HELSINKI — Finland’s left-leaning political parties have cast a shadow of doubt of the fate of the HX-FP fighter procurement program, questioning the number of multirole aircraft that the Finnish Air Force needs to acquire.

The Air Force wants to retire its fleet of F/A-18 Hornet jets over the next 10 years. The HX-FP carries an estimated price tag of €11.4 billion (U.S. $12.9 billion). Life cycle service and maintenance are included in this cost.

Finland will hold fresh parliamentary elections in April, and the leaders of election campaign-focused Left Alliance, Greens and Social Democratic parties have declared a willingness to revisit the center-right government’s plan to purchase 64 multirole fighters.

Similarly, the right-wing Finns Party’s leadership is also open to reducing the number of aircraft Finland will buy.

Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö described the “negative” pre-election positions adopted by the leftists and the Finns Party to the HX-FP program as “irresponsible.”

“I am surprised by the positions the leftist parties are taking on the procurement. The purchase of new fighter aircraft is about whether we are interested in defending our country or not. If we reduce the number of planes, then we need to have a debate about which are the priority areas in our defense. In my opinion, this is irresponsible politics,” Niinistö said.

The common positions taken by the leftist parties and the Finns Party have assumed a more significant stature given that the Social Democratic Party — which is leading popular polls ahead of the April election — may end up leading Finland’s next coalition government in partnership with either the Greens or the Left Alliance.

Finland’s coalition government parties, the Center and conservative National Coalition, remain firmly supportive of a plan to procure 64 aircraft as part of the HX-FP. Other center-right parties in Parliament, including the Swedish People’s Party, the Christian Democrats and Blue Reform, also back the Air Force’s plan to purchase 64 jets.

“This matter is not about a specific number of planes, but finding an overall solution. The number of fighter jets that can be bought is not written in stone. That number will not be known until responses to the invitation for tenders have been properly processed. We will then have different mapped-out options to examine,” said Sanna Marin, a spokeswoman for the Social Democratic Party.

Niinistö is a staunch supporter of the HX-FP and favors the acquisition of 64 planes. He recently told a meeting of Parliament’s Defence Committee that the Air Force, were it were not for budgetary spending constraints, ought to have up to 100 multirole fighters at its disposal to provide an enhanced level of air defense for Finland’s borders.

The dispute over potential HX-FP numbers comes as Lt. Gen. Jarmo Lindberg, the Finnish Defence Forces’ chief, plans to step down from his role when his five-year term ends in August 2019.

Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.

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