HELSINKI ― A gaffe by U.S. President Donald Trump has cast confusion over Finland’s fighter replacement program, FRP-HX, and the connected integral process.
The U.S. president said during a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Washington on Monday that Finland had agreed to purchase “a large number” of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets from Boeing.
However, Finland’s FRP-HX competition has yet to even reach its midway stage. The competition underway to replace the Finnish Air Force’s aging fleet of Boeing F/A-18 Hornets with a new NATO-compatible multi-role combat aircraft..
Trump’s remarks have caused shock and amazement within political circles in Helsinki. The Finnish government, at the outset of the FRP-HX, guaranteed manufacturers transparency and a level playing field for all candidate aircraft.
“President Trump’s remarks are baffling. There are still years to run in the fighter replacement competition before a final decision is reached. If the leadership of the United States harbors the idea that the matter is a done deal, then this is not good,” said Matti Vanhanen, chairman of the Finnish national parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
There was also surprise in Helsinki that Niinistö did not immediately refute the U.S. president’s inaccurate aircraft “purchase” claims. Niinistö did later debunk Trump’s claims via Twitter.
Niinistö has not revealed if the FRP-HX program surfaced during bilateral talks with Trump, which also covered Finnish-American defense and security cooperation in the Baltic Sea and Arctic regions.
Finland’s Ministry of Defence was quick to refute Trump’s “done deal” claims. The MoD reiterated that the FRP-HX program is still ongoing and several years away from a final aircraft selection.
“We have received answers to requests for information from five fighter manufacturers, but we have not even sent out invitations to tender yet,” said Lauri Puranen, the FRP-HX program director at the MoD.
The MoD has received responses to formal RFIs from Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet), Dassault Aviation (Rafale), the Eurofighter consortium (Eurofighter Typhoon), Lockheed Martin (F-35 Lightning II) and Saab Group (JAS Gripen E).
The Eurofighter Typhoon is designed and manufactured by a consortium headed by BAE Systems and includes Leonardo (Alenia Aermacchi) and Airbus.
The Finnish MoD’s official request for quotation is slated to be dispatched to all five aircraft manufacturers, through their respective governments, during the first half of 2018. The MoD’s objective is to commence environmental testing of all fighter candidate aircraft in Finland in 2019.
The Finnish government is scheduled to reach the final aircraft procurement decision stage in 2021. Four core decision-making criteria have been set. These include the multi-role fighter’s military capability; security of supply and industrial participation; life cycle costs; and the security and defense policy effects of the acquisition.
The Finnish Air Force plans to start introducing the new multi-role fighter from 2025–2030. The process to phase out the service’s 60 F/A-18 Hornets will, under Air Force plans, have already begun by 2025.
Finland’s MoD has set down a budget framework ― of $8.4 billion to $12 billion ― to fund the FRP-HX program. The budget includes aircraft acquisition and the purchase of auxiliary equipment and some weapons systems. The budget excludes aircraft operating and life cycle maintenance costs. These costs will likely be financed through the annual defense budget.
Gerard O'Dwyer reported on Scandinavian affairs for Defense News.