HELSINKI -- Finland's impending big-ticket defense programs are attracting significant levels of foreign interest from industry companies, as the country readies to launch force-modernization programs, including the next-generation fighter project, costing over $20 billion by 2022.

Officials with the Finnish Armed Forces (FAF) are at the advanced planning stage for a number of large-scale procurement projects that also include counter-artillery radar systems, precision missiles, torpedoes and the Navy's Squadron 2020 battle system.

Saab, Israel's Elta and Raytheon are among the foreign companies that have established strategic dialogue positions on future contracts with the FAF.

Due to the open competition nature of the program bidding processes, a number of Russian companies are also expected to tender bids on some of the larger procurement projects.

The underlying significance around core programs has been heightened by non-aligned Finland's unease over Russia's growing unpredictability and long-term political and military ambitions in the wider High North and Baltic Sea regions.

Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö said the government is determined to ensure that funding for the country's military needs matches the FAF's equipment procurement needs and capacity-building objectives.

"It's important that our armed forces have the equipment that they need to fulfill all of their fundamental roles," said Niinistö.

Niinistö has described Russia's more unpredictable behavior in the greater Baltic Sea region, particularly in the areas of political influencing methods and security policies, as the "new normal".

"Changes in the security environment and the multi-purpose use or threat of power have become a new normal. Russia has shown in Ukraine and Syria that it possesses both the capacity and the will to use military power to push its goals," Niinistö said.

The FAF is aiming to accelerate certain high-priority programs. This will see the earlier-than-planned acquisition of new artillery radar systems. These are set to be in place and operational in 2020. Saab, Elta and Raytheon are among the bidders for this contract.

The acquisition of high-precision ammunition for the FAF's artillery systems, including long-range projectiles, is also being prioritized.

The FAF is also positioned to introduce a new type of anti-personnel land mine (APLM), developed in Finland, to replace its existing stock of APLMs that are outlawed under the Ottawa Treaty, which Finland signed up to in 2011.

Underlining an increased need to elevate its submarine-hunting capabilities, the Finnish Navy's procurement and capacity-building ambitions for its surface fleet will include a torpedo-fit for its four Hamina-class fast attack ships. This work is being scheduled as part of the mid-life upgrade program, to run in 2019-2021, for the entire missile-class Hamina fleet.

The HX fighter replacement program (HX-FRP) remains the FAF's biggest procurement project and the single-biggest future item of expenditure within Finland's defense budget and military organization spending.

The HX-FRP Office has now received information from five manufacturers on candidate aircraft to replace the Finnish Air Force's fleet of an estimated 62 Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornets. The Hornets are due to be retired by 2025.

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a request for information (RFI) to manufacturers in November 2016. The candidate aircraft offered include BAE Systems' Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab's JAS Gripen-E, Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation's Rafale and Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II.

The HX-FRP office plans to respond to information provided as part of the RFI by May 2017. Officials are expected to issue a follow-up request for proposals in 2018. The MoD aims to conclude the selection process in 2021.

State-owned defense group Patria in December 2016 delivered the last of the upgraded F/A-18 Hornets to the Finnish Air Force. All 62 Hornets were part of the Mid-Life Upgrade 2 Program 2010-2016. More than $2 billion has been spent on various upgrades to the Hornets since the year 2000.

"The life-cycle upgraded Hornet aircraft were delivered to the original schedule and within the agreed budget," said Harri Lampinen, the head of Patria's aircraft unit.

The Mid-Life Upgrade 2 enhanced the F/A-18 Hornets' communication and navigation systems, and installed the Link 16 multifunctional information distribution system for interoperability as well as the latest version of the AIM-120 active radar guided advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM).

Post Mid-Life Upgrade 2, the FAF's Hornets are now equipped with precision-guided air-to-ground weapons, including smart bomb Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the medium-range glide bomb Joint Stand-Off Weapon, and the long-range Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile.

In respect of the Navy's Squadron 2020 battle system program, the FAF has dispatched RFIs to 12 domestic and foreign companies. The FAF expects to receive replies by mid-February 2017. The project tender covers weapon systems, command and control systems and sensor systems.

In a move that will please Finland's marine defense industry sector, the MoD is examining proposals that could see the Finnish Navy purchase Squadron 2020 ships from the Finland-based Rauma Marine shipyard.

The primary objective of the surface fleet capital plan is to substantially improve the Finnish Navy's capability in the pivotal areas of situational awareness, mobile underwater surveillance, air and surface defense, underwater intervention and sea mine warfare.

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