Stop, BAFO Time!

The Best and Final Offers (BAFO) for the HX tender are in, and from here onwards there’s no adjustments to the offers. Whatever the bidder has promised is what they are legally bound to deliver. Now we as well as the OEMs will just have to wait until the end of the year to hear who have been chosen. This also means that the embargo on disclosing details has been lifted, and the suppliers are free to share further information if they want to. Interestingly, some has chosen not to, though that may be telling in itself. Dassault sticks to their line and hasn’t even said whether they have responded to the BAFO-request, though the Finnish authorities have confirmed that they have received all five responses. Lockheed Martin published a short press release, as did Boeing, who followed up with casually dropping the number of fighters offered when asked about it. BAES and Saab in turn held full-blown media events. So what do we know?

The race is on

The big news is that LOGCOM was able to secure five offers, and apparently five serious ones. I struggle to remember when it would have happened that a country has managed to keep a fighter acquisition program fair and open enough that no-one has decided to drop out prematurely or not supply an offer at all (at least Norway, Denmark, Croatia, Slovakia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Bulgaria, and India have held fighter tenders within the last few years, all of which have either led to some dropping out mid-way, not responding to quotations, the whole program being cancelled, the invitation to tender being rather narrow, or bids being disqualified). It’s hard to overestimate how significant this achievement is, and how important of a quality certificate it is to the process as a whole. In contrast to what some armchair analysts have argued, that some of the largest defence companies in the world – with business intelligence units to match and arguably somewhat cynical worldviews – believe that they have enough of a fair chance to win the competition that they are prepared to invest heavily into making their bids is a solid indication that the tendering process has been, and still is, open and undecided. This also feels reassuring to me as a taxpayer in ensuring that it really will be the best system offered to Finland that will end up in Finnish colours.

Then-colonel Keränen describing the HX decision making model during last year’s HX Challenge. Source: Own picture

A big congrats to LOGCOM, the Finnish Air Force, and the MoD for this achievement!

numbers

The number game is interesting. At their press conference, BAES pointed out that they wouldn’t disclose the numbers as all bids weren’t confirmed to have been returned, as that apparently was the wish of the MoD. This sounded logical enough, until the bids were confirmed by the MoD to all have been returned, and BAES still declined to release any numbers. The full quote by a Eurofighter spokesperson was:

We are confident our offer will deliver sufficient Eurofighter aircraft to meet the challenge set by Finland to fully replace its existing capability. This is a competitive process and we will release further details of our offer as appropriate.

This was echoed by Dassault, who told Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat that the MoD had not given permission to release numbers. At the same time, Boeing was happily telling anyone asking that their offer consisted of 50 F/A-18E Super Hornets and 14 EA-18G Growler, i.e. matching the original 57 F/A-18C Hornet and 7 F/A-18D Hornet Finland bought in the 90’s. A bit later Lockheed Martin confirmed that they had sent in an offer that included:

F-35A fighters as well as a maintenance solution

Saab in turn held a press conference on Friday, which included the news that they were to supply 64 JAS 39E Gripen as well as 2 GlobalEye AEW&C aircraft in case they got chosen.

Those who have been watching the process closely will note that it is the two producers who have been expected to sport the cheapest fighters that have disclosed their numbers, and both match the current 64 fighter figure (or rather, the original 64 fighter, as Finland has lost two Hornets in accidents). Saab was also happy to rub it in, noting that while there was no requirement for a set number of aircraft, there was indeed:

Floating around a general expectation in Finland [of 64 fighters]

I’m not sure there’s quite an expectation for 64 fighters, as a matter of fact I personally expected both Boeing and Saab to land in the 60-64 range, but there’s certainly an expectation for almost 64. This stems from years of writings, interviews, and podcasts in which both the HX programme leadership as well as the senior Air Force personnel commenting on the issue has noted that we need roughly the same number of fighters as A) Finland is still the same size as it was in 1995, B) the speed of the fighters are roughly the same as it was back then, and C) the range of the weapons is roughly the same as it was back then. Yes, on a tactical level supercruise and Meteor provide significant increases, but when it comes to the operational or strategic level those are rather minor changes. There’s still 390,905 km² that needs to be defended.

As the Finnish Air Force demonstrated last year when it surged 32 Hornets for a total of eight four-ship formations (out of a fleet of 62), getting coverage really needs numbers. Even in the best of scenarios, the classic three-to-one ratio is a handy rule-of-thumb for prolonged operations. Let’s imagine a snapshot of a wartime scenario:

  • We are a few days into the war, the operational tempo is still very high as the first wave of the enemy offensive is still ongoing,
  • The Finnish Air Force has lost a total of 16 aircraft, including those shot down and damaged in combat, as well as those damaged and destroyed on the ground in opening strikes,
  • The Air Force currently has one formation airborne as part of an air defence tasking in the south-east,
  • A second formation is on the ground in dispersed locations in the northern parts of the country, ready to take-off and either relieve the southern formation once it needs to return to base, or to intercept enemies heading north,
  • Four aircraft are currently returning from a bombing raid on enemy advancing mechanised formations and the bridges they rely on for their movements,
  • Two aircraft are over the northern Baltic Sea, trying to create an accurate maritime situational picture (i.e. locating enemy vessels) as well as checking for a high-value ISR-platform that is known to occasionally operate out of Kaliningrad,
  • Two aircraft are being prepared with heavy cruise missiles for a deep strike mission against enemy rail infrastructure,
  • For each active aircraft there are two others that are either the process of refuelling, being maintained, transferring between dispersed bases, or simply standing on the ground allowing the pilots some rest between missions.

You can obviously argue the details, but that is a scenario that is possible with 64 aircraft (16 active in the missions mentioned, 32 in reserve, 16 lost). If you start out with 40 aircraft, you will quickly run into some “interesting” numbers:

  • If you’ve lost 16 aircraft, that’s 40% of your force instead of 25% as in the 64 aircraft-scenario. To match 25% losses, you can only afford to lose 10 fighters,
  • Even if you only lose 25% of the fleet, that still leaves you with just 30 aircraft, of which 10 are available. If you still want one four-ship in the air and one on the ground ready to scramble to perform air defence tasks, that leaves a grand total of *two* aircraft for other missions. Not two formations, but two aircraft.

That’s the tyranny of the numbers, and while they certainly can be mitigated (minimise own losses, have spare pilots on the dispersed bases to avoid rest periods, increase spares availability and maintenance capability on dispersed locations, …) there’s really no way around them. And notable is that during exercise Ruska 20, the opening scenario based on a released map featured no less than thirteen four-ships, one three-ship, and a two-ship, all operating in an area well below half of the country’s surface area (as well as what presumably is a Swedish Hercules soloing straight down through the battlespace). Based on the same picture, my guess is that five of those formations might have been REDFOR, leaving 37 BLUFOR fighters airborne simultaneously to defend the airspace between Rovaniemi and Tampere.

Kan vara en bild av karta

The big question for HX then is whether the three manufacturers that are withholding their numbers are doing so because 58 would look bad when someone else has 64 (and that 9% difference in my opinion is still one where it might be possible to make a case for better overall capability thanks to higher availability and lower losses), or whether it is because the numbers offered are outrageously low (the threshold is somewhere in the low-fifties in my book). It is somewhat surprising – and honestly, rather worrying – that three out of five doesn’t want to talk numbers.

Industrial participation
In late April the Italian Air Force Baltic Air Policing detachment became the first to bring the F-35A to perform the QRA-mission over the Gulf of Finland. Picture source: Eesti Õhuvägi FB

As discussed in an earlier post, the Lockheed Martin-team doesn’t want to discuss their industrial cooperation package in detail, though in their press release they have gone into some further details:

The final offer includes many opportunities for the Finnish defense industry related to the direct manufacture and maintenance of the F-35 that have not been offered before.

“The F-35 offers Finnish industry high-tech jobs that none of our competitors can offer,” says Bridget Lauderdale, director of the F-35 program. “Production collaboration would continue for more than 20 years and F-35 maintenance collaboration until the 2050s. Finland would maintain its own F-35 fighters and also support the global F-35 fleet by manufacturing significant aircraft parts. ”

Outside of F-35 production, Lockheed Martin would build partnerships with Finnish companies and universities to develop and promote defense cooperation in indirect industrial cooperation projects.

This is still vague, but better than what Dassault have been able to produce when it comes to disclosing information about their offer. Boeing’s latest press release is in fact even weaker than L-M’s, though they can at least lean on the fact that last time around L-M was thrown out of the competition due to an inadequate IP-offer while Boeing went on to manage a successful IP-program for the legacy-Hornets. Still, their statement is honestly anaemic:

Boeing’s offer also include an extensive industrial cooperation program that offers significant long-term opportunities for Finnish industry.

On to better news: Saab and BAES are happy to discuss details. Both are promising final assembly lines of both engines and airframes in Finland, as well significant other measures. BAES description includes several details:

The opportunity to perform final assembly of the aircraft including EJ200 engine build and maintenance; a partnership in the future development of primary sensors, including technical transfer and data analytic tools and techniques for mission data generation and electronic warfare; the transfer of extensive maintenance, repair, overhaul capability. And, the transfer of data and authority to make upgrades to the aircraft.

In addition, we are proposing projects that enable transfer and ongoing cooperation in Cyber Security which will build resilience in military assets and networks and Space technologies. And a suite of Research and development projects across a broad range of technologies that is being spearheaded by our partner MBDA. These benefit Finnish industry, including small medium enterprises, and Finnish academia.

The jobs that we are offering as a result are high quality, long term jobs equating to over 20 million man hours over 30 years, with the knock on benefit to the wider economy driving this figure even higher, and I am proud to be part of the team submitting this offer into Finland today.

Alex Zino of Rolls-Royce was also able to produce some numbers related to the impact of the engine production line to show that it wasn’t just about unpacking crates being shipped in from the UK: the tech transfer and engine production would result in a combined workload of approximately 1.5 million man hours over 40 years.

Saab on the other hand has earlier talked about approximately 10,000 workyears. A quick back-of-the-enveloped calculation gives the number of jobs on average as something like in the low three-hundreds for Saab and in the high three-hundreds for BAES (using approximately 1,700 hours per year as a benchmark), but there’s obviously significant uncertainties in how exactly the numbers have been calculated. To put it into perspective, this number corresponds to over a third of the whole of INSTA Group, the second major player in Finnish defence industry after Patria.

In the case of BAES, perhaps the single-most interesting piece of technology transfer is the invitation to join the ECRS Mk2 development programme, which promises to be significant both from a military as well as technological point of view. Despite the ECRS standing for European Common Radar System, it is in fact heavily led by the UK for the time being, presumably providing relatively much room for bringing foreign partners aboard compared to some other joint-systems shared by all four core countries. Another key part is obviously the continued discussion on sovereign mission data capability, where the turnaround times promised are in a completely different league from any US offers.

Based on the Royal Air Force’s extensive operational experience, we will establish a sovereign mission data capability to rapidly update the weapon system with the latest threat identification and countermeasure tactics, sortie-by-sortie, if necessary. Mission data is the life blood of any modern combat system, and security of supply is more than repairing physical components.

The RAF describe this as being how the force currently operate in the Middle East, with new threats and emitters being included in the aircraft libraries from one sortie to the other.

Saab is on the other hand planning on creating a System Centre, which will be responsible both for tactics development as well as the fleet management and data part of things. In essence, this would likely handle the same things as the BAES offered sovereign mission data capability, while also providing support to the FDF LOGCOM and the Air Combat Centre of Satakunta Air Command, all under one (literal of figurative?) roof.

weapons

Again, to reiterate Dassault isn’t saying anything, Lockheed Martin is saying something, Boeing is promising to tell more in the future, and Saab and BAES is giving their lists to everyone asking.

As we know from the DSCA requests both the F-35 and the Super Hornet would bring JDAMs (HE as well as bunker buster rounds), GBU-53/B SDB II’s small glide bombs, AGM-154C-1 JSOW stealthy glide weapons with a secondary anti-ship capability, AGM-158B-2 JASSM-ER very long-range heavy cruise missiles, and AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missiles. Lockheed Martin now confirms that the offer also include the AIM-120 AMRAAM in an unspecified version as well as the JSM (Joint Strike Missile). Neither of these are particularly unexpected, but the JSM offers a nifty capability in its dual use against sea- and ground-targets, as well as passive seeker and possibility of internal carriage in the F-35, as briefly discussed last time around. The expectation is also that there will be a second DSCA-request for undisclosed versions of the AGM-88 signal-seeking missile (likely the AGM-88E AARGM) as well as for AIM-120 AMRAAMs for Boeing, though these are unconfirmed for the time being.

BAES’s bid would bring what the Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston KCB CBE ADC, describe as the full suite of weapons employed by the RAF – including the upcoming SPEAR 3 light cruise missile as well as the SPEAR EW version, a loitering stand-in jammer. However, curiously absent from the discussion was the Brimstone anti-tank missile, which has been a staple of the Operation Shader, RAF’s anti-ISIS campaign. However, the other two weapons that has been heavily in use in the Middle East by RAF Tornados and Typhoons are included in the list provided – namely the Storm Shadow heavy cruise missile and the Paveway IV guided bomb. The later is a 227-kg guided bomb with dual-mode anti-jamming GPS/INS as well as laser guidance, meaning that it can be used against moving targets. The weapon comes with both HE and penetrator warheads, though the physics dictate that the penetrator isn’t as efficient as those of heavier weapons. From a Finnish point of view, the Brimstone is likely something of a nice-to-have, as with both the SPEAR 3 and the Paveway IV there isn’t really any target that can’t be countered (although in certain scenarios the SPEAR 3 might be overkill while the Paveway IV might require release inconveniently close. Here the GBU-53/B SDB II has an edge thanks to its gliding properties). However, these missions (read: striking vehicles in massed armoured formations) are likely not the mission sets that are of primarily concern to the Finnish Air Force. Perhaps the most interesting detail would be the change from AIM-9X to ASRAAM as the short-range air-to-air missile of the Finnish Air Force. The ASRAAM, as opposed to both IRIST-T and AIM-9X, prioritise range over manoeuvrability, and while the jury is still out on which is more important by the time (or rather: if) you get into a short-range fight, the ability to fire missiles with passive IIR-seekers out to near-AMRAAM ranges is certainly interesting, especially in case of a heavily degraded EW-environment or against stealthy targets.

Saab showed of a large scale model of Gripen E in Finnish colours equipped with AGM-158 JASSM and RBS 15 at Kuopio Air Show in 2016. Now that particular options seems to be off the table. Source: Own picture

Saab’s offer in turn include at least IRIS-T and Meteor in the air-to-air role. This is no surprise, as these are the current staples on the Swedish JAS 39C/D Gripen-fleet, and have proved rather popular in Northern Europe in general. More interesting was the inclusion of SPEAR 3 (the EW-variant is not included, as Saab offers its own LADM that is currently in development and aiming for a similar role), as well as the decision to go with the KEPD 350/Taurus as their heavy cruise missile. Saab started out their HX-campaign actively pushing the fact that they can integrate any weapon they need, with the same message being repeated this week. It certainly might be the case, but somehow they still seemingly ended up basically offering MBDA’s portfolio of air-launched weaponry (complemented by Diehl’s IRIS-T and their own KEPD 350).

While it is extremely difficult to judge the true capabilities of the three heavy cruise missiles on offer, it remains a fact that KEPD 350 lost the Finnish evaluation for a heavy cruise missile against the baseline AGM-158A JASSM the last time around. And this time, it is up against the significantly improved AGM-158B-2 JASSM-ER (formerly known as AGM-158D JASSM-XR). Again, it is hard to say much for certain, the KEPD 350 has also beaten the JASSM and Storm Shadow in certain competitions, but the decision seems strange on paper. There is a new version in the form of the Taurus K-2 in the pipeline, though that is still in development and the improvements seem rather modest compared to the step from AGM-158A to -158B-2.

Saab’s heavy anti-ship missile RBS 15 Gungnir (based on their Mk 4-version of the venerable weapon) is obviously available as it is a key Swedish requirement, but it seems to be left out of at least this original weapons package. On the other hand, it is safe to assume that there are some smart bombs (likely the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II 227 kg GPS/INS and laser-guided bomb, as well as either GBU-39 SDB or the GBU-53/B SDB II small glide bombs) making up the lower-end of the package as these have featured rather heavily in both US as well as the BAES packages.

The most impressive part of Saab’s weapons package was the statement that the value of the weapons are “>20 % of the proposal price relating to Gripen”. At first glance this looks like 0.2 x 9.0 Bn EUR = 1.8 Bn EUR, which certainly would provide for a massive number of weapons. However, upon looking at the fine print, it does seem like at least the GlobalEye-portion of the offer is left out of the starting number, as may certain other items (Indirect industrial participation? Training?). I have reached out to Saab for a comment, and will update once I get their answer. Edit 3 May 2021: Magnus Skogberg confirmed that the value of the weapons “is above 15 % of the value of the whole offer (i.e. including Globaleye, IP, etc.)”. Presumably that means above approximately 1.35 Bn Eur. In either case, the weapons package does seem to be a sizeable one, though exactly how large is an open question (as a benchmark, the DSCA-clearances were for roughly 300 guided bombs, 150 JSM/JSOW, and 200 JASSM-ER, though obviously there’s no guarantee that the maximum number of weapons will be sought).

While the lack of large stocks for European weapons compared to US ones is one of the strongest arguments for a US fighter, the importance of this argument obviously would decrease with the size of the Finnish Air Force’s weapons stocks increasing.

The two-seaters

What became evident is that the days of traditional type conversion being flown in two-seaters seems to be on the way out for the Finnish Air Force. The Boeing offer did not feature a single vanilla-two-seater, with all fourteen two-seaters being Growlers. Saab followed suite and went for 64 single-seat JAS 39E despite their original 2018 proposal having been split between 12 JAS 39F two-seater and 52 JAS 39E. Eurofighter has earlier seemed lukewarm to the idea of including two-seaters, while F-35 obviously does not come in a two-seat model.

For Boeing the decision to leave out the F/A-18F Super Hornets is somewhat surprising as apparently still by the time the DSCA-requests were made late last year the option to include up to eight twin-seaters was still there. A Boeing contact with insight into current Finnish Air Force training procedures notes that despite the lack of flight controls in the backseat of a Growler, the flight characteristics and ability to bring along a backseater means that their use in peacetime training is seen as “quite reasonable”. However, it is obviously down to the Air Force whether they want to use it in that role.

For Saab, the decision was even more of a surprise. As noted, in the last proposal they were allowed to comment on they saw quite a large role for the two-seaters. In the words of Magnus Skogberg, program director for Saab’s HX bid:

Often there are other drivers for and needs of a two-seat aircraft configuration that, in combination with the more traditional training-related benefits, makes it relevant to procure two-seat fighters. […] Gripen F with its two seats, naturally provides additional flexibility to handle very advanced missions where it may be advantageous to have an additional pilot or operator on-board. Examples are Electronic Warfare Officer, Mission Commander and/or a Weapon System Officer in the rear-seat.

This was how it sounded back in March 2019, despite the GlobalEye being well and truly an established part of their bid already back then. In this week’s press briefing, the company took a strong stance that the 39E with its internal EW-suite, EAJP-pod, and LADM-decoys can handle the SEAD-mission without the need for specialised platforms – or, presumably, dedicated crewmembers. Some commentators have pointed to the ability to direct the Gripen’s EW-suite from the GlobalEye through the datalink, though I have not seen that feature mentioned in any of Saab’s material and it would seem to be a less flexible solution compared to formations having their own dedicated EW-operator (in essence having fourteen Growlers for 50 fighters means every four-ship out there could have their own EW-escort).

While it is difficult to say exactly what has caused this change of hearts over at Saab (the wish to harmonize their bid with the Swedish Air Force force structure probably played a part), it shows that the multi-staged HX-process works in that the offers have been tailored and changed even in rather dramatic fashion since the first round of RFPs. What Saab did mention, however, is that there is still included an option for 39F in the bid, presumably either in the form of buying additional airframes or converting a number of the 39E offered to 39F. However, as this bid is based on Saab’s best understanding of what the Finnish Air Force wants following years of discussion, I personally find it highly unlikely that the option would be used.

The large number of Growlers on the other hand is very significant, and I will admit I did not expect 14 aircraft to fit inside the budget. Keen readers will have noted that there wasn’t as many NGJ-MB jammers in the request, these were limited to eight sets. However, while the NGJ is at the heart of the Growler’s electronic attack and jamming capability, a key part of the situational awareness in fact comes from internal sensors, including the the wingtip ALQ-218 RF Receivers. These tell the pilot not only what is out there, but also where it is, and the crew can then decide what to do with that information, whether to engage with weapons, avoid, or jam in case they have brought along their NGJ. As such the value of including Growlers as part of normal formations is significant, both for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The additional value of a backseater also means that you have an extra person who isn’t busy flying the aircraft, and who potentially could, I don’t know, perhaps function as an “Electronic Warfare Officer, Mission Commander and/or a Weapon System Officer”.

I have mentioned it before, but it continues to be an important point in the greater picture that in my opinion is brought up often enough: the value of having the unique capabilities that the EA-18G Growler brings does not limit themselves to wartime, but they would give our politicians quite a few more options on the escalation ladder prior to full-blown war. This includes both better situational awareness, as well as the ability to meet e.g. GPS-jamming with non-kinetic means that still can hurt hostile operations without causing damage to adversary equipment or losses to their personnel. Another possibility is the ability to support international operations with a key high-profile and high-demand (but internationally rare) capability, and one that require a relative small footprint in and risks for FDF personnel.

The ability of Boeing to offer 14 Growlers and still reach 64 fighters in total is an extremely strong card on their part, although I do have to caution that the crucial question of the future of the Super Hornet-family past 2040 is still unanswered.

50 thoughts on “Stop, BAFO Time!

  1. Mike

    Interesting. I wonder how the offers for Switzerland look like, the HX-program being very similar to the Air2030 (well – a few bil USD higher than the swiss program).

    One minor detail to the Air2030-dropout of Saab:
    They’ve been asked to retreat from offering the Gripen-E.
    Reason was: after the lost vote in 2013 (vote for “gripen financing fonds” was made into a type-decission; Group Switzerland without Army argued that the -E, still in prototype-phase back in 2013, was a “Paperplane”), one requirement was made: the offered fighter has to be in active duty.
    …yes, both Eurofighter and Rafale-iterations are NOT in active duty (but to be built), but well. Politics.
    Thus, as the Gripen-E (IMHO the best jet for Switzerlands requirements (and budget)) still not being deployed, wouldn’t have fit the requirements and if kept in the program certainly caused an issue with GSoA due to the lost vote. So they asked Saab to refrain from submitting a bid.
    (sadly enough)

    1. JayJay

      One might say that the Gripen E is largely a new airplane, where the Rafale F4 and the Eurofighter Tranche 4 are incremental updates of existing airplanes, so it’s no really comparable

      1. Mike

        Yes and No. Your argument is right and I understand this, too.
        But the requirement (enforced by the left) reads “das evaluierte Flugzeug muss sich im aktiven Truppeneinsatz befinden” (the evaluated jet/fighter/aircraft must be in active duty).
        …it’s worthy to note that the same “independent experts” who advices austrian SPÖ-party to go against the Gripen-C decission in the mid/late 2000 due to “the gripen’s the wrong jet” are working now for swiss SP.
        While it is true that the 2010-project to replace the F-5 has been tempered with towards the Gripen (due to the fact that constant budget-cuts made it impossible to keep the “semi-professional maintenance-cres” (a mix between civil mechanics working with militia – so they’d have had to return to pure militia-maintenance) and the forseeable need to replace the F-18C, too (high enough numbers of jets)) – it is obvious the left messed with Air2030, too.

        So we have both the Rafale F4 and Typhoon T3 which don’t fullfill the requirements – don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved the Gripen-E to be evaulated, too (bc as former AirForce-Grunt I know: most of the requirements are FUBAR, especially for swiss’ budget**).

        At least there’s hope: Austria wants to replace their Typhoons due to the maintenance-nightmares they had. Probably gonna be the F-16V due to budgets, but I hope they’ll get the Gripen-E and that in training-exercises, it will beat the swiss choice (no matter which one) 😉
        (one can hope, right)

        At least atm I have the hope that the Rafale will be bought. (after we Swiss (and the Finish, too) had to make bad experience with contracts with the USA, as soon they go to war, and the austrian experience with the Typhoon should be a warning for everyone)

        ** politics in army: UN requires the memberforces getting helicopters with >5metric ton lift-capability; which mans: Mil-Mi 26, Chinook and Stallion. Switzerland was ordered to get some, bc the Cougars can hardly lift 4 tons. …instead of saying “we don’t have neither budget, room to keep them OR the need for them” (heck we don’t even have a transport-plane able to carry the choppers to the scene), they want to evaluate the american helicopters now… Freakin’ hell we have military trucks braking in half when driving, equipment that was considered unsafe for use 30 years ago – UN (or EU) barks, they go for it…!?

    2. Herciv

      Last weeks before choice :https://www.laliberte.ch/news/suisse/les-jets-europeens-ont-la-cote-604638
      The take-off is getting closer. By the end of June, the Federal Council will have chosen the army’s new fighter aircraft. After the people approved the six billion franc budget last year, albeit by a hair’s breadth, all that remains is for Defense Minister Viola Amherd to submit her favorite to her colleagues. Four contenders are fighting it out: the French Rafale (from Dassault), the Euro-German Eurofighter (Airbus), and the American F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing) and F-35 (Lockheed Martin).

      Europe is the favorite against the United States. Not necessarily for the purely technical qualities of its jets, but for their “global package”, meaning the political and strategic aspects. An American victory would be a surprise, according to some observers.

      The general opinion is that in the air, all competitors are equal. The results of the tests in Payerne (VD) in 2019 are still secret, but “all are above the bar”, summarizes a specialist ….

      Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

      1. Mike

        Not sure about that. There’s a lot of pressure of the left to take the cheapest offer.
        Which’d be the Boeing-one, BUT Boeing wants to built a UAV-competence-center in Switzerland (1) – which might go directly against the constitution of Switzerland, due to Boeing arming those things (which’d mean export of arms – i remember the debates about PC9/21 being armed by Israel, and Switzerland being responsible to make it possible to arm the Trainers, eventough Israel made extensive changes to the planes)

        Lockheeds-Offer is more doable, yet a joke (sealed spareparts and lockheed saying “ok you can use them now – c’mon?!) and they already violated the NDA, as did Airbus (by telling the world about the deals they offered)…

        Also, lets not forget the experience Switzerland (and Finland for that matter) made with the F-18C during 2003-2008: as soon the US need spareparts, others will not get any. (causing “emergency contracts” with others (Switzerland: Canada) to get enough spareparts to ensure the birds keep flying…with current political developments in middle east, I’m not so sure an american fighter option is that good…

        Also, and also out of political considerations (France never killing off contracts or closing borders to get better deals during negotiations), I hope its gonna be the Rafale. (I would be slightly disappointed if they go Eurofighter (due to Germany putting up political pressure since the “contract for institutional collaboration” is defenetly not going to happen), but I could live with it. If they chose the F-35 or F-18, something unthinkable would happen: this ex-Member of Swiss AirForce would sign the GSoA-Initiative to change to deny the purchase. We should not and must not buy american; for this matter, the left is right for once; the F-35 being a dead horse, and the F-18E-deal being a risk to Switzerland due to the compensation-deals. But there’s still hope…)

        (1) https://www.cockpit.aero/rubriken/detailseite/news/boeing-will-schweizer-industrie-der-unbemannten-luftfahrt-foerdern/?no_cache=1

      2. Mike

        OH btw “pressure for cheapest offer” and “announced initiative against american Jets”:
        yes, it’s not a contradiction. The left knows that they might win an aditional referendum, AND they want NO jet at all. That’s why they pressure to get the cheapest one (might as well be the F-35 due to them desperatly seeking customers), so they can use current political climate as additional boost for a new “Nullentscheid” (Zerodecission; mid 1970s to replace Hunter, leading to buying the F5 a few years later)…
        (I hope this will not happen – the left tends to forget threats and REAL “hotmissions” (not just the “do an intercept to keep the pilots trained”); like 2019 when an El-Al had to be escorted due to terrorist threats, or Ghaddafi wanting to bomb Switzerland back in the day (and Italy giving their ok to cross italian airspace for Lybia), aso…It’s not like the left complaining the loudest when the airforce isn’t operational, like the debates about “why is there no 24/7 airpolicing” (answer: lefties cut the budget to do so) aso)

      3. Silver Dart

        Oh nice, I missed this news. So it’s a matter of weeks now. But after reading Mike comments and yours, it seems like this competition is still very much open.

        I have no doubt any of the fighter in this competition is enough for Switzerland : that’s probably why F-35 isn’t in advantageous position here, being somewhat overkill.
        Fighter acquisition is a delicate matter in Switzerland : at the end, which option is the most ‘politically’ acceptable?

  2. Randomvisitor

    Good point about numbers, no matter what fighter you got, if shooting starts you’re gonna loose some.

    So with maybe with 40 planes, F-35 really needs to be the ultimate, super-duper fighter the LM and fanboys say it is…

  3. THalken

    Good post. I am not sure this scenario/assumption is the key question to ask:

    “We are a few days into the war, the operational tempo is still very high as the first wave of the enemy offensive is still ongoing,
    The Finnish Air Force has lost a total of 16 aircraft”

    Finland is close to Russia, so its a near peer treat. The different packages offered will fare differently against the enemy, who has superior plane numbers and very good IAMD capabilities. This is such a scenario 5 gen platforms are build for, while on 4/4,5gen your mileage may vary. Stealth is not the only factor, but it is hard to kill a plane that are not seen, and the same for weapons lock/missile lock. Sensors, build in EW and sensor fusion are the other factors that makes is a 5gen plane and incl passive detection of treats etc. The F35 is a powerful sensor in itself.
    So a better question than “how many planes are on offer”, is “how is the attrition rate for the different packages in the scenarios that Finnish air force work with?” That will determine how long Finland can hold out against an enemy.
    I believe that is the really important question that the Finnish military planners should ask when evaluating the packages and their performance.

    1. That is indeed the question, which is why I ran the numbers for both 16 lost out of 64 and 10 lost out of 40. Sure you may argue about the details, but the baseline is that critical mass exists, and I find it hard to see that a force of less than 50 aircraft could hold its own, even if they are significantly better on a one-to-one basis. And when low in own numbers, you start to face issues with Lanchester’s laws and salvo models and so forth. The IAMD certainly is a factor, but it is far from all that it is made out to be.

      1. BB3

        Lets not forget the # that may well be lost at the outset while they are on the ground either from a surprise 1st strike, or earlier or later while the planes are grounded for whatever readiness reason (the F35 having a reputation as a hanger queen) – or even if operational – while they are being refueled, re-armed, waiting for pilot relief, or undergoing maintenance/ repair by reason of combat damage, attrition wear & tear, etc. F35s are never invisible – but certainly they are more visible and easier to find & kill while on the ground. There’s no doubt that the F35s require a bigger footprint than Rafale & Gripen & F-18s and likely EFs.

        You also note that “Stealth is not the only factor .. [and that] Sensors, build in EW and sensor fusion are the other factors that makes is[sic] a 5gen plane and incl passive detection of treats etc [such that] [t]he F35 is a powerful sensor in itself.”. But all the other fighters also have ‘sensors, built in EW & sensor fusion’ – so it would seem that Stealth is pretty much the F35’s ‘differentiating factor.’

        So yes – the attrition rate is important – but I’m thinking that more F35s might be unavailable for technical/ support/ maintenance issues and/or destroyed on the ground in “the different packages in the scenarios that Finnish air force work with”

        Obviously, Finland’s selection process dictates that each fighter’s capability will be determined by war game simulations that will necessarily involve some assumptions – including those that I’ve identified above – so I don’t think one should assume that the F35 will come out on top if it both starts with significantly fewer planes and many may be unavailable or lost while in the hanger or otherwise on the ground.

        Also realize that without a dedicated airborne AEWC asset – Finland may lose more fighters during a surprise 1st strike or later when it lacks the extensive theatre-wide operational awareness provide by a GlobalEye type asset.

        So yes – these are really important questions that the Finnish military planners should ask when evaluating the packages and their performance – but don’t be so sure that the F-35 will come out on top when all factors are considered.

      2. THalken

        Yes, while there may be an increase in attrition rate at 50 airframes for some packages, this in itself is not so interesting. What is important is how much fighting capability does the FAF have after say 2 days of fighting, 5, 10, and 15 days, with the different packages?

    2. Uroxen

      Losses on the ground are inevitable, mishaps will happen and in a conflicted space attrition is inevitable. The F-35 is an excellent sensor, able to share data within it’s four-group with MADL and stealthy towards the target it faces while also possessing a jamming capability in the radar. However it is also maintenance intensive, got a massive engine pushing the thick body through the air and is not optimised with radar coverage or jamming outside the forward arc where the radar stealth is also less impressive.

      Given what we know about Russian air defenses and doctrine (I recommend https://www.foi.se/rest-api/report/FOI-R–4651–SE) it is inevitable that the Russian military will exploit those disadvantages to maximise attrition for an enemy air force. With US numerical superiority and access to bases in secure locations the limitations of the F-35 are less significant but fighting over Finland quick turn around times and the ability to stand attrition become major factors. Add to that how Gripen E has been under development at a time period where the F-35 has been stuck in software development hell and you got a platform built according to principles which the USAF is now adapting as groundbreaking enough to designate it the “eSeries” aircraft, an electronic warfare system far newer and more versatile with multiple GaN antennas, a return to historical doctrine sharing near real time data within the four-group in a manner similar to MADL and access to western weapons the Gripen should be more than good enough to deal with Russian fighter jets in BVR combat where both Gripen and the F-35 excels while being better suited to break off and prepare for multiple missions in rapid succession.

    3. Ferpe

      The “not seen” assumption is a gross simplification. This applies to centimeter wave radars (X, Ku, C-band) but less to S, L-band, and not to VHF band (meter wave radar). The Russian mobile survelliance on BAZ-6909 trucks are S, L, and VHF band-based 3D long-range radars (look up the Nebo 200Mhz radar as an example). This means the location of an F-35 package and its whereabouts are visible to the enemy with a high probability. You can’t shoot at it from long range with C and X-band-based missiles but you can move lethal resources close enough to where their own sensors can track the F-35 based on this info and their weapon works (e.g. Su-35). Stealth, like for the F-35, is an important asset, it changes the necessary tactics, but a competent and determined enemy can adapt. It requires VHF radars (that the West doesn’t have anymore), but the Russians have always had them and have fielded new, improved models in recent years.

      1. Rav

        That exactly one of the points I was thinking about when considering stealth advantages vs relatively slow speed when it comes to the F-35. Will it be able to perform in contested space filled with L-band with enemy units in the air or on ground as a quick response squadrons? So we are talking about areas already under established enemy control and with fighters near by.
        Additionally I was generally considering this in terms of superior numbers of Russian planes over contested region moving in “unison” with their long wave radar system and AA units (working of course other wavelengths). Would those planes be able to provide firing solutions other than radar. Anyway this seams incredibly slow process. Additionally this seams quite vulnerable to SEAD missions.
        The L-band radars seam to me -even now with newest post processing- a sensor that says “ there is something out there” and you then can go and check what it is. With some drones giving of the planes signatures there in no amount of planes you can have to sent to check it out. It’s going to drones on drones warfare direction.
        Please straighten my thinking.
        Btw I do agree that most of the planes – especially hangar queens would die in their hangars.

      2. Ferpe

        @ RAV, what happens is the radar cross section of a stealth aircraft a low frequency radar can see increases progressively. So an S-band radar (around 3Ghzl) has a shorter range than an L-band (around 1 GHz) and the 200MHz radar has a longer range still. The precision in angle goes the other way but the mobile Nebo radar has a huge antenna array and thus still a relatively good angular resolution ( https://www.radartutorial.eu/19.kartei/02.surv/karte034.en.html 0.67° which is narrow). The resolution is range is adequate for all three as this is determined by the pulse compression ratio.

        This means the accuracy is adequate for direction aircraft via GCI (Ground Control Intercept) against stealth aircraft, but not for missile shots from e.g. an SA-400. Once there, the attacking fighter has to use its own radar+IRST to find the stealth target, which it can do inside a ~25nm range, give or take depending on the weather for the IRST.

        The F-35 is not slow in a general sense, it carries the weapons internally and has a low drag subsonically. So it’s an effective subsonic fighter, and there is little reason to fly supersonically in normal operations. It’s only when running away from e.g. Su-35 it’s in trouble as the supersonic speed suffers from its chubby shape and non-multi-shock intakes. But an F-35 lives on not being detected, so it shall run away before the Su-35 is in detection range, or try to kill it. In general, the F-35s chances in a kill duel increase with altitude. The AMRAAM is not ideal in a low-level fight due to a short range when low down.

      3. Ferpe

        Re my AMRAAM comment in the previous post.

        Radar range and missile range are both important in an Air to Air kill duel. Radar range stays essentially the same with altitude. If a Su-35 radar has a 25nm range against an F-35 at 2,000ft (0.6km) then it’s the same at 40kft (12km). Missile range in general (not only AMRAAM) is dependent on how many air molecules it collides with in its Mach 3+ initially and then gradually down to subsonic flight. The density of air molecules is at 1.2kg/m3 at 2kft and 0.3 kg/m3 at 40kft. This is a 4:1 ratio and a first approximation of missile range varies accordingly.

        The AMRAAM is now on its last quarter of operational life and outrange by Meteor and Su-35’s R-37M, thus my comment.

  4. Ferpe

    The SAAB LADM is the SPEAR3 EW missile with a SAAB EW payload rather than the Leonardo Britecloud based one. This was clear from the latest briefing and pictures. The reason to replace the Briteccloude EW package is functional compatibility. The Gripen MFS-EW, EAJP, and LADM all use the same software package for their functionality. Making this common for all three saves cost and increases flexibility. For example, a new threat emitter entered with the desired response strategy in the EW support system applies to all three systems. All this is open info, was in SAABs briefings.

  5. juurikka

    Plenty of Swedish kool-aid drinkers in the comments, as usual. Bros supposedly know every weakness of F-35 but Gripen somehow isn’t even more affected by them.

  6. Rav

    I think that you still should be very proud how you handle the HX competition and you are right to feel good about it as a taxpayer for sure. When it comes to the decisions the competitors made I am also pretty surprised. Especially when it comes to the two seaters. Well maybe there is some new information the companies got aware of? Anyway I have my own list 1-5 (actually 3 of them) in which the Finish Air Forces should choose from the competitors based on some conditions, assumptions and prerequisites in HX program( I do not even like some of those). Assumptions are pretty dangerous and often wrong. One of my assumptions in one of the list is quite radical and the list looks like this 1.Gripen 2.SH 3.Rafale 4.EF (Tranche4) 5.F-35A. Other 1.Rafale 2.EF (Tranche4) 3.SH almost equally suited (Rest excluded) …. I just realized I have more lists but funny thing they are almost always mostly concentrated on the geographical, political, military issues than technical ok those geographical are connected with technical. What I am saying – It’s complicated… cannot wait to see the decision ( and I would love to hear the real explanation of the choice).

  7. Thomas Björklund

    One aspect that I haven’t seen is that 50+ F-35:s so close to Moscow and core russian air defence systems, air bases and runways, Will make these aircraft top priority targets.

    1. Mike

      AND F-35 so close to russian airspace makes them also a giant practice-target for their new radar- and other systems; meaning: the russians getting a kick out of trying out their techniques to detect the F-35, drawing conclusions, and being able to counteract the little stealth the F-35 actually has… (Nato should have an interest of NOT stationing the F-35 so close to the russian border)

      1. JoJo

        You have heard about the Luneburg lenses they always fly with in peacetime?
        So your “problem” don’t exist.

  8. BB3

    As to Sweden’s bid – it would seem to be a plus for ‘security of supply’ to have manufacturing, assembly & research/ development in both countries. There should also be some benefit to both countries to utilize the same weapons – both for stockpiling & procurement. Obviously, there’d also be some benefit from both countries being able to use each other’s bases and maintenance/ repair facilities & personnel. A lot of these things are somewhat unique to the Swedish-Finnish relationship & proximity – whereas with Canada for example – there are synergistic benefits to picking a US fighter.

    As to standoff weapons – I noted that Saab’s program director stated that Sweden is committed to harmonizing both its EW & long range strike weapons with what Finland uses. Not sure if that means that Finland has agreed to utilize the Taurus KEPD – or whether that means that Sweden is proposing the Taurus KEPD but might be open to switching to something else like the JASSM or Storm Shadow if Finland feels strongly about wanting to use same. In response to a specific question – Saab did specifically say that other long range stand-off weapons (other than the Taurus) could be utilized with Gripen E.

    I too thought it strange that Saab’s offer didn’t mention an anti-ship missile. Obviously, Sweden is committed to the RBS-15. Finland chose the Israeli Gabriel for its Navy, but I don’t think Gabriel has an air launched variant – so I’d guess that Saab is hoping the FAF will choose RBS-15 mk4. I’m also unclear what anti-ship missile, if any, the FAF currently utilizes with its F18 Hornets.

  9. CasperHauser

    As always a great post. Will there be any public information posted about the results of the wargames simulation that will now follow as a result of the recieved BAFO’s? Will the OEM’s get to know their results of the wargame and potentially use them to publicly influence the “policy” part of the process? Would love to hear your thoughts about the next steps in this thriller Corporal….

    Further can anyone think of a better run military equipment tender process? This feels like an unbiased race where the best overall offer actually wins, then again we have not come to the policy part of the process yet…..and that is where the muddy water lies.

  10. Uroxen

    I have a question, how is the discussion in Finland going regarding Lockheed Martin not disclosing the number of F-35s in their offer?

    In Yle they try to pass it off as “Be it 60 or 70, or whatever, it’s not essential but performance”. (https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11906884) but if they really offered that many this would be the perfect opportunity for them to prove that the total cost of ownership isn’t as bad as reported by showing how many F-35s you actually can fit into the Finnish budget. .

    1. Yeah, anyone of the three could in an instance sweep away any doubt about their numbers by sending out a presser declaring that they offer XX number of aircraft, and that they are confident that is enough. That they don’t do so is telling, and most likely show that they don’t believe they’ll be able to sell it to the media or that they plan on grabbing the headlines with the announcement later (air show in August?).

    2. asafasfaf

      One reporter in Helsingin Sanomat was pissed that 3 manufacturers didnt give number of their fighters, other than that, all quiet.

  11. Arne Lidmark

    What I miss in the comments that the Finns may koncider: a fighter airplane is a weapon in the air and a target on the ground, Russia have tech that can see stealth and guide missiles at it, availability and flexability, the UK and US desicion to go for other fighters than F-35, the number of specialist personnel required at a dispersed road base, the problems that occurs when using the specific fighter on a roadbase in harsh conditions with limited recourses to prepare the runway.

  12. IED

    Not only does the HX competition appear to be pretty much best in class, I also would like to commend Corp Frisk for the high quality reporting on the progress. It is all too easy to have a favourite and subtly let it show but CF manages to keep it neutral all the way through to the benefit of all of us, kool aid consumers or not.

    The quality of numbers aspect brought up by CF in this post I would rank very high. In case of an attack on Finland I assume one of the first steps would be to limit the size of the airforce by any means available. Taking away even a low number of fighters from a smaller airforce quickly renders it ineffective. No doubt Boeing and Saab knows this and are delighted to present the number of fighters on offer.

  13. Jo

    Good read. Thank you!

    I think your comment about the (underrated) value of Growlers and their non-kinetic influence is spot on. It enables serious force projection in an early phase of a “hybrid conflict”, with a low risk of further escalation. It can be key to stabilize the situation before it slide into a phase where everyone looses.

    Another underrated aspect is probably the value of fresh SIGINT on the western defense co-operation market. Might buy as much reciprocity in the intelligence community as international ops in the political arena.

  14. Discgear

    Excellent post and kudos to the Finns for once again excelling in how to do things properly. Something that nowadays can best be described as a long gone virtue concerning Swedish government. Just one thing, you seemed to do a wrong calculation between work hours offered for Finland between BAE and SAAB offerings.
    BAE offered 1.5 million man hours over 40 years.

    Saab talked about approximately 10,000 workyears which equals to 17 million man hours. More than 10 times more.

    1. The 1.5 million over 40 years was just the engine, the overall program was quoted as 20 million over 30 years (which granted raises the question about whether the last ten years of the engine program is in addition to or already included in the 20 million figure?).

  15. Pingback: AK6, meet K22 – Corporal Frisk

  16. Silver Dart

    Thank you for all these interesting details.

    With these disclosed data, Boeing’s hand seems strong.
    Even with a heavy weapon’s package and GlobalEye in the deal, Saab is very good but not as shiny.

    By the way, the two GlobalEye seems mostly a ‘peace time’ asset : against a ‘near peer’ opponent like Russia in full out war, I’m not very optimistic about the life expectancy of these 2 planes…
    What is your angle of the potential concept of operation of these systems in FDF?

    1. asafasfaf

      Obviously GlobalEye’s self-protection is critical and Saab knows it, there is no sense of making expensive asset that could be shot down easily.
      EW, decoys, chaff, flares.. and so on. Wingtips seems identical to Gripen E so I would not be surprised if IRIS-T missiles are part of the roadmap. They could shoot down incoming missiles as a last defense.

      Btw. Saab had a certain job advertisement last winter. Project manager was needed to run the GlobalEye integration into Finnish defense forces. This and other signals from Saab indicate that HX is pretty much done deal. Squadron 2020 combat system was similar case, Saab knew before announcement that they won.

      1. IRIS-T to counter incoming missiles? I will admit I’ve never seen any claim that it would have those capabilities.

        Projects of this size are complex enough that taking a bit of a jumpstart with the project management isn’t that surprising. I give it about as much value as evidence as Patria’s diversification in engine maintenance.

      2. Thomas Björklund

        Iris-T is also used as anti air against incoming missiles, so that doesn´t seem odd.

      3. BB3

        Wishful thinking by Saab I’m thinking. Highly doubt that the HX decision has been made .. they haven’t even fun the war game simulations.

      4. asafasfaf

        Saab has been running their own wargame sims for years using scenario information given by Finland. They know quite well where they stand.

      5. They know it so well they had to change major parts of the bid in the last two years…

        The survivability of GlobalEye is quite good, based on distance from the battle, speed, situational awareness, and defensive countermeasures, but this isn’t the same as Saab’s win being done and dusted.

      6. asafasfaf

        Yes it’s a good point, Saab has adapted to HX over the years. Decoy missile and long range jammer are most visible HX influenced items, but there are more under the hood. Basicly Finland has influenced Gripen E design for years.

      7. Ferpe

        The present wingtips of the GlobalEye is a further development of the Gripen C’s wingtip rails with their RWR units and an interferometric receiver panel added instead of the missile rail. So, yes the IRIS-T can be fired against incoming missiles but no, GlobalEye can’t carry an IRIS-T. Even if it could you need to direct the IRIS seeker to the target and GlobalEye doesn’t have a suitable sensor or HMD visible sphere to do it. By the time the GlobalEye delivers to Finland (if chosen) and Sweden, we can expect the wingtips to change to the Gripen E “canoes”, with their more modern ESM class receiver heads. These might also contain the GaN jammer arrays, who knows.

  17. 3ajit

    I’m really enjoying following the HX process and the discussions in your blogs comments section Mr Frisk. IMHOP there is only two suppliers that has brought unique capabilities to the procurement. The LM F35 with is stealth capabilities and SAAB Globaleye AWACS. Any thoughts or comments on this folks? And please distinguish between capabilities and saying that these suppliers have the best offer. Let’s take the Growlers for example as impressive as their ability might be could you really claim that they have unique capability that the other offers don’t have? Perhaps ? Or not. Let’s here it folks.

  18. Silent Shout

    F-35 maintenance costs will probably disqualify it.

    I would have liked to have seen F-16 Block 72 as a contender.

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