Finland is now expected to buy 64 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants–outfitted with the drag chute system also used by Norway for landing in icy climates—to replace its legacy F/A-18 Hornets. Also included in the deal is a suite of weapons and a sustainment package.
“It was a tough race,” Finnish defense minister Antti Kaikkonen said during a press conference announcing the decision today.
The company beat a crowded field of competitors, including the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen E. And it appears the F-35 defeated all comers handily.
Maj. Gen. Pasi Jokinen, commander of the Finnish air force, said the F-35 came first or shared the top score in all mission areas. Overall, the jet scored 4.47 on the capability assessment, exceeding the 4.0 requirement. The next highest scorer achieved only a 3.81.
Finland’s HX competition was of particular interest to defense watchers because of its unusual acquisition strategy, which allowed companies to offer a package of fighters and complimentary systems to meet Finland’s operational requirements and the wider threat environment. (For instance, Saab offered a pair of GlobalEye airborne early warning aircraft as part of its package, while Boeing included an option for EA-18G Growler electronic attack planes.) The competition was capped off by a two-week simulated wargame.
“It was important to select the system with the best possible capabilities, including supporting elements and development capacity over the entire life cycle,” Kaikkonen said.
“[The] F-35 passed the Finnish requirements regarding security of supply, industry participation and cost,” he said. “In the military capability evaluation, the F-35 provided [the] best overall military capability to strengthen our defense systems. The F-35’s effectiveness across air, land and sea received the highest rating in the assessment.”
The first Finnish F-35 is slated to be delivered in 2025, when the first Hornets begin phasing out.
Lockheed Martin immediately welcomed the announcement, highlighting the industrial benefits of the company’s proposal.
“We are honored the Government of Finland through its thorough, open competition has selected the F-35, and we look forward to partnering with the Finnish Defence Forces and Finnish defence industry to deliver and sustain the F-35 aircraft,” said Bridget Lauderdale, the company’s vice president for the F-35 program, in a statement.
“The F-35 will provide Finnish industries [with] unique digital capabilities that leverage 5th Generation engineering and manufacturing. The production work will continue for more than 20 years, and the F-35 sustainment work will continue into the 2070s,” she said.
Those industrial incentives include some production of the F-35 forward fuselage for Finland and other customers, production of certain structural components, and an engine final assembly project for Finnish air force jets, according to a news release by the Finnish Ministry of Defense.
The win marks the second F-35 victory in a global fighter competition this year. In June, Switzerland announced that the joint strike fighter had beaten Dassault, Eurofighter and Boeing for a $6.5 billion contract. Canada is also expected to announce a long awaited decision for its fighter competition — now down to the F-35 and Gripen — early next year.
The victory also continue a trend of dominance from the F-35, which has won every acquisition contest it has entered in with the exception of Germany. In doing so, a bifurcation is being solidified in the military fighter market: Those able to afford top-end fighters are leaning F-35, with everyone else left fighting over the smaller markets.
A Boeing spokesman said the company is disappointed by Finland’s decision but remains confident in sales prospects for the Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, with “significant international interest in both platforms.”
A Saab spokesman said the company will continue to work closely with Finland, “although the outcome is not the one we sought and fought hard for, as Saab presented a very strong offer with Gripen, GlobalEye, an extensive weapons package and a substantial industrial participation programme.”
This article was published by Breaking Defense on December 10, 2021.