The HX-program is moving forward, and several of the programs have seen significant changes, in many cases caused by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s new resident.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
Things are looking up for the ‘Rhino’ (or ‘Super Bug’ if you want) for the moment. The Kuwaiti deal is finally looking like it could secure a second export order for the aircraft, and the Canadians seem like they could actually lease or buy a small amount as a stop-gap to cover for the cancelled F-35 buy. This move has been discussed for years, but in the last year it has moved from speculation to government policy.
But the twist that has caused most buzz is without doubt the announcement that the new US leadership has ordered a review of the carrier-based version of the F-35C against the Advanced Super Hornet concept. While I find it unlikely that the ‘all-inclusive’ most advanced form of the Advanced Super Hornet would be ordered, this review will likely provide an updated concept (with price tags) that can be employed for future (more limited) USN updates as well as for export drives such as the HX.
Boeing, somewhat surprisingly, has kept a low profile in Finland. It remains to be seen if this will change with this summer’s air shows.
F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 has been under quite some pressure following the tweets of President (then elect) Trump, who was happy to trash the cost of the program.
The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.
Lockheed Martin quickly recovered their posture (though not their stock price), and explained that they will certainly look into this, and that they have a plan ready to reduce costs further.
Now, it is uncertain to what extent Lockheed Martin and (especially) Trump are honest and to what extent they simply figured out that this theatre is just what they need. It is no secret that the unit price of the F-35 is on a healthy downward trend following the troubled early years of the program. It is also no secret that Lockheed Martin has been pushing for larger block buys, as these would make it possible for the company to achieve higher efficiency in their production lines. This is an excellent opportunity to enlist the support of the White House for the larger block buys, and in the meantime the president can happily boast about getting a better deal by getting the low-rate lots cheaper than his predecessor. Win-win, at least until some troublesome aviation journalists starts looking it…
Let's remember the JPO/Lockheed was already planning to cut about that much in Lot 10, negotiations long pre-date Trump https://t.co/gttoUwWgya
Regardless of the politics behind it, the F-35A is now officially and for the first time below the 100 million USD threshold. This came as part of the LRIP 10 agreement, and Lockheed Martin indeed thought it prudent to credit ‘President Trump’s personal involvement’ with accelerating the negotiations and sharpening Lockheed-Martin’s focus on driving down the price. Despite the recent issues with the landing gear of the F-35C carrier-based version, the F-35A version is moving forward and meeting milestones according to plan, and the above-mentioned F-35C review against the Advanced Super Hornet will likely result in yet another paper explaining the need for stealth and sensor fusion on the modern battlefield. In other words, the mid- to long-term prospects for the F-35 look good, perhaps even slightly better than they did before Trump got involved.
In January BAE (finally) launched their official Finnish Twitter-account, quite some time after BAE Systems Belgium got theirs. On the whole, BAE has significantly heightened their profile, and isn’t the least bit shy about the fact that they thinks the Typhoon would be the best answer to the needs of the Finnish Air Force.
While BAE still hasn’t explained exactly why they think that’s the case, they have been happy to announce that the acquisition could be funded through the UK Export Finance.
What is often forgotten is that the Typhoon does indeed have an impressive service record in the harsh semi-subarctic climate of the South Atlantic, having been responsible for the air cover of the Falkland Islands since 2009. Of note is that while the aircrews assigned to RAF Mount Pleasant have been rotated, the aircrafts haven’t. The original four aircraft maintained a constant 24/7 QRA flight for over five years, before finally being relieved a while back. Honouring the traditions of the Hal Far Fighter Flight based in Malta during World War 2, the Typhoons wear tailcodes matching the names of the Gladiators of the original flight.
Eight months ago I sat and listened to a presentation by a representative of Dassault, who happily explained the value of the fighter and (almost) all of its subsystems being French. I smiled and nodded politely, thinking to myself that while I understand the value of this from a domestic point of view, I am unsure whether this is a plus or minus in the case of HX. My worry was based on the sometimes volatile state of French politics, especially compared to the relatively stable state of US ones.
Let’s just say I have revised that opinion.
While France certainly has their share of pro-Russian politicians of different colours, Donald Trump has very efficiently demonstrated that the political risks associated with buying French is no larger than buying from the US.
Saab JAS 39E Gripen
The first flight of the ‘Dash Eight’ prototype is still some time away. Though this was originally slated for Q4 2016, representatives of Saab are adamant that the program as a whole is still on track, and that the delay is due to moving around different parts of the test and development program.
While this might be true, and not flying for the sake of just flying might be the proper decision from a program point of view, this is still something of a PR-loss for Saab, who has been pushing the “on time and budget” narrative. 2017 will be an important year for Saab’s new fighter.
Seinäjoki International Air Show 2017
Contrary to what usually is the case, the Finnish Aeronautical Association’s air show will receive some competition for the Finnish aviation crowds, in that another major air show will take place in Helsinki the day before. Still, the organisers are clear with that they try to get as many HX-competitors attending as possible, and that they hope to see them “both in the air and on the ground“. Last year the JAS 39C Gripen was flying, with the Eurofighter Typhoon being found on static display. Hopefully this year will bring some new players to the Finnish airspace.
The new YlPalvOhj 2017 (general statutes of service for the Finnish Defence Forces) entered into service on the 1 January, and included an updated article on the participation of soldiers in public discussions (own translation).
546. Professional soldiers and the students in training by defence forces for military duties should also otherwise abstain from interfering in issues related to party politics and be wary of connecting the defence forces to these.
How this sweeping statement is to be interpreted is open to question, but the fact is that a number of active-duty officers have decided to publicly freeze their accounts, and it is unclear how many others have decided to keep a lower profile to avoid overstepping the blurry line. Clear is that both the Finnish Officers’ Union well as MP’s from different parties have reacted, and asked for clarity. An official clarifying letter has been issued, but it doesn’t really seem to clarify things.
Puolustusvoimien yt-elin käsitteli tänään uuden #YLPALVO:n epäselvyyksiä Upseeriliiton ja Päällystöliiton aloitteesta. #sananvapaus
Instead of sorting out what “party politics” mean in a country with a multi-party parliamentary system, the answer has been to try and distinguish between statutes (which bear legal implications) and recommendations (the breaking of which does not cause any consequences, neither “officially nor unofficially”). Article 546. should apparently be treated as one of the later, and as such it is purely a recommendation. This is in all fairness about as ridiculous as the explanation that the recommendation stems from a wish to maintain the internal cohesion by keeping the officers outside the increased polarisation of general society.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that this is anything but an attempt to silence the budding tendency of more officers to participate in discussions on social media, something which has been openly encouraged by the current chief of defence, general Lindberg. I firmly belive this to be contrary to the interests of the defence forces as a whole, since open discussion benefits the defence forces through developing the public understanding on questions related to national security, and most likely increases the internal cohesion of the forces by creating public forums where professionals from different parts of the organisation can meet and discuss. This is something of a new phenomenon in Finland, where traditionally soldiers have kept a very low profile in any public discussion. If you are kind you might say that this comes due to traditions rooted in the experiences from other countries where the defence forces have become political factors. If not, you might say it is another example of the long shadows finlandisation still casts.
A number of high-ranking politicians, including former FM Tuomioja and current MoD Niinistö, have publicly called out statements by officers as being out of line. It does seem that this political pressure have finally made its way into the written instructions of the defence forces, and into a document which generations of officers have grown up seeing as, regardless of what the clarifying letter says, a written order and the leading scripture for proper behaviour.
This is worrying to say the least, and not only a question about our soldiers enjoying freedom of speech like the rest of us. The wider implications are also apparent. It would seem strange that the gray eminence behind this would have simply wished for the removal of the officers from the public discussions, as this would remove those with insight into the practical aspects of ‘hard’ national security (and foreign politics through international missions for that matter). Rather probably, there is a more general wish to silence the discussion as a whole. National security is an important topic, and one which has become even more so following the recent developments in Europe and further abroad. It is also a major cost when it comes to our tax money, and it feels strange that a fact-based and well-mannered discussion on the related issues, large and small, would be a problem to our politicians. To ban professionals, either directly or through recommendations (i.e. chilling effects, as major Mashiri bluntly described it), from participating in a discussion because they might voice opinions differing from the current political leadership is not in public interest. And in all honesty: if you can’t stand someone arguing for a viewpoint opposite of yours, might it be that it isn’t them arguing that is the problem?
One of last week’s major stories was the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) presenting their ‘interim results’, again confirming what has been seen as the most likely explanation since the immediate aftermath of the 2014 tragedy: that MH17 was brought down by a Russian-supplied Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile. I won’t discuss the details here, as they have been given in a number of different forums, including by Bellingcat as well the earlier investigative report and now the JIT. Suffice to say, the amount of evidence found in both open and non-open source has reached such levels that the question of whether a Russian supplied Buk shot down MH17 can now be considered a litmus test for whether you are under the influence of Russian propaganda or not.
For Finland, the interesting part came when Dutch newspaper Telegraaf broke the story that Finland had provided data and performed secret tests on our Buk-missiles, which are of the same M1-version as the TELAR used for downing MH17. To begin with, this ‘important contribution’ by the Finnish authorities was cheered by Finnish media (#Suomimainittu), but the party was cut short by the announcement that JIT had in fact not been allowed by Finnish authorities to see the evidence. This in turn caused a minor uproar that was rapidly shaping into a political storm when the Finnish President called a press conference on the issue.
But first, let’s rewind to how the by now infamous SAM-system ended up in Finland. By the end of the Cold War, the Soviet economy was in a very poor shape. This was also seen on the clearing accounts which formed the basis for Finnish-Soviet trade. Under this system, anything exported by Finland was ‘cleared’ from the account when items to a corresponding value were imported by Finland from the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Soviet balance sheet was squarely in the red, i.e. the Soviets owed Finland goods. During the years since, this has gradually been paid off as goods, services, and cash payments, until the last payment was made three years ago.
One of the early payments was the Buk-system, which arrived in Finland in the mid-90’s and replaced the earlier (and outdated) Soviet-made S-125 ‘Neva’ (SA-3 GOA), local designation ItO 79. The Buk-M1 was introduced under the ItO 96-designation (now ITO 96), and served for roughly a decade until concerns over its vulnerability to countermeasures caused its gradual withdrawal in favour of the medium-ranged NASAMS II (ITO 12). The last batch of conscripts trained on the system in 2005, but the system was scheduled to remain in service at least for a further ten years.
Fast forward to 2014, when the Dutch prosecutor’s office contacted Finnish authorities and asked for technical assistance as part of the criminal investigation into the fate of the MH17. Exactly which Finnish authority received the request is unclear, but eventually a small circle of top politicians were the ones who made the decision on whether to answer the call or not. The decision was made to collaborate with the Dutch prosecutor’s office in full, and to keep the cooperation secret from the general public. The last part was due to the Dutch authorities requesting that this would be the case, and was not seen as anything unusual given the circumstances. Evidence gathering is a tricky matter even in a ‘normal’ case, and as such it was understood that the cooperation would not be disclosed until during the eventual trial, at the earliest.
All this was revealed during the press conference, where the President stressed that the decision was not taken lightly. The acquisition document of the Buk, which isn’t public, forbids the disclosure of information concerning the system to third parties. This was then weighted against the UN Security Council Resolution calling upon all parties to provide any requested assistance to the investigation(s). During the investigation a number of requests have been made, with the most ‘special’ one probably being the request to detonate a warhead and collect part of the shrapnel (contrary to some reports, no missile firings seems to have taken place). This was done in an undisclosed location in Finland by the Finnish Defence Forces in the presence of Dutch officials, and the requested shrapnel was handed over to the Dutch authorities.
Key to the story is that throughout it was the Dutch prosecutor’s office that was in contact with the Finnish authorities. According to president Niinistö, Finland has handed over all information requested by the Dutch authorities, and at no single point have the investigators expressed any kind of disappointment that the data wouldn’t have been thorough enough. The current issue came about as a result of the Dutch prosecutor asking permission that the evidence be handed over to JIT. The letter which requested this did not include any time frame for when the answer was needed, and as such it was decided to send a small committee over to the Netherlands to discuss how this change had come about, and exactly which part of the evidence was needed (the president confirmed that it was preferred and legally more straightforward to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office rather than the JIT). Before the Finnish administration had had time to put their plan into action, the JIT published their interim report and the fact that Finland was involved was leaked.
The President was clearly not happy with how the Finnish actions had been portrayed in the media, or with the fact that the Dutch had leaked the info after being the ones who originally requested secrecy.
Enter the follow-up discussion on what the press conference meant, and how Finland’s reactions should be seen (especially in the light of our relations vis-a-vis Russia).
Some have been quick to argue that there are traces of Finlandisation all over the handling of the issue. The simple fact that the decision to supply the evidence was taken by the political leadership and not by the officials normally handling these kinds of requests point in this direction, as do the continued emphasise on how hard the decision was due to the acquisition document forbidding this kind of information sharing. The critics also point to the fact that Finland did inform the Russian authorities of the request for evidence and that we were going to collaborate with the Dutch investigation. ‘We told no-one, except the Kremlin’, does indeed have a somewhat bad ring to it.
On the other hand, there are also a number of issues here that point directly in the opposite direction, perhaps the main point being that Finland decided to inform Russia that we were going to disclose technical details of their SAM system to an investigation that quite likely was going to result in Russian citizens being charged. The key word here is ‘informed’, the government never asked for permission, something the president clearly stated had been decided against when asked about the issue. The investigation has also spanned over the latest set of parliamentary elections, showing that there is broad support for it to continue.
(A third point of view was the pro-Russian trolls who now argued that this shows that the JIT isn’t trustworthy and that the ‘true source’ of the bow tie-shaped fragments now has been revealed. As noted, the disinformation campaign on the MH17 has long since lost all its credibility.)
I am personally a bit torn over the issue, and felt the beginning of the presser emphasised how hard the decision was a bit too much considering the nature of the issue. On the other hand, I find it hard to be too shocked over the fact that the request for assistance wasn’t dealt with as a run-of-the-mill case. It should be noted that as the original acquisition deal for the Buk-missiles was handled through the government-to-government discussions on the clearing account, the ban on publishing the information is not a buyer-supplier NDA, but most likely part of a government-to-government agreement. Pointing to this is also the fact that it indeed was the president and the Foreign Minister who hosted the press conference, showing that this was dealt with as a matter of foreign policy and not one of a strictly legislative nature.
There has also been discussions regarding if the information handed over to the Dutch actually included such data that was covered by the ban in the first place. This is all pure speculation, as no-one in the public has seen neither the acquisition document nor the details on what information has been requested. However, my personal opinion is that if the information was indeed of such a nature that the Dutch prosecutor needed to get it from an operator of the system, it is also likely to be covered by the secrecy clauses.
UMI #Soini: Suomen ja Alankomaiden ulkoministerit keskustelivat puhelimitse perjantaina. UMI Koenders pahoitteli tapahtunutta.
In the end, while the exact pattern of decision making might or might not have followed the letter of the law to the point, the whole issue was probably best described by FIIA’s Mika Aaltola who noted that the whole issue is a “storm in a teacup”. This has been further confirmed by the Dutch Foreign Minister Koenders apologising to FM Soini for the leaks, as well as by the chair of the JIT, Gerrit Thiry, who clarified that it certainly wasn’t his intention to criticise the Finnish authorities, but that it was an unfortunate misunderstanding between the Finnish journalist and the Dutch police making the statement. Thiry is extremely satisfied with the assistance provided by the Finnish authorities, and as such everything is back to normal.
Denmark, having been one of the original European partner nations of the F-16 program and having operated a shrinking fleet of F-16’s ever since, is facing roughly the same issue as Finland, with a US teen-series fighter nearing the end of it life. To remedy this, the Danish launched the Kampfly-program (literally “Fighter aircraft”), with the aim of finding a suitable replacement. Now, what is interesting is that the Danish did this despite already being a F-35 tier 3 partner nation. The idea was that a fair and relatively open competition, not unlike the HX-program, would show which fighter was the right choice for replacing the Danish F-16AM/BM mix, and if this wasn’t the F-35A, the Danish would withdraw from the program.
Few people believed that would ever be the case.
In fact, so few people believed in it, that of the F-35’s four main competitors, two, Dassault with the Rafale and Saab with the Gripen E, decided to withdraw from the competition at an early stage. When asked about the issue during the HX Gripen-presentation in February, Saab avoided calling the competition unfair or predetermined, but noted that “one has to focus attention on where one’s chances of winning are the best”. This left the Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet in the running against the F-35A Lightning II.
Especially Boeing went all-in, including launching a serious marketing campaign promoting itself as the low-risk high-tech solution, an argument being especially useful in Denmark, which a few years back was the site of a disastrous attempt at introducing a new and unproven high-speed train. After a series of technical issues, both the price and delivery schedules were seriously derailed, and the affair took on a slightly absurd twist when a complete train set went missing before delivery, only to turn up on satellite images of the outskirts of Tripoli! The whole affair also became something of a political issue.
Examples of adverts directly referencing the IC4-debacle. Note that these are for illustrative purposes only, and I have not received any compensation for featuring them on the blog.
During the recent weeks, the outcome (and part of the selection criteria) have slowly been leaking out, and unsurprisingly the F-35A was declared the winner in more or less all categories, with the Eurofighter Typhoon scoring low points throughout. The choice is justified in an open report, which include an abstract also available in English. The abstract covers the description of the criteria, the deciding panel, source material (but no individual notes confirming which sources were used where), and the points scored on different criteria. Still, the information given on why a certain fighter scored a certain point value doesn’t feel exhaustive.
The lack of transparency in the Danish report makes it hard to judge the fairness of the competition. However, there are a number of issues that cast a shadow on the process. One is that the Super Hornet is evaluated only in the two-seat F/A-18F configuration. It is unclear whether this is a request on the part of Boeing or not, however, it places the Super Hornet at a drawback, as the report correctly notes that maintaining two persons proficient for each aircraft will increase the total amount of flight hours needed, without apparently accounting for the added flexibility of having a dedicated weapons and sensor operator in the back seat.
The real strange part is the table of projected life-cycle costs. This is of particular interest, as it is one of the few places were solid numbers are provided. The Danish life-cycle costs is calculated based on procurement costs, sustainment costs (i.e. actually operating the aircrafts bought), as well as an overhead titled ‘Risk’. The last one is described as ‘quantifiable risks over a period of 30 years’, but the interesting part is that despite the Super Hornet being ranked highest in the earlier military ‘non-quantifiable risk’-subcategory, when risk is quantified and getting a price tag the tables are turned and the Super Hornet scores a markedly higher price tag than the F-35A. This is mainly blamed on the risk associated with the DKK-USD exchange rate. The report notes that as the F-35A is designed for a service life span of 8,000 flight hours compared to 6,000 flight hours for the other two, only 28 F-35A’s are needed to perform the same missions as 34 Eurofighters and 38 Super Hornets respectively over a 30 year time span.
This is an extreme oversimplification.
Using this model does not take into account e.g. the fact that fewer airframes in total leads to fewer available airframes, as there will at any given time be a number of aircrafts undergoing maintenance, repairs, or upgrades. That you are flying fewer aircraft harder usually doesn’t add up to having a higher availability rate either, but on the contrary might even lead to a shorter mean-time between failures, further putting added strain on a small fleet. It is also hard to quantify whether a smaller number of more capable aircraft will be able to provide the same overall capability as a slightly higher number of less capable aircraft. Strength in numbers, and so forth. The idea that you will only need a certain number of flight hours, as opposed to aircraft, add to the feeling that an all-out war is not on the agenda in Copenhagen.
However, the lifetime given for the airframes are also controversial. Both Boeing and Eurofighter have also protested the choice of 6,000 flight hours. Boeing notes that the number refers to taxing carrier-based operations, with the aircraft easily being able to reach 9,500 flight hours during landbased operations, while Eurofighter states that their aircraft can reach 8,300 flight hours in the kind of operations envisioned by Denmark. It is entirely possible that they are correct, as how demanding a flight hour is varies greatly with factors such as height, loadout, and g-forces (something which Finnish Hawks and Hornets have demonstrated, when the high proportion of air combat maneuvering in the Finnish flight schedule have caused structural problems even at relatively low flight hours).
Also, no mention is made of the service life extension program (SLEP) launched by Boeing and the US Navy, aimed at lengthening the service life of their Super Hornets up from the original 6,000 hours. The exact scope of the program is still unclear, but as a point of reference the US Marine Corps’ F/A-18C/D legacy Hornets are already looking at 10,000 flight hours through a similar SLEP-program.
Ironically, the need for these extensions have arisen due to delays in the F-35 program.
The eventual unit price for a series-produced F-35A is one of the most hotly debated topics in defence aviation today, and the issue has featured on the blog as well. Suffice to say, the Danish report uses 83.6 million USD per aircraft, being 10 million USD over the unit flyaway cost predicted by manufacturer Lockheed-Martin,while the ptice today is a tad over 100 million USD (though this is sinking rapidly). For the Super Hornet, the price is 124 million USD, which is 14-17 million USD over both the quoted cost for the current deliveries to the US Navy and, more importantly, the export deal to Kuwait (110 and ~107 million USD respectively). For the Eurofighter, there isn’t much to say. The heavy twin-engined fighter is expensive, both to acquire and operate, and its main selling point will always be its brute force, advanced sensors, and, most importantly, impressive room for growth. However, the report also gives it the highest ‘Risk-cost’, which is surprising given that the aircraft has an impressive track record in the service of multiple air forces for well over a decade, including combat deployments. The price set for the Eurofighter is 126 million USD per aircraft, which matches nicely with the average price tag of 124.9 million USD per aircraft that the British RAF has paid for their aircraft. However, this does not take into account the fact that for the Eurofighter as well, the price has continuously come down, and BAE has been quoted as saying they are now producing the aircraft for 20% less than they used to.
The fact that all aircraft are priced over the current, or in the case of the F-35A, projected, unit flyaway cost, is likely due to the acquisition topic also covering associated costs such as supporting material, simulators, and so forth. The unit flyaway costs given by the manufacturers have been censored from the open version of the report.
For the other categories, much less concrete information is given. For strategic aspects, the F-35 outscore the other candidates as the “broad scope of […] users will foster both Denmark’s transatlantic ties and the country’s collaborative relations with a range of European partners.” The Eurofighter score some points for opening up the possibility of cooperating with a number of European partners as well, with Germany standing out. The Super Hornet benefits from the transatlantic aspect, but defence and security cooperation with Kuwait and Australia is not high on the Danish agenda.
This is probably the most truthful part of the evaluation, and it is hard to argue against it. The big question is how important this aspect of an arms deal is, something we will get back to later.
The military category is made up of the areas of survivability, mission effectiveness, future development potential, and the earlier mentioned (non-quantifiable) candidate risk. These have been scored based on a number of evaluation missions, which haven’t been released to the public. However, they have been leaked, and described as “probably the closest thing to a ‘smoking gun’” we are likely to see, referring to the suspicion that the program has been tuned to suit the F-35. Of the six missions, four are against well-equipped and relatively modern adversaries, featuring strong air-defence assets and/or modern fighters, with the sixth being a deployment to the Greenland (which curiously enough currently isn’t home to any Danish fighters as part of the Danish decision to not further ‘militarise’ the Arctic). Perhaps the thoughest scenario is the defensive counter air setup against ten Su-30MK and MiG-29SMT escorting four Su-24’s and a single 3M14 Kalibr cruise missile (SS-N-30A), the fighters all having jammer pods, with the whole package being supported by an additional two Su-30MK operating as jammer aircraft (while still holding a serious air-to-air load) and a Beriev A-50 airborne early warning aircraft.
An interesting details is that for the air interdiction mission, the report indicates that F-16AM would have the same (low) chance of survival as the Eurofighter and Super Hornet!
It can be argued that the evaluation should be benchmarked against the most demanding mission the aircrafts are expected to fly. However, it is a rather strange notion that the Danish fighters would be expected to penetrate advanced enemy defences without the support of other NATO-allies, especially as the prospects of strategic cooperation is scored as a category of its own. All in all, it does seem that there is a tilt towards the high-end spectrum of missions which doesn’t match the mission scope set out in the beginning of the Danish version of the report.
The F-35 also wins the Industrial aspects-category, despite the fact that there is a “particular element of uncertainty associated with the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter will not be subject to an industrial cooperation requirement”, and that the realization of the industrial initiatives are “conditioned upon the ability of the Danish defence industry to win contracts in accordance with the ‘best-value’ principle”.
The tragicomic thing is that the F-35A might very well be the best fit for the Danish fighter requirement, either based on military aspects alone or thanks to the strategic impact the choice has. A sensible case can also be made for joining the F-35 program at an early stage, trading risk-management for being able to influence the program from the get-go. However, the lack of transparency unfortunately make it seem like the Danish officials had settled on the F-35A before the evaluation, but weren’t ready to defend this decision. Instead, launching the “fair and open competition”, which was in fact anything but.
This also means that in the same way as the two runner-ups, the F-35 didn’t get a chance to prove itself. Instead, it will probably go down in history as a very potent fighter, but one that landed in Denmark due to events that weren’t quite fit to see the daylight. One can only hope that the Finnish HX-competition will not follow this unfortunate example, but instead continue with the transparent and well-argued information sharing culture adopted so far.
This is a short follow-up to my last post, dealing with the current Estonian SNAPEX. In case you haven’t already read that one, I recommend doing so before continuing on with this one.
The expansion of the armed forces include a number of systems I did not mention in the last post, including key upgrades to the personal gear of the infantry men (body armour and night vision), as well as a number of turret-less CV9030 from Norwegian surplus stocks. These will be rebuilt in-country to function in a number of supporting tasks as part of the 1. brigade, such as command vehicles, mortar carriers (either with turreted or portee-mounted heavy mortars), ambulance/MEDEVAC, observer posts, and so forth. A second major batch of Javelins paid for by the US have also now arrived to further boost the anti-vehicle capability.
Noteworthy is the fact that the current expansion have solely been directed towards the ground forces. The air force is still non-existent, and the navy is made up of a number of older patrol craft, most of them having been donated or sold to Estonian from other countries around the Baltic Sea after they had become surplus to their original owners. The pride of the navy is a small but relatively modern force for coastal mine warfare, made up of three ex-UK minehunters of the Sandown-class and a single light minelayer of the Danish Lindormen-class. None of the Estonian vessels feature any kind of modern anti-air or anti-ship armament. The navy is supported by the relatively sizeable maritime component from the border guards, which is also made up of patrol craft that have been acquired mostly in the same way as the navy’s vessels.
Still, this is hardly a problem. The country lack the strategic depth to be able to base tactical aircraft at a safe distance from the frontline, and the navy would only come to play by the time reinforcements and supply convoys start to arrive across the Baltic Sea. While it is certainly true that the Russian Baltic Fleet would try to seal off the battlefield and besige the Baltic states by blocking the sea routes, this would probably happen not in the immediate vicinity of Estonian waters, but further south. There, the main players will be the combined fleets of Poland, Germany and Denmark, coupled with US units. For Estonia to muster a squadron of any meaningful size to have a go at trying to keep the sea lanes open would most likely incur a prohibitively large cost. As such, it is probably safer to invest the limited resources available on the army, who in any case will be the one to try to keep the fight going long enough for NATO to bring in the reinforcements needed.
Is everything nice and fine then? Certainly not. The Estonian forces will always be the underdog, simply due to the small size of the population compared to their eastern neighbor. Despite the recent expansion, there are also a number of key systems that needs to be upgraded, with the artillery park probably being the most acute. The heavier FH70 is still adequate, but no more, while the venerable D-30 122 mm howitzer of Soviet origin is definitely starting to show its age, and is lacking in both range, handling characteristics, and firepower. There is a reason why even the notoriously artillery-heavy Finnish army was prepared to give up a number of their D-30’s (or 122 H 63, as it is known locally, with 63 indicating the year of introduction), and it wasn’t purely about brotherly love. These would certainly need to be replaced by either a self-propelled system or a modern light-weight heavy howitzer such as the BAE M777, and procurement of a heavy self-propelled system is in the plans (curiously enough illustrated by what seems to be a Russian 2S19 Msta-S), with the German PzH 2000 currently entering Lithuanian service being the likely candidate.
When it comes to ground based air defence, there are also obvious deficiencies. The Mistral 3 is a potent weapon, and networking it to the Giraffe should provide the target data needed for added lethality. Still, a modern medium-range system such as the NASAMS would greatly enhance the over all capability against airborne threats by providing a longer reach and a layered air defence setup.
The question of tanks have also been discussed, with the Estonian army currently fielding none and the 2022-plan being void of them. The main battle tank have been the undisputed queen of the battlefield since its introduction, and recent developments to the level of protection (new anti-missile systems, enhanced ceramic/composite as well as reactive armour) have further heightened their lethality. Estonia is a rather flat country, with a fairly large proportion of open fields and farmlands, and as such relatively suitable for tanks to operate in. Still, modern tanks are extremely expensive to operate, and it is questionable if they fit into the prospect of a light mobile force moving quickly from position to position, withering down the adversary while never staying in the same positions long enough for the enemy to bring their whole force to bear on them. I find it questionable whether getting tanks at this point would be called for, especially given that both Poland and the US seems to be ready to dedicate a sizeable force (with today’s standards) of modern tanks on NATO’s northeastern flank. Given Estonia’s limited resources and lack of other key systems, such as the medium ranged surface-to-air missiles discussed above, my impression is that the money would be better spent elsewhere. Otherwise, it is entirely possible that the number of tanks acquired would be too small to make a real impact on the battlefield, while still being large enough to eat up too much of the defence budget.
Back to the snap exercise, it has been enlarged to include over 25,000 members of the KaitseliitEstonian Defence League volunteer organization (in some sources this is referred to as a separate exercise, but even if so, the two snap exercises are certainly linked). The interesting part is the fact that while it might simply have been a case of logistics, the headquarters wanting to coordinate and/or evaluate one branch at a time, the schedule also fit what could easily be the blueprint for a staggered response to a theoretical threat scenario, where first the regular units are deployed in the field, and if the crisis continues to worsen the Kaitseliit would be called up a few days later.
Thanks to gideonic and redrocket as well as to Ambassador Lauri Lepik and the team behind @estNATO for giving input on the last post and continued development!
During the recent Rikskonferens held by Folk och Försvar (national conference hosted by the Swedish association for people and defence, #fofrk) a number of people have commented on the sorry state of the Swedish defence forces compared to those of Finland. I’ve also earlier witnessed this tendency by Swedes to see Finland as a role model in this field.
We certainly are in a better state when it comes to defending our country against an armed attack, but the truth is unfortunately that we are in a downward spiral, and this seems to be accelerating. This is despite the fact that the current centre-right government at first glance seemed to be further invested in the well-being of our national defence than the broad coalition it replaced. The whole process bears an uncanny resemblance to the one which wrecked the defence forces in our neighbouring country, but is somehow forgotten amidst a few large flagship projects, such as the HX-fighter program. There is a risk that already in the medium term the Finnish defence forces will feature a number of cutting edge systems, but will find that it is severely lacking in materiel and training when it comes to the baseline capabilities (to borrow an expression from the Swedish discussion). This post will shine the light on a number of issues which needs to be addressed at some point in the near future, if Finland is to maintain a credible defence in the form we are used to.
A number of different materiel systems needs to be replaced in the near future/medium term, many of which have so far received little attention (in open media), such as:
The acquisition of new personal rifles/carbines have been put on hold, instead the older Rk 62 (Sako/Valmet-built AKM-clones) are to be refurbished. This also overlooks the fact that a large number of second-line units will have to do with a host of different AKM-clones bought in en masse from formerly East German and Chinese stocks, which lacks the ergonomics, sights, and accuracy that is needed for a personal weapon on the modern battlefield
The fact that the number of naval warships will be reduced by 27% with the introduction of the MTA2020 corvettes has been discussed at length. However, the drastic reductions in auxiliary vessels have passed largely unnoticed. The formerly ubiquitous ferry-like vessels of the Kala- and Kampela-classes have been reduced from 6+3 vessels to 0+1 vessels, and no replacement seems planned. The majority of the Linnakevene-class have been either stricken or relegated to the reserve. Three out of five of the larger Valas-class have also been withdrawn, while the number of landing crafts has been reduced with 12 Jehu ordered to accompany 36 Jurmo and replace around 30 Uisko-class landing crafts. The number of command launches (with secondary capability as light transports) has also been reduced from nine to six. While this is somewhat compensated for by the closure of manned fortifications in the archipelago, there would still be a major need of transporting people and equipment to the myriad of islands in the Gulf of Finland and Åland Sea (as a matter of fact, one could argue that the lack of permanent basing actually increases the need for transportation)
The Kuha- and Kiiski-class minesweepers (originally 6+7 vessels) are also getting long in tooth, with no replacement in sight except the three minehunters of the Katanpää-class
A number of weapons will need replacing, including light anti-tank weapons (currently the mission is handled by the M72A5 LAW) Edit: This issue has been solved by introducing the M72 EC LAW Mk.I as the 66 KES 12, 7.62 TKIV 85 and 7.62 TKIV Dragunov sharpshooter rifles (bolt-action rifles built on Mosin-Nagant receivers and SVD’s respectively), as well as the (in)famous 7.62 KvKK 62 light machine-gun
The Finnish artillery park, one of Europe’s largest (and oldest) features a number of different heavy guns and howitzers, a large number of which are towed. The plan is to replace all of these with a single self-propelled gun/howitzer, the RFI for which have been sent out. Most likely this will lead to a drastic reduction in the number of barrels (though some of the loss will be offset by the faster and simpler handling compared to towed pieces)
The need for fast and secure communications is constantly increasing, and especially for higher tactical networks the importance of modern equipment is ever growing, while at the same time the life span for how long equipment can be considered secure is shrinking
Apart from the issues of ageing material, a number of political decisions have also directly affected the current situation (ie. there is too little money to go around):
The level of refresher exercises is slowly starting to get back to the target level, but it is hard to renew the know-how lost during 2012 to 2014 when they were more or less non-existent
While the defence forces is receiving more money for renewing a number of materiel systems, tens of millions of Euros are at the same time cut from other parts of the defence budget
There were plans to cut the money allocated to the volunteer defence organizations with 400,000 Euros, or around 20% of the total sum, at the same time when the volunteer aspects of the reserve is being championed as a way of covering up the shortfall in refresher exercises. The cuts were only averted after heavy lobbying by the affected organizations
Due to the economic situation, the defence forces have been forced to use wartime stocks, meaning that these have been steadily shrinking during the last 4-5 years
In addition, there have been a number of personal quarrels between higher officials at the ministry of defence and high-ranking officers, as well as with other ministers. While open debate (to some extent) is certainly welcome and even necessary, for the outsider there seems to be quite some underlying tensions, and whether everyone actually is pulling in the same direction remains unclear.
All in all, while the situation is far from disastrous, there are certainly challenges ahead. Challenges which can only be solved if we first admit that they’re there.
The preliminary working group created last year to look into different solutions for replacing the capabilities of the F/A-18C Hornets (and the small number of F/A-18D two-seaters) in Finnish service have now published its report. The whole report can be found here, and while it is largely in Finnish it also include single page summaries in Swedish and English. In general, it is an extremely well-written document, which not only gives the “what is needed”, but also the “why this is needed”. The argumentation in the report is thorough, the working group has e.g. studied and exchanged information with the current fighter programs of Denmark, Norway, and Canada, as well as arranged a seminar with a number of the key persons involved in the original Finnish Hornet-program, to draw upon the experiences acquired then. One can only hope for a similarly well-written lobbying document from the Navy whit regards to the MTA2020 and other major procurements.
Many of the major points are well-known by now, and includes few surprise (see e.g. my earlier blog posts on the issue: 1, 2, 3, 4). The bottom line is that the working group recommends that the Hornets are to be replaced by a new multirole fighter, which isn’t surprising. Some of the nuances in the report are rather interesting. Of note is the fact that the conclusions and recommendations in the report are unanimous.
Generally, the two big themes that stand out are stealth and local maintenance.
In a number of places it is noted that while stealth is not equal to invisible (nor does it grant an automatic win in air-to-air combat), it still means that the stealthy fighter has an advantage the non-stealthy fighter hasn’t got. The big question is how long this advantage will last, as there are already a number of projects looking into how to work around stealth, e.g. by using infra-red sensors or linked radars. A research project has been launched (with a tight deadline) to determine the importance of stealth in the future. The focus is on how big the difference in detectability can be assumed to be between “true” stealth aircraft and so called 4+ generation fighters during the operational life of the HX-fighter. In the case of Finland, the only true stealth aircraft in the area are the F-35, which is one of the main candidates of the HX-project, and the Russian Sukhoi T-50, while all the other candidates can roughly be regarded as generation 4+-fighters.
The other hot issue is reliable maintenance is to be assured, especially in the light of European legislation governing acquisitions. This issue receives a lot of attention, especially with regards to direct offset agreements, see below.
The report begins by noting the far-reaching implications the acquisition of the Hornet held for the credibility of the Finnish Defence Forces, and how it took part in cementing Finland as a part of the West in the immediate post-Cold War world. In the same way, the new HX-project will have a significant effect on Finland’s relations and capabilities in the fields of national security and defence policy. The very size and nature of the HX-project means that the country of origin will become an important partner in these fields, as well as with regards to the trade balance.
Russia’s new military doctrine and the Ukrainian crises have showed that Russia have both the capabilities and political will to use force. The changes in our security environment are happening at a faster rate, and with the increased uncertainty comes the fact that “strategic surprises are possible”. With the growth in importance of the Baltic Sea and the Baltic countries, the strategic importance of controlling the inlet to the Gulf of Finland has also increased. All in all, the report is outspoken with the fact that Russia is growing more aggressive, and that this together with the Russian arms program and the renewed doctrine is one of the main threats Finland faces. The importance of the air force in “hybrid wars” and “renegade situations” (such as hijackings) has grown, as has the need for ever more complex peacekeeping and –enforcing operations.
When it comes to international collaboration, the current model gives Finland no guarantees that anyone would come to our aid in times of war (fi: turvatakuut), but provides a foundation for getting political support and possibly accepting military aid if such a situation would arise. It is also an important tool for our national security policy. Still, Finland has to be prepared to fight alone, and as such we will need to be self-sufficient whit regards to all necessary capabilities.
Of interest is that the report clearly states that the number of Hornets ordered by the Finnish Air Force, 57 F/A-18C and seven F/A-18D, is based on economics, and is in fact too small from an operational standpoint. This is a clear indication that the Air Force is not willing to go further down in numbers with the introduction of the HX. However, in the end it will come down to politics, and what the government is prepared to pay for.
The report goes into detail how the program should be managed, which I won’t discuss here. Of interest is the fact that the report clearly gives alternatives for how it is possible to circumvent normal procurement procedures thanks to directive 2009/81/EC on defence and sensitive security procurement, and thus include direct offset agreements to make certain that a sufficient maintenance organisation is kept in Finland to allow the aircrafts to be maintained and overhauled here (this could include some kind of production line). It also makes it possible to circumvent public tendering, and e.g. keep part of the procurement process secret, which is more or less a given, due to this being a key system for the Finnish Defence Forces.
The rough timeline of the project is as follows:
The project should be officially started no later than the incoming autumn (2015), after which a request for information (RFI) should be sent out in February 2016, with answers being received in October the same year. The request for quotations (RFQ) should then be issued in February 2018, after which the quotations should be sent in a year after that (February 2019). Final negotiations and evaluations then follows, after which a decision is to be made in February 2021, and the first planes should be operational in Finland starting in 2025 (Initial Operating Capability, IOC).