Finland is continuing to analyse responses to a request for information it issued last year as part of the HX programme to replace its air force’s fleet of Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornets.

It anticipates beginning the formal selection process in early 2018, when it will send a request for quotation (RFQ) to five manufacturers. These are Boeing, BAE Systems (representing Eurofighter), Dassault, Lockheed Martin and Saab, for their respective F/A-18E/F, Typhoon, Rafale, F-35 and Gripen E.

Lauri Puranen, HX project manager at the Finnish defence ministry, says it will not be overly prescriptive in its specifications, allowing bidders to propose a range of solutions – both manned and unmanned – to meet a number of key scenarios.

However, Helsinki’s baseline requirement is for 64 multi-role fighters, says Puranen.

“It is still possible in the RFQ that someone would provide a solution which could include a fighter and a [signals intelligence] SIGINT aircraft together. It is still open,” he says.

Helsinki’s baseline requirement is for 64 multi-role fighters, says Puranen, but acknowledges that the capability could be met in different ways. “If somebody provides that capability working with the fighter and that solution looks good, then it’s up to the providers.”

However, Puranen stresses that Finland is not actively seeking SIGINT or unmanned aircraft as part of the acquisition.

The defence ministry has also not prioritised low-observability or other performance characteristics, but stresses that the aircraft must be able to link with the air force’s command and control system, and that of the wider Finnish defence forces, without any modifications.

“The fighter should strengthen our national capabilities. Only the Finnish defence forces will take care of our defence,” he says, noting that the country is not a NATO member.

In-country trials of all five proposed aircraft will take place in late 2019 and early 2020 in order to demonstrate performance in severe weather conditions.

Selection of the preferred bidder is scheduled for 2021, with deliveries running between 2025-2030.

Helsinki has provisionally allocated €7-10 billion ($7.79-11.1 billion) for the acquisition, based on the government's latest defence white paper, but this could change depending on the outcome of elections due in 2019.