Finnish Weapons for Different Purposes

Finland has gone on a bit of a shopping spree when it comes to munitions recently. Finally, one might add, as low stocks of advanced munitions has been quoted in defence white papers as a serious issue. Following the developments of this year, the FDF has received a serious amount of more funding both immediately available and for the coming years. The amounts to be spent on acquisitions is somewhat unclear to me due to the numerous changes and some funding being “new” while others are related to covering equipment having been sent to Ukraine, but we are talking about more than a billion euros of additional funds (i.e. above the originally planned level for 2022 and assuming a similar level in 2023) spread out over this year and the next.

ASRAD-R during exercises in Lohtaja. This is no Stinger, but might it become? Source: Mil.fi

While most of the deals are classified, the US congressional notices through the DSCA provide certain insight – though with the usual caveat that these represent possible maximums (i.e. everything between zero and the quoted number can be acquired, and that one shouldn’t look at the figures next to the dollar signs for any kind of confirmation of the contract cost.

GMLRS/ER GMLRS

One of the big media stars of the war in Ukraine has been the HIMARS with the GMLRS-guided missiles. In Finnish service the weapon has been used by the M270 MLRS already earlier, and a follow-on request for longer-ranged ER GMLRS was approved in 2021 and ordered just before the invasion of February. The approval covered 25 M30A2 ER GMLRS-AW pods and 10 M31A2 ER GMLRS-U pods, of which the AW (Alternative Warhead) uses pre-fragmented tungsten fragments to spread destruction over a bigger area while the U (Unitary) relies on blast and pressure effects to destroy individual targets. Each pod sports six missiles, and while the cost quoted in the DSCA notice is 91.2 million USD, the eventual contract value for an undisclosed number of pods was approximately 70 million EUR.

M270 in Finnish service, firing a missile during exercise MVH 20 two years ago. The two six-round pods are clearly visible (as opposed the HIMARS single pod). Source: Maavoimat Twitter

This is all nice and good, and then the FDF brought the big sack of money to Grand Prairie.

150 M30A1 GMLRS AW or M30A2 GMLRS AW with Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System (IMPS), or a combination of both, and 250 M31A1 GMLRS-U or M31A2 GMLRS-U IMPS, or a combination of both. The total estimated cost: 535 million USD (509.7 MEUR).

The reason behind the mix in versions between the A1 and A2 is due to there being a parallel request for diversion of 50% of this procurement from US stock.

To get an idea of how insanely large the order is, the total US production of GMLRS pods during the first two decades reached 8,334 pods in February last year. 400 pods is roughly a years worth of production at that rate, though currently the annual production rate is 1,250 pods with the ability to go up to 1,670 pods. Still, even with production at full speed that means Finland would like close to a quarter of Lockheed Martin’s annual production (though as noted, part of these could come from US stocks which then could be topped up later).

Safe to say, while the media discourse might be overly eager to jump on a single weapon system as the silver bullet, it does seem safe to say that the GMLRS has proven itself to the extent that a serious investment in missiles seems to be in the cards for Finland.

AIM-9X Sidewinder and AGM-154 JSOW

Then followed a somewhat unlikely mix of air-launched weapons, with the short-range air-to-air AIM-9X Sidewinder (40 missiles) and the advanced air-to-ground guided glide-bomb AGM-154 JSOW (48 weapons). The immediate reaction by some was that we are seeing the first order for weapons (outside of the original package) for Finland’s coming F-35A-fleet, which does operate both weapons. However, it is notable that both weapons are also used by the current F/A-18C/D Hornets. The number of JSOW in service is believed to be limited, and it is certainly possible that in the same discussion as that of more GMLRS it has become evident that a larger number of precision-guided air-to-ground weapons are needed. The JSOW is an interesting capability in that it is significantly cheaper than cruise missiles (such as the AGM-158 JASSM), in parts thanks to it being unpowered. At the same time, it offers significantly greater range compared to traditional guided bombs such as the JDAM.

A Finnish F/A-18C Hornet showing off the capabilities following the MLU2 upgrade which gave the aircraft a round of new capabilities, most visibly the JDAM, AGM-158 JASSM, and the AGM-154 JSOW. The AIM-9X Sidewinder had come already during the preceding MLU1. Source: Mil.fi

But why do we suddenly need more Sidewinders? One possibility is simply that there has always been too few in stock. Another is that experiences from Ukraine has shown the value in being able to hunt down cruise missiles and helicopters, and it might be that the analysis of the FinAF is that Sidewinders provide a better return on investment in that role compared to the AIM-120 AMRAAM (it is also possible that AMRAAMs are being ordered through another package to supply both the NASAMS-batteries as well as the fighters).

With the F/A-18C/D getting to serve on in Finnish service as the primary ground-pounder until the second fighter wing converts and F-35A reaches FOC by 2030, topping up the stocks with both Sidewinders (an important weapon in the self-defence role as well) and heavy-hitting guided weapons that provide a measure of stand-off capability certainly would make sense.

FIM-92K Stinger

The latest news was that Finland has its sights set on additional Stingers. Finland has the FIM-92E Stinger RMP Block I (this particular upgrade is possibly designated FIM-92F, the designations are somewhat messy as many Stinger-variants are upgrade programs for older variants) in service as the primary MANPADS, with the clearance having come already back in 2011 for up to 600 missiles and the eventual order for an undisclosed number (Janes estimate is 200) of refurbished ex-US missiles being signed in 2014. Again it would be easy to make assumptions on the purpose of the weapon – Finland topping up stocks, of which some might or might not have been included in deliveries to Ukraine.

A Finnish conscript demonstrating a Stinger RMP Block I during exercises in Lohtaja back in 2016. Source: Own picture

Except the tiny detail that this time around the quoted version was the FIM-92K.

While the FIM-92E was the latest and greatest for a while, the years since has seen the introduction of the FIM-92J with added capability against small unmanned targets (thanks to a proximity fuse) as well as upgrades allowing for longer shelf-life. However, in parallel to the FIM-92J our friend the FIM-92K was developed which is a version featuring an improved datalink for lock-on after launch capability (LOAL) and the ability to feed cooling and power from an external source.

To put it in clear writing, the FIM-92K is the version for vehicle-mounted launchers. While my understanding is you can in theory put a FIM-92K through a normal MANPADS tube, it is questionable why Finland would opt for a specialised version if there weren’t plans to hook them up to something feeding either the target location and/or power and cooling.

While there are people who without doubt would like to see the Avenger in Finnish service (mainly scale modellers, if we are honest), more likely is that we will have some platform more related to the current vehicles in service. Perhaps the most notable thing is that the ASRAD currently in service as the ITO05 with the SAAB BOLIDE-missile is in fact set up from the beginning to be able to take a number of different missiles, such as the RBS 70/BOLIDE, Mistral, Igla, and the Stinger. In fact, of the three current operators, Finland with the ASRAD-R is the only one not to use the Stinger in the current setup, with both Germany and Greece having the Stinger as their big (okay, rather small) stick.

A pair of ASRAD-R TELARs under the covers during an exercise back in 2013. The BOLIDE is popular enough in Finnish service that Finland also later acquired the tripod-mounted version of the RBS 70 as the ITO05M. Source: Puolustusvoimat FB

Will Finland create a new TELAR in the style of the current BOLIDE-carrying vehicles, strip the current ones of the BOLIDE to replace them with Stingers, or some other solution? Who knows, even tying the FIM-92K to ASRAD-R is speculation at this stage. It might simply be that Finland was able to get a better price on the FIM-92K instead of the -92J due to component costs or by leveraging a hot production line. However, if I had to guess, analysis of the war has shown that there is a need to get more firing units to cover against the UAS and cruise missile threat, and with both ASRAD and Stinger being known and apparently well-liked systems, combining the two would make perfect sense for a quick and cheap(ish) solution. Notable is that the beam-riding nature of the BOLIDE and the heat-seeking Stinger means that anyone facing a Finnish ASRAD would be unsure about the nature of the threat, which certainly would benefit the Finnish air defence units. Will we see an ASRAD-adaption on a Zetros-chassis with Stinger-missiles? Time will tell, but in my opinion that would certainly be less of a surprise than if a battalion of Avengers suddenly appeared in Karelia.

The New Bug in Town – Versions for Finland

One issue that has been open to much speculation is exactly which version(s) of the Super Hornet will be offered to Finland. The answer was simple, with Bryan Crutchfield explaining that it was up to the customer, and: “As a mainly single-seat air force, I would expect Finland to primarily be interested in F/A-18E.” This lead to the natural follow-up question, why the equally mainly single-seat Royal Danish Air Force was offered only the two-seat F/A-18F, a decision which proved to be something of a decisive issue in the Kampfly-program. “Because they only asked for the two-seater,” Bryan explained. On the question of why, he had no direct answer, but this is yet another strange data point in the already rather murky Danish affair.

CAG bird
The CAG-bird of VFA-103 ‘Jolly Rogers’. The squadron operates two-seat F/A-18F, with a focus on different kinds of ground attack missions where a second crew member comes in handy. For Finland, a small number of F/A-18F would likely be acquired for advanced training, with a secondary fighter/strike tasking. Source: Own picture

More interesting then was that Boeing seemed to assume that Finland would be interested in a number of Growlers as well. In the case of the US Navy, roughly 20% of the Super Hornets bought are of the electronic warfare version, meaning that a potential Finnish mix of Super Hornets could be something along the lines of 40 F/A-18E single-seaters, 12 F/A-18F two-seaters, and 12 EA-18G Growlers, for a combined fleet of 64 fighters. When asked about if the ‘full-spec’ Growler is likely to be released for sale to Finland, Crutchfield was careful not to make any promises, noting that any sale would be a government-to-government deal. However, he went on to say that Finland appears to be a “very trusted” partner in Washington, and pointed to JASSM-deal as an indication that if Finland wants the Growler, there likely wouldn’t be any issues.

The Growler in many ways is an unrivalled platform in the electronic warfare role, being able to not only jam and destroy enemy radars and air-defence systems, but also having a significant capability when it comes to intercepting and jamming enemy communications and signals. The latter has made it a valuable resource in the operations against ISIS, and it is safe to assume that if Finland would acquire a handful of dedicated EW-platforms, it would make us a sought after coalition partner in the kind of low-intensity conflicts we have participated in in Afghanistan and Iraq. The question then is largely about the price of acquiring and operating the Growlers, as well as what kind of a loss having only 40 instead of 52 F/A-18E’s would be in the eyes of the Air Force Command. While the size reduction in ‘true’ fighters is significant, the role of the Growlers as force multipliers might provide a huge enough boost for both the Air Force and, crucially, to the ground forces to warrant this. As said, this is not solely a question of providing SEAD, but also of the Growlers being able to increase the fog of war for the enemy at crucial moments.

“Envelop the enemy in the fog of war, sow confusion while providing time and space for one’s own forces. Jam the adversaries’ radars. Disrupt his communications. Induce indecision; make the enemy question his own equipment and make mistakes.”The mission of the Growler as described by the Growler Industry Team

But even without the Growler, the baseline F/A-18E/F is a highly versatile multirole aircraft. “The most capable combat-proven multi-role aircraft”, as Boeing likes to put it (a statement that will upset the French). In addition to ‘normal’ air-to-air and air-to-ground work, the aircraft is able to handle both the maritime strike (Boeing did feature a scale model of a Harpoon anti-ship missile in their stand) as well as SEAD, two missions discussed at length in the Finnish report at the launch of the HX-project. What makes the SEAD-mission possible is the Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM)-package, currently in its Block IV state, coupled with the ‘leakage’ of technology developed for the Growler back into the fighter version of the aircraft.

“Physics matter,” Crutchfield sums up the sensor package, and point towards the large nose of the F/A-18E parked behind us during the interview. The nose hoses the AN/APG-79 AESA radar built by Raytheon, and Crutchfield isn’t shy when talking about the capabilities of the radar, stating that it is ‘generations’ in front of the competition, with rolling upgrades being introduced every two years. It should be remembered that the AN/APG-79 did experience some rather significant teething troubles when first introduced into service, though things seems to have gotten better since. One of the key features of the AESA is that it allows the pilot of the F/A-18F to stay fully focused on the air-to-air picture, while the weapon system operator (WSO) in the aft seat works on the air-to-ground view, with both having access to the radar modes they want.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Deployment
A colorful EA-18G Growler of Electronic Attack Squadron 130 (VAQ-130) “Zappers” onboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Arabian Sea. The squadron operated in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operations against ISIS. Note the large jammer on the centreline station, the carriage of which is one of the distinguishing features of the Growler compared to the baseline F/A-18F. Source: USN / Seaman Dartez C. Williams via Wikimedia Commons

Like the ‘legacy’ Hornet before it, the Super Hornet is qualified for a large number of weapons, including the most recent versions of the venerable AIM-9 Sidewinder, the AGM-88 HARM, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM (these being the AIM-9X, AGM-88E AARGM, and the AIM-120D respectively). On the horizon the SDB-II and the LRASM looms, while more exotic munitions include the Quickstrike-series of air-dropped mines. Which of these would be of interest to the Finnish Air Force is uncertain, but a continued reliance on ever more advanced versions of the AIM-9/-120 combination would be a natural choice for the immediate future. The big deficit is the lack of the very-long range Meteor ramjet-powered missile, which all other HX-contenders are set to have received prior to HX’s IOC date. The US Navy seems content with traditional rocket-powered air-to-air weapons at the moment, and while Finland naturally could pay for Meteor integration on its own, that would still make be a considerable sum. Going for the Super Hornet could then mean having to get closer to the enemy before firing, as there is a significant difference in the size of the no-escape zones of the throttleable ramjet motor compared to traditional rockets.