Readers of the blog might remember a post from two years ago in which I noted that the new government programme included a decision that the Finnish Border Guards’ two Dornier Do-228-212 patrol “will be replaced by 2022“. The unambiguous wording seemed clear enough to me, and indicated that there was a solid political understanding regarding the importance of the mission and the issues caused by the rapidly ageing platforms. As such, I have been following the Twitter-feed of people close to the Finnish Border Guard Flight Division with rising concern, as it seems they didn’t feel the funding decision was a foregone conclusion.
Turns out they were correct.
This week the news broke that the Ministry of the Interior has not approved funding to start moving forward with the procurement process, meaning that the replacement of the aircraft will be shifted forward at least with a year from the already announced 2025 date, i.e. don’t expect to see the new aircraft having taken over from the Dorniers until 2026 at the earliest. Alert readers will notice that the date is in fact not one but four years behind the original schedule envisioned in the government program two years ago.
The situation is challenging, and is set to continue to be. The two aircraft flies and average of 250 flights a year, and already now up to 60 missions a year has been cancelled or aborted due to technical issues and failures – a staggering non-mission capable rate of 20 to 25 % (depending on whether the 250 flights include aborted ones or just those actually performed). It is not just the aircraft themselves that are ageing, but their mission systems replaced during the MLU over a decade ago are also starting to show their age and cause a number of the non-missions. As noted, nothing of this comes as a surprise, but the lifespan of the aircraft and their sensors have been progressing as expected, which is the reason why the MVX-program was kicked off a few years back. The FBG has already received responses to their Request for Information, and is now just waiting for the funding approval for 60 million EUR to be able to send out a Request for Quotations.
It is a mystery why this hasn’t been approved as a matter of routine. The capability is extremely flexible, and serves not just the Finnish Border Guards but a host different agencies, including everything from counting seals for the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), providing information to the maritime situational picture for the Navy, assisting the emergency services with searching for people getting lost in the forests, and keeping a watchful eye over police operations against suspicious locations in the archipelago. Their primary work is policing the Finnish maritime borders, which besides “normal” border guarding include oil spill surveillance as the key mission, a mission in which by all accounts they have been remarkably successful. With the ever evolving importance of FRONTEX, the aircraft have also been seen over warmer waters on a number of occasions. Considering the relatively minor budget and small number of people involved in running this highly specialised operation, it is difficult to find a better example of a bargain capability multiplier in the Ministry of the Interior’s toolbox.
Perhaps that makes it understandable that the commander of the FBG Flight Division, captain (N.) Matti Lallukka, tweeted that “These are values-based decisions choices – maritime safety and the Baltic Sea doesn’t seem to be important enough reasons to carry out the procurement?” A surprisingly political tweet for a Finnish senior officer.
Still, it is hard to disagree with Lallukka. Having grown up by the sea and dipped my toes into the world of professional seafaring through my career in the maritime industry as well as being a avid outdoorsman, I will admit to being somewhat upset myself, and there doesn’t really seem to be any other plausible explanation for the omission of the funding decision than the Ministry not being interested in the question. This is utterly surprising, especially considering that the Green League is the party in charge of the Ministry of the Interior. Few capabilities transcend the worlds of traditional hard security to “softer” values such as environmental protection and refugee safety, while also straddling the gap between a more global and a more traditional view on national security. That in a time of expanding budgets the government wasn’t able to find 60 MEUR to what must be one of the least controversial programs in Finnish national security cannot be described as anything less than a major failure of leadership on the part of the politicians involved. Let us hope it will addressed swiftly.