Finnish Hornets: “To be replaced by Gripen or Rafale”

The odds are in favour of the SAAB JAS 39E/F Gripen to become the next multirole fighter of the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat), with the French Dassault Rafale in very close range, according to Scandinavian sources on 6 April 2015.

A Swedish Air Force JAS 39C with a ESTL self-protection pod (Image © Peter Liander / Saab AB)
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Finland has slowly started with looking for a replacement for its 55 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C Hornet single-seat and 7 F/A-18D two-seat multirole fighters. With the race officially starting coming Autumn, the participants are already warming up their engines.

Finnish-Swedish combat jet
With both Helsinki and Stockholm having agreed to increased cooperation between their defence organisations, a combined Finnish-Swedish combat jet fleet with the same type of aircraft would make matters even more easier in case both nations choose to act together in their defence against enemies like, let’s say, Russia. Not only from a military tactical point of view, but certainly from a logistical one. Any battle is easily lost with a failing flow of spare parts.

The Swedish Gripen – from a Finnish point of view produced just a short hop by boat or plane across the Gulf of Bothnia / Baltic Sea – is currently undergoing a very interesting update which gives us already a brief look in the new capabilities Next Generation dubbed Gripen E/F. That new Gripen will be the one that the Brazilian Air Force (36 or more) is buying and that the Swedish Air Force (60 or more) has ordered.

Swedish Gripens in formation with Norwegian F-16s earlier during exercise Cold Response (Image © 338 Skvadron / Forsvaret Norge)
Scandinavian cooperation on defence matters is on the increase. A perfect example has been the Norwegian-Swedish-Finnish cooperation during large scale exercises like Cold Response. Here Swedish Gripens in formation with Norwegian F-16s (Image © 338 Skvadron / Forsvaret Norge)
A Finnish Air Force F-18C Hornet at Keflavik for the Iceland Air Meet 2014 (Image © Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets medisenter)
A Finnish Air Force F-18C Hornet at Keflavik for the Iceland Air Meet 2014 (Image © Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets medisenter)

Finland is not that far yet, but has requested and received classified documents on the capabilities of the Gripen. This has now confirmed by sources within both the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) and within the government in Stockholm.

Rafale mission
But the race is far from done. Just before Easter, the Finnish Chief of Defence went along for a French Air Force training mission in the backseat of a Dassault Rafale B, flying in formation with at least one other Rafale after take-off from Base Aérienne 113 Saint-Dizier (St. Dizier Airbase), situated east of Paris. As happy of any of us would be, General Jarmo Lindberg tweeted about his Rafale adventure. During earlier trials in Switzerland – where the Gripen competed against the Rafale – the Swiss Air Force said to have been very impressed by the French jet’s performances, but the Swiss government choose the Gripen because it was deemed financially a better choice, with the Swiss population shooting down the governments purchase decision leaving the Swiss Air Force without a successor to the aging and slowly obsolete Northrop F-5 fighter-bombers.

“See” stealthy fighter
Sources in Helsinki say that the Eurofighter Typhoon is considered a candidate too expensive. The same goes for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, but its stealthy capabilities give the American jet a nice deck of cards. However, SAAB is already on that and reportedly has developed radar and software updates that will enable the aircraft and/or the new Meteor Beyond-Visual-Range air-to-air missile to be able to “see” stealthy fighter jets anyway, by detecting other signatures like the heat exhaust caused by the aircraft’s engines.

One of the Sukhoi T-50 / PAK-FA prototypes on a regular test flight (Image © Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
The Finnish fighter jet will have to be a match – at least a bit – to this Sukhoi T-50 / PAK-FA that will be the top dog of the Russian Air Force in the near future (Image © Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The new Meteor is also said to outclass the weaponry of the US Air Force, which has traditionally focused on aircraft rather than missile technology. That has even worried American generals a bit, since the new Russian fighter jets such as the Sukhoi Su-35 “Flanker” and the stealthy T-50 / PAK-FA have both the electronic defence capabilities and better missiles to make life of US fighter jocks complicated. It might take F-35 pilots to launch maybe all the air-to-air missiles brought along to score one “kill”. The F-35A has only two points for those in its internal weapon bays. Sure, the jet can bring along a total load of eight AIM-120 AMRAAMS and two AIM-9 Sidewinders if the rest is put on external pylons, but having weapons on the outside kills the stealthy features that might give the F-35 the upper hand.

Whatever the Finnish government decides to buy – the comfort of the Gripen, the finesse of the Rafale or the stealthiness of the F-35 – the race is on!

© 2015 editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A F-18C Hornet from Finland shows it all on finals. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

A Finnish Air Force F-18C (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A Finnish Air Force F-18C (Image © Dennis Spronk)