Two of the Nordic states are weighing their options for new fighters, while all four are seeking to access strategic airlift. What's on their shopping list?
With combined active fleets of over 320 fighter and transport aircraft, the Nordic nations have over the last few years provided increasing contributions to international operations such as NATO's Afghanistan campaign. As long-term members of the alliance, Denmark and Norway have both contributed strike aircraft - Lockheed Martin F-16s - to support the ongoing mission, while Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations Finland and Sweden continue to provide non-combat personnel to the International Security Assistance Force in the country.
Sweden intends to increase its standing on the international stage over the coming years, and in mid-2006 deployed seven of its Saab JAS39C/D Gripens to participate in a US exercise in the sternest test of the type's capabilities conducted to date. For its part, Finland has yet to deploy its Boeing F-18C/D Hornets on international duty, but is keen to come in from the cold during future missions. Both nations have outlined long-term plans to ensure their current fighter fleets remain suitable for the challenges of the next two decades, while Denmark and Norway have more immediate needs for new-generation assets.
Decisions had been expected later this month on whether the two current F-16 operators will sign a memorandum of understanding to continue their involvement in Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project into the production, sustainment and follow-on development (PSFD) phase. However, both Denmark and Norway recently indicated that they would need more time to secure the required support from their national parliaments to approve continued investments, which would still fall short of a firm commitment to purchase the aircraft. The Level 3 partners are now expected to confirm their PSFD involvement during the first quarter of 2007 and to make respective platform selections by 2009.
Uncertainty over the JSF project stems from concerns within the nations over price and potentially shifting delivery schedules for the new aircraft, and the industrial benefits available to their manufacturing and support sectors. With the jury still out on the advantages of remaining in the JSF club, two rivals have stepped up their efforts to convince Copenhagen and Oslo they should buy European, securing what they say will be increased industrial benefits through the selection of the Eurofighter Typhoon on Saab Gripen.
Saab-led Gripen International earlier this year announced plans to offer nationally tailored variants of the Swedish air force's export-standard JAS39C/D Gripen to the Danish and Norwegian governments, with these to have expanded weapon fits and additional new features. The Eurofighter proposals - headed in both nations by EADS - have also been stepped up over recent weeks, with the company having received fresh reassurances from the Norwegian government on its competitive process and also having promised to place new business worth DKr40 billion ($7.1 billion) in Denmark if its Typhoon proposal is accepted.
Pending the availability of new fighter assets, Denmark and Norway will continue to invest in their modernised F-16AM/BM fleets, and have respectively ordered Lantirm ER and Pantera targeting pods to support deployed operations involving the type in Afghanistan. Norway is also a partner in the BGT-led IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile project, along with Sweden, with the weapon to support air dominance operations at a time when increased emphasis is also being placed on air-to-surface strike tasks.
Red Flag event
Sweden earlier this year deployed seven Gripens to the USA to participate in the inaugural Red Flag Alaska event alongside aircraft from the Canadian, Japanese and US air forces, logging 340 flight hours during 200 missions. Armed with Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs - 16 of which were dropped - and AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, the aircraft performed air interdiction and close air support missions during the exercise, which was also supported by Swedish air force Lockheed C-130H transports. "We always knew where the air defence was, could avoid them and still do our work, even in very dynamic situations," says detachment commander Col Ken Lindberg. The deployment was seen as a precursor to possible future deployed operations with the Gripen to be used in support of the Nordic Battle Group, NATO Response Force or EU peacekeeping commitments from late this decade.
Stockholm earlier this year announced a possible plan to reduce its air force's operational fleet of Gripens to just 100 aircraft from a total production order for 204, but it remains committed to supporting the type's long-term development through modifications such as radar and engine enhancements (Flight International, 27 June-3 July). The type could also receive an expanded package of weapons over the coming years, potentially including a reduced mass KEPD 350L version of the Taurus Systems Taurus cruise missile to be developed from the 1,400kg (3,100lb) system already delivered to the German air force. If adopted, the fleet rationalisation strategy would make more surplus Gripens available for sale or lease, with an initial 28 already having been handed over to or due for delivery to the Czech Republic and Hungary. New and used aircraft are already being marketed to numerous nations, including Brazil, Bulgaria, India and Romania by the Gripen International organisation.
But it is not just in the fighter arena that the Nordic nations are active in funding upgrades or seeking fresh procurements, with transport aircraft also viewed as a key capability to support their increasingly expeditionary plans. All four were among the signatories to NATO's Strategic Airlift Interim Solution project earlier this year, under which partner nations are to gain pooled access of at least 2,000 flight hours a year on a fleet of up to six leased Antonov An-124s to be operated by Volga-Dnepr Airlines and ANTK Antonov. Two of the outsized transport aircraft are held at permanent readiness at Leipzig in Germany under the initial three-year deal, which could be extended until 2012 under options agreed last January.
Denmark, Norway and Sweden are also listed in the 16 NATO and PfP nations supporting an initiative to acquire three or four Boeing C-17 strategic transports to also be operated on a pooled basis, with Denmark's Søren Gade having been the first NATO defence minister to formally back the collaborative initiative by signing a letter of agreement during July's Farnborough air show in the UK. "Denmark is in Iraq, and our politicians want to show the flag more," says a Royal Danish Air Force source. The service has already taken delivery of three C-130J tactical transports to boost its international capabilities, and is awaiting the receipt of a fourth example initially held as an option.
Finland also recently sought to bolster its tactical transport capabilities through a production order for two EADS Casa C-295s to replace its Fokker F27s, with a further five options. Norway expects to continue operations of its small fleet of C-130Hs for the foreseeable future, while the Swedish air force has signed up to have its examples upgraded under Boeing's C-130 Avionics Modernisation Programme package developed for the US Air Force. Norway and Sweden had previously been mentioned as potential buyers for the developmental A400M, and Airbus Military senior vice-president communications Richard Thompson believes potential remains to sell the type to both countries in the medium-term, with deliveries expected to run until 2021. Sweden's stake in the NATO C-17 initiative looks like its best short-term airlift option, after ambitious plans to acquire the type outright failed to progress earlier this year.
A further area of need among the Nordic countries is for a new range of training aircraft, with Finland and Sweden having several years ago signed up as partners to the proposed 11-country Advanced European Jet Pilot Training, or Eurotraining initiative. However, with the project having so far failed to progress as expected, both are now looking at national solutions based on the extended use of their respective fleets of BAE Systems Hawk 51/A and Saab 105 jet trainers. Sweden in June 2006 issued a request for proposals to establish an availability-based service using its Saab 105s, with this to cover all maintenance and spares activities until around 2015. Saab Aerotech and Finland's Patria are among several companies hoping to secure the deal, and Saab on 1 December submitted its final proposal for the work to Sweden's Defence Materiel Administration (FMV). Saab Aerotech vice-president communications John Belanger says a selection is expected in early 2007, with the FMV to decide whether to reduce the air force's current 80-strong fleet and fund additional modifications to its remaining examples.
Denmark's long-term advanced jet training requirements will be met through its involvement in the Canadian Forces/Bombardier-run NATO Flying Training in Canada system, using BAE's Hawk 115, and through its involvement in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) programme in the USA. Norway also plans to continue training its fast jet pilots using the ENJJPT system at Sheppard AFB in Texas.
Other ongoing military procurements are also being funded in the multi-role helicopter sector, with Denmark a month away from receiving its last of 14 AgustaWestland EH101s and Finland, Norway and Sweden waiting to accept their first NH Industries NH90s under combined orders for 52 of the type (see feature P46). Sweden's rotorcraft transformation process is also being supported through the introduction of 20 AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters, the first six of which have now been delivered.