HELSINKI — In a significant move, Finland's Finance Ministry has included a provision to pay for the first tranche of the proposed new fighter acquisition from debt incurred from 2018 to 2019. It's a decision that has spurred competitors' marketing to kick into overdrive. 

The government plans to fund the first tranche, payment expected by 2021, from loans totaling €3.6 billion (U.S. $4 billion).  

"We are confident the operating and maintenance costs of the fighters we are buying can be covered from within the annual defense budgets going forward," said Petteri Orpo, Finland's finance minister.

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Five international bidding groups, including Boeing (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet), Lockheed Martin (F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter), BAE Systems (Eurofighter Typhoon), Saab (Gripen E) and Dassault Aviation (Rafale), will battle for the HX FPP contract. Depending on the aircraft type selected by Finland, the value of the contract is expected to be worth between €7 billion (U.S. $7.8 billion) and €10 billion (U.S. $11.2 billion). 

The next stage in the HX FPP will see Finland's Defence project office issue requests for proposals to the governments of the five aircraft manufacturers. The RFPs will be sent out to competing manufacturers during the second quarter of 2018. In a forward-looking request, the MoD will ask all five manufacturers to demonstrate how the capabilities of their specific fighter aircraft offerings can be augmented by other aircraft types, including unmanned platforms like surveillance and weaponized drones.

"The Finnish Air Force (FAF) of tomorrow will need to be stronger and more adaptable. We are looking for a full range of options that will reflect possible future changes in air defense," said Jussi Niinistö, Finland's defense minister.

The FAF is on course to replace its existing fleet of an estimated 60 operational multi-role Boeing F/A-18 Hornets by 2025. Technical information received from the fighter manufacturers differs in terms of stealth technology and electronic warfare solutions, according to Lauri Puranen, the HX FPP's director and the FAF's former chief.

An important feature sought by the MoD from manufacturers is the ability to integrate each candidate aircraft into the FAF's surveillance and command-and-control system "without any significant modifications," said Puranen.

The MoD's project office plans to begin the process of examining the purchase costs attaching to each candidate aircraft during the second half of 2018. This process will commence once all proposals relating to candidate aircraft have been received from manufacturers.

The cost analysis dimension to the HX FPP will include the unit flyaway price for a NATO-compatible multi-role fighter in addition to ancillary systems, sensors and other mission configurations as well as the weapons required by an initial operational capability.

The scaling-up of marketing efforts by the five competing manufacturers includes the recruitment of local PR firms in addition to the recruitment of lobbyists. These include senior government officials and military chiefs. 

Niinistö, under existing contract tendering and transparency rules, has prohibited meetings with lobbyists representing any of the competing aircraft manufacturers, statying that "the reasons are well understood by everyone concerned." Contacts between lobbyists and other officials representing Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Saab and Dassault are restricted to "normal duties" such as dealing with requests for information or practical guidance regarding all stages of the tendering process.

The Finnish Defence Committee on Defense has also established its own contact and transparency rules governing the HX FPP. Committee members are restricting meetings with lobbyists and other officials representing the five international manufacturers to committee meeting rooms inside the Parliament building. 

The high operational performance of the FAF's F/A-18 Hornet fleet has been maintained through midlife upgrades, which have cost more than U.S. $3 billion since 2004 and agreements to secure a reliable supply of spare parts. The aircraft have been fitted with new data transmission systems to strengthen the fighters' ability to handle engagements within and beyond visual range under all weather conditions.