HX Challenge pt. 4: More of Everything

Unfortunately, Finnish daily Aamulehti which so far has openly shared recordings of the main press event at the HX Challenge media events has decided to put these behind a paywall. As such, this post is based upon secondary sources (i.e. published articles). Sorry for the inconvenience, but these are the unfortunate facts. Next week we will be back to primary sources (as I will attend the Boeing briefing in person).

From the outset, the F-35 has been the aircraft to beat in HX. It isn’t impossible that it will end up beaten, but the string of successes throughout the world (marred only by the highly politicised German failure to be allowed to bid) and unique selling points makes it the gold standard in Western fighter design at the moment. As such, anyone wishing to better Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighter will have to put in some serious effort to show why their bid is better for the Finnish Defence Forces’ concept of operations.

F-35 at Pirkkala FinAF FB Joni Malkamäki
The two F-35A’s from that eventually came over from 308th FS were described as being amongst the latest jets in use at Luke AFB, which should mean that they are of the Block 3F, i.e. ready for combat use. Source: Finnish Air Force FB/Joni Malkamäki

At least from the outside, that task hasn’t become any easier from the start of the competition. While Lockheed Martin might have seemed a bit too certain of success in the early days of the competition, this week’s media event has shown that they are listening to the customer and not just offering a copy-paste version of offers made to other countries.

Few doubt the combat capability of the F-35A. The advanced sensor suite and fusion coupled with low-observability features make it a formidable foe for anyone, and the large number of aircraft on order makes it future proof in a way none of the other contenders are. The biggest questions has been surrounding security of supply, sovereignty of data, and industrial cooperation. It is important to note that this does not mean that the Air Force is ready to buy the second best just to ensure that they will get these secondary benefits, but rather that the Air Force has judged these issues to be of crucial importance in allowing a fighter to be combat capable. As has been repeated throughout the last few years: the bids are only ranked on their overall combat capability as part of the overall Finnish defence solution.

And there’s plenty of combat capability in Lockheed Martin’s offer. While the contenders aren’t allowed to comment on the number of aircraft offered, Steve Sheehy, Lockheed Martin’s Director of Sustainment Strategies and Campaigns, appeared to accidentally disclose that it would be a case of 1-to-1 replacement of the Hornets.

“The requirement is 64, we are at 64”*

This was later walked back to the more politically acceptable line of “‘If the requirement is for 64, we are at 64.’ Lockheed Martin will not comment publicly on the number of fighter jets in its response to the call for tenders.” Considering the fact that we have known since last autumn that 64 isn’t in fact a set requirement any longer, my personal belief is that the offer is for 64 aircraft. Make of it what you will, but a 64-ship strong F-35A force would be an impressive one by any measure. It would conceivably make Finland the seventh largest operator of the F-35 (all marks included), leaving behind Tier 2 and 3 contributors such as the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark, as well as making the Finnish Air Force the third largest European operator after the UK and Italy (both of which will likely be operating joint F-35A/B fleets). While this might seem like a bold step, it should be remembered that when Finland bought the F/A-18C Hornet it was an order on a similar scale (the early 90’s seeing the AIM-120 equipped Hornet second only to the F-15C Eagle in the air-to-air role). As long as the aircraft can fit within the price tag, the Finnish Air Force is unlikely to shy away from capability. In fact, a serious F-35A order does hold deterrence value in and of itself, as it would highlight the determination to invest in a credible high-end defence as well as the close bilateral defence cooperation with the US.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the press release was the part on how Lockheed Martin plans to ensure security of supply and industrial cooperation.

Edited 17/02/2020 22:50 GMT+2

Originally it was reported that not only the aircraft, but the F135 engine as well would reportedly be produced in-country.*

This would have represented a significant development in an area that has traditionally been viewed as a weak part of the Lockheed Martin offer, and would be a significant step away from the current production chain which is responsible for pushing the price of the aircraft down to the extent that 64 aircraft could fit inside the Finnish budget. Such an offer would by it’s very nature include a rather large amount of tech transfer, and ensure Finnish industrial know-how stays up to date when it comes to maintaining and overhauling the aircraft, and would solve what otherwise might represent a significant issue in meeting the 30% industrial cooperation target.

However, upon contacting Lockheed Martin, it became clear that this was a case of serious misreporting. Upon a direct question, John Neilson, Director of International Communications for Europe and Israel, stated in no uncertain terms that no mention was made of final assembly of the F-35 aircraft or engine manufacturing. When asked what the industrial participation may look like, I received the following quote:

“Industrial participation forms an important element of our F-35 proposal for Finland but at this stage of the process, for reasons of competitive sensitivity, it would be inappropriate for is to give any further information and wrong to speculate on the details.”

End of edit.

Perhaps a harder thing swallow for the Finnish Air Force was the scheme drawn up for the management of spare parts. This would include peacetime stocks stored in-country for normal operations, with a different set for times of heightened tensions being stored internationally and transferred to Finland when needed. While this kind of centralised spare hubs likely play a significant role in ensuring a low operating cost, not having complete control over the necessary wartime spares will likely be a no-go. However, it is important to remember that this second offer currently being referenced by Lockheed Martin isn’t the same as their best and final offer, which will come only after the approximately six months of negotiations with the Finnish MoD and Defence Forces that are now starting. Lockheed Martin also acknowledges that the sizes of both the in-country and the international stocks aren’t locked, but are currently being discussed. It does however feel that this is one area where the company’s normal ‘tailored for NATO’-options still clashes with the Finnish thinking surrounding wartime operations.

The stealth capability is the defining feature that sets the aircraft apart from the rest of the competition, and while much has been said about the limitations of stealth in the form the word applies to the F-35, you are still better off with a lower radar cross-section in the X-band than with a larger one (which is the aspect where the difference in observability is the largest). The same goes for the carriage of external stores. Granted the RCS will go up compared to when the F-35 carries only internal weapons, but in all likelihood** an F-35 with external stores will still exhibit a lower RCS than competing fighters with external stores (even if the difference is narrower). And while many countries are investing significant resources in detecting VLO aircraft in general and the F-35 in particular, for the immediate future it will likely remain easier to complete the kill chain against a traditional aircraft than against a VLO one (think of it as armour in ground combat – there are weapons and munitions able to defeat armoured vehicles, but still most soldiers prefer riding into combat under armour than in soft-skinned vehicles). The question mark here is whether some of the contenders can mitigate this difference either through the use of different concepts of operations and/or heavy reliance on electronic warfare? It is a tall order, especially considering that the F-35 isn’t exactly lacking in EW-capabilities either, but it isn’t impossible. What is impossible is discerning that difference in EW-capability based purely on open sources, so we will just have to wait and see when it comes to the final decision in 2021.

F-35A during tests with four externally mounted GBU-31 JDAM. One benefit of the F-35A from a Finnish point of view would be the ability to carry over numerous weapons, such as the JDAM-family and the air-to-air missiles, from the current inventory and into the HX-era. Picture courtesy of Lockheed Martin/photo by Darin Russell

It needs to be emphasised just how far beyond the competition the F-35 is when it comes to future proofing the production of the aircraft. The numbers ordered dwarf those of any of the competition, with the F-35A alone having over 2,300 aircraft on order or in the plans of the current customers. This is the only aircraft of the five that beyond any shadow of a doubt will not only be kept in operation but crucially kept up to date outside of Finland well beyond 2060. The need for having other operators also towards the end of the career of HX has been emphasised by those involved in the procurement process several times, and here the F-35 really shines.

The maturity of the aircraft has been questioned, especially as it seems to be followed by a string of bad news. However, it should be noted that the US has a somewhat unique reporting system, which means that many of the minor setbacks (such as the recent issues with the 25 mm gun) are reported in a more open fashion than would be case in most other countries. Colonel Keränen also noted in an interview that if the aircraft is mature enough for Norway to declare IOC, it’s mature enough for us as well. Notable is that the huge number of aircraft flying, 240,000+ flight hours to date, also allow for a rapid pace of development, including the tracking down of any teething troubles at an fast rate.

The GBU-53/B SDB II will be a key weapon of the F-35A Block 4

Like most of the competition, the aircraft being demonstrated doesn’t fully correspond to what would be delivered in five years time. The current F-35A Block 3F standard will give way to the Block 4, which will bring a serious step-up in capability. Most visible are the inclusion of new weapons, such as the JSM anti-ship missile, the GBU-53/B Small-Diameter Bomb II, and the ASRAAM and Meteor for UK use. However, many important changes are simultaneously taking place inside the airframe, which will play a perhaps even larger role than individual weapons when it comes to ensuring that the F-35A of 2025 will be more combat capable, both in absolute and relative terms, than the aircraft now evaluated. Still, it should be pointed out that the inclusion of the GBU-53/B will add a serious anti-vehicle capability to the F-35A, the question then being if the Finnish Air Force in wartime could spare any aircraft for the mission or if all are tied up in the air-to-air role?

Much still remains open. Absent from the reporting from the press event was the promises of complete ownership over the mission data that was repeated by all European manufacturers, and the flight hour costs and changes to infrastructure needed are somewhat open. The F-35 still remain the aircraft to beat though, and the competition have their work cut out for them.

* F-35:n valmistaja lupaa Suomelle hävittäjän tuotantoa – “Emme kerro, kuinka häive rakennetaan, mutta kerromme miten se ylläpidetään” 

** I can in theory envision a scenario where some kind of strange reflector phenomenon would increase the RCS with external stores ridiculously much and make it larger than some of the other contenders, but that is more along the lines of technical possibilities than anything I would call likely

34 thoughts on “HX Challenge pt. 4: More of Everything

  1. asafasfaf

    There are a lot of red flags related to F-35, including lack of modern avionics and maintenance system. Had this jet came from Sweden with similar background information, Finnish press would have teared it apart.

    Click to access 2019f35jsf.pdf

    I think LM is gambling that fail/pass gates will not be enforced so tight and HX-team will not dare to drop F-35 out of race when it e.g exceeds yearly budget or provides industrial agreements worth of 2 billion, instead of 3 billion euros. Win in Finland would have major marketing value, but you cant piss too much over the curret users. Israel was a special case, Finland is not.

    1. To be honest, I don’t believe there’s much anti-Gripen sentiment in Finnish media. Granted there are some open questions about the F-35, but currently it is a significantly more mature platform than JAS 39E, and as noted there’s really no competition regarding the future-proofing.

      1. epakesa

        64 F-35A airframes with full weapons stocks, related systems and maintenance infrastructure, and on top of that a local production line as well as an independent spare parts supply was always going to be a huge ask, especially from a non-NATO, non-JSF programme member nation.

        The Americans must truly wish for the Lightning II to profligate if they are willing to meet the FAF terms at or under 10B euros. A political subsidy to bring Finland closer to the fold? Kudos to the HX team for designing a competition that incentives so vigorous bidding, in any case!

        Can they actually meet the requirements at the specified cost levels, though? Is the risk of a de facto reneg on terms negligible? How on earth do you run a fleet of brand new 5th gen stealth fighters at the same price as the Hornets? Can the sophisticated machines really be maintained by a bunch conscripts on the sides of snowy highways?

        F-35 truly is a plane to be beat, but can it be too good to be true?

      2. Kenneth Johnson

        “Granted there are some open questions about the F-35, but currently it is a significantly more mature platform than JAS 39E”
        Mature and mature. I guess it depends a little how you look upon it I suppose. The F-35 has been in the air for quite some years now and has many more flight hours. But after all these very troubled years it still have issues – and shortcomings due to its stealth.
        Gripen E is in the final, more or less, stage of development and afaik is very much on track. There are no dark clouds in the sky when it comes to technical issues I believe, otherwise we would have heard about it by now I guess… And believe me, Gripen E will function much better than F-35!
        And if you ask me the F-35 is made for USAF and their vast military budget and organisation! Not for small countries like Norway, Denmark or Finland. And one thing that’s not mentioned so often, F-35 needs an “umbrella” of say F-22 when in action over hostile countries because of all shortcomings that follows the constructions of stealth, No other fighter in this competition needs that!
        Finnish air-force has since decades back been able to use austere bases out in the woods. What happens if they buy F-35? Not so good I believe…!? If I’m right about this, Norway and Denmark have only one airbase each when they start to use F-35. How many airbases of different sort has Finland for not talking about Sweden!? I would like to see F-35 been served out in the nordic forests rearming, refueling for not to mention changing the whole engine, btw in about an hour for the change of the Gripen engine that is… How many airbases will Finland have left if they buy F-35???
        Gripen doesn’t have stealth in it’s real sense: But it’s a very small fighter hard to detect and it has different means that make it less visible. For not talking about it’s new very advanced Electronic Attack Jammer Pod (EAJP). I think it’s quite a good strategy instead of real stealth. You deploy lets say four Gripen and the Russian radar see 10 Gripen – or – no Gripen at all! Stealth without any of the usual hampering stuff that comes with real stealth. And what happens when radars become so advanced that they can pick up stealthy planes. Saab and others claim they can do it as we speak – in one way or another I guess.
        Plus that Gripen E can upgrade electronics and software by the snap of ones fingers just like installing mobil phone apps, no more mid life upgrades!
        And another important thing, here explained by Mikael Grev former Gripen-pilot.
        This is a very complicated topic and I cannot explain it myself. But what he tries to explain is that you cannot only compare a plane by counting how many bombs or missiles a plane can carry or how fast it is etc you have to take the pilot the human being and the planes interface into account!
        Specifikation vs stridseffekt: I’m sorry but I can’t translate this but if you can read Swedish then, maybe, you’ll understand this very long and complicated article?!
        Here’s an interesting article by Canadian The CronicalHerald. Buy Gripen and save the Canadian navy.
        Vancouver’s Seaspan will receive an additional $14.2 billion to build 16 more ships for the Coast Guard. Halifax’s Irving Shipyards will receive an additional $1.5 billion to build two more Arctic patrol ships and the Canadian Surface Combatant budget will increase by $8 billion to ensure all 15 new frigates are fully funded.
        Defence scholars Anton Bezglasnyy and Douglas Ross have warned that the high operating cost of the F-35 could make it “the plane that ate the Canadian navy.” A 2017 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned about escalating F-35 costs: “The annual F-35 operating and support costs were estimated to be considerably higher than the combined annual costs of several legacy aircraft, and according to DOD officials, the sustainment strategy was not affordable.” The F-35 only offers partial, and in no way guaranteed, industrial offsets.
        Saab, on the other hand, has a history of full industrial offsets and affordability. Our NATO allies in the Czech Republic and Hungary are happy with their Gripen-Cs.
        The Gripen-E is also a front-runner in the Finnish competition to replace their F-18 Hornets. The Finnish bid includes a pair of Canadian-made Saab/Bombardier GlobalEye airborne radar jets. Canada’s CP-140 maritime patrol aircraft are older than the CF-18s and need to be replaced by 2030. The Saab/Bombardier GlobalEye and Swordfish jets are the obvious frontrunners, are made in Canada, and were designed to work perfectly with Gripens.
        The Conservatives say that they will balance the budget, which they did in 2015, in five years. But the Harper government cut defence spending to below one per cent of GDP and deferred over $9 billion in defence programs to balance the 2015 budget. This led former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page to lament: “National Defence is becoming a source of funds to reduce the deficit. We’re going to need a whole new capital plan for National Defence.” Purchasing the F-35, and trying to balance the budget with other cuts in defence spending, would put the National Shipbuilding Strategy on the chopping block.
        The Saab Gripen is the only jet that’s affordable enough for the Tories to balance the budget without cancelling ships. Purchasing the Gripen-E would allow Trudeau to keep his promise to buy an affordable alternative to the F-35 and fully fund the navy.

      3. The F-35 has flown combat missions in IOC configuration, while the first air force pilot got to fly the 39E *last Friday*, with the aircraft currently “lacking all tactical systems”.


        I like the Gripen, there’s lots of nice ideas in the concept that Saab does a very good job with (including the MMI which I have discussed earlier). But as of today, there’s really no competition when it comes to maturity.

  2. BB3

    C.F. – always enjoy reading your well crafted pieces and your insights on these topics. He one aspect of your piece that surprised me is the suggestion that LM is willing to commit to direct industrial offsets – including assembly/ build of the planes & engines – when LM has specifically refused to do so for Canada and it’s even larger 88 plan tender – saying instead that Canada should expect indirect offsets as part of the consortium of F35 nations allowed to bid on work. I also thought you wrote that Finnish officials seemed cool t o a similar offer of local production by/ from Saab – presumably due to cost efficiency concerns I’m guessing. Hope u can ckarify/ explain. Regardless, if LM is willing and somehow able o make an exception for Finland – and Finland is receptive to such an offer – what’s to stop Canada, Australia, Britain and every other F35 customer from objecting and/ or demanding the same benefits? I’m highly skeptical. If I’m Finland I’m also skeptical about Trump’s commitment to NATO let alone non-NATO allies. If I’m Finland, I’d also value the interoperability of a Gripen fleet with my closest neighbor & defense partner in the event of conflict. Being able to land, re-arm, refuel, repair etc. in Sweden as well as Finland & vice versa would seem to be be an important strategic & tactical advantage. Your thoughts ..

  3. Blue 5

    F-35 will be a sub-optimal solution for Finland:
    – It is monstrously expensive to operate (something which the USAF openly admitted)
    – It is a very poor interceptor
    – Many of its advantages go out of the window once any external stores are carried

    The ‘local’ assembly strikes me as a red herring as not even the UK or Israel got full access to the important stuff, so a Lego-line in Finland is not exactly ToT of any meaningful nature. Maybe the Turkish debacle has left room to flex for a Finnish bid, but in general the good work has been swallowed by the top-Tier users so Finland will frankly get very little. And that would be trusting LM, which really no one should.

    F-35 is not a good buy as a single-platform choice. It is too costly to operate and has too many shortcomings. The things in its favour are global fleet mass and US support, but for a small user it is an albatross. You are looking at 40-50% MC on a good day with $35,000+ CPFH and punishing support requirements. Anyone needing to run a QRA fleet has just mortgaged their O&M budget.

    Split buy with Gripen would be a good – though no-doubt ignored – solution.

    1. EMK

      For me, uninformed and biased F-35 bashing has reached the saturation point and changed from amusing to outright boring.

      For some reason I cannot fathom, that plane attracts self proclaimed “aerial warfare experts” like feces attracts flies. It seems that everybody and their cousin knows for sure that F-35 is substandard fighter which no-one should ever buy. Yet, all we get from these experts is ignorant, incoherent rants. Lots of hot air and no substance what so ever.

      If you ask me, these ‘experts’ could as well shove their opinions to the place where sun does not shine.

      1. Blue 5

        Several reasons stated why F-35 has shortcomings both in general and with regard to Finland. Apart from being rude, what are your arguments in its favour?

      2. EMK

        As CF said in his comment, you gave no worthy arguments. You merely recycled the same old mantras we all have heard thousand and one times before, without adding anything relevant, interesting or worth of consideration. Just the same old junk people have scoured from the bottom of the Internet for years now. By doing that, you placed your self into F-35 haters tribe in my books. As I’ve no interest in participating tribal wars, I’ll leave your request to give arguments for F-35 unanswered.

      3. j_p

        The problem is that anyone with the first-hand knowledge (engineers and operators) are not able to chip in in the discussions due to classification issues. So you are left with either arm-chair experts or people making opinions from whatever is released into the open / 2nd hand knowledge.

      4. EMK

        @j_p You’re absolutely right. But that’s not the point – at least its not the point I was trying to make.

        Of course we all, experts and non-experts alike, have to be able to discuss, debate, disagree and have even heated conversations. But if I am non-expert, should I hammer my opinions to others as self evident, god given truths? Should I spread junk I’ve read some obscure website and use that to make me look like an expert? Absolutely not, in my opinion.

        Non-experts are more prone to accept misinformation, disinformation, shallow analysis, motivated analysis and a bunch of other “junk” as a valid information. Non-experts don’t usually know which sources are trustworthy and which ones are spreading false information.

        So, if I am a non-expert I should understand, provided I have any sense at all, that my ability to asses the quality of information related to topic like this is minuscule. Non-experts in general don’t even know how much there is to know and how many different point-of-views you need to consider before making any rational conclusions and comparisons is possible.

        And in my humble opinion you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know all the above. Every sensible person should know that without saying.

        You know, I am drawn to blogs like this because of the quality I get. I get non-tribal, balanced views and opinions. C.F. doesn’t pretend to be an expert in areas he’s not. He’s not claiming to own an absolute truths. He may have strong opinions, but he usually gives us the reasons behind the opinions. The same goes for the most of regular commentators. As a result, I can better asses the validity of my own views and opinions. Occasionally I learn about things I didn’t even know existed in the first place. Another words, I learn something I value.

        Although is not my place to police the comment section nor to tell others how to behave, endless, idiotic tribal ranting stops being amusing after a while. And when it comes to F-35 (Grippen too, to some extent) it has been going on for years already. Enough was enough. Enough is enough.

        That’s the reason for my outburst. If you think I was too rude… maybe I was. But that’s how i see things. Feel free to disagree.

    2. asafasfaf

      There’s a 3 billion industrial/offset requirement, so one way or another, you have to burn money and it seems that everyone is offering final assembly as to way to smoke it and at the same, improve maintenance independence, which happens to be another fail/pass gate.

      But the yearly operating budget is the most difficult fail/pass gate, as Finland has highly cost effective system in place at the moment. This is the reason why requirement of 64 jets was dropped and no way you can operate 64 F-35’s at the same cost, when you have extra fuel consumption, stealth skin upkeep* and almost no control over long term upgrade costs.

      *both F-35’s that arrived Finland had damaged coating close to canopy

      1. Kenneth Johnson

        “both F-35’s that arrived Finland had damaged coating close to canopy”.

        Interesting, did they fly to Finland from England or? That coating is a blessing, when it works as advertised (?) but also an (expensive) curse to keep up with the job!

        Compare it with Gripen that uses state of the art EW-suits and so forth to avoid detection. That plane is where it belongs – in the air!!! Not in any hangar polishing it’s feathers for hours and hours…

        And the F-35 stealth works only from the front, so what happens when the F-35 is returning to it’s base, if not detected before? It will need real fighters as an umbrella for safe return. Do Norway and Denmark possess those real fighters? No, they don’t! So, I cannot figure out how they solve that problem when the Russians come chasing after that blowtorch of an engine… Maybe some clever guy here can explain it to me please!

        I look forward to it! 🙂

      2. EMK

        @Kenneth Which Russians do you mean? Did you mean those who were unfortunate enough to get in the way of F-35’s? Well, their planes are already reduced to smoking piles of rubble at that point. And the pilots, if still alive, scratch their heads wondering what it was that hit them. The other Russians were not airborne by definition (because if they were, they too would be scratching their heads). So it seems to me there are no good reasons to hide the blow torch. 🙂

        Just kidding. That’s the story the LM could tell you (and maybe back it up with quite amazing kill-ratios and reports from the Red Flag exercises).

        More seriously speaking, the scenario you painted is something you generally want to avoid in any plane. Roughly speaking, if you are in a position you described, something has probably gone wrong already (which is not unheard of, of course). If you’ve got ammo, enough fuel and there are change you might win, you engage. Unless, of course, help is coming your way, in which case you probably do everything to delay the engagement until that help arrives.

        There are other options, but listing all the eventualities would be too much work and would miss the point, which is: You plan in order to avoid getting into that situation in the first place.

        The way you avoid getting into that tight spot depends on lots of things: Types of planes (yours and the adversary’s), the nature of target, the mission, air defenses en route and near target, weather, experience (of pilots) and so on and so forth. And as obvious as it might be, you’d definitely do it differently with every HX candidate as they all have their own set of weaknesses and strengths. More over, its not always clear what features are weaknesses and what are strengths. That depends to some extent on what you’re up against. Types need to be compared pair-wise against each other in order to make sense the tactics that apply / are useful, and how the mission should be planned.

        In another words, its a weak fantasy that there are some simple, clear cut answers to questions like this. And its an illusion that you can compare different planes without the context that gives the necessary details you need in order to be able to do that comparison at all.

        Disclaimer: I am not an expert. Just your regular non-military pilot with a fair amount of interest in this sort of stuff. So everything above should be taken with a grain of salt. And I am happy to hear your opinions.

        Did that answer your question?

  4. Blue 5

    OK, sorry all. Please explain why:
    – It is not expensive (hint, GAO reports will give you the figures)
    – It is a good interceptor (poor speed and climb, supercruise only with judicial use of AB, a long way from Meteor integration)
    – The use of external stores somehow does not cause the loss of key advantages. As in, most of its advantages.

    It is very expensive to operate. It needs extreme care to run. It is fairly slow and gets slower with external stores. It is still in devleopment (Bl. 4 software is really what it needs to be truly capable). It has miserable availability rates (again, if you do not believe me, read the USAF’s own reports on this). LM’s ‘local participation’ is pretty meaningless given the profitable and useful work has already been taken. The devleopment is essentially frozen and Finland will have virtually no inout.

    Shall we start talking about the total cluster that is ALIS? These are facts, not opinions. Again, I point you to the USAF if you have doubts. This is their conculsion, not simply my opinion

    So: no, these issues are not questionable / oversimplifed, they are extreme real. The USAF / RAF / RAAF can cope with this as they have bigger budgets and a multi-platform force. There are significant advanatges with purchasing a US aircraft and the F-35 is not intrinsically ‘bad’, but I do not feel it is the correct choice for Finland.

    Put it this way, Belgium spent c. $4,bn on 34 F-35s. At a USAF rate of c. 60% MC platforms (which is debateable, but lets be generous here), the Belgian air force will have less aircraft on the flight line in total than the BEF landed in Mons in the summer of 1914. And that’s not taking into account training airframes, deep maintenance, T&E aircraft etc.

    Oh, and ‘aerial warfare’ is literally my day job. In fact, I suspect I work with BB3.

    1. EMK

      Ok Blue 5, I misjudged you. My apologies.

      – ALIS has been ditched and will be replaced by ODIN. How bad or well that goes is anybody’s guess.
      – Availability of spares during a conflict, ratio of maintenance hours to flight hours are big concerns. Required skills of m. personnel less so, IMO.

      – Block 4 is part of the C2D2 which ends 2024. That is, before HX deliveries would begin.
      – No, its not frozen by any stretch. AFAIK, block 6 is already on the pipes and given the planned
      life of the type and the size of the fleet and the fact it is used in great numbers by three US branches (AF, Navy, Marines), it would be a huge surprise if block 6 will be the last one.

      Unit price
      – Seeing only the price tag won’t tell you everything. Its how much bang for the buck you get that matters. And to be frank, although the price is relatively high, its not that far from the other candidates at the expensive end of the lot.

      Operational costs.
      – This is probably one thing that could turn the competition to some other candidate. How ever, if other advantages are big enough, FaF could as well end up swallowing this.
      – LM has at least something to alleviate the pain. Namely FMS (Full Mission Simulator). It lowers the cost of training (both basic and tactical) significantly. It also makes it practical to validate tactics in generic sense and at the unit level for mission planning. Validation saves planes and lives should a shooting war break out (and yes, there are caveats). And AFAIK, no other candidate can offer comparable capability (correct me if you know better).

      War fighting capability.
      – Frankly, this is the one thing I am not concerned at all. This plane beats the hell out of any FaF opponent, current or in the pipes. (I doubt SU-57 will be operational any time soon, at least in numbers that would make any difference).
      – This has been the most controversial and difficult part of the comparison for the most people. It is also the part that is so removed from the layman experience and knowledge, they simply have no idea how big and complicated topic it is. So its not surprising people have difficulties with it. As said, this is a huge topic so I leave it to this. (I am willing to talk about it in another comment if you want).

      – I don’t know if the F-35 will win, or if it should win. Its a good candidate, but I don’t know enough to form a strong opinion.
      – the selection process incorporates literally thousands of factors, most of which *only* FaF and our political leaders can put reasonable weights on.
      – If some outsider – layman or expert – thinks s/he can do better by relying on public information, well, that’s just hilarious. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk or speculate about it. It just means that a sensible person would probably keep any absolute truths they think they posses to themselves.

      1. asafasfaf

        C2D2 plan failed, as you can read from the report. Block 4 schedule is in high risk and current 3F has hundreds of deficiencies left, largely due to avionics-architecture that is not up to the task.

  5. IED

    EMK: Love to hear your extended opinion on war fighting capabilities. As I read your text you seem to have a different idea than I do.

    In my view of war fighting capabilities, the first criteria is how many planes you can get in the air. This would be a function of how many you can afford to buy/operate and how many are grounded due to mantenance (or shot down). The second criteria is how much delivery in terms of missiles can be handled by each platform and with which quality. Here obviously greater stealth can in some circumstances allow better delivery of missiles.

    In the Falklands War, noone was scared of Argentines Super Etendards. But the Exocets carried by the Super Etendards was the great fear of Her Majestys navy.

    1. EMK

      @IED, you’re right. Airborne capabilities or something of that sort would have been a better title. I knew the comment would be too long anyway, so I put one piece of the puzzle (m.hr/f.hr) under the maintenance section because Blue 5 seems to be a maintenance guy (BB3).

      About your first criteria. Roughly so, I think. As the number of air-frames in the HX is fixed (or at least constrained), survivability and the maintenance/flight hour ratio will together determine how many planes we can get up in the air, on average, at the same time. This is useful number primarily for rough comparisons between different planes. In real life it gets way more complicated. Ie. what you need is not the average. Sometimes less suffices and sometimes the situation calls for more (than the average).

      Your second criteria. You guessed. Its complicated. Its not that more you carry the better. There are lots of things that needs to be counted in.

      Roughly speaking, the mission type determines the kind of weaponry you carry, the specific mission dictates the numbers (and you adjust the number of planes on that mission accordingly). But you never carry more than you need because of the penalties involved (weight & extra drag slows you down, impacts your range and makes you less agile. Shortened range may mean you need more fuel which increases weight, slows you down and so on).

      There’s a one important aspect that also plays a role on these choices: The overall concept of how you think about air war.

      There are basically two schools of thought. The first, what you might call “modernists”, rely to a large extent on high-tech, long range weaponry, beyond visual range combat (BVR), low observability, information networks and all that stuff in their thinking. The “traditionalists” say that’s all wrong. Close and mid-range combat, speed and agility are still the most important aspects, and all that tech is a dangerous distraction.

      Keeping that in mind, the number of weapons depends indirectly on the type of aircraft because it determines to a large extent the tactics you choose in mission planning. If your tactic is based on 4th gen capabilities and traditional air war concept, you choose different weapons compared to modernist who might fly 5th gen plane and rely on tactics that are appropriate for that platform. In many cases both can get the job done. Thus, it becomes a question of which approach is more effective in terms of resources. I think this is generally speaking still undecided, but the time is on the side of modernists.

      I think FaF tends to lean to the modern side of the divide, although the budget sets obvious constraints on that. Due to the constraints, FaF cannot afford what is called Hi/Lo strategy (air superiority fighters + cheaper and less capable fighters like F-16, F-18 etc). So they aim for modern concept but have to settle on single, less capable type. And that shows for example in their pilot training (eg. big emphasis on close combat skills), how they prioritize the mission types and of course, it will determine the outcome of the HX competition.

      1. BB3

        I’m not sure that w/ respect to Finland & Sweden in particular the most important differentiator is is between ‘modernists’ and ‘traditionalists’ as I think the most important attributes for the Fins & Swedes are survivability, availability, adaptability, and bang for the buck and the role of the foregoing in creating an effective deterrent and fighting force if/ when necessary.

        It seems to me that the primary advantages of the F35 are for offensive purposes .. whereas Finland & Sweden should prioritize defense and surviving and being able to counter a surprise attack by a numerically superior force. And yes #s and availability and survivability and sortie rates etc. are likely more important to the Finns than they are to the US with a large & dispersed force structure. Being able to takeoff & land at dispersed bases and be refuel, re-armed, maintained & repaired at remote/ spartan locations by small cadres of skilled and conscript personnel are extremely important in these situations. These don’t seem to be primary attributes of the F35. However, these are primary attributes of the Gripen series and if Finland were to choose Gripens – they’d also effectively double the remote and regular bases where their fighters could operate from in the event of a conflict.

        No platform is perfect. All have pluses and minuses and certainly the F35 has a lot of value in certain circumstances – and I can certainly understand why the US values the stealth characteristics of the F35 for offensive purposes in hostile environs. Of course, the US has a seemingly unlimited budget and multiple additional platforms to perform a variety of tasks. Finland – like Sweden – needs a cost-effective platform that can be cost-effectively acquired, operated, repaired and maintained and one that can be operated in remote/ spartan locations where STOL and other less than ideal conditions exist.

      2. BB3

        Kind of a catch-22 re the future proofing argument. If Finland chooses Gripen it’s more cost-effective to continue upgrading/ servicing/ maintaining same.

        If Canada were to choose Gripen you’d have North & South American production/ maintenance/ development centers in addition to Sweden & whatever capabilities Finland will have. https://www.flightglobal.com/defence/saab-announces-team-for-canada-gripen-e-campaign/137050.article

        And maybe India becomes a major operator & Thailand & the Philippines operate updated C/D fleets in the Far East to complement the legacy C/ D fleets operated by Sweden, Hungry, the Czech Republic & South Africa allowing Saab to leverage upgrade & weapons integration work across both platforms.

        But sure if Sweden & Brazil are the only operators it becomes harder & more expensive to keep on the cutting edge. Still, Saab’s independence and small size has allowed it to be nimble, responsibe, adaptable, and innovative and to do things on the cheap as compared to anything coming out of the US.

  6. EMK

    @BB3, I mostly agree.

    However, the traditionalist / modernist dichotomy is not an all or nothing proposition. It can be, while sitting in an arm chair and debating about it, but in practice its not. I also doubt FaF thinks in terms of attack / defense the way you put it. Let me try to clarify how I see this.

    If you think purely in traditional defensive terms, your primary task is to prevent air to ground attacks by the enemy. So you concentrate on intercepting enemy planes on a2g missions, shooting them down or chasing them away. As planes on a2g mission are usually protected by a2a ones (fighters), dealing with them then becomes your secondary task. If you do all that well enough, you effectively protect your ground troops as well. In that way of thinking the a2a capability in the sense of speed, range, agility and a2a weapons carrying capacity are the most important (not only) things platform wise. And you try to maximize your ability to do all that by any means you can (training, repair, maintenance, road bases etc). And finally, you will purchase your fleet and update it all of the above in mind.

    A major downside of this approach is that you’re passive, reactive and predictable. And if you have any sense, you’d wish these attributes to characterize the enemy rather than you. Combine that with disadvantage in the numbers game and the end result is pretty obvious. Without outside assistance you’re done sooner rather than later. So what can you do?

    Some people say you purchase more SAMs. But that is not cost effective, maybe apart from protecting a few high value targets. And that doesn’t help your ground troops, spread all over the country, either. Not to mention that it doesn’t help the gloomy position of the FaF in any way.

    On the other hand, if you change your thinking, a whole new set of possibilities opens up. And that is, *I believe*, what happened in FaF prior to MLU2 and related weapons acquisition for Hornets. They accepted the harsh realities of their position and decided to do something about it. Hence the new AF tasking and mission types that came with it (active a2g missions, that is).

    In the new thinking, the active a2g capability is not only for active ground support of our troops, it is also for improving the odds against the enemy AF, by being able to inflict serious damage to their supporting infra (radars, comms, air-bases etc.). Hence the long range precision munition acquired for the Hornets. With this seemingly minor change the FaF became more active and unpredictable a force.

    If and when you add new capabilities like EW, LO, BVR etc. to the mix, your strategic and tactical landscape literally opens up and you’ll have a wide variety of new tricks on your sleeve. That is, I believe, the direction FaF is going with the HX. And all the HX candidates allow you to walk that road, some less, some more and all with slightly different emphasis. And to be clear, a2a still remains *the most important* mission type.

    So, to summarize, I believe FaF has already chosen an active, modernist path and no longer consider the traditional passive stance viable on the current and future environment.

    1. BB3

      Again i’m thinking about deterrence, defense and the ability to survive and counter an initial surprise Russian attack and then a likely ground incursion. In my mind – the Global Eye assets that are part of Saab’s bid are an underappreciated part of the equation. The 2 Global Eye platforms are a force multiplier and provide an early warning system, situational awareness and EW capabilities that are not part of any other offer. Even the EW capabilities likely far exceed anything provided by the Growlers – from a defensive/ border protection perspective as opposed to offensive missions deep into enemy territory of the type that the F35 and Super Hornets are perhaps better suited for.

      As I mentioned in my earlier post, I also think it’s a big advantage for the Finn air force if they have the ability – in case of emergency – to disperse not only to in-country primary and remote bases – but also all the bases in Sweden and have ready access to air crews, maintenance facilities, fuel and ordinance that are set up to support Gripen and Global Eye operations.

      The foregoing are important deterrent factors – and Finland wants to deter aggression and avoid a conflict if at all possible. If the ruskies are worried that their initial offensive activities will be detected and therefore opposed and if they are worried about their ability to inflict a decisive 1st blow then they are going to be less likely to attack in the 1st place and they’d also have to commit to attacking both Finland & Sweden and being able to find, destroy & defeat twice the # of bases and air assets. Again – all the foregoing increases deterrence and the ability to survive and counter attack if there is a conflict.

      All the candidates provide multi-role capabilities – air to ground, air to air, and EW – but each platform has certain advantages and disadvantages over the other competitors as to some operations/ capabilities. It seems to me that the primary advantages of both the F35 and the F-18 Super Hornets relate to offensive activities. The F18 and the F-35 if fully loaded with outside stores can also deliver more A2G ordinance but again that’s a bigger advantage vis-a-vis offensive activities where you’ve established air superiority. My guess is that it’s more important for the Finnish air force that its forces be able to deny air superiority to the Russian air force and secondarily provide ground support for Finnish ground forces. Again – the ability to disperse, hide, survive, quickly re-arm and refuel and maintain a high sortie rate would seem paramount and the ability to gain great situational awareness from Global Eye assets (both Finn & Swedish) would greatly assist re: the foregoing and again all the above adds to the deterrent factor.

      None of us posting on this site can possibly accurately assess the radar, IR and EW capabilites of the various platforms in a wartime setting against the Russian assets. I’m assuming they are all at least equal to or better than the Russian capabilities – but who knows. If the F-35 is truly invisible and shoot down 10 enemy planes undetected – maybe that’s the choice – assuming they can survive an initial surprise attack on the F35s that are clustered at the Finn main bases because they can’t easily be stationed/ serviced/ maintained and operated out of remote bases – and the Finn F35s aren’t in the air because they don’t have any early warning about attack because they don’t have the Global Eye platforms that were part of the Saab offer. So certainly there are unknowns, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that a primary focus on Defense and Deterrence & Survivability is in any way Passive. You have to be able to survive and fly with ordinance to be able to counterattack and inflict damage on the enemy and again the foregoing are big aspects of Deterrence which is always the preferred outcome IMO.

      1. EMK

        @BB3 You’ve got valid points. Maybe we could start splitting hairs here and there, but as before, I am not disagreeing the most of what you say.

        I want to comment a one remark you made though. I think you misread me. You said:

        “I don’t think it’s fair to say that a primary focus on Defense and Deterrence & Survivability is in any way Passive.”

        That’s not what I was claiming. In fact, my claim was exactly the opposite. To make its as clear as I can, I said:

        ONLY defensive = passive
        PRIMARILY defensive = no more passive (ie. active)

        You need to remember, I spoke about the FaF. Prior to said MLU2, defense was the only game in town. Not primary. The only! In another words, the FaF had no offensive a2g capability whatsoever : Nothing, zip, zero. nada. Thus, the FaF was entirely passive, reactive and predictable. There just is no way around that fact. Hope I made that clear 🙂

        (to be entirely precise and truthful, in case someone likes to split hairs, the hornet has a gun obviously. Therefore you can point your nose towards the deck and shoot… but seriously, that doesn’t count as an a2g offensive capability in any practical or meaningful sense).

        The FaF advertised the new a2g capability as a means to give close air support for our ground troops. In this context they publicly talked about the need to achieve a temporary and geographically limited air superiority. That makes perfect sense. The planes providing the close air support are incapable of protecting themselves against the enemy fighters. They are basically sitting ducks while low and slow.

        But. As important the close air support capability might be, in a big picture its nowhere nearly as important as the offensive capability against ground targets beyond our borders. That’s my opinion anyway. In fact, I would claim it is perfectly clear for most anyone interested in these matters, that the seemingly minor acquisition of long range precision a2g capability was actually a huge change at the strategic level (never mind the fact that in practice the capability is still quite limited due to minuscule stockpile of suitable weapons). The AF officers, however, have been extremely careful to avoid any conversations about this in public. The topic has been, and still is, politically very very sensitive. But the silence doesn’t mean, IMO, they don’t think this capability as being crucial. In some cases the silence speaks quite loudly. For me, this is one such case.

        When it comes to Global Eye, I wish we could afford a few even in case the competition doesn’t end up Gripen / Global Eye combo at the top of the pack. Both F-35 and Growler can play that role as well though. I think that’s even one of the selling points for both LM and Boeing. The other two candidates, I think, have nothing substantial to offer in this front.

      2. BB3

        Good points all EMK. I’ll just point out the obvious which I that awacs assets like Saab’s Global Eye planes are designed to to be low operational cost assets that can patrol/ operate 8-10 hrs in the air which is not something you can do with F35s or Growlers even if the operating costs were on par – which they’re not. So the Global Eye planes provide early warning capabilities that none of the fighter aircraft by themselves are really well suited to fulfill. The additional crew and computing power of the Global Eye and it’s bigger radars with much better range also allows AWACS assets like Global Eye to provide better long range stand-off EW & situational awareness capabilities than any of the Fighters. At least the Growler has a 2nd operator – as does the Gripen F & the other Eurofighter competitors, which helps with threat assessment, EW, ISR & communications tasks, but again these are really capabilities that are included and best suited to offensive penetration missions o take out ground based radar & SAM sites. These capabilities can certainly be valuable/ important in certain situations, but the Growler & Gripen F w/ EW pod aren’t designed to do what Global Eye does .. They’re complementary capabilities that are important/ valuable if you can get those planes into the air because you got sufficient early warning about an impending 1st strike & then disperse, re-fuel, re-arm and plan your next moves – air defense, ground support, and counter – attack.

        I just think that the ISR/ early warning & stand-off situational awareness capabilities of Global Eye are huge deterrent factors as are the ability to fully integrate with & leverage the Swedish assets, bases, personnel, weapons stores, etc.

        And these 1st strike deterrent & survivability factors can’t/ shouldn’t be underestimated/ overlooked. In the event of a conflict with Russia there are going to be attacks/ threatening multiple fronts – Poland, the Baltic countries , Central & Southern Europe, etc. The notion that the US & NATO are going to immediately come rotisserie is a myth. With Trump in charge, the resolve of The US to intervene/ help at all is in question (nonotwithstanding Trump’s affinity for blond & blue-eyed folk) and the rest of NATO – in current disarray and a woeful state of readiness – won’t be in a position not help if if they wanted to and their populations will be demanding that they protect their own borders & not venture northward to rescue non-NATO countries like Finland.

        Finland & Sweden will be on their own & will need to be able to protect themselves. Their best strategy is deterrence. The Finns need to make the Russians think/ believe that the risk/ expected cost of attacking Finland is too high, because Finland’s air force will survive and respond to any 1st strike and be able to counter, slow, repel any ground incursion because the ground forces will be supported by a dispersed and dangerous air force fighting a gorilla campaign if/ as necessary in concert with Sweden and whatever help can be spared/ obtained from Nato. JMHO

  7. Locum

    Well, I prefer to thank BB3 and Blue 5 for their great feedback.

    The F-16 evolved into a multi-role fighter. However, that multi-role concept is pushed too far in the F-35 LightningII. In other words: too much of everything. The JSF program is just like the
    F-111 Aarvark, an idea of politicians.
    Replace as much as very different types with “one size fit’s all” design, to achieve a maximum “scale of economies”. Develop this standard fighter in an over-ambitious shortest time schedule as possible. While still under development, start already the cash-flow generating initial production.
    The JSF business case was built at quick development, quick production and build them at just one assembly-line in large numbers.
    In 2003/ ’04, the GAO warned the Pentagon that 7 of the 8 key-technologies applied in the F-35 were still not mature, while F-35 development was already underway. F-35 production is overlapping (= concurrency)the design and development phase too much.

    The B-1B production started, while construction workers were still assembling the factory.
    Experiences during her service life, showed that concurrency, caused a ‘baked in’ unreliability into the B-1B lancer design. The B-1B needed very costly Begin Life Updates, suffers from low Mission Capable Rates and higher than anticipated exploitation / sustainment costs.
    According to the original planning, the F-35 Block 3 should have all promised capabilities.
    Unfortunately, the 10 year System Development & Demonstration turned out in an almost 17 year long System Development & Discovery phase. Well, the SDD was artificially ended in April 2018, but discoveries are still being made. The original Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E) phase was planned to take 2,5 years. But was shortened to just 1 year, in order to get the Milestone C decision for Full Rate Production.
    Some promised capabilities are deleted completely and a lot of them are deferred to Block 4, or even ‘block 5 or 6’ via the Follow-on-Modernization a.k.a. Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2) program.
    In this C2D2 program they make the same mistakes as in the SDD:
    A too aggressive time schedule; considerably underestimating total costs and again concurrency in development and production.

    The JSF project is suffering from 2 big problems: sustainability and difficult software development.

    “It’s Only Software.”
    One thing not appreciated at all at the beginning of the development of the F-20, the first digital fighter, was the difficulty of software development. To engineers who spent years developing analogue electronic devices to handle complex tasks, the prospect of building a piece of equipment that could change how and even what it did just by changing the software seemed a dream come true. At the beginning of F-20 development, one would often hear the refrain when a change was proposed “that will be easy – it’s only software”.
    As development progressed it became apparent that software changes were easy to make, but very hard to implement. Every change brought the possibility of a new bug, or an unforeseen interaction with some other software routine. On the F-20, with the various black boxes communicating with each other in a fairly simple manner over the mux bus according to a rigid interface control document, these problems were not so great at the aircraft level. But at the level of the individual units of equipment, completing the software development, and implementing changes later on, proved to be a monster task of unprecedented difficulty. By the end of development, when a change was proposed, the refrain was “… it won’t require any software changes, will it?”

    This was the introduction to the digital world, which now results in aircraft development taking decades instead of years. The digital hardware would go through generations of improvements of several orders of magnitude while the software was developed. This ended up making software, original seen as a godsend, the long pole in the tent, the pacing item in aircraft development.

    A lot could be said for the old analogue systems. During development flight test of the YF-17, a change in the analogue fly-by-wire flight control system would involve an engineering order looking something like this: The necessary circuit board would be pulled from the computer, and flown overnight from Edwards to Phoenix, where a resistor array or other discrete components on the board would be removed, and different ones with the appropriate values soldered into the board.
    For the digital fly-by-wire system of the F-20, changes to the flight control computer would be defined by a mathematical formula. The change could be implemented in software, but then a large amount of testing would have to be accomplished to be sure that this did not result in unforeseen problems or a bug that made the aircraft unsafe to fly.

    Either system could result in unforeseen pilot-induced-oscillations, where the pilot chased lags in the control system, resulting in a vicious feedback loop that would result in the aircraft going out of control (as happened most recently with the YF-22 prototype). But software problems could remain hidden for years, only becoming apparent when the aircraft came into a never-before-encountered set of circumstances.

    An example on the F-20 occurred during the two-aircraft world tour. After GG1001 crashed in Korea, GI1001 had to make the lonely trip home, alone, across the north Pacific from Hawaii to Alaska. The two aircraft had traveled around the world easterly, flying from California, to Farnborough in England, then across Europe, North Africa, and Asia. As the aircraft crossed the international date line for the first time, the inertial navigation system went haywire. The pilot had to use the compass, and once within range of Alaska, radio homing to navigate. After landing, shutdown, and restart in Alaska, the system worked fine. The problem was found to be a multiplier with the wrong sign deep in the software code. The problem would never emerge until the moment the aircraft first crossed the international dateline, going from west to east.

    1. BB3

      Appreciate the historical insight Locum. When the proverbial sh*t hits the fan as it does in the event of conflict – keeping it simple, stupid (kiss) – tends to gain adherents.

  8. NickRick

    Interesting discussion !
    I have more interest than knowledge but found these links with info. What do you guys think of the information ?

    This one is calculations on dogfights

    And this one is on performance during redflag and other exercises r

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