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F-18 costs delay Finnish support requirements

Andrzej Jeziorski/TAMPERE

FINLAND'S FM 13.92 billion ($3.6 billion) procurement of McDonnell Douglas F-18C/D Hornets has forced the air force to put its reconnaissance and helicopter requirements on hold until the next century.

The seven two-seat F-18Ds and 57 single-seat F-18Cs are replacing the Finnish air force's entire Mikoyan MiG-21 and Saab J35 Draken fleet, including those Mikoyan aircraft being flown by the air force's reconnaissance squadron at Tikkakoski.

The new aircraft, however, will be operated only in the fighter role, leaving all reconnaissance duties to the squadron's four British Aerospace Hawk Mk51s.

According to Lt Gen Pertti Nykanen, Finnish Permanent Undersecretary of State for Defence, the air force's weakened reconnaissance capability may eventually be brought back up to strength with the purchase of remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs).

An evaluation of two variants of the Scout RPV - an Israeli/Swiss joint venture - in the maritime-reconnaissance and artillery target-evaluation roles has been completed, but procurement plans are on hold for the duration of the F-18 acquisition programme because of the burden on the national defence budget.

Finland will return to its RPV procurement plans, and its programme to replace its aging fleet of six Mil Mi-8 Hip transport helicopters, only in the next decade.

"Everything depends on money," says Nykanen, adding that procurement of new equipment may take ten or 15 years.

In the meantime, the air force is awaiting a decision to merge its reconnaissance squadron with the Utti-based transport squadron, which flies three Fokker F27s and two Hughes 500C helicopters alongside the Mi-8s.

The first four F-18D's, were delivered to 21 fighter squadrons, on 7 November at Pirkkala air force base, Tampere, and training duties will begin in late November.

The air force is to complete the acquisition by the year 2000, with most of the aircraft being assembled by Valmet at Kuorevesi.

According to the air force, the first locally produced F-18C will be flown by mid-1996, and will be delivered in October that year.

Nykanen says that the air force plans to keep about six of the newest Drakens in storage, in case of a "crisis situation", while the fighter fleet is being replaced.

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