Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat) began testing candidate aircraft vying to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of fighter jets on Thursday, as the government weighs a purchasing decision due next year. The aircraft will take part in ‘Operation HX Challenge’, where the candidate jets will play their roles as part of Finland’s defence systems. In the simulated battles they’ll face the Air Force’s current F/A-18 Hornets and Hawk jet trainers. The event is taking place in Finland so that each plane can be tested under Finnish winter operating conditions – and also to provide a balanced evaluation for each of the five candidate aircraft.
Each of the five short-listed manufacturers will bring their aircraft to Finland for a week of flight tests at the Satakunta Air Command in Pirkkala, in the Tampere region. The field tests will run until the end of February. The first fighter jet up for assessment is the Eurofighter Typhoon, followed by Lockheed Martin’s multi-purpose F-35 combat aircraft and Boeing’s F/A 18 Super Hornet.French firm Dassault’s Rafale and Swedish Saab’s Gripen E round out the contenders to replace the fleet of fighter jets.
The aircraft will take part in simulated long-term war games, where the candidate jets will play their roles as part of Finland’s defence systems. In the simulated battles they’ll face the Air Force’s current F/A-18 Hornets and Hawk jet trainers. Although all the aircraft are designed to operate in sub-zero temperatures, the challenges come when the temperatures hover around freezing with snow, sleet or freezing drizzle throwing extra challenges at the jets. Harsh weather conditions can have an impact on the performance of electro-optical sensors in particular.
Finland has sent all five manufacturers follow-up invitations to tender bids to completely replace the current Hornet fleet. Their responses are expected by the end of January. A final binding invitation to tender will be sent out later this year and the government will make a purchasing decision in 2021. The aim is to commission the new fleet between 2025 and 2030. The total estimated cost of the acquisition has been pegged at between seven and 10 billion euros, excluding lifetime costs such as spare parts and maintenance.