, the more important will be cooperation with other countries and the country of manufacture. Various service and maintenance models, some of which we are familiar with, will certainly bring new opportunities and challenges. Maintenance tasks will be increasingly outsourced, with responsibilities being distributed between the countries using a particular aircraft model."
Offsets in the new fighter’s purchasing process will not be possible on the same scale as in the purchase of the Hornet fighter in the 1990s, for example. However, the purchase of a fighter will provide the defence industry with opportunities to establish new international contacts.
“With regard to industrial cooperation, domestic industry will play a key role. This concerns not only our fighter purchase processes, but also business opportunities on a global scale. In this sense, Finnish industry needs to be highly competitive, innovative and capable of active marketing. I am not at all worried about the competitiveness of Finnish companies. They are in good shape, but what lies ahead will not be easy. There is fierce competition out there.”
In supplying the next FINAF fighter, competition between the above five defence companies will also be harsh. Lauri Puranen emphasises that, at this stage, all options remain open.
“Our process is controlled, balanced and transparent. In order to ensure transparency and quality, we are also considering external quality assurance. It is crucial that we play this game with an open hand. We have five excellent candidates and each of them have an equal chance. May the best candidate win,” Lauri Puranen says.
*Also Boeing F-15 and F-16 were presented as candidates.