The Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat) will evaluate the five combat aircraft bidding for its €10 billion H-X fighter replacement contract during a series of week-long tests beginning next week and continuing until February 26. The five competing aircraft are the Boeing F-18E Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Saab Gripen E. The evaluations, during which each aircraft will carry out similar missions intended to evaluate their capabilities in four main areas, will be carried out from the Finnish Air Force’s base at Pirkkala, but the flights will take place all over Finland. The process is known as the ‘HX Challenge.’
Each competitor will be evaluated over seven week-days, during which it will complete a program that includes flying simulated combat missions against Finnish Air Force F/A-18s and Hawk jet trainers. The HX Challenge will evaluate the capabilities reported by the manufacturers in the five categories of operations itemised in the call for tenders: counter-air, counter-land, counter-sea, long-range strike as well as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition. They will also have to demonstrate their ability “to network with Army and Navy weapon systems as seamlessly as possible.”
Finnish winter conditions have an effect especially on the performance of electro-optical sensors. In addition, other active and passive sensor systems may be affected, so the evaluation is geared to be as representative as possible of Finland’s operating environment. The Finnish evaluation takes place before a similar evaluation to the held by the Swiss Air Force, which is also looking to replace the fighters it currently operates, also F-18 Hornets. Together, given the reputation of both air forces, these two evaluations will provide a comprehensive and objective measure of the five aircraft’s capabilities, which it will be interesting to match up to the claims made by their manufacturers.