Finland Officially Selects F-35s As Hornet Replacements

Finland’s government officially announced on Friday afternoon that it had selected the F-35A Lighning II as the winner of the Finnish Air Force’s HX Programme. 64 Block 4 F-35As will be procured to replace the Finnish Air Force’s F/A-18 Hornets.

In a press conference, Finnish government officials stated that the 8.378 billion Euro F-35A package offered included weaponry like the AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder, SDB I and II, the JDAM family of bombs, the Joint Strike Missile and the JASSM-ER, with the AMRAAMs and Sidewinders to be ordered immediately at a cost of 754.6 million Euros. Notably, the Finnish F-35As will come with the “Sidekick” weapon mount which increases the F-35A’s internal AMRAAM carriage to six missiles, making the Finnish Air Force the first confirmed customer for the system. The Finnish F-35As will also be fitted with the drag chute found on Norwegian F-35As, designed to reduce landing distances required on Arctic runways.

The F-35’s combat, reconnaissance and survival capabilities were described as “unsurpassed” in the evaluation, with evaluations finding it to be the best or sharing the best performance in all areas. Additionally, its future prospects were found to be the best out of the contenders thanks to a “sustainable” technological solution, with a simulated 2030 specification F-35A scoring 4.47 out of 5 points, while the second placed 2030-spec aircraft scored 3.81 points, with 4 points needed to meet requirements.

According to the Finnish Air Force, the F-35A package was able to meet Finnish requirements for national security of supply. In addition to the creation of critical maintenance capacity in the Finish Defence Forces and domestic industry, Finland will have “sole national control” of certain spare components and replaceable assemblies for the F-35, alongside participation in the global sustainment and maintenance network.

The industrial participation offered by the package also aids Finnish security of supply, in addition to meeting requirements for quality and content. “Large-scale” production of the F-35’s front fuselage will be carried out in Finland, with the Finnish-made front fuselages to be used in F-35s built for other users as well. Additionally, a Finnish final assembly facility for the F-35A’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine has been offered. The domestic employment impact of production of other structural components, equipment testing and maintenance capabilities combined with the aforementioned assembly work is estimated at 4,500 person-workyears, with an additional indirect impact of 1,500 person-workyears.

Two USAF F-35s at Pirkkala Air Base for evaluation in February 2020 under the HX Challenge (Finnish Air Force)

The F-35 was described as the most cost-effective option of the contenders, with the lowest procurement cost with “all aspects” of the offer factored in. Operating and sustainment costs were judged to fall below the 254 million Euro annual budget, while lifespan development through 2060 was also deemed feasible with the Finnish Defence Forces’ resources. However, the Finnish Air Force noted that no offer was significantly less expensive in operating and sustainment costs.

Asides from the 4.703 billion Euro cost of the 64 F-35As and 754.6 million Euros for the air-to-air missile purchase, 2.920 billion Euros have been budgeted for training, support and spare parts through 2030. 777 million Euros have been budgeted for construction of new infrastructure for the F-35As, personnel costs and industrial participation, while an additional 823.8 million euros is budgeted for the final optimized weapons package and future contract amendments.

The first Finnish F-35As are expected to enter service in 2025, training Finnish crew in the United States. Deliveries to Finland will start in 2026, with the replacement of the Hornets in operational squadrons to take place between 2028 and 2030.

A USAF F-35A after landing at Pirkkala Air Base for evaluation in February 2020 under the HX Challenge (Finnish Air Force)

In a statement, Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 Program, said:

“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.

The F-35 will provide Finnish industries 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.”