Finland will buy 64 new fighter jets

Finland’s Ministry of Defense has announced that they expect to buy 64 new fighter jets. That means that the country’s F/A-18 Hornets will be replaced on a one to one basis.

Manager of the acquisition program Lauri Puranen says to yle.fi that since the new jets are not faster than the old ones, and they can’t stay longer in the air, Finland needs the same number of jets to maintain the performance of the air defense. And 64 fighter jets is according to Puranen the minimum number to defend a country of Finland’s size.

Finland expects to make a purchasing decision in 2021, and the new fighters must be in place by 2030 when the current fleet of Hornets are due for retirement. Five aircraft are in the competition:

  • F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
  • Eurofighter Typhoon
  • JAS 39 Gripen E
  • Dassault Rafale

As Corporal Frisk points out, Finland has a tradition of buying defense equipment that is just a little behind the cutting edge, aiming for the sweet spot where the R&D work is done and the costs are known but the product is still modern. Finland expects to spend €7-10 billion on the purchase, of which 10-20 percent is dedicated to the weapons’ package.

Finland’s inclination to buy well tested equipment means that the choice of fighter jet is less obvious than in Norway and Denmark where the F-35 seemed the inevitable winner. The Finnish Ministry of Defense has hinted that they expect their new fighter to be able to launch long-range ground attack cruise missiles, and that they are not willing to participate in development work. It may be difficult to get this fully developed for the F-35 before 2030, so that may put other manufacturers at an advantage. (Corporal Frisk’s post is a very good elaboration on this argument.)

The Finnish message that the old fighter jets will be replaced by a similar number of new ones is in contrast to the Danish decision to replace 44 old F-16s with only 27 F-35s. The Danish assumption is that the new planes need less maintenance, so they can deliver more flight hours per year.

Lithuania hopes for NATO air defense agreement in 2018

Lithuanian defense minister Raimundas Karoblis says he hopes that the NATO countries can reach an agreement in 2018 on the principles for a comprehensive air defense concept for the Baltic region, writes Delfi.lt.

According to the Lithuanian minister the problem is political, as the technical details are mostly worked out. He therefore hopes that air defense can be included in NATO’s existing plans for a forward presence in the Baltic countries.

Air defense is considered by Lithuania as the weak link in the defense of the country. In October the country signed a €109 million deal for the Norwegian air defense system NASAMS, but Lithuania hopes that the Polish acquisition of Patriot missiles can integrate into a broader comprehensive system. Patriot has a longer range and a better capability against missiles than NASAMS, and the Polish missiles could provide protection over Lithuania if they are placed close to the border.

It is unlikely that NATO can have a permanent deployment of ground based air defense systems in the Baltic Countries, because the alliance doesn’t have enough of them. But a stronger mandate for the air policing mission in the Baltic Countries is seen by the minister as a possible step to a comprehensive air defense.

Russia’s new strategic bombers will fly soon

Dave Majumdar for The National Interest:

Early next year in February, the first of Russia’s new production Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers will take to the air.

The new bomber is essentially a prototype of a next generation variant of the venerable Blackjack, the first generation of which was built during the 1980s in the last days of the Soviet Union. Russia operates 16 of the surviving aircraft as long-range cruise missile carriers as a key part of its strategic bomber force. The aircraft have performed well during Russia’s Syria campaign acting as launch platforms for the stealthy MKB Raduga H-101 cruise missile, which is thought to have a range between 4,500MKm and 5,500Km.

[…]

The Russians plan to buy about fifty of the new Tu-160 variant. It is also likely that the 16 original model Tu-160 airframes will be upgraded to the new standard. Moscow can make do with the upgraded Tu-160M2 for its strategic bomber force because unlike the United States Air Force, the Russian Air Force does not expect the massive aircraft to penetrate into enemy airspace to deliver its payload. Instead, the Tu-160—which is capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0—would dash into position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles. As such, stealth is not considered to be particularly important. Indeed, one of the advantages of a highly visible strategic bomber is that it enables nuclear signaling.

Interesting point that if the missiles have a range of over 4000 kilometers, the aircraft doesn’t need to be stealth.

Sale of Patriot missiles to Poland approved

The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of Patriot missiles to Poland, reports Reuters:

The proposed sale includes 208 Patriot Advanced Capabilty-3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement missiles, 16 M903 launching stations, four AN/MPQ-65 radars, four control stations, spares, software and associated equipment.

In addition, Poland is authorized to buy U.S. government and contractor technical, engineering and logistics support services as well as range and test programs for a total estimated potential program cost of up to $10.5 billion.

It is expected that the final negotiated price will be lower. Poland has mentioned an estimated price of $7.6 billion on the deal.

Germany will probably replace Tornado with F-35

It looks like Germany might join the F-35 family around 2025. According to Janes the Joint Strike Fighter is the preferred choice as a replacement for the Tornado.

The Tornado will retire around 2030, and the transition to its successor will take about five years. It makes a lot of sense to replace the Tornado with a fifth generation fighter, and the F-35 is the only one available at this time schedule.

Earlier Germany had set its hopes on Airbus to be ready with its New Fighter. However, now it seems that this aircraft will not be ready before the 2040-timeframe. It is therefore much more likely as a replacement for Germany’s Eurofighter Typhoons and the French Dassault Rafale.

The New Fighter is the manned fighter jet in a concept that Airbus calls Future Combat Air System (FCAS). In addition to the New Fighter, Airbus envisions a future where different kinds of manned aircraft and UAV’s operate interconnectedly as a family in the FCAS. One must hope that Airbus makes it easy to integrate products from other manufacturers into FCAS, because otherwise Germany might find itself in a complicated mixed family situation. Connectivity is vital for future air operations, and if Germany’s 85 Tornados and 125 Eurofighters are replaced by the same numbers of F-35s and New Fighters respectively they have to be able to exchange data smoothly.

Sweden settles on US Patriot missiles

Sweden will buy Patriot missiles to replace the country’s old Hawk air defense system. Political turmoil has preceded the 10 billion kroner deal.

Sweden will go ahead with the Patriot air defense system to replace the country’s aging Hawk batteries. That is clear after a broad coalition of political parties has decided to ask the Defense Materiel Administration (FMV) to commence negotiations regarding the procurement.

The initial price of Sweden’s Patriot system is expected to be in the 10-12 billions SEK price range, but that only includes the radar system, fire control systems, and the launchers. It does not include the missiles themselves, of which Sweden can choose between different variants. The total cost may therefore exceed 20-25 billions SEK. The system will be fully implemented in 2025.

What are Patriot missiles

Patriot is an American air defense system manufactured by Raytheon. It gets its name from the backronym “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target” which indicates how the radar system works. Development of the system started in 1976, and it was first operational in 1984. Since then the system has received modernizations through “Patriot Advanced Capability” upgrades known as PAC-1, PAC-2, and PAC-3.

PAC-1 missiles have an operational range up to 70 kilometers. PAC-2 missiles have a range of 100-150 kilometers and can reach an altitude of up to 24 kilometers. They are useful against both ballistic and atmospheric targets. The PAC-3 missiles are specialized against ballistic missiles, and they are probably not on the table for the Swedish defense.

Why has Sweden chosen Patriot

There were two missile systems in the Swedish competition, and Patriot won over the French-Italian Aster SAMP/T system. In several ways the SAMP/T is a more modern system than Patriot with the ability to control more missiles simultaneously, a larger range, 360 degrees radar coverage (Patriot has only 120 degrees), and better fire-and-forget capabilities. However, Patriot won the competition, and Swedish defense minister Hultqvist assures that the decision was entirely based on the technical merits of the systems where Patriot was a better match for Sweden. It is commonly speculated, though, that a desire to nurture political relationships made the needle swing towards the American system.

Political turmoil

The decision to buy the Patriot system was disturbed somewhat in October when internal disagreements in the social democratic party threatened to stall the process. Apparently foreign minister Margot Wallström and finance minister Magdalena Andersson were heavily against the purchase, finding it to be too expensive and an unnecessarily aggressive move at a time when diplomatic relationships with Russia need improvement.

Right wing opposition parties also expressed concerns about the costs of the system but from a very different angle. They were fundamentally concerned that the system would be so expensive that it would steal resources from other projects in the armed forces that also need improvements. Some were worried that the total costs of the system were too uncertain.

In the end, the politicians found each other to make the deal. It is speculated that one of the political costs for defense minister Hultqvist for the acquisition of the Patriot system was to accept that Sweden will sign the controversial UN resolution to ban nuclear weapons.

Nordic countries agree to exchange radar data for air surveillance

The Nordic countries have agreed to enhance air surveillance through the exchange of radar data between the members of NORDEFCO. The defense ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nordic Cooperation for Air Surveillance Information Exchange during their meeting in Helsinki yesterday. Several sources report this, but I have found the Norwegian government to have the most informative announcement.

The ambition is to create a better total picture of the airspace over the region. Of course this is only a political agreement that makes the political framework to allow the exchange of data, and it may take a long time before any data is actually exchanged. It is technically difficult to make systems communicate with each other, and sometimes the bureaucracies in the countries move slower than the political ambitions. Nevertheless, the agreement to exchange radar data is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope the technicians can make it work quickly.

Belarus acquires more air defense missiles

Belarus has ordered a new battery of surface-to-air Tor-M2 missiles (NATO name SA-15 Gauntlet), bringing the number to a total of five batteries, according to the Russian defense blog bmpd. The first battery was acquired in 2011, and since then the arsenal has grown steadily with the goal to end at ten batteries in 2020. The weapons are delivered as part of an agreement between Belarus and Russia about the development of military technology.

Belarus has bought the 9K332MK version of the Tor-M2, which is a short-range missile with a maximum range of 16 kilometers, a maximum altitude of 10 kilometers, and a maximum speed of 1000 m/s. Typically a battery consists of four vehicles with 8 missiles each and a command vehicle.

Air defense missiles seem to be the thing these days. Lithuania just announced the purchase of a Norwegian made air defense system, and Sweden is having an intense debate about the purchase of air defense missiles which has run into some political turmoil after the realization that the price tag is billions of SEK. Denmark is expected to equip its frigates with SM2 missiles as part of the next political defense agreement, which will give much improved air defense capabilities.

Lithuania acquires Norwegian air defense system

Lithuania has announced the purchase of the Norwegian air defense system NASAMS in a €109 million deal with Kongsberg. The system is expected to be fully operational in 2021, reports armyreconition.com.

NASAMS is a ground based solution with air defense radars and surface launched medium range missiles. Such a system will be very useful in a tactical scenario, significantly improving the country’s ability to defend its airspace. The range of the missiles is limited, but the geography of Lithuania makes it possible to move the missiles around quickly and hide them almost everywhere, so the mere existence of the system will challenge the ability of an attacker to dominate the air space.

In addition to an air defense system, Lithuania is also in the process of acquiring the Boxer armored fighting vehicle and PzH 2000 howitzers.

F-35 arrives in Norway on Thursday

The first three Joint Strike Fighters will arrive in Norway on Thursday, according to this official statement by the government. Officially the three aircraft will be received at a ceremony on Friday, November 10 at the Ørland Main Air Station.

Norway has already received seven F-35s that are being used in USA for training. In total, Norway has ordered 52 aircraft, and the remaining 42 will be delivered at a pace of six per year until 2024.

This is truly a big occasion for the Norwegian defense, marking the culmination of a process that started in 2005 when the official competition for a new fighter aircraft was initiated. By the time all aircraft are delivered, the entire process will have taken almost 20 years.