Fighters, Missiles, and Forces

The request for best and final offers has not slowed down the pace of HX, but on the contrary things are seemingly moving at ever higher speed. At the same time, developments in the wider world are also affecting the competition.

F-35 started the year on the wrong footing, with Acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller, giving a bizarre quote where he not only called the F-35 “that’s a piece of…” and called it “the case study” for an acquisition process which is a “wicked problem”, but also stated that “I cannot wait to leave this job, believe me.” While the full quote was headline stuff for the tabloids, I would not ascribe much value regarding the merits of the F-35 to the opinions of someone who responds to the question “I wanted to ask you…Joint Strike Fighter?” with “Which one? F-35?”

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The F-35 is followed by dark headlines, most of which are frankly little more than hot air caused by the unmatched media focus and US transparency surrounding the program. At the same time, questions regarding the sustainment costs continue to linger. Source: Norwegian Defence Forces Twitter

The other major headline was that the program was granted its fourth extension to the deadline for when the F-35 evaluation would be finished and the aircraft approved for full-rate production. While this also caused some bad press, truth be told this is largely a non-issue for the aircraft, as the challenges faced are part of the Joint Simulation Environment where the effectiveness against hostile high-end threats will be tested. It is, however, a serious case of civilian oversight being lacking, as either the decision criteria requiring the JSE tests are wrong, or then the civilian leadership has been watching from the sidelines as more than 600 units have been produced of an aircraft they don’t know if they will approve for full-rate production! Spoiler alert – it’s most likely the former, but it is a serious failure of the Civ-Mil process and how the oversight is structured (rather than any fault of the aircraft itself) that the production run before approval is bigger than the total most other fast-jets will see throughout their lifespans.

The aircraft also “flies with 871 flaws“, something that makes for good headlines but is largely a case of the unmatched US transparency rather than indicative of serious troubles.

In addition there has been issues with shortages of the F135 engines that has hit the fleet. Defense News quoted officials stating that it is a “serious readiness problem”, and noted that in next year “roughly 5 to 6 percent” of the aircraft could be without engines due to a combination of scheduled depot maintenance and unscheduled engine removals. Of all four headlines, this is probably the one that holds water, but while it indirectly isn’t good that a supply chain is hit by bad news, the issues will almost certainly be over by the time Finnish HX deliveries starts in 2025.

The most serious news, however, was an interview in Breaking Defense with the outgoing 13th Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr Will Roper (understandably often referred to as the “USAF acquisition czar”, and not with his full title). Roper, who while somewhat controversial regarding his methods of working is a highly respected professional in the field, noted that the aircraft isn’t “at a sustainment point that we need”, explaining that “right now the F-35 has a good ‘sticker price,’ but its cost of ownership is not where it needs to be, making the quantities that the Air Force may need to purchase in question”. Roper hinted that this could lead to the NGAD (not to be confused with the USN program of the same name) receiving higher priority, or even ordering new-built F-16s to boost the numbers. This was developed further by USAF Chief of Staff general Brown this week, who denied any plans to buy the F-16, but left the door open for a clean-sheet design of a fighter less complex than the F-35 and affordable enough for the bulk buys needed to replace the F-16 across the field.

Someone who doesn’t believe that the operating costs will come down is, unsurprisingly, rival Boeing, who will happily tell you that once fighters are starting to be flown, their operating costs won’t come down but rather go up due to wear and tear. And that despite the current Super Hornet-fleet having been flown hard in recent decades, including combat use, their numbers are still good.

Our flyaway costs are about the same [as the F-35], our operational costs are about half of that.

While Program Director Lauri Puranen has been clear with that no-one knows the Finnish operational costs due to no-one having the full detailed picture of Finnish Air Force investments, operations, and pricing models, the two contenders that roughly can be compared is the F-35 and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet due to the US DoD publishing their internal flight hour costs (again, thanks to the US transparency). A GAO report released late last year provide these numbers, noting that “From fiscal year 2011 through fiscal year 2018, the O&S costs per aircraft for the F/A-18E/F increased from about $5.58 million to about $6.41 million”. This was due to “sustained high flight hours, which increased the probability of parts failure on the aircraft, and an increasing aircraft inventory, as the F/A-18E/F is still in production. Maintenance costs also increased as the Navy has worked to address extensive maintenance needs associated with extending the service life of the aircraft from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours”. At the same time, the F-35A total O&S costs per aircraft was $8.84 million in fiscal year 2018. While the numbers doesn’t support the F/A-18E/F having an O&S cost “half” of the F-35A, it still is 72% of it. And here it should be noted that the strain of the workloads placed on the different fleets will skew the cost (i.e. in a like for like scenario where the Super Hornet would operate from landbases with similar loads and flight profiles as the F-35A, the difference would likely be greater).

Another company who doesn’t care that Puranen stated that no-one knows the cost figures is Saab, where campaign director Magnus Skogberg this week declared that:

We know for sure that nobody beats us on cost.

Of course, the question on cost is highly complex, including the issues of how many flight hours will be needed to maintain proficiency on a multi-role fighter. Earlier Finnish pilots have flown relatively few hours, but have still managed to stay proficient due to having in essence been training solely for the air-to-air mission. With the MLU2 unlocking the air-to-ground capabilities and HX bringing in further expansions of the mission sets, the number of flight hours will most likely need to increase, even as advances in simulator technology are offloading some of the training to ground-based systems.

Of the missions, few have received the focus of long-range strike, which has been elevated to its own category in the HX program alongside the more general counter-land. Here it is important to note that the long-range strike role in Finnish doctrine occupies both a military as well as a deterrence role. Very little about how Finland plans the deterrence mission is found in open documents, but based on the realities of international law and capabilities of the systems involved deterrence by denial can safely be assumed to be the concept involved. To use a straightforward definition by David S. Yost, “Deterrence by denial means persuading the enemy not to attack by convincing him that his attack will be defeated – that is, that he will not be able to achieve his operational objectives.” In other words, there’s preciously little differing the role of the JASSM in Finnish service from the other weapons of the FDF – they all aim to deter the enemy from launching an attack by ensuring that he can’t reach his goals without the cost being unacceptably high. The particularity of the long-range strike is exactly the long-range – being able to affect targets that are important for the enemy but which are too far away for other methods. It might also be worth noting that a majority of Finnish MPs thinks “it would be acceptable for Finnish forces as a part of defending the country to strike militarily relevant targets on adversary territory”.

The question of which weapon will fill this role has largely been viewed as a three-way competition between the US AGM-158 JASSM (currently in Finnish service in the since discontinued AGM-158A version, which beat the Taurus KEPD in the last Finnish evaluation) and the European offerings of the Storm Shadow/SCALP and (possibly) the Taurus 350 KEPD. However, it turns out that last year’s DSCA notifications included an overlooked surprise: the JASSM would come with a seriously longer range than the current version.

Since the original AGM-158A, the JASSM has spawned a number of variants. Key among these are the longer-legged AGM-158B JASSM-ER (Extended Range) which is currently in production and in service as the AGM-158A replacement, as well as the AGM-158C LRASM which is an anti-ship variant of the same weapon. Latest of the bunch is a further refined version, earlier called JASSM-XR (for Extreme Range) which brings a number of improvements. Key among these is a range increase from 500 to 1,000 nautical miles compared to the AGM-158B (926 km to 1,852 km). The differences include “missile control unit, changes to the wings, a different paint coating, an Electronic Safe and Arm Fuze, a secure GPS receiver, and program protection requirements” according to Air Force Magazine. The JASSM-XR received an official AGM-158D designation earlier, and production has been confirmed to start with Lot 19 which is expected to be ordered any day now.

However, the designation AGM-158B-2 showed up in the Finnish DSCA-requests last year. This variant of the AGM-158B has up until now not been seen in many documents outside of the requests. After Inside Defense claimed that there has been yet another change of designations, I decided to ask Lockheed Martin (manufacturer of both the F-35A and the AGM-158 JASSM) about it.

AGM-158B2 will be the next variant in the line of JASSM-ER missiles. The USAF is expected to begin procurement of the JASSM-ERB2 beginning in Lot 19.

Turns out the missile expected to handle the long-range strike mission in case Finland chooses either the Super Hornet or the F-35A is the missile formerly known as JASSM-XR. This would mean a huge increase in range, from the current 370 km of the AGM-158A JASSM to 1,852 km of the AGM-158B-2 JASSM-ERB2 (usual caveat that all range figures are based on open sources and comes with a large dose of “it depends” where things such as launch altitude come into play).

A Finnish F/A-18 Hornet sporting two AGM-158A JASSM during exercise Ruska 19. Source: Joni Malkamäki/Ilmavoimat

Exactly how much range Finland really needs is an interesting question. The current 370 km can certainly be improved upon, though on the other hand it is questionable if Finland really needs the ability to reach Ufa. In theory going from AGM-158A to AGM-158B-2 is the difference between Rissala-St Petersburg and Rissala-Kazakhstan. What it in practice would do is unlock further options for Finnish military planners, including guaranteed stand-off range against all Russian air defences, current and planned, as well as the possibility to route the flight paths of the cruise missiles around hostile defences. The AGM-158B-2 would for example make it possible to stand back and fire missiles from high altitude over the Bothnian Gulf and still reach the same targets as the AGM-158B would do from within S-400 range. As such, added range doesn’t necessarily mean that the Finnish Air Force is looking at new targets. After all, most military relevant targets in a conflict where Finland is involved – such as command centres, transport infrastructure, and staging areas – are found relatively close to the border, but rather that these targets could be destroyed at smaller risk to the Finnish pilots and aircraft. A military relevant target set that likely is of interest and which is found further from the Finnish border is the infrastructure needed to move troops from other military districts towards a conflict zone in (north-)western Russia. Many of the recent large Russian military exercises have showcased the Russian ability to relatively quickly move personnel and equipment over large distances, either by rail or air. Being able to disrupt or delay such movements in a conflict could be an example of a military target outside the range of the current AGM-158A JASSM, and one which might buy valuable days or even weeks for friendly support to reach Finland.

Crucially, the fact that the US contenders have decided to go for the B-2 and not the B does show that they feel that it fits the Finnish requirement best. It could be just a question of which weapon will be rolling of the production lines in 2027, but if there really is a requirement for range, the European contenders might be at a disadvantage when it comes to evaluating their ability to perform the long-range strike mission. And from a purely deterrence point of view, range does indeed open up more targets to be held at risk, and there’s also the fact that buying the best there is helps with cementing the “passive-aggressive” reputation needed for small-state deterrence to work.

An interesting question is obviously what weapon Saab would offer for the long-range strike role? The Taurus KEPD 350 is a joint Saab-MBDA venture, but as the weapon has lost an evaluation for a Finnish contract already once much of the Swedish discussion has been around the possibility to integrate any weapon the customer wants. However, as the only DSCA requests so far related to HX have been for the US contenders, the question remains if Saab plans on first selling the aircraft, and then trusting Finland to receive the correct export clearances? When asked, Saab declined to comment.

Both with respect to the customer and due to competition we do not comment on the details relating to the weapons package of the HX programme.

But if the F-35 had a somewhat poor start of the year, the Super Hornet also had its unwelcome moment in the spotlight with the announcement that the US Navy is thinking about axing the conformal fuel tanks from the Block III upgrade. The CFTs have been seen as an important part of the plans to increase the range of the Super Hornet, which in turn is seen as important for any China-scenario. For Finland, range and endurance isn’t as critical, but the question is how invested the USN is in the future of the Super Hornet-family if they struggle to meet the envisioned increase in range? Boeing is, at least officially, not concerned. The US Navy is still moving forward with the overall plan to convert the fleet to Block III standard (Block II being the corresponding program for the EA-18G Growler), and the current USN plan is that well over half the fast jets of the carrier air wing of 2030 will be from the Super Hornet-family (28 Super Hornets, 5-7 Growlers, and 16 F-35C). “Staying with three Super Hornet squadrons [per air wing] is quite telling,” Alain Garcia said, and noted that development is set to continue well past Block III. “There is a roadmap […] lots of [software] capabilities coming.” Garcia is one of Boeing’s key persons in their campaign aimed at ensuring Finland stays with the Boeing for another generation, and he sports the somewhat unwieldy title of Capture Team Lead for International Sales & Marketing Fighter and Trainer Campaigns in Finland and Switzerland. The roadmap he refers to will include the manned-unmanned teaming updates which are expected to be included as standard by the time Finnish aircraft would be rolling off the production lines, but also new weapons. With regards to MUMT, the question is obviously if the Finnish Air Force could fit unmanned platforms in a budget that will already be strained by trying to replace the manned components? Garcia notes that it obviously is a decision that the Finnish Air Force will make based on their own needs and doctrines, but that so far as they can tell the option remains available. Especially considering potential savings and trade-offs that can be had.

Looking at current operational costs now, we believe that with our offer there’s still some room for operational costs in there.

While USN might not be as certain about the future of the Super Hornet (or the carrier air wing in general), the EA-18G Growler seems to offer rather good protection against an early retirement of the platform. The unique role of the Growler as a dedicated stand-in electronic warfare platform will only continue to grow in importance (something the general Brown also noted recently in a much reported speech that included quotes about USAF being “asleep at the wheel” since Operation Desert Storm, and “We can no longer solely depend on defensive capabilities” which might get the force home, but don’t meet the need to be able to operate offensively in the electromagnetic spectrum). For not only the US Navy, but the joint US force as a whole, this means that the Growler is likely to remain on the flightdeck of the carriers and on expeditionary bases for decades to come, and with the Growler set to remain in service the future of the Super Hornet is also looking rosier than it would if alone. And if the Super Hornet/Growler would go the road of the A-6 Intruder/EA-6 Prowler where the electronic attack variant soldiered on for 22 years after the retirement of the baseline version, the ability to cross-feed new systems from the USN Growler-community to any potential Super Hornet export customers (as happened within the USN fast-jet fleet with the Block III upgrades) would help avoid the current “operating Hornet”-alone situation.

Saab and Boeing are happily in agreement about the importance of the importance of electronic warfare, as is the US DoD. In their new Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy they describe the electromagnetic spectrum as “not a separate domain of military operations because the EMS is inseparable from the domains established in joint doctrine.” Magnus Skogberg of Saab understandably pushed the need to be able to affect the EMS:

The stealth shaping of the aircraft is not enough to handle this [S-400 sensors covering a wide spectrum]

At this point it is notable that the F-35 in fact far from relying solely on stealth also features one of the most advanced integrated electronic warfare systems available, in fact putting them on the same side as Saab – but opposite Boeing – when it comes to the need for a dedicated EW-platform to get the most out of their aircrafts. While Skogberg proclaims that there’s “No need for a dedicated EW-platform when you are a Gripen operator”, Boeing representatives (not without being slightly smug about it) noted that while the UAE last year had requested a large package that included both the F-35A as well as the EA-18G Growler, only the Growler was denied export clearance by the US government on the grounds of it being too advanced and capable, with the F-35 deal being inked just before the change of administration (and now on hold pending review).

The US government has witheld the proposal from being submitted to the customer

The beauty of the Growler is that the dedication of the platform brings not only the computing power of the specified electronic warfare processor unit, but also the dedicated crew member. This means that for example when a new or previously unidentified signal is encountered, the operator can already in-flight start processing it, giving it an ID or other potential identifier. This means that once the aircraft lands the signal intelligence can be downloaded from the aircraft as “useful data” ready for the library, a capability Boeing believe they are alone in the field to provide. While the complete absence of black boxes and total independence of the mission data has been, and continues to be, one of the main selling points of the European contenders, Boeing takes a somewhat different approach out of necessity.

The data is owned by the Finnish government, but the processing of acquired mission data is easiest to handle through US infrastructure where Finnish personnel can be embedded. Fast turnaround (less than 24 hours) can then be achieved through the use of secure channels. Alternatively the whole or parts of the infrastructure can be rebuilt in Finland, but the cost might be prohibitive. Another interesting aspect is whether Finland wants to share the data (especially the data collected by Growlers) or not. There are a number of three-letter agencies interested in the data collected by USN Growlers, and exchange of data between Finland and the US might in turn provide valuable intelligence from these to the Finnish authorities. The amount of data produced by the Growler is indeed huge, with the snapshot of what the Growler visiting during HX Challenge last year managed to capture simply through its passive sensors reportedly being “eye-opening” with regards to the “saturation of information”. This is another place where the dedicated crew members comes into play.

An EA-18G Growler from VAQ-132 during heavy snows at Naval Air Facility Misawa, Japan, showing that the aircraft doesn’t stop just because everything turned white. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kenneth G. Takada via Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of from where it originates, electronic warfare is the hot stuff, with a crucial feature being noted in the new US DoD Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy:

Because many EMS capabilities are employed, not expended, concerns about magazine capacity or cost of munitions may be reduced, which in turn affords commanders and decision makers more sustainable options.

For a country where low numbers of advanced munitions has been raised as a concern in official documents, this is of interest. The ability to control the battlespace without blowing things up is certainly interesting also from an escalation management point of view, one of Finland’s key interests in any (limited) conflict.

But Saab has an alternative. Or rather, the Swedish defence establishment and politicians have an alternative. If Finland would buy the 39E Gripen and GlobalEye, the vision is that the Finnish and Swedish Air Force would be a common customer, meeting Saab together. And crucially, we would be the major customer and not a small customer in a bigger project. Saab’s media event this week was telling, in that it featured the Swedish Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist, the deputy commander of the Swedish Air Force brigadier general Anders Persson, as well as Saab’s own people. While it technically is the governments and not the OEMs that are selling fighters to Finland, none are as clearly involved in the sales effort as the Swedes. MoD Hultqvist underlined the influence Finland would have on the program, stating that Finland would have “direct influence” on the future development path of 39E and GlobalEye if we choose Saab’s offer.

Slides from the media event, not leaving anything left to imagination

Brigadier general Persson didn’t mess around in his presentation, clearly stating that the potential enemy comes from an aggressive and expansive Russia, and that this is what Sweden has tailored their defenses towards.

Gripen is designed for our common environment, our common enemy, with our people in focus.

While Saab’s part of the presentation focused on their EW-suite, ability to field numbers, high availability, and current footprint in Finland (including the LADM decoy missile currently being under development, with much of the work undertaken in Tampere), Hultqvist and Persson spoke about the possibilities of Finnish-Swedish cooperation. This included harmonizing the acquisition of both Air Forces, but also cooperating with basing, training, and maintenance. Crucially, Sweden hasn’t decided to acquire GlobalEye, but according to Hultqvist while “We haven’t made any formal decision to procure GlobalEye, but that is how it should be interpreted”. A strange statement, as the new Swedish Defence Bill for 2021 to 2025 in fact envisions the replacement for the current ASC 890 to come only in the 2026 to 2030 period, with the decision on the platform still being years into the future. And speaking of the Defence Bill, it is far from a certain grand slam for the Swedish Air Force, as the answer to the realisation that cutting the Swedish fighter force to just 60 aircraft (the number of JAS 39E ordered) was a bad idea wasn’t to increase the size of the order, but rather to maintain the current JAS 39C/D fleet for longer. Beside the obvious issue of lower relative quality for the total force when keeping upgraded older aircraft in service instead of ordering more modern platforms, there is also little room for growth among the highly specialised workforce of the Swedish stakeholders when suddenly two fast-jets are to be kept up to date in parallel. An anonymous engineer from the Combat Aircraft department of the Swedish Defence Material Administration raised questions over on Twitter, noting that some of the engineers at the department are looking at 150 to 170% workload for the foreseeable future due to new 39C/D related developments. The optimist sees possibilities for Finnish industry to step in following an HX win for Saab, the pessimist questions if the small and competent Swedish aviation sector can continue to keep pushing out the kind of high-quality high-end solutions they are known for?

More headline grabbing was the speech held by brigadier general Persson. He noted that already now Finland and Sweden cooperate closely and regularly deploy to the other country for exercises. He also noted that this will continue regardless of the outcome of HX, but that choosing Gripen and GlobalEye would open up unique new opportunities. Not only could Finland fly the aircraft for upgrades to Linköping and Saab’s factory there in the morning and get the aircraft back in the evening, but Sweden and the Swedish aircraft infrastructure could be used as a rear logistics area. For basing, according to need Finnish fighters could deploy to Swedish bases behind the moat of the Baltic Sea, while Swedish fighters could use Finnish dispersed bases as forward staging areas for sorties. Integrating training and tactics could be a true force multiplier in the words of the general.

We will be like one air force with two commanders.

…and here the military historian will point out that ever since consuls Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus led the Roman army to the disaster at Cannae in 216 BC, having a single force with two commanders is usually not seen as a great idea. But leaving that perhaps misplaced quote aside, it is clear that the idea has much going for it. It isn’t exactly new, see for example this older guest post, but getting additional strategic depth for basing would certainly be beneficial, and it certainly would be easier to arrange with the same aircraft type than with different ones.

However, the kind of integrated force that brigadier general Persson describe would be something more than just two interoperable forces, something which they are already today (and will continue to be as both countries strive to maintain their ability to plug into NATO and US compatible forces), but it would require them to be true military allies. This is a political decision, and one which I fail to see either parliament going for in the next six months. Finnish commentators like to question whether Sweden is prepared to make firm commitments that they would send their sons and daughters to die for Kouvola or Sodankylä, but truth be told the answer to the question if Finland would be prepared to declare war on Russia in support of Sweden if the dreaded Gotland-grab scenario would take place is even more uncertain.

In fact, building up a rear logistics area outside of the country’s border is exactly what has been described as a potential weak point of the F-35. Ironically, the deputy commander hit the nail on the head when he described the situation for both countries as “We need to be able to take care of ourselves for days, weeks, maybe months”. The possibility of integrating further with the Swedish force is interesting, as is the ability to be the major operator instead of being a smaller operator in a major program. However, it does feel like much of Saab’s sales pitch this time took a detour to a political reality that simply isn’t there, and completely missed the geopolitical realities and defining features of the Finnish concept of operations which the company earlier has been good at selling towards.

Boeing on the other hand has no issues with selling to the Finnish concept of operations.

If you’re already operating the Hornet-fleet, there really is no change to the concept of operations switching to the Super Hornet and Growler.

This might be a bit of stretch considering the capabilities of the Growler, but granted it would fit the way the FDF usually does things (and likely be cheaper!) that instead of major sudden changes the force would get to iteratively developed its doctrine and concepts of operations.

104 thoughts on “Fighters, Missiles, and Forces

  1. Rav

    First of all thanks CF for this blog and for my source for unbiased and balanced information on the HX program and the participants. Not only but mainly HX program. My experience is that it is not so simple to find such a source. Most people have some interest in presenting a particular point of view. Sometimes because of personal preferences and sometimes actually because of interest of certain participants and their colossal marketing efforts. Especially thanks for the series about the each and every participants and why they have a chance in the competition.
    First of all, I really really like how transparent and in my opinion honest the HX program is managed and I really hope it will stay this way. This comes from the guy from a country which bought 32 F-35 of the shelf. Now you now where I am from. Of course this government would buy those even if the wheels would come of every time it would land. At least they did not try to start a fake competition. It would be waste of time for everybody. They are trying to buy an alliance with a big brother over the pond and not something with which they want to defend themselves and maybe us with it.
    Now for Finland as I really hope that you do think about it with certain prerequisites and thoughtfulness which are: 1. Not every plane(platform) is equally suited for every country”. There are: strategy, tactics, geopolitics, geography, climate, infrastructure, e.t.c e.t.c. 2. Every plane in this competition is a good and modern platform but also every is different -has its own virtues and flaws, has its own service requirements e.t.c e.t.c. I will stop now with all the obvious crap now.
    To get my first point across … with some of those planes you will have to change the way you fly. In short. The Fins are flying aggressive, brave with short turnaround times and with a lot of CAS in mind.
    After reading that I thought ok if you want to keep that you should go with Rafale. Than I red that the emphasis is on air to air… I thought ok -Eurofighter. After reading about the cooperation with Sweden and EWS needs – the Gripen ( I really like that plane). After need for multirole and to have it as it is the F-18 Super and EWS Growler.
    What I am getting at is that F-35 does not suit you really that much . Ok maybe except recon.
    I think you would have to change everything with it ..even strategy.
    Do not get me wrong it is a good platform … but with certain prerequisites and for certain use. It is quite good for “merica”, good for UK and Italy, would be quite good for Germany. All those countries have fast hunters and lot of 4 gen workhorses in significant numbers already. Your DoD want to make it stand alone multirole with theoretical adversary just next door. Do not think that this is way to use it. I think it might only work if you buy hundreds of loyal wingman later. Maybe I don’t know sth. and Finland will go shopping again in a couple of years? Btw I also have my doubts about readiness numbers for your air wings with F-35 as well. It will always be a service thirsty bird.
    To use simplified analogy it is more of an assassin than a fighter. If the stealth is countered somehow it will become some vulnerable assassin to.
    What about a radical idea – buy less ,fly with 4 and 4+ now and wait for the Tempest or “if we will get along” FCAS or even “we will not sell to you because it’s our magic” NGAD. You now that you will get stuck with your choice for a long time. Tempest even in future will probably work flawlessly with Gripen and Typhoon-Eurofighter and maybe even F-35 (cause Brits and Italians have to many of them). FCAS with Rafale and Eurofighter. NGAD of course with Lightening 2 and F-18 Super.

    By the way another crazy idea – how about getting Poland to build two additional Pohjanmaa class corvettes and maybe share some hulls work with. Polish DoD do not know what they want or can afford but they are searching. Would be smart, beneficial strategically and cheaper to everyone and make the Baltic pond a more cooperative and maybe safer place. The Sweds will go with their Visby 2s anyway.

    PS Right now I am reading about the idea of building a new 4+ gen plane in “Merica” … Maybe it’s fake but if real than come on! even they cannot sustain or buy enough of this slow Ferrari of a plane?

    1. Don Pablo

      Finland’s main Air Force focus historically has been A2A interception of Russian fighters and bombers. With the F-18C conversion to F/A-18C, that doctrine changed once the MoD realized that defense in depth made more sense. It’s also interesting to note that Finland was one of the first and only nations to get the AGM-158A JASSM cruise missile capability along with that realization, even not being a NATO or Pacific partner.

      Finland faces regular airspace violations from Russia, as does Sweden, Norway, Baltics, etc. The emerging threat force structure includes the Su-57, Su-35S, Su-30SM2, Su-27SM3 (basically all Flankers brought up to Super Flanker standards on a common data link with the Su-57 and Su-35), as well as their ELINT and EW aircraft, and the Su-34 Fullback deep strike platform.

      4 of the submissions for HX are not well-equipped to handle this force structure because of first-look, first-shoot considerations. Of the 4.5 Gen, the Rafale is the most capable overall since it has an AESA and OSF dual-spectrum IRST/TV electro-optical detection and tracking sensor array, and has considerable IR stealth incorporated into the F4 design if you look at the engine nozzles and airflow concealment over them.

      The problem for the Rafale is that up against the Su-57, which has an AESA that is almost twice the size, the Su-57 with internal weapons and RAM should have a smaller RCS when configured, whereas the Rafale has to carry everything externally. Your best bet with the Rafale is achieving parity with a relatively even exchange rate in a closer range BVR fight just outside of WVR, but with forecast upgrades to the Su-57 in signature reduction and sensor design theft, the Su-57 has far more room to grow while the Rafale will never have internal weapons or embedded vast RF and IR antennae suite like the F-35 an Su-57.

      FiAF Hornets doing CAS? This is the first I’ve heard of that. I’ve only seen them with AIM-9, AIM-120C, and JASSM external stores, along with EFTs. With Hornet MLU 2, they got JDAM integration, but their primary role has been as a point defence interceptor, followed by strike platform to take out threat staging and logistics hubs.

      Which force structure offers more in terms of point defense, early warning & control, deep strike/interdiction defense, and future-proofing against the Su-57/Super Flanker/Fullback force mix?

      Which system immediately starts conducting multi-spectral ISR and feeds it sensor collection in real-time to other air forces in the region who are also defending against Russia?

      Which system has the largest emerging parts supply network and interoperability with neighbors in the region?

      Which system works with the large inventory of new weapons Finland already has in its arsenal, that are more lethal when paired with it?

      There really is only one answer to these questions and Finland has known that answer for many years.

      1. It’s fascinating to hear that you know the answer, when some of the world’s largest companies with business intelligence units to match are literally betting millions on the fact that the decision is still open 😎

      2. Don Pablo

        If you track HX back to 2014, and what Defence Minister Carl Haglund openly declared, then see that Finnish PMs who have political leanings towards Sweden, or parties that do everything they can to undermine or handicap Finnish defence, maybe it makes more sense.

        “Our possible collaboration with Sweden must entail rational projects. This is not a question of industrial policy but of defence policy.”

        “Although I advocate co-operation with Sweden, we should not acquire Swedish JAS fighters when we could acquire American F-35 stealth fighters for roughly the same price. Performance must take precedence in the investment,” emphasises Haglund.

        https://www.helsinkitimes.fi/finland/finland-news/politics/10310-haglund-advises-against-jas-fighter-acquisition.html

        One thing I noticed since then is that the budget for HX had to double from 5 to 10B euros, but the original desire for 30:1 A2A kill ratio was changed to 10:1.

        There are very uninformed MPs who think that the Gripen E deal is better because they see strengthening relations with Sweden as more important, even though they know nothing and don’t have the capacity or desire to learn more about the details of what differentiates the F-35 from the others. These are people who believe what they read in regular open source media about technology, not familiar at all with the various applied physics disciplines of aerospace engineering, threat capabilities, and trends in the emerging revolution in net-centric warfare.

        You can contrast this with other nations who listened to their senior Air Force and defence ministers and just went with the F-35A without wasting time on a multi-competitor submission and evaluation process.

      3. I’m starting to suspect that instead of a dedicated fan you’re actually just out trolling Gripen fans. “Wasting time on an evaluation” is an… interesting point of view. Keep the discussion serious and in good faith, otherwise I might have to start using the admin tools.

      4. Rav

        Well ..still think that F-35 is not a good stand alone multirole.
        Yes it true that historically FIAF is A2A but in the doctrine there is close air support and air interdiction as well. They did not develop it sufficiently but they think they should and from what I understood really want to remedy it. Sorry if I overestimated this. Still it is also a little bit strange having F-18s and not using this capability. I guess buying JASSM is partly going for the AI part.
        F -35 increases the range and success rate for AI scenarios -agree but on the other hand I always had the doubts how survivable will this machine be over a contested or better yet enemy territory, returning back from such a mission having six Su-27 on it’s ass. Speed will definitely not be the thing that will help it. Similar thing in intercept /pursuit scenarios but I guess Meteor will give some help here.

        I am however not completely honest with you and myself here as I think that no plane, against claims from Lockheed and other manufacturers, will be able to provide good CAS in a symmetrical conflict. Very often there will be to many IR AA assets in the area. However Deep Strike Missions and special forces support will still work. But I guess you could also argue that you will get that cheaper with lower risk with stealth unmanned platform. In my case the jury is still out on that one.

        There is one more thing I would like to point out. Many companies often lower the piece purchase price to get the money later on during the service. It is true for many products – especially for which there are no competition when it comes to service. The new fighter platforms fit that bill perfectly.
        What Finland did good was to ask for the price with service through life cycle but I have my doubts that this type of creative accounting will not happen anyway here.

        I encourage everyone to look at it from the scenario perspective. Not even a plane to plane as an apple to apple comparison. Multiple planes, defensive, offensive missions, ground assets, other air assets, enemy configurations …. there are countless scenarios and everyone is playing to their strengths and planes could achieve same mission results doing different things. There are some scenarios in which tactics can counter some technological advances. Little bit vague ..I know but it is a very large topic but I think that’s one of the tings that FIAF is doing.
        My thoughts to some other points:
        Air policing and air space violations you can manage with every platform in this group and actually the faster the plane the better.

        The Su-57 is not going strong and in a great numbers and I think it will continue this way mostly because of the price.
        Anyway, planes for countering this plane are F-22 and Eurofighter Tranche 4 any other will have to use smart tactics to do it. Until next gen comes.
        I do also think that because of its location Finland should not decide for any hangar queen.

        “Which force structure offers more….” – see above. If the Fins would go with 30 F-22s and 30 F-35s, station them in different locations, have sth against ballistic and hypersonic missiles. I would say hurray to that.

        “Which system immediately starts…” – yes sensors and stealth communications and RCS itself are the strongest points of F-35 no doubt about it. I do however expect some work on Link-16 in the future as this standard could use some update. I have also no idea how good Gripen E coms are.

        “Which system has the largest…” – It is bad…quite bad…but you are right… it is emerging and will be good or even best eventually- it must be. ODIN gets praises so it looks good. Hope it will work during full scale war too.

        “Which system works with…” F-18 Super Hornet.

        “There really is only one…” Finland went different way than Denmark and I praise and respect them for it.

  2. Don Pablo

    Great article. A big oversight by most of the aerospace click-bait media is that they represent the entire fleet in one of the US services as indicative of what a foreign partner nation would experience for operation and mx costs. It’s refreshing to see someone recognize that fallacy.

    Take the F-35A, for example. There are 14 Lots of F-35As that have been delivered to the USAF, the first 3 lots being out-dated already with disagreements on whether or not to bring those up to the later lot structures, avionics, and RAM. This would cost a significant amount, and is included in the DOT&E reports without being clearly identified or specified.

    Current later-Lot Block 3F F-35As in actual operational service are not seeing anywhere near the overall fleet ops and mx costs as indicated in the latest string of negative articles about the JSF program. There also has been a deceitful practice of including all 3 JSF variants O&M costs and highlighting those after years of complaining and highlighting the procurement/unit costs.

    Now that the unit costs are lower than the Gripen E, the various aviation blogs and uninformed press outlets are focusing on O&M.

    The next thing that gets overlooked is that you can’t compare the platform-to-platform O&M costs when one platform delivers more to an Air Force than multiple platforms ever could.

    Example: What are the actual effects the customer realizes when operating dozens of Gripens with 2 GlobalEye surveillance platforms compared with operating dozens of JSF-A platforms?

    What are the O&M costs for Gripen E, Gripen F, and GlobalEye force structure? Nobody knows because nobody has done it.

    Anther troubling thing I noticed is that the Gripen E is currently not being delivered to either the Swedish or Brazilian Air Forces with the IRST. How is that possible in 2021 after decades of Gripen program operation and development?

    Meanwhile, the JSF program is quietly underway with replacing DAS with the new Raytheon system with 2048×2048 IR cameras, weighing less than the N-G DAS, at 25% the cost and EOTS has been a relatively-matured system from the start.

    The Swedes like to talk about joint-support and basing for Gripens, but what is Sweden actually looking at for the future? A joint Next Gen project with BAE Systems and Italy that they desperately need to finance somehow. If only they could find some sucker nations to spend billions on Gripen E/F (which isn’t even developed), while copying and pasting JSF capabilities into Gripen E sales advertisements.

    Meanwhile, China has already tactically exploited the Gripen C with Su-27SK, J-10A, and J-10C deployments during Falcon Strike exercises with Royal Thai Air Force from 2014-2019.

    Gripen C decimated the Su-27SK in BVR due to low RCS and longer reach with AIM-120C WEZ, but was then humiliated in WVR by R-73/Helmet and Flanker maneuverability. Gripen has pathetic climb rate and T/W ratio as we all know, so this comes as no surprise.

    PLAAF went back to their inventory and sent J-10As down with much lower RCS, their own radar, longer reach BVR missiles, and achieved parity/advantage in BVR over the Gripen C, maintained vast superiority in WVR.

    Then they sent J-10C with the DSI intake and a big AESA with better cockpit and PL-15 missiles and achieved repeatable dominance in both BVR and WVR due to RCS reduction and expanded detection and tracking with the AESA, on top of the longer PL-15 reach and existing WVR Fox 2 fight.

    Why anyone would even be considering an incremental upgraded Gripen in 2021 means that the intelligence services are not tracking, or there is some kind of political influence.

    Imagine trying to take the Gripen E up against the future Russian Su-27 networked with Su-35S, Su-30SM2, and Su-27SM3 force structure, with their emerging ER BVRAAMs.

    Then game-out the survivability of GlobalEye platforms in an Su-57 force presence with basing opportunities for them ranging from Kaliningrad to Murmansk.

    Gripen E seems to be a pathetic joke once you step up to the big picture and the emerging threats and evaluate how it would perform against them, knowing the applied physics and relevant aerospace sciences.

    1. Gripen’s IRST is supposedly easily removable from its position, so it’s probably just not attached and thus not seen in those pictures of the 1st E delivery to both Brazil and Sweden.

      1. Don Pablo

        Easily-movable, but not easily-integrated when trying to provide sensor fusion between the Arexis EW suite and Leonardo AESA radar.

        It makes me suspect that they are nowhere near maturity with the IRST integration, otherwise, it should be there on production fighters. Something is really odd to me about that. The US put IRSTs on the F-101B Voodoo, F-106A, TISEO on the F-4, TCS on the F-14A, while the Russians put IRST on the MiG-29 and Su-27. This was generation ago.

        For a modern 4.5 Gen fighter that claims to use IRST and AESA, you would think that it would be present. I just noticed it looking at the new Swedish AF Gripen E advertised on Saab’s website, as well as the Brazilian “full technology transfer” Gripen E. I thought it was there all-along and that Saab had just done some kind of rapid-fielding initiative with a break-neck RDT&E/OT&E program to get the Gripen E sensor suite up-to-date.

        Sweden does not have the ability to transfer the full technology since they don’t have the capacity to manufacture the GE F414G motor, Leonardo AESA radar, Leonardo IRST, etc.

        Then when I found that Saab hired BAES to do their marketing, I noticed that BAES was fined $400 million for bribery and fraud related to…….Gripen sales to Hungary and Czech Republic.

        Why do you need to bribe nation’s defense officials to get sales? If the aircraft is so capable, it should sell itself.

        I also notice these really low CPFH numbers being thrown around, such as $4700, $5000, $6000 for Gripen E. How did they determine those CPFH if there is no long-term IRST fleet use and the aircraft are just barely being delivered without their full sensor suites?

        Having tracked CPFH, MMHPFH, MTBF, unit cost, unit program cost, and all other manner of statistics for fleet performance dealing with readiness and cost, I found it extremely odd that a Gripen E in 2021 miraculously costs less to maintain than an A-10A in 1991, let alone an A-10C in 2020. Far less than half the cost to maintain an A-10, actually.

        Either Saab has cracked some dark magic code of maintainability that makes a supersonic, radar and sensor-equipped fighter with RAM coatings easier to maintain than a basic tube frame, radar-less, low-subsonic, cable control system attack airplane, or….

        There are some serious numbers being misrepresented. In fact, when the Swiss Air Force did their accounting and projected maintenance costs for the Gripen, they determined that $21,000 CPFH was the most accurate figure over the life of the program.

        When Dassault made all its promises to India with Rafale, they advertised $20,000-$25,000 CPFH and 75% availability rates.

        Meanwhile, operational USAF F-35A squadrons are seeing $21,000 CPFH and anywhere from 70-92% real world availability rates overseas, from relatively austere airfields.

    2. asafasfaf

      “Anther troubling thing I noticed is that the Gripen E is currently not being delivered to either the Swedish or Brazilian Air Forces with the IRST.”

      Most logical non-official explanation has been that they use space of IRST to house computers relating to radar testing. First aircraft of the Brazilian is not an all-out production aircraft, it’s a final phase test aircraft with test instrumentation and related computers. All-in-all Saab changed delivery schedule some years back, fighters will come later, but they will be IOC ready once they arrive, 4 should arrive late this year.

      1. Don Pablo

        Why not just use a dedicated larger business jet platform for radar and avionics suite testing before any of the Gripen E airframes were built, back when Gripen NG was announced in 2007? It isn’t like Sweden doesn’t have access to the Canadian business jet market, from which it builds the GlobalEye using more foreign off-the-shelf components before placing the Saab name on it.

        I don’t know of anyone who would run a radar test program that way unless it was populated with a new generation of engineers and program managers who have no real exposure to modern test programs. Look at the JSF testbed, for contrast. Highly-matured full sensor suites were delivered before the JSF variants went into production. Not just the APG-81, but the EOTS, DAS, RF sensor suite, and EW system with multiple stations for engineers and technicians to troubleshoot analyse, program, and modify in-flight to get the best baseline integrated avionics suite before going into production.

        Having a decent budget for RDT&E helps yield a far more capable system. Finland should buy into that kind of developmental capability rather than entertaining low-rate imitation companies who have nowhere near the buying power to compete in this market.

      2. Don Pablo

        In the US, there are multiple test aircraft for OT&E, which has always been done for all the services. Israel wanted their own testbeds to work our their specific regional systems and modifications, as they’ve typically done to the F-15 and F-16. For the past several decades, Israel receives F-15Ds and F-16Ds with specific structural mods, strips them down in an overhaul facility, and populates them with their own avionics and countermeasures system standards they have for the IAF.

        I wouldn’t use that comparison for Sweden with new Gripens, delivering IRST-less Gripen E(-) to Brazil and the Swedish Air Force.

        For example, the multiple F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C OT&E birds all have EOTS, AESA, all the RF antennae, DAS, HMDS, etc. For OT&E, you’ll commonly see older airframes with newer internal systems, newer avionics, newer sensors, newer man-machine interface systems being tested while gathering fleet pilot feedback and input into the program so that the fleet gets the appropriate improvements to the system.

        I had a front-row seat witnessing developmental test on multiple cutting-edge combat aircraft at the USAF Flight Test Center, so we would see early Block F-16A/B airframes with radically-new cockpits, sensors, and developmental systems well before they were refined and then worked into the Block sequence upgrades for the follow-on block designations. Some of those really radical aircraft like the AFTI F-16 saw their forward-leaning systems implemented in the ATF and JSF programs, skipping almost entirely over even the later Block 50/52 Vipers.

        The Developmental and Operational Test aircraft always had more and newer sensors, not less. To see an advertised critical sensor system missing from early delivery vehicles on a high-profile system, especially in the wake of 4 major production models before it (Gripen A-D), just seems really odd. I had just assumed the IRST was there already until looking at Saab’s own updates, photos, and video.

        It really gives you the impression that they are way behind and nowhere near what they’re advertising. It could also be an indicator of chokepoints in the supply side with COVID, which is a real thing over the past year. Meanwhile, the 620th F-35 rolls off the line with EOTS, DAS, AESA, EW RF suite, CNC-applied RAM, MADL, etc.

      3. Since I have no idea about your credentials, I’m going to give you the benefit of doubt that you might actually have some engineering and/or project management experience. If so, I would assume that you would understand the basic fact that there is no single way of how you develop and test aircraft, with the F-35 approach in fact being of rather unique. That Saab as a relatively small company would try to follow the same path as the JPO would most probably not be the optimal approach. In general, differently sized and organised companies will use different approaches, because there is no one template to rule them all. Same can be seen e.g. in differences between how Boeing and LM approaches test and development.

        …and, yes, *if* Saab uses some of their early aircraft instrumented to perform tests, that is pretty much the same thing as LM delivering aircraft instrumented for tests. The 39-7 tech demonstrator (rebuilt 39D for what was then called 39NG) flew with the IRST already back in 2014, so with all the stuff that could still go wrong with the 39E the integration of the IRST and why the early deliveries doesn’t have it mounted in flight is pretty low on my list.

    3. asafasfaf

      If opponent uses big power AESA(or anything that emits energy) then Gripen E/F can immediately triangulate location of the opponent and firing solution can be made.
      In HX Challange Saab demostrated this silent attack battle concept.

      1. Don Pablo

        Why would you blast high power output RF from an ESA when you can use low power modes, on-off switching with EMCON/going hot among a flight of link-connected fighters though?

        If you already have a high-fidelity detection and track using fused passive systems, you can be very discreet with how, when, and where you decide to use any PID features from the various ESAs in a disbursed multi-ship formation.

        Since Gripen E has single vertical stabilizer, it’s oblique and side RCS values are quite high, like every other Eurocanard, especially when combat-configured, and we’re not even talking about the EW capabilities of a networked ESA multi-ship yet.

        Gripen E vs Su-57 and Super Flankers will have to negotiate that threat force structure from a position of sub-parity. If it was only Super Flankers with their huge RCS values and PESA radars, it could realize a relative parity exchange ratio in A2A only in the BVR realm (which does not meet the HX requirements of extreme disproportionate exchange rates). If any Super Flankers get WVR of the Gripen, it can expect a 44:2 loss ratio after years of PLAAF tactical exploitation of the obsolete Su-27SK vs more capable Gripen C. The anemic thrust-to-weight ratio of the Gripen and low magazine depth make it a very vulnerable target in the WVR arena, especially against Super Flankers that are far more capable in this regard than the 1980s Su-27SK.

        One of the main problems with the BVR approach for Gripen E is that assuming it has first-look, first-shoot, it will crank and offset after separation to try to stay out of R-77-1 and improved R-77 variant BVRAAM WEZ, while rotating the AESA field of regard back to the skirmish vector to provide mid-course guidance to BVRAAMs so it can delay their need to go active and alert the new Digital MAWS in the Super Flanker EW suite.

        The moment you do that, the RF signature will do the opposite of what you want by presenting a large reflector to their PESA radars, which still have significant burn-through and home-on-jam capability when using Arexis.

        Once you introduce the Su-57 into that scenario, now you have real problems that the Gripen E is not configured to deal with since it loses the frontal and oblique RCS value, kinematics, first-look, first-shoot, and EW game. RF and IR sensor count on the Su-57 dwarfs that of the Gripen E.

        In short, it’s a system that is barely holding onto a technical edge against Su-35S, Su-30SM2, and Su-27SM3 maybe, but not against that force when Su-57 is leveraged with them in a lo-hi ratio. This indicates high attrition vulnerabilities for Gripen E, which would rapidly degrade the FiAF’s ability to defend its airspace.

        For the defense-in-depth mission profiles where logistics and staging hubs in Russia would need to be serviced in the IADS nets of S-400 protected by Pantsir-S2, the Gripen is the least-capable of all the submissions.

        From an overall program evaluation perspective, this represents a Lose/Lose conclusion in layman’s terms for the Air-to-Air and Air-to-Surface requirements of HX.

      1. Don Pablo

        Yes. FS 2015 was coordinated in advance with the relevant defense controls agencies, including the US, Saab, MDBA, and China. China had to get a compatible ACMI installed on the Su-27SKs before the exercises, and an exchange pilot program was initiated as well for both. RTAF pilots flew in Flankers, while PLAAF flew in Gripen Ds.

        US allowed AIM-120C and AIM-9L CATMs to be used in the exercise, which is interesting, but MBDA did not allow IRIS-T and US did not allow F-16s. So high capability systems were denied participation to protect them from exploitation, while lower capability systems were allowed to be used. China’s low capability systems were the 1980s-era Su-27SK and Russian export (made in Ukraine) RVV-AE limited range BVRAAM. They also used some type of training R-73 Helmet HOBS.

    1. juurikka

      Not really. In Finland JASSM was bought. In South Korea Taurus KEPD was bought since JASSM supposedly wasn’t available. So based on these two cases the indication is that JASSM is the preferred choice among these. Maybe the math is different for non-US jets? But in that case note that Spain bought KEPD for Hornets in 2010. Based on production numbers JASSM is a no-brainer.

  3. Uroxen

    Gripen E integrated IRST in 2014 and has been working for the Swedish airforce so you are right about that, the performance in production aircraft is also mentioned in the two most recent Gripen seminars held by Saab.

    The American obsession about trying to find rumors to spread is quite fascinating really. Looking up the flight cost per hour per Swedish aircraft for any aircraft type before the disastrous Försvarsbeslut 04 is easily done in the annual reports of the Swedish military. Thanks to Viggen being cannibalised for spare parts during the last years of operation you can even estimate how high the costs for spare parts were for Viggen using the Swedish cost calculation model to verify that it actually includes those costs.

    1. Don Pablo

      How does one extrapolate the spare parts for the Viggen airframe, avionics, propulsion, weapons, and ground support systems to the Gripen E?

      Viggen had a totally different airframe construction, totally different Pratt & Whitney engine (modified with integrated thrust-reverser built into the airframe with weight-on-wheels trigger, low-bypass fan and afterburner stages added), totally different weapons suite, multiple variants for the different mission profiles, etc.

      It would be like taking an F-4 or F-106, analysing the spare parts and operational cost studies over their lives, then drawing conclusions about a new F-16 variant. It would be really odd for anyone to use that method to calculate projected operational costs for the developmental Gripen E.

      This is about preventing from what happened to Finland from happening again. My family suffered tremendously as a result of the events in 1939 and 1940-1945, as well as after the war when what was left of Finland was forced to pay war reparations to Russia to the tune of $300 billion, so that is my personal “obsession” with this whole project.

      If the best solution is the Rafale F4, Typhoon Tranche 3b/4, Super Hornet/Growler Block III, or F-35A Block 5, let it be.

      When I do the same projected force structure comparisons with current and emerging capabilities with the Su-57/Super Flanker mix, I see a lot of the same problems for the Rafale, Typhoon, and Super Hornets that I don’t see for the F-35A.

      In contrast, the F-35A creates so many more problems for the threat and opens so many more doors for Finland and her neighbors, that it represents a massive strategic multi-national force-leveraging decision that places Finland into a position of much greater power and security, while Russia then has to be reactive, with very little proactive measures it can do from a defense aerospace perspective.

      The greatest examples of this can be found in multiple aspects of the F-35A and what it brings to the table.

      Interoperability: When selected, FiAF operators of F-35A can feed and receive high-fidelity sensor-fused and interleaved data from Norwegian Air Force F-35As and UK F-35Bs the moment FiAF takes possession, with cooperation with Norway and UK. Once Poland takes possession of their F-35As (already ordered), that sensor coverage will expand to the south and deep into Russia as well. This is what Russia does not want to happen.

      Defense-in-depth: Already a FiAF operating principle with the JASSM and JDAM with MLU 2 Hornets, F-35A offers greater capabilities than any other program in the world in this regard. It forces Russia to be limited in how they would ever stage invasion forces along the border, how they would protect their naval yards in Saint Petersburg, and how they would even base their fighters and deep strike platforms like the Su-34. It places heavy demands on their very limited aerial refueling capabilities, which are also vulnerable even within their own borders to precision anti-AF missions profiles. None of the other system submissions offer this kind of capability. JSF offers deep OCA against critical support nodes, including Aerial Refueling, AWACS, and ELINT/EW aircraft.

      Air Interception/DCA: With regular patrols and threat triggers from the multinational JSF force among Northern European partners, Finland will be receiving early warning and constant ISR/threat collection updates every time an F-35 is in the air. With the deep penetration sensor capabilities of JSF and linked platform networks, Finland’s ability to be appraised of Russian fighter statuses in real-time will be unparalleled.

      Alert fighter prognostic force posturing become a reality, rather than the 1970s-1990s based dedicate AWACS and GCI model that is now out-dated and largesse.

      It presents intercept profiles that are in a totally different world than what you have with 4.5 Gen fighters.

      Maritime ISR/Anti-Ship: The F-35A presents constant networked ISR capabilities that change the entire intelligence and force posture capabilities of the Finnish Navy. It also offers anti-ship attack methods, EW, and things best left for offline discussion regarding anti-ship capabilities. Again, Russia does not want Finland to have this. They would much prefer a legacy design that is easier to exploit in these areas.

      The other contenders for HX are operating in an old world that is seeing the curtains closed on it, while emerging technologies have fundamentally changed the face of integrated force warfare. They are struggling to imitate some of these capabilities, but the writing is on the wall.

      1. Swedish chef

        Don Pablo certainly seems to have collected a lot of information to peg up his speculations. Although I enjoy reading his comments, I’m not qualified to say if his data point are the most relevant (but I trust the FinDefMin is).

        However, I do find one telling flaw in Don Paolo’s rhetoric: His arguments sometimes lack objective comparisons and thus become obviously biased against Saab and the Gripen. Especially the way Don Paolo speculate about and states suspicions against Saab’s ethics and how he thinks the company probably is misrepresenting costs and capabilities raises flags. Could you not make the same speculative claims about the competitors? Even I could dig up that type of (and much more substantiated) dirt on the F35.

        My point is: Don Paolo, I believe you contributed valuable input and an important angle to the discussion. I would have taken it more seriously if you had kept the comments shorter by refraining from starting rumours.

        Again, I appreciate you taking the time to educate me and others.

      2. Don Pablo

        I’m not speculating. Saab hired BAES to do its marketing for the Gripen. Some guys in BAES got the idea that it would beneficial to bribe defense officials in Czech Republic and Hungary to get sales of Gripens into those nations.

        They were caught in this massive fraud scheme, and BAES was fined $400 million for criminal conduct for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I wasn’t aware of this until I started researching the Gripen some more when I heard that it was leased to one of the countries.

        https://www.defencetalk.com/bae-systems-pleads-guilty-and-ordered-to-pay-400-million-criminal-fine-24625/

        I actually believed it was a fine aircraft and assumed Saab was being up front about its capabilities. It’s very hard to have to be the one to bring this up, since my family line is more from Sweden than Finland, with relatives who still live there, but of course they didn’t do this. Finland should know about these things.

        Imagine the YLE broadcast….”Se on iso skandaali!”

        No, we don’t see that at all. Only negative articles about the JSF program day-after-day. It’s very odd.

      3. Uroxen

        That’s a lot of text really just connected to the fact that you have no idea about cost reporting by the Swedish Military.

        All the annual reports are available from Försvarsmakten (https://www.forsvarsmakten.se/sv/sok/#!/documents?query=%C3%A5rsredovisning%202002). There have been attempts to claim that these somehow underestimates the operational costs but the cost for spare parts is included in the operating costs as you can see by the cost curve of Viggen. Meaning that the often quoted low costs by both Janes and Försvarsmakten holds up to scrutiny.

  4. Klorofylli

    Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown is now talking about finding a replacement for the F-16.

    Interestingly, the F-35 was supposed to be that replacement. As it was also supposed to be the replacement for the A-10 Warthog, but it did not work out in real life.

    One of the issues is that is engine wear. One of the principles in aircraft design WAS this: never design a new plane and a new engine at the same time. With the F-35, they did.

    If I recall right, there were only two spare engines included in the offer for Finland. This aircraft is not meant to be flown. There is a fundamental problem, engine wear in fairly NEW planes, and they can neither provide engines or provide a solution for the problem.

    1. JoJo

      If you read the actual transcript from the Defense Writers Group you will see that nowhere does Brown talk about an F-16 replacement.

      He does talk about a “5th gen minus” capability gap that might be filled by some “son of NGAD.”

      1. Thanks! Granted he doesn’t mention the F-16 replacement directly, but if he wants to look into a potential new fighter to fill the lower end of TacAir with something cheaper, I think it’s safe to assume it’s the F-16 squadrons (and A-10 units to some extent), and not primarily the other fast jets of the fleet. That’s also how the reporters participating reported it, since the original question was based on Roper’s comments about the need for cheaper numbers to fill the F-16 replacement requirement.

      2. Sargent

        The only way I can make sense of this matter… the new plane will in practice be the F-35 replacement. F-35 was the replacement for the F-16. They will change plans for the F-35 and produce a cheaper alternative in the span of some years. F-35 will remain in service but focus will be on the new plane. New plane will not be “fifth gen” but the solution for this problem will be to find new marketing slogans and shut up about 4th gen/5th gen.

    2. Don Pablo

      I remember the problems with the various TF30s in the F-111A,D, and E, the F-14, the F100-PW-100 and PW-200 in the F-15A and F-16A. We’re talking about compressor stalls, AB unstarts, flying turbine blades, fire shooting out of the intakes and nozzles, all kinds of headaches.

      That included multiple total airframe losses and pilot fatalities. Those were real engine problems. Along the way, Pratt & Whitney and GE got really good at static engine testing with computer-aided diagnostics that fed back into design. That really set the IPE program up for success, while ATF engines were secretly being built as well.

      The F404 had a great record along the way as well, very few problems that I’m aware of. Once the F100-PW-229 and F110-GE-129 became the IPEs, the US had pretty much cracked the reliability and performance code for the big engine teen fighters, and expanded DEEC into FADEC, then VLO and TV technologies for the ATF’s F119-PW-100. The static testing of the YF119 already demonstrated smooth responses to rapid throttle inputs without stagnation or fuel-flow problems, beautiful behavior under extreme conditions so that there was a lot of confidence in those motors before the flight test phases began.

      The JSF’s F135 started out with that motor core, but higher bypass ratio and LOAN nozzle, with even better static testing performance demonstrated with extensive runs, so the F135 has been an excellent motor. F-16 pilots who flew with nothing but IPEs because they’re too young to have ever seen a -200 or early 220 absolutely love the F135.

      F-35s have over 365,000 flight hours on them now, with the lowest mishap rate of any fighter in USAF/USN/USMC history at introduction.

      These latest articles I’m seeing about engine issues are another round of disinformation designed to mislead people who have no real baseline from which to understand any of this.

      There are 620 F-35 variants already delivered. I believe they’ve exceeded the Raptor fleet flying hours, so this isn’t a new program with big questions about what the engines are doing.

  5. Klorofylli

    Let me ask you some questions.

    1. Why is USAF Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown now talking about a replacement for the F-16?

    2. The potential opposing nation in any war with Finland is well known. Do you think that deep strike into a huge country with nuclear weapons, including recently modernized tactical nukes, is a brilliant idea?

    3. Has everyone forgotten about the inclusion of Israel in HX? Cut-and-paste from an article from 2017: “To replace the Hornet fleet, the Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics Command has sent a preliminary Request for Information on suitable weapons and other task-related external equipment for the fighter aircraft. The RfI was sent to a number of government representatives in countries where such weapons and equipment are manufactured (France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Sweden and the United States). The governments were asked to forward the RfI to weapons manufacturers in their countries.” Yes, the list includes Israel.

    4. Yes, the above list includes Israel as well as the four other governments. Now may I ask, is my memory correct – is India operating the Rafale with Israeli Spice bombs?

    5. Did anyone think that the Gabriel missile would win the competition for the Finnish Navy? What country produces the Gabriel, and are they known for making affordable products for real and genuine warfighting?

    6. Who is the most quiet party in the HX competition, and could this be a sign of confidence?

    However, these are purely questions that are meant for chit-chat on the net. I do not pretend to actually KNOW. As with earlier competitions for Finnish defense, the winner could be anyone.

  6. Klorofylli

    P.S.

    It is possible to find mentions of the Spice on Rafale on the web, though the matter seems obscure. Here is one, I have seen others but can not find them now:

    “The IAF has chosen for the moment to integrate the Israeli Litening pod on the Rafale for sensor commonality across platforms (it ordered 164 last year for its Su-30s and MiG-29s). Livefist can confirm, however, that the IAF has ‘optioned’ the TALIOS pod (which replaces the obsolete in-service Thales Damocles pod) for a possible future integration.

    The IAF has similarly optioned the Sagem AASM Hammer system for a possible decision once Rafale deliveries begin, though it will hit the ground running with Israeli Spice guidance kits to begin with.”

  7. Klorofylli

    Sorry for the long rant, but this seems to be the final truth about Spice on Rafale:

    “Considering the situation in Ladakh with China, the IAF has also directed emergency procurement of the HAMMER air-to-ground missile with a range of about 60 Kms.
    The original plan was to integrate the Israeli Spice 2000 with the Rafale aircraft but with the focus on early operational deployment of Rafale in mind, a decision was taken to buy the HAMMER, which the Rafale is already configured to fire.”

    However it is interesting to note that the Litening pod is already in use in Finland and maybe the same pods could work with the Rafale, as the Indians are apparently working that way.

    If FAF chooses the Gripen, then Spice is a possible choice since Brazil has opted for Spice on their Gripens:

    https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/content/rafael-equipped-brazilian-gripen-fighter-spice-bombs

    And once again Litening pods.

  8. Herciv

    Found in an indian forum :

    Finland also seems to be very concerned about this problem with the F-35. The Finnish Air Force is a small air force and they will want to distribute their fighters to multiple air bases rather than one, which would cost enormous amounts of money to build the F-35 related infrastructure at each air base. This will definitely serve as a negative factor in the MX Challenge.

    In Finland the conditions of the call for tenders mean that almost everyone is eliminated: for example, the F-35 has a cost per flight hour of €45,000, which means that in order to meet the annual cost of ownership limit they can only present 26 aircrafts
    instead of 64, otherwise they will be eliminated. So they claim that their target is a flight hour at $25,000, but the Finns won’t believe them and even then they can only present 48 aircrafts and with very low availability. The Gripen E is not mature enough, the SH F-18 can’t last until 2060 because it doesn’t have enough autonomy now that the CFTs are not developed, to be extended by the Navy and the Typhoon doesn’t scare us. So we believe that the Rafale could won.

    The Finnish call for tenders calls for the acquisition to be less than €9 billion and for the annual MCO to be less than €250 million for the fleet. If you propose something that exceeds these limits you are eliminated. So you have to start from 64 aircrafts and if a limit is exceeded you have to reduce the number of aircrafts until you are compliant.

    Then the Finns use the fleet that you have defined in a simulation against a threat that is the same for all competitors. In this
    simulation the aircraft have the characteristics that the Finns have measured. The competitor with the best result in the simulation wins the tender.

    So there is not a ranking of planes but a ranking of Fleet that you can buy with the budget.

    And the simulation is a long time one, so availability impact the result as the number of mission you are able to generate each day.

    1. Don Pablo

      Operational F-35As have nowhere near a CPFH of 45,000 euros/$54,000. I’ve seen some really inflated CPFH figures lately. 388th TFW and 419th TFW operational, later lot F-35As have averaged $21,000 CPFH, with a very intense deployment schedule Finland would never be able to support. Those two wings have been innovating all kinds of aggressive maintenance solutions that are bringing costs way down. USMC has been doing the same as well. Both services are using 3D printing for certain parts, for example.

      That includes deployments to Red Flag, PACOM, UK, UAE, and a continuous rotation through combat taskings in CENTCOM as we speak dating back 2 years now. They’ve done disbursed austere operations, hot re-arm/refuels, flown from UK F-35B bases using their logistics, and are now participating in Large Force Exercises against other 5th Gen fighters, space assets, cyber warfare attacks, and threat systems.

      One advantage I haven’t seen anyone really discuss is the F-35’s IPP, that allows the Crew Chief to power up the CNI/CIP and other systems without starting the engine as pilots scramble for alerts.

      The Italians recently demonstrated and filmed this doing the NATO Iceland alert rotation, which is a real-world mission. The F-35 IPP has substantial amounts of power separate from engine-generated power. This is ideal for fighter alert mission readiness from a maintenance and operations perspective. The IPP might actually allow the F-35 to be faster than any other fighter for alert status rapid-starts, since you don’t have to wait for engine start to generate the power for your critical systems.

  9. Herciv
  10. Klorofylli

    In response to comments above: granted, the “F-16 replacement” thing is much more vague than I was saying. But behind it is the idea of the USAF buying hundreds of more F-16’s. Here is an article on that idea:

    https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/aircraft-propulsion/us-air-force-talks-new-f-16-orders-latest-acquisition-shake

    So as you see, this is very recent. The above article is from Jan 2021.

    I think everybody should understand that it is simply not possible for the F-35 to have similar service costs to an F-16. It is obviously a much, much more complicated design, and as such, it is not humanly possible for it to ever reach the same kinds of low running costs as the F-16. General Brown referred to this when he said “you only drive your Ferrari on Sundays”.

    1. Don Pablo

      The F-16C Block 50/52 is more complicated in several ways compared to the JSF-A, and JSF addressed these unnecessary complexities with its basic design, closed-loop avionics architecture, simplified man-machine-interface, control systems, propulsion, etc.

      It added some levels of design that don’t exist on the F-16 physically, namely internal weapons bays, IR concealment flow paths for cool air, and then the RAM, although operational Vipers are RAM-coated with RAM canopies as part of HAVE GLASS.

      The real complications and major after-thought design trade-offs with every 4th Gen fighter are the added pods for combat systems that are carried.

      Examples on the Viper include:

      ECM
      LITENING FLIR/LST
      HARM Targeting Pod
      Integrated countermeasures pylons (several generations exist with towed decoys, chaff/flare, etc.)

      You also have copper wiring for signal and power whereas JSF has a lot of fly-by-light and fiber optic connections between sensors and the CNI/CIP.

      JSF has the FLIR plus 6 more IR sensors integrated into the airframe without aerodynamic penalties. On the Viper, you can’t jettison pods, so aero drag is always a problem.

      Furthermore, those ancillary and necessary systems don’t get counted the same way in readiness reports to the outside, while inside units, the absolutely have to account for them in ways that aren’t seen in DoD reports.

      So an F-16C Block 50 can be reported as being Mission Capable, while its LITENING pod, ECM pod, HTS pod, and pylon countermeasures might represent stats that would significantly drop its FMC and MC rates. But you can still fly it and perform CAS, OCA, F-16A-through Block 25C strike missions, but not the full SEAD mission profile it is primarily tasked with. Commanders and Mx officers have very detailed reports that cover these things and are evaluated heavily based on MC rates. There is incentive to fudge numbers to make you look really good, with a lot of options for a system with bolt-on systems, if the unit has that type of leadership.

      With the F-35, all of its sensors are part of the aircraft and fused with not only the other sensors and central brain, but other aspect of the jet you would never have thought of. This makes it far more capable and efficient in performance, mx, and cost.

      Legacy federated and attached systems are clunky, draggy, require constant upgrades and software hand-offs with the legacy data buses, and have their own diagnostics systems and checks from a more elaborate mx personnel footprint that does not exist with the F-35A.

      Meanwhile, the USAF has spent billions on acquiring AESA radars for the F-16C Block 40-52 fleet, more upgraded EW suites, JHMCS/AIM-9X/AIM-120C7/D, more integrated countermeasures pylons, SDB integration, JTIDS/Link-16v4 protocol data link interoperability, so where exactly is the gap between that and the F-35A? There is a gap, but you would spend billions developing a reduced capability fighter to fill it that would be obsolete by the time it was flight-tested.

      Some of the statements coming from certain Generals makes you wonder if they even understand their own force structure. There’s a reason a lot of the good pilots want nothing to do with the corporate Air Force.

      1. Sure, but integrated subsystems also means less flexibility in moving things around if and when some sensors are down.

        A pity that the generals are so uninformed. Good that there’s knowledgeable people in the comment sections who knows these stuff and can tell them how it really works 😎

  11. Poika

    Finnish-American here. First of all, thank you Corporal Frisk for this fantastic site. As a person who is very interested in aviation and Finnish military history, but who does not speak Finnish, it has been great to learn more about the HX challenge and other current issues. I’ve spent many hours bouncing between your site and Millenium 7’s and Siivet’s YouTube channels trying to learn more and guess who will win the HX competition.

    I was embarrassed for our ambassador’s remarks during the Superhornet HX presentation. Mr. Pence bragged about the quality of the P-40’s that the United States sold to the USSR, which were used against Finland in the Continuation War. I’m guessing he was appointed to that position based on making campaign contributions, and he did not understand how the United States failed to live up to our own ideals by not assisting the Finnish people more in their time of need. Overall, I think that my fellow Americans know too little about the world in general, and Finland in particular. Hopefully the new ambassador will be better, and we can continue to build stronger relationships.

    I wish I could join some of the other commenters in saying that the F-35 is the best solution for Finland, but these are some of the reasons I do not think that is true:

    1: Upgrading weaknesses. The F-35 does not have the speed or agility that its competitors have, and using its external hardpoints would compromise its stealthiness. Speed and agility are what historically distinguished a fighter from other warplanes, and while you can never have too much of either, you can die from having too little. Once the planes are delivered, these weaknesses are not easily corrected. In contrast, the sensors, communications systems, weaponry, and jamming technologies can all be upgraded on any of the other contenders.

    2: Situational awareness. If my understanding of history is correct, it is bad to fight outnumbered; worse to fight outgunned, outranged, or outmaneuvered; but the worst of all is to fight without knowledge of the enemy’s disposition. This is why the very first military aircraft were used to observe the enemy, why inferior aircraft could decisively win by attacking with the Sun behind them, why airplanes could sink an entire harbor full of operational battleships, and why guerilla warfare has been so effective. It is also why the US military invests so heavily in advanced spy satellites and aircraft. If I’m not wrong, all the countries flying the F-35 already have other advanced sensor systems available, either in their militaries or through official alliances, while Finland does not. Therefore, the HX competition may determine the degree to which Finland is fighting partially blinded for many decades, against potential enemies with a history of sneak attacks and infiltration. It would seem to me that the Globaleye has the largest advantage here, and the F-35 is likely to have the lowest, if it has comparable sensors but lower availability, no supercruise, and lower top speed. Unless, of course, purchasing an American aircraft comes with access to our real-time intelligence data.

    3: Vulnerability to Espionage. The more countries that use the F-35, the more reason and danger exists for the system to be spied on, analyzed, and weaknesses discovered. I have no doubt that a country likely to attack Finland is already heavily invested in trying to find the F-35’s weaknesses, whether it is in Finnish service or not. If such weaknesses are found and exploited, then it would be a disaster for Finland and most of its closest allies to be reliant on that same system. This is all somewhat ironic, as Ambassador Pence’s story about the P-40, intended to promote the F-35 and Growler, clearly illustrates how even one captured plane can undermine the technological advantage for every other plane of that type.

    4: Public image: The F-35 is by its nature always going to seem like an offensive machine, which can be exploited politically. Despite its neutrality, it has been pretended before that Finland started a conflict to generate international sympathy. Compare potential headlines reading “Finnish Stealth Fighter shot down near border” or “Finnish stealth fighter blamed for destroying radar station” against “Unarmed Finnish plane with 7 people aboard shot down near border” or “UN verifies that no armed Finnish aircraft were flying when radar station was destroyed”. In situations less than outright war, having an intimidating fighter may not always be an advantage.

    5: Trust: The F-35 is a 5th generation plane produced by a 1st generation democracy. Our government is often not representative of what the average voter wants, and often does what is good for companies over what is good for people. That is why we have for-profit prisons holding people who smoked marijuana, why we have health insurance companies making record profits while their customers die, and why we give taxpayer money to profitable oil companies. We’re working on it, but for now, it appears that corporations are in control, that our alliances and weapons deals can be cancelled at the whims of whoever is elected every 4 years, and the amount of help that Finland gets may not be determined by how much we Americans support you. I tend to think that the F-35 was designed primarily to siphon off as much of my tax money as possible and give it to politicians (see https://www.opensecrets.org/Lobby/lookup.php to see how much different companies pay our government to get their voices heard before mine), with the secondary goal of develop an effective fighting plane that could be sold abroad. Perhaps I have watched The Pentagon Wars too many times, or perhaps I just wish our democracy was as advanced as Finland’s and that large defense contractors would not be an obstacle to that goal.

    Even the United States does not bet its safety entirely on the F-35; we have the F-22 and more systems on the horizon, and we do have the world’s largest military and many allies. I’m not saying that Lockheed Martin hasn’t made a great plane, or that they haven’t put their hearts into it. But their fighter planes are not as critical in defending their own businesses, homes, and families, as they are for Dassault and Saab. If the CEO of an aviation company truly believes the safety of his grandchildren depends on the quality of the planes his company makes, then I think those planes will tend to be better over the long term.

    Based on what I have learned so far, I think best match for the FDF requirements would be Globaleye & Gripen, followed by Rafale, Typhoon, F-35, and Superhornet. In any case, I am glad that the HX Challenge is such a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation to strengthen your national defenses, and look forward to reading more.

    1. Don Pablo

      1. F-35 has better speed and agility than 4th and 4.5 Gen fighters since it doesn’t compromise the aerodynamic shape with external stores. These legacy fighters look and perform great when stripped for air shows, but become more sluggish when laden with their necessary combat stores. So F-16 pilots with 3,000hrs in the Viper immediately reported that they saw how much faster the F-35 is, that it can maintain its speed at altitude without having to punch burner, can refuel without using burner like a Viper has to, has insane climb rate, and can BFM with Vipers while carrying bombs internally, then go deliver on test ranges after beating the F-16s in BFM. That was from Norwegian pilots when they were just learning how to fly the F-35A, even before it was opened up for 9g limits and still handicapped with 7g.

      Speed and agility were prime considerations, but situational awareness and information dominance beats that now. This is according to career senior Fighter Weapons Instructors who have flown every major 4th Gen fighter, as well as JSF.

      The JSF variants have more open architecture upgradeability than any legacy fighters by design, without aerodynamic penalties. In fact, as internal systems get lighter and more capable, it only helps the weight go down. This is a first in fighter upgrade trends. Normally what we saw with every other design was more and more black boxes being shoved into spaces, with more wiring harnesses, more power demands, more weight growing and growing. Look at the empty weight of a Block 1-10 Viper in the late 1970s, vs a modern Block 50 Viper. Thousands of pounds heavier.

      F-35s are going down in weight. The new Raytheon DAS will drop weight, cut cost by 25%, and increase the resolution to 2048×2048.

      2. Situational Awareness. With the F-22’s IFDL before it and now the JSF’s MADL and fused/interleaved sensor web, we have fighter formations that see much better, with much more resolution than legacy single node AWACS or EW birds. An AWACS can call out a contact at distance, whereas JSF 2-ships even can see exactly what altitude, what types of aircraft, how many weapons they’re carrying, and things that were unimaginable back in the days of head-scratching over Non-Cooperative Target Recognition (NCTR).

      Of all the HX competitors, none come anywhere close to the networked JSF battlespace awareness. That includes GlobalEye linked with any of the other fighters. The reasons are that each F-35 has a multitude of RF antennae of various lengths embedded in the airframe like Raptors do, along with 6 DAS IR cameras, the EOTS in the nose (FLIR/IRST zoomable), and the world’s most advanced AESA radar. All of these sensors are fused with each other on a single-ship so that the pilot does not have to manage each sensor with its own display, but instead just looks out anywhere he can turn his head, and sees TGT designate boxes that are color and shape-coded to indicate friendly, foe, neutral, unknown.

      That sensor track is immediately shared with all the other F-35s in a wide formation separated by tens of miles via Line-of-sight LAN networks that are almost impossible to detect or jam, with back-up layers for future-proofing just in-case someone finds a way to get in-between them somehow.

      The F-35A is the only option that gives Finland the ability to inflict 30:1 kill ratios against current and emerging Russian fighters. The Su-57 will be the most formidable opponent, which seems purpose-built to out-class the 4th Gen fighters. They were aiming for matching the F-22, but have fallen short in almost every respect, other than including IR sensors on it.

      The Rafale F4 and Typhoon Tranche 4 are far more capable than Gripen E, since we don’t even know what Gripen E really can do yet in its developmental stages, but know what it can’t do. Payload is light compared to the others. Current FiAF Hornets can carry 10 AAMs, for example, which would come into play in the 4th Gen BVR metrics with missile exchanges for posturing since you have mutual detection.

      GlobalEye has to locate itself far away from the border region, and even when trying to stay distant from there, it’s still a very vulnerable high value node to anti-AWACS mission profile fighters. The main advantage for AWACS is a high endurance node that can stay airborne for many hours for early warning. If you’re so distant, your effective detection range is reduced considerably, making you less valuable.

      The political scenarios listed are beyond the scope of this discussion in this setting. Russia has used false flags in the past, like in 1939, so it doesn’t really matter what weapons Finland has.

      You should visit Finland sometime while there’s a chance. Beautiful nation really.

      1. Sure they used a false flag op, didn’t do them much good, did it? Considering the fact that we’re celebrating 104 years of uninterrupted independence later this year…

  12. PG

    Well, HX getting closer to the end of the road!
    Very interesting comments this time, a lot of tec involved!
    NATO building out the C4-6ISR to recive 5 gen. Info standard for the future and make it plug and play.
    There was a comment about cost/hour for F35 from US around $31′ compere to F16 $7′?

  13. Swedish chef

    Once again an excellent article by Corporal Frisk. Thank you.
    Also, interesting discussions here among the commentators, please keep that going.

  14. Jake Plucinski

    Very interesting article as always CF. It seems the Rafale and Eurofighter doesn’t feature so much in this piece. I hope that’s not an indication of the feeling in HX circles.
    It seems to me the benefits of geographical nearness to Sweden could just as easily be applied to the Eurofighters home country of Germany.
    Additionally another viewpoint on the F35 is that despite the F designation it was initially supposed to be a strike aircraft. Looking at my photos of the F35 flying alongside the F22 I always wonder how those guiding the JSF program in its early years accepted making a strike aircraft half the size of its fighter brother. The small size of the F35 means that war load and range are always going to suffer. Range shouldn’t matter too much for the HX application, but essentially it’s only benefit over the Legacy Hornet is sensors and sensor fusion, and almost everything else is a down grade.

    1. Herciv

      Click to access F-35-Reprint-3.0-A3.pdf


      The report says the HX should be “ready to use and not in product development”. This is very good news, which means the only aircraft that can pose a threat to the Rafale is the SH, and the SH doesn’t have the same level of avionics. But a major drawback is the F4.2 is also in development, so all the Rafale can show off is the F3R, which gives the SH some fighting chance.
      In France we are more demanding to say that a programme is up to date than the Anglo-Saxons, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t show anything or have anything flown. Everything that will be in F4.2 has been developed in PEAs that end with demonstrators that fly, and since F4 was launched there must have been quite a few integrations already achieved. I’m sure that F4 is more advanced than Block 4 of the F-35 and that for example we were able to show the “contact” software defined radios that will ensure F4’s connectivity, and the Rafale’s ability to be a communication node.
      F4.2 is proposed because the Finns have been able to measure the performance of the functions that will be in F4.2. It is not the specifications of the F-35 that count for the Finns, but the measurements that the Finns made when 4 F-35s tried to go to Finland, 2 succeeded and only one was able to take part in the tests.
      It’s like the AESA prototype tested in India for MMRCA.

      1. Klorofylli

        Here’s two videos from Hushkit comparing the Rafale to the Typhoon.

        Rafale might have an advantage with slightly lower operating costs. And, like I said before – Israel is included in HX, and Spice instead of Hammer would bring down the costs a little bit more. Here is the original link to the countries included in HX tender for weapons and related equipment:

        https://puolustusvoimat.fi/en/-/puolustusvoimien-logistiikkalaitos-lahetti-hornetin-seuraajahankkeen-aseistusta-ja-muita-varusteita-koskevan-tietopyynnon

    2. Swedish chef

      Finland’s relationship to Sweden isn’t comparable to Germany’s, or any other country’s for that matter. It’s like choosing between a brother and a business partner.

      However, the strong bond and all the mutual defense planning aside, Sweden isn’t as powerful as the US and that’s an issue when it comes to the survival of the nation.
      Being an ally of France or Germany has not been useful insurance historically. And today Germany has made itself dependent on Russian energy. And France even left NATO when it felt politically convenient.
      So one can argue that from the political perspective the H-X choice has to be Saab, Boeing or LM.

      And yes, I’m aware that making a historical reference to Finland’s allies isn’t necessarily the most flattering to Sweden (who remained neutral during WWII) either. But a lot has changed and lessons have been learned since then. To a large extent the defense policies of today are designed to avoid ending up in a similar situation ever again.

      1. I have seen some fake history being posted at different sites connecting with the F35 deals that Sweden was bad and did not help being neutral towards in this case Finland. It looks like there is some interest in breaking up the ties between Scandinavian countries. In fact, Sweden was not neutral to the Finnish cause and help out a lot. The neutrality was for not for the Finnish struggle. This is very different from the USA that was neutral. At end of WWII it also was the major force, but obviously sided with the Soviet Union and gave Finland a very raw deal with a limitation of airforce and paying damages to the Soviet Union, besides the loss of territory. Sweden put up an airforce wing “(Flygflottilj) F19” in north Finland and sent ca. 1/3 of the Swedish fighter airforce to aid. Not that great planes (Gloster Gladiator J8, Fiat CR42 Hawker Hart B4), but it was the best available at the time. Planes ordered form the US were mostly not delivered (such as 144 Vultee Vangard and many the Seversky P35 etc.). Hence, the creation of the by some much hated SAAB in 1937.
        under “Finlands sak är vår” (“The Finnish cause is ours”) a lot of money was collected as a gift to Finland and Sweden was crucial for the strengthening of the Finnish airforce, since it was the gateway for transfer of planes to Finland. About 200 airplanes were mounted (157) or transferred during the second world war, most during the crucial winter war. Furthermore, 14000 volonteer Swedes severed in the army in Finland.
        Here is an interesting link in Swedish discussing parts of it: https://militarhistoria.se/1900-tal/andra-varldskriget/sveriges-hemliga-flyghjalp-till-finland

        This is just to add on the “neutral” part. It doesn’t mean that based on recent history I would think that the US is not a good ally. The F18 deal seems to have been perfectly timed and successful.

  15. EMK

    CF, Thanks. Yet another great post.

    I really like the fact that you base your estimations and even opinions to known facts and say explicitly when the facts are unknown and you rely on estimations and approximations. Its really refreshing amongst all the emotional and uninformed rants in the blogsphere and even in (supposedly) quality media.

    Please, don’t get me wrong. Strong opinions, even emotional ones, are perfectly fine. I’ve got plenty, just like the next guy. I just wish people would spend a fraction of the time it took them to write their comments checking if their beliefs are reasonable at all.

    The discussion here seems to revolve mostly around F35 and Gripen. At least the most extreme opinions seem always be related to the one or the other. Well, what else is new?

    Some myth busting. Yet again. I think its safe to say not a single one of these planes cost more than $10k/hour to operate. Not a single one. Including F35. Numbers like $45k/h or $31k/h are just insane rubbish. More reasonable and informed expert estimations are all around $6000 – $9000 for all the candidates.

    There are vast amounts of misconceptions and misinformation in some of the comments. For those who think I might be referring to their postings, please, read the article again and then read all the other articles about fighters, air war and HX on this site. You’d be much better equipped to form your opinions. Then you might be able to write a comment worth reading and discussing.

    If I offended someone by saying all this, I am not sorry.

      1. EMK

        @Kristian

        C’mon. Did you actually read what CF wrote about comparing the USAF (as calculated by the GAO, not by the USAF I might add) and Finnish AF operating costs? Apparently not, because that would’ve give you already a hint. You just cannot make that comparison.

        For example, according the GAO report, from which the insane numbers have been pulled out, the operating and support costs include the infrastructure built to support the plane. Finnish AF on the other hand does NOT pay infrastructure costs from the operating budget. Instead, the purchase budget for the HX program includes a separate funding for the infrastructure.

        And that is just one big difference. And it isn’t the only difference. There are plenty of others, some of which CF already mentioned. In the end, the GAO numbers are not relevant for the HX and tell you practically nothing useful to help you estimate the operating costs of the Finnish AF.

        And by the way, the GAO (Congress Accountability Office) is not the USAF, so no, I am not claiming the USAF is lying. What I am saying is that people do not know what they are talking about when they use the GAO numbers and assume they have something to do with the HX and Finnish AF operating costs.

      2. EMK

        The GAO is the US Government Accountability Office, not Congress Accountability Office as I wrote in the previous post.

      1. You do realise that it is possible to calculate flight hour costs in any number of ways? From just gas in one extreme case to full O&S budget plus personnel and infrastructure costs and then dividing per flight hours in the other extreme. The whole point with referencing the GAO report was that the US costs are the only *comparable* numbers of any HX candidates, and even then they aren’t exactly apples to apples due to different usage and flight profiles.

      2. EMK

        @PG
        Well, let’s see how reasonable your claim is.

        F35A burns approximately 2000 lbs/h at mach 0,75. That’s 907 Kg. The density of Jet A-1 is around 0.79 Kg/l (slightly less in the summer, a bit more in the winter), so we end up with 907Kg / 0.79 Kg/l = 1150 l/h.
        The market price of the Jet A-1 in Finland is around 0,70 €/l so 1150 x 0,7€ = 805 €/h.

        So, we’ve got our fuel price: 800 €/h more or less. That’s slightly less than $10 000/h, wouldn’t you say?
        My question to you is: What makes you think you can trust your gut feelings in a matter like this when you obviously don’t know a damn thing about aviation? I mean $10k/h for fuel, c’mon.

        @CF After painful hour or two with the GAO report, I’d say its next to impossible to draw any conclusions from it. (Well, it does give you an upper limit but it’s so high it does not tell you anything really.)

        First of all, the cost structure they are using is totally different. They include the fixed infrastructure costs to everything (incl. the maintenance). So there you have every new hangar, ammo depot and heck, even the toilet seats in those facilities included into the flight hour cost. If someone claims s/he can tease out the costs applicable to Finnish AF operations, I’d say s/he needs to get his/her head examined.

        Even if the cost structure wouldn’t be a problem, the USAF maintenance and support organization is quite different from its Finnish counterpart. So the maintenance costs from the report are dubious also.

        By the way, the report said the maintenance is on average 36% of USAF operating and support costs. If you apply that to their F35 cost of flight hour ($35k), you’ll get $12.6k/h for maintenance. And remember, this includes lots of extra costs that do not apply to the FiAF operating budget.

        There are more subtle issues I won’t go into because this posting is already too long. But I have to say I’ll stick to my guns. $10k/h is not a bad number to use. For any of the candidates. Especially if you remember the number that counts is not just any flight hour cost. Its the cost that will be paid from the AF operating budget that counts.

      3. Read what I wrote – *the GAO is only useful as a comparison between two of the candidates*.

        Also, Puranen has time and time again repeated that the Finnish O&S cost which translate into LCC is significantly higher than anything he has seen reported in media.

      4. EMK

        But I did read what you wrote. You said in your comment to PG:

        “The whole point with referencing the GAO report was that the US costs are the only *comparable* numbers of any HX candidates,”

        Here you said “of *ANY* HX …” so I thought you’ve changed your mind regarding the report and how useful it is.

        I won’t argue against what Puranen has said. Even so, my number is still pretty reasonable when compared to insane claims some people are putting forward (not you). And since only a few people in the HX really know the real numbers, I’ll stick my estimation for now. Of course, if someone comes up with good arguments …

      5. EMK

        Let me suggest another approach to the op.cost estimation.
        Let’s do some back of the envelope calculation and estimate a ball park figure for the upper limit for it.

        Let’s say the AF annual operating budget is around 200 M€. (Its probably not, I don’t remember the correct number right now but I guess its not much higher than that).
        Let’s then make a wild guess and assume the fleet size of 64 planes.
        That means we have 3.1 M€ / plane annually at our disposal.

        If the airframe service life is 6000h and the AF uses the fleet 30 years, they can operate 200h/year/plane.
        3.1M€/200h = 15 500€/h.

        So, 15k€ is a rough estimate of how much a flight hour can cost at max.

        Assuming the HX contenders are not stupid, why would they burn vast amounts of money in the competition if they know from the get go the op.cost of their plane is higher than 15k€/h?

        So, if my earlier number (10k€/h) is the lower limit and 15k€/h is the upper limit I’d be surprised if the real figures are outside this range.

      6. You’re on the right track except the annual flight hours of the Hornet-fleet a few years ago was 8,800 hours, bouncing up to 9,000 once (in 2015), and the total O&S for HX is capped at 250 MEUR annually according to Puranen’s comment when the BAFO request went out.

        Then we’re in the 27.7 to 28.4 kEUR/hour range, with some/at least one contender according to Puranen still having issues fitting inside that.

        https://budjetti.vm.fi/indox/sisalto.jsp?year=2017&lang=fi&maindoc=/2017/tae/hallituksenEsitys/hallituksenEsitys.xml&id=/2017/tae/hallituksenEsitys/YksityiskohtaisetPerustelut/27/10/10.html

      7. EMK

        @CF

        This is a sidetrack, but maybe it helps the others here to understand how easy it is to come up with almost any number you want. Remember how I said 10000€/h is a good number? Let’s see how I can use the Finnish budget figures and the GAO report to defend it.

        I’ll use the Finnish budget figures for HN (flight hours & cost/h) from 2017 as an example.

        Total flight hour cost for the HN fleet was 7469€/h * 9000h = 67.2M€
        (So, this number is a result of how FiAF structures the flight hour costs)

        How that compares to the GAO O&S costs for the same type, F/A-18?
        According to GAO report, the total cost of the USAF F/A-18 fleet of 537 aircraft was $2.4B (2016)
        So, that’s $4.5M per aircraft per year.

        Apply that annual O&S cost to the HN-fleet of 64 and you’ll end up having total cost of $286M = 235M€. (I know, few planes have been lost but that does not change the point I am trying to make).

        The GAO number is roughly 3.5 times that of the Finnish budget numbers.
        That just goes to show how big a difference the way you structure your costs makes. (And no doubt, it tells something about the O&S organizations as well).

        But now I can get creative. If we assume the same ratio applies to F-35, for example, you’d get around 10k€/h price tag when operated by the FiAF. Just what I wanted.

        So, you can calculate things in various ways and end up with a number you want.
        So, to be clear, I don’t trust this calculation at all. And neither should anyone else.

        Its just an example of seemingly rational argument for an answer you wanted to end up with in the first place. And its hard to argue against because its impossible to say if / how well the same costing ratio applies to both F/A18 and F35, for example. One could say you cannot use the same ratio, but the counter-argument for that is: how do you know?).

        The most honest thing to say is that we can only guess. (Although its quite easy to rule out the most outrageous claims since you can see right away they are either uninformed, intentionally biased towards some predetermined outcome or both.)

        All that being said, my best guess is still quite a bit lower than yours 😉

  16. Klorofylli

    First of all, I feel stupid for repeating some links that CF already posted. I did not look behind some of the links in the article before I rushed in to post my own opinions.

    But second: as a Finnish person, it is within my rights to oppose an F-35 buy. Let me explain my reasoning.

    A long time ago, I was a humble trainee in a small Finnish high-tech company. That company was in the nineties a world leader in a certain small field of tech.

    Now they had some of the best and brightest people in Finland, some workers with lifelong experience and some young and very talented people.

    And oh boy, how they did mess up. They made a new product line with bad design. And in a few years… the company was gone. You can not find it with google any more, there is no mention of it anywhere.

    This is what I learned there. If you make a bad design… you make certain bad choices right at the start… there is no way to recover. Those decisions will come back at every point later on, forever. There is simply no way to change some things later on. High-tech also needs to be updated all the time, and the bad design choices will affect every single update – forever. Until merciful death.

    And this is what I believe has happened with the F-35. Granted, it is not quite as big a failure as I thought earlier. The Israelis seem to be using it successfully, and that is quite something. But they do not use it for air war. They use it for strikes against ground targets.

    Think of the NH90. Finland has it, other Nordic countries have it. The Swedes say it is too expensive to operate. The latest figure I saw was 20000 euros per hour for the Swedish NH90’s. Finland can not afford to have both a chopper and airplane that are problematic.

    Like I said, the design failures are never going to go away. There is simply no reason to expect that Block 4 would be in time. There is no reason to expect ANY update to arrive in time.

    Anyhow, Finland is a rule based society and I would hope that the Finnish military is even more conservative and rule-based. I would think that they will follow the HX process to the letter and won’t give in to thinking like “this candidate is too expensive but who cares, we will buy it anyways”. I am really looking forward to the result with huge interest.

    1. JayJay

      I more than agree with your sound words.
      Indeed, I think the F-35 was poorly designed at the inception ; already dozen of billions of dollars have been injected in the program to try to fix it, with no success. You could inject another 50 billions dollars into it, it would not fix it anymore.
      Let’s take an example : for an aircraft of such a weight, a rational choice would have been to do a twin engines. But in order to do the STOL version, they opted for a single engine. But then they were forced to build the most powerful engine, and pushing it a the very limits of the physical laws and temperatures. Result is that the engine is plaggued with issues, poor availability, hihj maintenance costs… You can not fix it. It’s doomed.
      Now the US Air Force is strongly advocating for a drastic diminution of the number of F35. It will happen one day or another, and it will be the end of the F35 program. We are probably not far now from this day.
      Frankly, it would be crazy to embark in such a program at this point of time.

      1. Klorofylli

        I had not thought of this before. But once again we see a conflict between design goals. The f-35 is supposed to be a stealth plane, but it also has a hot engine. Stealth demands that the heat be not there. Both radar stealth and IR stealth need to be built into the engine. One sidenote is that rare earth metal alloys are used in the coatings. These are imported from China.

        These problems were baked in right at the very start, before any prototypes were even made. They are in the DNA and can not be unmade.

      2. JayJay

        Here we are, and things will probably go faster than expected

        https://breakingdefense.com/2021/02/f-35-in-crosshairs-as-joint-staff-assess-tacair-buys-for-biden-budget/?_ga=2.266415758.1889429255.1614345857-975612516.1612258756

        Key takeaways :
        – Not only US Air Force, but also Navy and Marines are considering a large decrease of F35 orders
        – Budget should be done for end April, so we should have concrete decisions taken very quickly
        – Operation costs of F35 (36.000$/h) deemed “not sustainable”
        – Stealthiness no longer an argument at all. US now emphasises affordable lifecycle costs, maturity, availability rate

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  18. Sargent

    Brand new Pogo.org comments, published seven hours ago as am writing:

    “…the F-35 program may about to face the same fate as several other once-marquee 21st century weapon programs like the Zumwalt-class destroyer, the F-22, and the Littoral Combat Ship. In other words, just like those disastrously failed programs, the F-35 may be dramatically reduced in scope due to a combination of technological failures and skyrocketing costs.”

    Link here:

    https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2021/02/is-the-f-35-program-at-a-crossroads/

    The F-35 program has been doing better as of late, but I predict it will suffer a sudden loss of trust all across and then it will not recover any more. Just as happened with the other programs mentioned above.

  19. CasperHauser

    On F35….Where there is smoke there is fire, a program that has long been considered too big to fail is now starting to take serious heat domestically, even talks of number cuts to phase in a digitally engineered alternative by the top acquisition official. Cost remains a questionmark.

    Thanks CF for referencing those articles/reports.

    Would a dispersed roadbase strategy even work with F35A? Or is STOL left out of the future requirements/ new Finnish battle doctrine? Can’t help wondering after seeing the Norwegians needed a drag chute for F35 even to land on an (icy) airstrip…..

    1. JoJo

      Why shouldn’t it? They say that the F-35A needs same distance to stop as the current F-18 that Finland fly today. And with that powerfull engine the takeoff should be no problem.
      The drag chute comes handy on short and icy strips during winter.

      1. “And with that powerfull engine the takeoff should be no problem.”

        During HXChallange F-35A damaged the airport runway, runway was not designed to handle such heat.

      2. EMK

        @asafasfaf

        Damn that F35. If it does not get shut down by every opponent because it lacks power, it destroys the runways because it has too powerful engine. It just cannot do anything right. Right?

        Well, at least throwing rocks on F35 seems to give people meaning and purpose to their life.

    2. EMK

      To me it seems there is a lot “hot air” floating around, not so much smoke. And apparently it smells like roses to some people 🙂

  20. PG

    Ongoing,
    F35A can load 8278kg of fuel at a weigth of 0,8029 kg/L A1 to a cost of appr. 1$/L.

    Combat radius 1093 km and total range 2200 km strait line.

    So, if you fill up e.g 8029 kg will be 10.000 L at 1 $/L=10.000$ 1$=ca0,7€

    On top of that you have speed, load, tricky path and afterburner, also high or low altituds eats fuel!

    US speeks about first and secon day internal load and tird day hanging external load.

  21. PG

    Ongoing,

    Risk for stickning out my nose to far!

    In my opinion after going through a lot of info, I’m prepered to say that JAS39E will have 75% less overall cost compere to F35A?

    Canadians are waiting for the outcome of HX and so other countrys around the globe, as a comment said -a cheaper plane, more flightours givs a happier pilot!

  22. JayJay

    Interesting read on why the US Air Force is now going away from the F35. With also an interesting historical comparison with the F104 Starfighter, once considered as the most revolutionary airplane (like the F35), but which was plaggued with defaults (like the F35), and was finally quickly abandonned by the US Airforce and the export clients (like the F35?).

    https://www.meta-defense.fr/2021/02/24/pourquoi-lus-air-force-se-desolidarise-t-elle-du-f-35-maintenant/

  23. EMK

    @everyone

    I’ve been following the discussion around the HX challenge on/off here and in other places for years now.

    I understand that everyone has their favorites. Most of us probably also think some of the candidates are not a good choice for Finland (for what ever reason).

    But one thing I don’t understand and frankly, I am baffled about it.

    I don’t get why people seem to turn every rock to find something bad to say about F35 (but not about other candidates) and reject known facts if those facts happen to support anything positive about it?

    I mean, it seems every rumor, dated article, conspiracy theory etc. is a valid source when it comes to criticism, but traditional expert sources are never valid if they don’t participate the rock throwing contest?

    I am not trying to belittle anyone’s opinions or anything like that.
    I am genuinely interested what you guys think about this.
    Why so many people love to hate the F35?

    1. VS

      Could be a reaction to F35 fanboys. I mean for every single person who criticizes the F35, there’s probably at least one other person who thinks everything else is crap compared to the F35. 🙂

      1. Rav

        Not only fanboys. It’s generally people that take the sales pitches seriously and not critically thinking or sometimes not really doing the research. Simplifying by taking some parameters and just running with it. If it was so simple every moron with an excel spreadsheet could do it. There are lot’s of people viewing it one sided.

    2. Poika

      @EMK
      I think it all comes down to how the human mind processes uncertainty and risk.

      The F-35’s downsides (e.g. inability to supercruise, current high purchase cost) are not disputed, but the upsides (stealthiness and situational awareness) are classified; therefore the net value of the system depends entirely on trust. For the other competitors, however, the opposite is true, and have clear upsides and classified downsides. While we don’t know these hidden variables, and therefore don’t know how these aircraft actually stack up, it’s easy to try to make inferences based on the behavior of the people who do know these values. For example, a government or company who truly believes that they have the best plane in the competition does not exert political pressure to cancel competitions, as it looks like was done in Canada and Australia. When it comes to expensive military products, people are generally risk averse, so the more questions surrounding a system, the scarier it is to take it on faith, even when experts weigh in. If the F-35 had stable costs and clear upsides, I think it would be far less contentious.

      1. EMK

        @Poika,
        Never thought it that way. The trust, or rather the apparent lack of it is really good point.

        So is risk aversion. The F35 sales pitch is almost all about new technology (=not proven, unreliable, expensive and so on) and changing the way of thinking about air war (=again, not proven).

        This is getting interesting. Other opinions, anyone?

      2. Swedish chef

        I agree.

        Also, it’s reasonable to question how sustainable the high-tech LM designs really are.
        The very impressive F-22 was cancelled due to cost and a shift in strategical paradigm (geo politics). Today, with the rise of new major power players, one can argue that we see a shift back towards more cold war-like needs. Then what’s to say the F-35 won’t suffer the same fate as the F-22?

        The feature rich F-35 is no doubt impressive but it’s also quite evident that the design is very dependent on a centralized support infrastructure for maintenance and upgrades. With that many different countries operating the aircraft I see a risk of bottle necks in too many areas.

        With the always accelerating pace of innovation I wonder if this way of technology development can survive when the alternative is a localized open source type approach.

        For a small country like Finland it becomes a bit of a philosophical question: Adapt the strategy to fit the aircraft or adapt the aircraft to fit the strategy? Considering the rapid pace of change I’d chose the philosophy which allows me the most flexible long term war planning.

        To me, this questionable track record and the unpredictable US political climate doesn’t help the F-35 in the equation.

  24. PG

    Opinion?
    NoOne knows exacly next war picture and that makes the dessision fluting away for us outsiders!
    Unmanned attac stealty viecles, hypersonic Xmissiles even a more sophist air defense system.
    Prolog,
    Everybody have heard about Him but noone has ever sean Him!

  25. Herciv

    https://www.defense.gouv.fr/operations/monde/grand-levant/chammal/breves/chammal-les-rafale-de-la-base-aerienne-projetee-bap-au-levant-franchissent-le-cap-des-2000-heures-de-vol-en-2020
    The aerial launches of the Rafale [4] de la BAP [Projected Air Based] in Le Levant also mobilized 14 different specialties of mechanics who ensure day and night the implementation, maintenance and repair of the Rafale stationed on the BAP. In a little over 7 months, these airmen and airwomen have carried out nearly 5,000 technical operations for a volume approaching 20,000 hours of maintenance.

    2,000 flight hours also represent 4,000 cubic meters of fuel distributed on land and 900 in-flight refueling operations, which will have enabled the aircraft to fly more than 1,000,000 kilometers, or 25 times around the Earth. Since the beginning of 2020, some fifteen personnel from the French Army Fuel Service (SEA) have performed nearly 280 hours of maintenance on petroleum vehicles and equipment.

  26. EMK

    @RAV, Swedish Chief & PG

    Thanks. That goes also to others who answered.

    Some of your arguments and views I agree, some I disagree – more or less – and some of your points I need to think about a bit before making up my mind. Nevertheless, I appreciate you took the time to explain your views.

    1. EMK

      To clarify, all the arguments explaining why you or people in general think the F35 is not a good choice for Finland were good.

      Its another matter are those arguments actually valid arguments against F35. That’s what my agreeing/disagreeing was about. To reiterate my previous comment: Some I do agree, some are debatable, some I disagree either entirely or in part and some I need to think about more.

  27. Herciv

    And here are two more bad news for the f-35.
    1 – UK could reduce its fleet to only 48 F-35 (sunday times)
    2 – Ripping F-35 costs, House Armed Services chairman looks to ‘cut our losses’ : “The production and sale program of the American fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets has become a complete disaster. “

      1. JoJo

        An what state does Adam Smith represent? Maybe he thinks more about his sick mother(Boeing) in that state? Don’t forget that we talk about politics, and not logic.

  28. THalken

    The F35 is good but expensive in O&M. Its too costly to waste for air policing and low end missions. Sadly all the Scandinavian air forces are too small to have two fighters in a high-low mix. Here in DK we buy 27 F35 and get 21.
    Could we lease a Gripen with or without pilot for low end missions and use in the Artic from Sweden, that would be a god idea and inexpensive. Then keep the F35 for the high end missions. All the other Scandinavian countries are in the same boat. Together that would mean more than 200 planes, so we could likely develop a common concept where we would lease Gripen from Sweden.
    Its an interesting idea. Here in DK we have a surplus budget from the procurement of the F35 that can buy some more F35. If we used the money on leased Gripens, we would get a lot further esp on reduced O&M costs, but avoiding the cost associated with taking in a second air frame, as it would be flown back to Sweden for maintenance.

    1. Rav

      Although I really like the Gripen I do not think that F-35+Gripen is the best mix. I like it but do not think it’s the best combination. In my opinion it is still better than pure F-35 fleet. I think that after one consider what’s currently on the market the best would be what UK has. Eurofighter+F-35. Btw I also like the Eurofighter+Gripen mix. Future High-Low combinations look also good where high is Tempest NGAD or FCAS but the risk is high.

      1. THalken

        I use the words best about where we get most bang for the buck. While EF is better it is also more expensive and no other Scandinavian country have it. The idea is to avoid the associated extra cost of O&M of two plane types, by tapping into the existing O&M chain of the Gripen in Sweden.

  29. Rav

    When it comes to cost then i think Saabs offer will be the most attractive one. What I wrote before was my thought on the possibilities and mostly performance side of the high low mix. Sorry for not getting what you meant.

  30. Dawg-69

    By the way, do you realize that JASSM-ER is going to be integrated into the F-35 in Block 5? Not block 4.

    Regarding block 4…

    “DOD is now in its third year of its modernization effort, known as Block 4, to
    upgrade the hardware and software of the aircraft. While DOD added another
    year to the schedule, GAO found the remaining development time frame is not
    achievable. The program routinely underestimated the amount of work needed to
    develop Block 4 capabilities, which has resulted in delays, and has not reflected
    historical performance into its remaining work schedule. Unless the F-35 program
    accounts for historical performance in the schedule estimates, the Block 4
    schedule will continue to exceed estimated time frames and stakeholders will
    lack reliable information on when capabilities will be delivered. ”

    Block 4 is not going to be ready for Finland. JASSM-ER is not even in block 4.

    Click to access gao-21-226.pdf

    1. Dawg-69

      And, from the same document:

      “The F-35 is expected to serve key roles in U.S. and allied air fleets for years to come, and many updated capabilities are expected to flow from the Block 4 modernization effort. While we recognize the challenges with transitioning to Agile development, after 3 years of effort the F-35 program continues to have issues with effectively implementing the C2D2 approach to develop and deliver Block 4 capabilities. The airframe contractor continues to deliver capabilities late, and the remaining schedule contains significant risk and is not achievable based on the pace of past performance. While the program office is committed to delivering capabilities more quickly to the warfighter, the program has not delivered on its initial iterative plan. Without an achievable schedule informed by historical performance, the program is likely to continue falling short of its expectations, and the warfighter will have to wait longer for the promised capabilities.”

      1. So it might slip from current 2027, that still leaves years of margin to the Finnish 2030 FOC date. The real question is the TR3 hardware update, which is what is causing most of the expenses when discussing what the upgrades cost for earlier blocks. As far as I can tell it would still match the Finnish delivery schedule.

  31. Dawg-69

    The House Armed Services Committee has “enormous concern” about the F-35 fighter’s sustainment, and suggested Congress may cut back on purchases of the jet to let the sustainment enterprise catch up, Readiness subcommittee chair Rep. John Garamendi (R-Calif.) said March 19.

    …“We don’t want to have another F-35 fiasco,” Garamendi asserted.

    https://www.airforcemag.com/hasc-cites-enormous-concern-about-f-35-readiness-chair-suggests-buy-cutback/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hasc-cites-enormous-concern-about-f-35-readiness-chair-suggests-buy-cutback

  32. asafasfaf

    If HX uses year 2025 as performance benchmark year, then Block4 slipping will effect points, it will also indicate how upgradeable F-35 is as a platform, this will effect “future prospects” element, beyond 2025.

    Harris is tasked to build a “open-system architecture” into F-35
    https://www.aviationtoday.com/2018/09/27/harris-lm-icp/

    Making of 3F was a nightmare without “open-system” and Block4 is dead in the water without it. Last years have only been used to patch 3F that was never finished due to problems with current avionics.

    Diagnostics&maintenance is in similar mode, no working solution, but promise to make such.

  33. Pingback: Stealth, Dispersed Operations, and a big Jammer – Corporal Frisk

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