The US State Department has approved the possible foreign military sale (FMS) to Finland of either 64 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters, or a package of 50 Boeing F/A-18E and eight F/A-18F fighters, and 14 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft.
Both approvals were announced on October 9 by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). Whichever is selected, the new aircraft being acquired under the HX fighter program would enter service from 2025, and would replace Finland’s fleet of 55 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D fighters which entered service in the early 1990s.
The Super Hornet/Growler package is valued at an estimated US$14.7bn (A$20.5bn) and, apart from the 72 aircraft, includes 22 spare GE F414 engines, a large package of GBU-53/B small diameter bombs (SDB II), AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, AGM-154C-1 JSOW glide bombs, AGM-158B JASSM-ER test articles, and other weapons. It also includes 32 ATFLIR targeting pods and 32 Sniper targeting pods, as well as a package of training, spares, technical publications, and support.
The F-35A package is valued at US$12.5bn (A$17.4bn) and includes two spare P&W F119 engines, a similar large package of precision guided weapons as the Super Hornet request, access to the F-35’s autonomic logistics global support system (ALGS) and operational data integrated network (ODIN), data reprogramming centre access, and a package of training, spares, technical publications, and support.
Being a neutral country in close proximity to NATO and Russian forces, Finland’s requirements closely mirror those of Switzerland, so it comes as no surprise that both of these countries have shortlisted the F-35A and the Super Hornet. But Finland’s interest in the EA-18G reflects the dynamic electronic environment of the far north where Russia has an increasingly active presence, and neighbour Sweden is also developing advanced electronic warfare capabilities.
Finland’s proposed acquisition of JASSM-ER may be of interest to Australia. Finland acquired the AGM-158A JASSM last decade to equip its F/A-18Cs, so it would make sense to integrate this relatively new and advanced capability onto its new fighter. But the USN is yet to integrate JASSM or JASSM-ER onto the Super Hornet, although the similar AGM-158C LRASM anti-ship missile version entered USN service on the Super Hornet late last year, and Australia has been cleared to acquire the LRASM for its Super Hornets.
While the overall aerodynamic and separation characteristics of JASSM and JASSM-ER are likely to be similar to those of the LRASM, the integration of targeting data would need to be developed, tested, and cleared for operational use.
With the retirement of the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B classic Hornets in 2021, Australia will also hold stocks of AGM-158A JASSM missiles which are yet to be integrated with Super Hornet or F-35, so if Finland takes a lead role on this effort, there may an opportunity for Australia to leverage this.