Friday, December 1, 2023

Finland: 10 criteria to determine who would be the best replacement for the F18?

While Saab has just advanced its pawns in the competition pitting it in Finland against other Western aircraft manufacturers, it appears that an analysis along the lines of that carried out concerning Switzerland would provide clarification on the choices facing Finnish leaders. . It is not possible, in fact, to relate the Swiss analysis to Finnish needs, as the geographical, political and operational conditions diverge greatly. These differences lead not only to a different assessment of the criteria mentioned, but also to the reorganization of certain criteria.

As before, a score ranging from 1 to 5 will be assigned to each device for each of the criteria, 5 representing the best response, in proportion to the other devices and Finnish needs, and 1 representing a very insufficient response to these same needs. Likewise, the aircraft in the running are the JAS39 E/F from Saab, which will be considered accompanied by 2 GlobalEye early air warning aircraft in accordance with the offer made by Sweden, the Rafale to the F4 standard, the Typhoon from Eurofighter in the versatile standard which will be that of the German Typhoon replacing the Tornados, the F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet also accompanied by 2 E2-D Hawkeyes to meet the criteria defined by Sweden, and the F35A from Lockheed-Martin. The criteria selected are as follows:

1- Maneuverability

Even in the absence of relief as in Switzerland, maneuverability remains a determining criterion for evaluating the performance of the Finnish aircraft. Indeed, the Finnish aviation will be required, in the future, to regularly face Russian aircraft, during maneuvers, provocations, or, if necessary, combat. Russian aircraft, such as the Su35 or Su30, are known to be extremely agile, and poor agility would deprive the aircraft of an advantage in close combat. In this area, the Rafale and the Gripen stand out, both aircraft being very agile, even when carrying a large load. They obtain a score of 5. The Typhoon is also very maneuverable, but is less efficient at medium and low altitude than the two preceding aircraft, it obtains a score of 4. The Super Hornet is, by its design, less maneuverable than the "Eurocanards", it obtains a score of 3, while the F35 closes this ranking with a score of 2, the aircraft being, in this area, very inferior to the other aircraft in the panel, as well as to the Russian aircraft to which it could be confronted, because being designed above all for combat BVR[efn_note]Beyond Visual Range[/efn_note]

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Two Swedish Air Force Gripen

2- Velocity

With an area of ​​almost 340,000 km2, 8 times larger than that of Switzerland, Finnish planes must be able to reach high speeds, and maintain this speed to quickly arrive at the engagement zone. In this configuration, the "super cruise" capacity is a marked advantage, allowing aircraft to maintain supersonic speed without having to resort to post-combustion which consumes a lot of fuel, so as to have greater autonomy once arrived. In this area, the Rafale and the Typhoon are the most efficient, combining super-cruise with great autonomy and a significant payload capacity, and obtain a score of 5. The Gripen also has Super Cruise capacity, but its autonomy and its more limited carrying capacity gives it a rating of 4. The F18 Super Hornet like the F35 does not have access to super cruise, and has a more limited autonomy than European planes. They get a score of 2.

3- Availability

In the event of a conflict in Europe, Finland, despite its neutrality, is likely to be on the front line, and to have to support a major military offensive within a potentially very short time frame. Under these conditions, the availability of devices is a determining criterion, acting as a force multiplier or, in the opposite case, as a power divider, depending on whether it is important or not. Due to its on-board DNA, and in view of the availability observed in external operations, the Rafale obtains the best score of 5 for this criterion. Like it, the Gripen has simplified maintenance procedures to improve availability. But some Gripen users having encountered some problems in this area, it receives a rating of 4. Both the Typhoon and the F18 have relatively standard availability for this type of device, and both face maintenance difficulties on the part from their respective operators, justifying the rating of 3. The F35 has an Average Time Between Failure of only 7.5 hours, much lower than those of other devices, for which this figure is greater than 30 hours. It only obtains a score of 2, knowing that this score takes into account the margin for progress in the maintenance of the aircraft, which will always require 3 times more maintenance personnel than a Rafale between two flights.

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4- Rusticity

Hardiness remains a major criterion in the Finnish evaluation, the devices may be called upon to operate on poorly equipped dispersal sites, with a reduced maintenance team. In this area, the Rafale and the F/A 18 Super Hornet obtain the best score, 5, having been designed to meet this particular criterion due to their use on aircraft carriers. The Gripen being operated by Sweden in an environment similar to Finland, but the device being less resistant than on-board aircraft, obtains a score of 4. The Typhoon , with a score of 3, meets Finnish requirements without however reaching the level of performance of the 3 devices which precede it, in particular due to heavier maintenance. Finally, the F35, as in the case of Switzerland, only obtains a score of 2, due to its significant maintenance needs between 2 flights, and the essential connection to the ALIS system.

5- Detection and counter-detection

This criterion synthesizes the detection capabilities of the device, or the device/EAW pair proposed by the manufacturer, and the capabilities of remaining invisible to the adversary. In this area, the F35 obtains a score of 5, having been designed to meet this criterion, and having both an excellent radar and ESM detection system, electromagnetic and infrared stealth much superior to that of the others competitors, and very advanced communication and data exchange capabilities. The Gripen and F18, accompanied respectively by GlobalEye and Hawkeye alert devices, obtain a score of 4, even if the 2 GlobalEye offered by Saab would not ensure permanent surveillance in the event of a crisis. The enhanced capabilities of the RBE2 radar, the Spectra system, Front Sector Optics and digital communication systems characterizing the F4 standard of the Rafale , justify its rating of 3, as well as for the Typhoon , whose future developments will reach a standard comparable to the Rafale F4 in this area..

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F35A of the Norwegian Air Force

6- Technological interoperability

This criterion characterizes the capabilities of the device to communicate and exchange data with devices or forces on the ground, at sea, or belonging to countries that could potentially act as allies of Finland. In this area, the Gripen, due to its Swedish origin, a country bordering Finland, and sharing the same destiny as well as the same neutrality in the event of conflict, obtains the maximum score of 5. Just like the F35A which, for its part, has the largest solution for interoperability and communication with the forces of NATO countries, including Norway and Denmark, which use this device. Rafale , Typhoon and F18 meet NATO standards in this area, and all obtain a score of 3.

7- Air-Air Capabilities

Let us now enter into the evaluation of the operational performance of the devices, with the Air-Air capabilities, summarizing the detection, maneuvering, and engagement capabilities of the proposed devices. In this area, the Typhoon obtains a score of 5, even handicapped by the absence of an Early Air Warning aircraft. The aircraft, designed for this mission, is capable of carrying a wide range of air-to-air weapons, and has very efficient active (radar) and passive (IRST/ESM) detection equipment. The Rafale follows the Typhoon , with very similar characteristics, and carrying the very effective Mica missile and its successor, the Mica NG, in addition to the European Meteor. It obtains a rating of 4, like the Gripen, which has lower carrying performance and autonomy, but which benefits from the presence of GlobalEye. The F18, with the support of the E2-D, obtains a score of 3. If the Haweye is an excellent early air warning system, the F18 has more limited performance than its European counterparts, both in terms of detection and carry and engagement performance. However, it remains up to par with current Russian devices. The F35 performs very well in BVR[efn_note]Beyond Visual Range[/efn_note] engagement, but its poor maneuverability, its lower speed, its carrying capacity and its autonomy limit its rating to 3.

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Rafale in super-heavy configuration

8- Air-Ground and Air-Surface Capabilities

In an environment probably very exposed to Russian ground-to-air systems, the stealth of the F35A will provide significant added value, even despite the limitations of the aircraft. It obtains a score of 5. The Rafale obtains a score of 4, due to its significant payload capacity, its maneuverability, its autonomy, and its ability to carry out high-speed penetration operations at very low altitude, limiting the response times of anti-aircraft forces. In addition, the device, perfectly multi-mission, is capable of providing air-to-air protection alone, without deteriorating its performance. The Gripen and the F18 obtain a score of 3, the devices being less efficient than the two previous ones, whether in terms of counter-detection, as well as in terms of carrying capacity and autonomy. The Typhoon is handicapped in this area, having not been designed for these missions, it obtains a score of 2.

9- Political context of the offer

As the political and industrial elements of each participant's offers are not, for the moment, known to the public, we will evaluate here the potential implications of the Finnish choice in favor of each device, in the field of the country's Defense policy. In this area, the geographical and political proximity of Sweden with Finland naturally gives the Swedish offer the maximum score of 5. An aggression against Finland naturally commits Sweden, the capacity to join the Defense effort of the two country is obviously a crucial point, even if the Swedish army has limited capabilities. Furthermore, both countries share a position of benevolent neutrality towards NATO, and are both members of the EU. The F35 scores a 4, being used by two other Scandinavian countries (Norway and Denmark), and integrating the country into the F35 club, increasingly acting as a military alliance in its own right. The other 3 aircraft obtain a score of 3, the political involvement of the manufacturing countries being limited only to the materials delivered, and, possibly, to some training and military cooperation agreements.

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10- Price

Last criterion to evaluate, the price, which remains a major criterion because it determines the potential format of the fleet implemented, the sustainability of the modernization of this same fleet, and the crowding out effects which would be generated with regard to other Defense programs, when the price is very high. The Gripen being the cheapest to purchase and use, it obtains a score of 5. As in Switzerland, the Rafale and the F18 obtain a score of 4, and the Typhoon , more expensive, a score of 3. The F35A is the most expensive, costing over its lifespan more than twice the price of the Rafale , for example. Above all, the low availability of the device, combined with its very high price, jointly affect the ratio of effective operational performance to the price of the F35A, in a ratio more than 6 times lower than that of the Gripen. The rating of 1 is therefore justified, even taking into account the US Air Force's objective of reducing the price of maintenance per flight hour to $30,000 announced by the US Air Force (without any coherent solution has not been presented)


The table below presents a summary of the scores assigned to the 5 devices

Gripen E/F
Rafale F4TyphoonF/A 18 E/F
Super Hornet
Lighting II
EAWGlobalEyeE2-D Hawkeye
Detection and counter-detection43345
Air-to-Air Capabilities34533
Air-Ground Capabilities34335
Political Context53334


The classification resulting from this analysis differs significantly from that applied to the Swiss case. The Gripen, associated with the GlobalEye early warning aircraft, comes in first position, due to the versatility of the Swedish offer, as well as the obvious political proximity between the two countries.

The Rafale ranks second, just one point behind the Gripen. The high level of performance of the Dassault aircraft in all critical areas, particularly adapted to the geography of the country, and the very extensive needs that the Finnish Air Force will have to face, make the Rafale an excellent candidate for replacement of the F18s.

The Typhoon ranks third, the aircraft being obviously more at home in the wide open spaces of Finland than in the cramped Swiss mountains. Its Air-to-Air capabilities, however, fail to compensate for its weaknesses in air-to-ground and air-to-surface.

The F18 Super Hornet is the aircraft having recorded the largest downgrade in this ranking against Switzerland. The lack of super cruise and the more limited autonomy of the aircraft are very handicapping for a country the size of Finland when it comes to facing modern Russian aircraft, even if the F18 Hornet fulfilled perfectly its mission for 3 decades.

As in Switzerland, the F35A finishes this ranking, once again very handicapped by its inferior aeronautical qualities, and its very high price of ownership. As for Switzerland, Finland is not intended to launch preventive attacks, nor missions in the depth of the opposing system, the advantages of the F35A, considered essential by many allies of the United States, do not manage to compensate its flaws in this analysis, especially since nothing guarantees Finland American support in the event of tensions. Let us not forget that the difference in cost price over the lifespan of the aircraft between 60 F35As and 60 Rafale F4s would make it possible to finance and maintain over 30 years a fleet of 5 Gowind2500 type ASM corvettes and 3 Scorpène submarines, or 400 E-MBT battle tanks accompanied by 400 VBCI 2 Infantry Combat Vehicles and 80 CAESAR self-propelled cannons...

Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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