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Finnish Air Force to test 5 different fighters during HX Challenge.

| 2020

The Finnish Air Force will organise the HX Challenge testing and evaluation event from 9 January to 26 February 2020. The hub of the event will be Pirkkala Air Base.The objective of the HX Challenge is to verify the data reported by the fighter manufacturers under Finnish conditions and through tests designed in Finland. Each of the five candidates will undergo a test period of seven weekdays.

Finnish Air Force tests 5 different fighters The Hornets will be phased out by 2030. The HX Program was set up to replace the current fleet with new fighters. Options for replacing Hornets are : Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (United States),  Dassault Rafale (France),  Eurofighter Typhoon (UK) Lockheed Martin F-35 (United States) and Saab Gripen (Sweden).
The final decision on fighters will be made in 2021. (Picture source: Finnish AIr Force )

Colonel Juha-Pekka Keränen is the Finnish Air Force HX Programme Director. Col Keränen reports details on the HX Challenge:

The HX Challenge is the first stage of the capability assessment. The aim of the testing and evaluation event is to verify that each candidate’s systems and performance values match the data reported by the manufacturers.

The second phase of the capability assessment will make use of the data and performance values established during the HX Challenge. Carried out with virtual simulators, this phase focuses on determining the success of a flight of four aircraft in the scenarios itemised in the call for tenders.

The third phase will demonstrate the operational efficiency of each candidate’s comprehensive HX solution by playing and simulating a long-term war game. The data obtained in the first two phases of the capability assessment will be utilised in the war game, which will feature the HX solutions as a part of Finland’s defence system.

All in all, the purpose of the HX Challenge is not to rank the candidates, but to make sure that the performance values reported in the responses to the call for tenders actually apply in the Finnish operating environment. We will utilise the verified data in the second and third phases of the capability assessment.

The HX Challenge plays an important role in establishing the candidates’ performance values and systems in realistic conditions. However, testing and evaluation will also be carried out through other means. Some metrics will be verified through test flights in the candidates’ home countries, and some through simulations and laboratory tests.

As we evaluate the different performance values of the aircraft and its systems, we choose the most secure and practical method to verify the particular data. For instance, certain parameters and tactics would be used only under emergency conditions. In order to safeguard operational security, these performance values will be assessed in a geographically limited area or entirely through simulations and laboratory tests.

The testing and evaluation event is organised in Finland so that each candidate’s performance values can be verified under Finnish conditions and through tests designed in Finland. This guarantees fair and balanced evaluation for all the five candidates. Finnish winter conditions have an effect especially on the performance of electro-optical sensors. In addition, other active and passive sensor systems may be affected. Modern multi-role fighters can manage low temperatures and freezing cold. However, when the temperature is around zero degrees centigrade, the conditions often get more challenging because of a combination of rain, freezing drizzle, sleet and snow.

The hub of the HX Challenge will be Pirkkala Air Base, the main operating base of the Satakunta Air Command, but evaluation flights will take place all across Finland. In the air, the candidates will face Finnish Air Force F/A-18s and Hawk jet trainers. The Air Combat Centre of the Satakunta Air Command will play an important role in the execution of the testing and evaluation event. Within the Finnish Air Force, the Air Combat Centre is tasked with flight-testing as well as the research and development of air warfare tactics and doctrines.

The HX Fighter Programme is a part of the development of Finland’s defence system. Thus, the Army, the Navy as well as the Finnish Defence Forces’ joint commands and agencies (e.g. FDF Logistics Command, FDF C5 Agency, Finnish Defence Research Agency) will participate in the HX Challenge with their know-how and equipment. Naturally, the new fighters must be able to network with Army and Navy weapon systems as seamlessly as possible.

The HX Challenge will evaluate the capabilities reported by the manufacturers in the five categories of operations itemised in the call for tenders: counter-air, counter-land, counter-sea, long-range strike as well as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition. For example, we will test the candidates’ capabilities to support Army and Navy troops. Thus, it is only natural that experts from all the services participate in the HX Challenge. The emphasis of the event will be on the verification of technical systems, not on the assessment of tactical efficiency.

The HX Challenge test periods will start on 9 January and end on 26 February. We have designated a test period of seven weekdays for each of the candidates. The first Eurofighter Typhoons will arrive at Pirkkala Air Base in the beginning of January, and the last Super Hornets will leave at the end of February. The number of aircraft and personnel arriving in Finland varies from one candidate to another. Each candidate will bring two to four aircraft to Pirkkala Air Base as some of the evaluation flights will require two aircraft. January and February will be extremely busy for the Satakunta Air Command, with more Defence Forces personnel than regularly on the air base.

The HX Challenge is a technical testing and evaluation event, not an air show or a live air exercise. In the Tampere region, the event can be seen mostly as individual take-offs and landings at the Pirkkala Air Base. In addition, there will be temporary restrictions of movement in the vicinity of the base. During the HX Challenge, the Satakunta Air Command will designate a location between terminals 1 and 2 on the civilian side of the airport where it will be possible to watch the take-offs and landings.

The performance values of the candidates will be measured and verified through carefully planned sorties. The evaluation flights will be flown mainly between 8 am and 4 pm. On a couple of days, there will be tests in low-light conditions in the evening after office hours. No evaluation flights will be flown during the weekends.

The HX Fighter Programme negotiation process is separate from the HX Challenge. The objective of the negotiations is to enhance and optimise each candidate’s HX solution.

The HX negotiation process will progress step-by-step. The tenderer-specific revised Request for Quotation (RFQ), based on the initial tenders and the first phase of HX Programme negotiations with the candidates, was sent to the manufacturers in October 2019 and responses to the revised RFQ will be accepted until 31 January 2020. The revised RFQ launched the second phase of the HX Programme negotiations, in which the content of the HX solution will be finalised with each tenderer.

The request for the Best and Final Offer (BAFO) will be sent to the tenderers in 2020 at the end of the second phase of the HX Programme negotiations. The Government of Finland will decide on the procurement in 2021.

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