HELSINKI — The final selection process for Finland's and Denmark's fighter replacement programs will be managed by two newly installed governments.
Finland's center-right government took office on May 29 and is expected to provisionally examine aircraft replacement options by the end of June, while assessing the pros and cons of candidate aircraft based on expert reports in August and September.
Denmark is heading into fresh parliamentary elections on June 18 — the same day the Ministry of Defense plans to hold a special fighter aircraft project assessment meeting to evaluate the three short-listed aircraft and guide the selection process.
Danish Defense Minister Nicolai Wammen informed the national parliament on May 26 that the planned June meeting would not select an aircraft type. "This is the beginning of the selection process," Wammen said.
The new Danish government is expected to examine the fighter replacement program and selection process in August. The Lockheed Martin F-35A, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon remain in the race for the estimated $4.5 billion contract. The three manufacturers have been asked by the MoD's Project Office to present bids for 24, 30 and 36 combat aircraft.
Saab withdrew from the Danish competition in last July. The Swedish group had been expected to enter the JAS 39 Gripen E/F, but decided not to submit a response to a request for binding information issued in April 2014.
The MoD had set a deadline of July 21 for competing companies to submit their responses.
The ministry aims to conclude its selection process in 2015-2016 and begin replacing its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons by 2020.
The number of aircraft that the government decides to acquire will ultimately determine Denmark's future ambitions in terms of national and regional defense policy, said Jacob Engel Schmidt, a Liberal Party member of parliament and a member of the Parliamentary Defense Group.
"Too low a number and the Danish Air Force will have problems taking part in international operations, or adequately protecting Denmark's Arctic territories," Schmidt said.
The Danish fighter selection process has generated a new wave of cross-border partnerships between US and Danish defense and civilian firms.
Wammen has repeatedly reminded bidding groups that their offers must contain strong investment and counter-trade elements that will benefit Denmark's defense industry, national economy and job creation.
"We have informed all candidates, and made it clear, that the final contract will be linked to value for Denmark, and that includes jobs in Denmark," Wammen said.
US candidates Lockheed Martin and Boeing have responded with enhanced activities on the counter-trade front, with Boeing offering Danish partners the prospect of lucrative defense and civilian contracts, including orders connected to Airbus. In May, Boeing agreed to a contract with the Herning-based Danish firm Multicut to deliver parts to the Airbus A350 passenger aircraft.
Terma, Denmark's biggest defense company, has also signed commercial contracts connected to the Danish fighter replacement to deliver parts for the H-47 Chinook, Harpoon missile simulators and the 777 jet airliner project. The contracts have a total value of $15 million.
The orders include Terma's electronic warfare management system (EWMS) for Chinook helicopters, as well as Harpoon missile simulators. Terma's EWMS for the Chinook features dual cockpit displays and integrates multiple warning and countermeasure systems. The Danish company's Harpoon missile simulator contract will support testing and training with Harpoon Command and Launch Systems based on land, as well as on ships and submarines.
The Finnish government has dispelled speculation that its deepening defense cooperation with Sweden advances the cause of the Gripen in its fighter replacement program.
Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö described the competition as "open," echoing the views of predecessor Carl Haglund, who stated that the Gripen, despite strong lobbying by Sweden, holds "no special status within the selection process. Cost and performance must take precedence in this investment."
The Saab Gripen JAS 39-E/F is one of five possible "Western" aircraft options being considered to replace 55 Boeing F/A-18C Hornet single-seat and seven F/A-18D two-seat multirole fighters.
The cost of replacing F/A-18C Hornets is estimated at about $6 billion. When core systems are added, the cost rises to around $8 billion. The Finnish government, depending on how the new administration prioritizes the fighter replacement, could potentially accelerate and conclude the decision-making and selection process in 2017-18.
Other candidate aircraft include the French Dassault Rafale, the F-35 Lightning II, the F/A-18E Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon. No Russian aircraft are being considered.
It is expected that the Finnish Air Force (FAF) will acquire a new fighter type and begin taking the Hornets out of service beginning in 2025, with the last of the Hornets scheduled to be retired by 2030.
The Finnish MoD's steering Exploratory Working Group (EWG) is expected to present its evaluation, and proposals, by the end of June to Niinistö of how the existing fleet of F/A-18C Hornets could be replaced. The EWG will not provide recommendations on the type, price or number of aircraft to be purchased.
The group is chaired by retired Maj. Gen. Lauri Puranen, the former head of the FAF, Sweden's defense procurement agency. The working group's task, said Puranen, is to "examine" how the performance of the aging F/A-18Cs, which are due to be phased out over the next 10 years, can be replaced.
The acquisition of a new fighter type will be the biggest and most costly item on the FAF's procurement list over the next 10 to 15 years. The evaluation process still leaves open the possibility that the existing fleet of Hornets could be subjected to a third life-extension. However, that possibility is costly and unlikely, Haglund said.
"Our aging fighter fleet needs to be replaced," he said. "It is my personal view that there is no other option beyond new fighters if we wish to maintain a credible defense. We need to work from the premise that the acquisition will proceed. It will be a very expensive project, but it is vital if we want to maintain our defense capability."
The FAF's Mid-Life Upgrade 1 (MLU1) and Mid-Life Upgrade 2 (MLU2) added important capabilities to the F/A-18 Hornets, including new data transmission systems to strengthen the fighter's ability to handle engagements within and beyond visual range under all weather conditions.
The final MLU1-configured aircraft was rolled out in 2010, improving the fighter's air-to-air capacity, while installing a helmet-mounted sighting system for improved close-in combat capability and the updated AIM-9X version of the Sidewinder infrared guided missile.
The main objective of MLU2, which will run between 2010 and 2016, is to boost the Hornet's surface attack capability to support joint multibranch ground combat operations. The MLU 2 program has introduced an improved AIM-120 radar-guided missile to improve air combat capability, updated communication and navigation systems, and Link-16 for interoperability.