Finland Funds Midlife Upgrade for F/A-18s

HELSINKI - The Finnish government has confirmed $280 million in funding to enable the Finnish air force to upgrade its 63 F/A-18 Hornets. Provision for about 40 percent of the capital cost of the program was written into the 2009 defense budget.

The upgrade means that Finland is under less pressure to select new combat fighters and is unlikely to do so until after 2020. This contrasts with Nordic neighbors Norway and Denmark, which decided to buy new aircraft rather than engage in further upgrades.

Significantly, the upgrade will include fitting Hornets with long-range air-to-surface missiles by 2014, with the U.S.-made Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) the leading contender in a contest that also includes the Swedish-German Taurus missile. Other weapons under investigation include glide bombs, AGM-154C Joint Standoff Weapon and GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition "smart" bombs.

The $280 million funding program has been approved by the government's Financial Affairs Committee. The upgrade forms part of a 17-year development project that will cost $1.3 billion over the full term. Under the plan, the Finnish air force's entire fleet of Hornets is slated to be upgraded by the end of 2016.

Under an agreement with Boeing, the Hornet's manufacturer, much of the upgrade work will be carried out in Finland under contract with the state-controlled defense group Patria and subsidiary, Patria Aviation.

The upgrade will deliver a NATO-compatible aircraft with a superior flight-navigation capability, better pilot situation awareness, improved firepower and a combat aircraft better able to take part in international operations with NATO-aligned nations.

The midlife upgrades are to be carried out in two stages by 2016. Estimated cost is about $510 million for Phase 1 and $990 million for Phase 2.

Finland notified the U.S. government of its interest to acquire JASSMs since 2007, and informal discussions have been ongoing with manufacturer Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems. (By GERARD O'DWYER/defensenews)

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