Finland: new anti-aircraft systems in the shadow of the Finnish HX fighter program

This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


WARSAW, (BM) – The Finnish tender to increase the range of air defense beyond the existing NASAMS system, which started in 2018, has entered a key phase. Inquiries were sent to 5 bidders among which, surprisingly, Raytheon with the Patriot system was not found. The finalists include: Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace [KDA], Diehl Defense, MBDA, Rafael and IAI. Due to the much more spectacular, both in terms of design and value, the HX multi-role aircraft program, which includes the 5th generation F-35, seems to completely “cover” a very interesting course of this procedure.

Read more: Top 5 best anti-aircraft missile systems in the World

For starters, it is worth recalling that at the beginning of this century, Finland decided to withdraw [by 2015] the Russian Buk-M1 anti-aircraft launchers which it acquired in the 1990s as part of a return on Russian debt. Although the system was fairly new, it was recognized that Russia, being the only potential enemy, would have no problem disrupting and combating them. Therefore, in 2007, a decision was made to replace them with the NASAMS 2 system and the acquisition of 24 launchers with the C2 system and infrastructure.

However, a capacity gap arose, because despite the much more modern design and structure in the configuration acquired by the Finns in the first decade of this century, with standard AMRAAM missiles, it is a system with a smaller range and ceiling (Buk-M1 can engage targets at an altitude of 20 km and above, for a distance of 45 km). Therefore, in 2017, the analysis of the available options began, and in 2018, the air defense inspector of the Finnish Armed Forces launched a competitive procedure, to which 10 companies applied. Ultimately, as Corporal Frisk writes, in the last days of October 2020, inquiries were sent to 5 entities, among which the supplier of the new solution is to be selected within 2 years. Deliveries should be made in the second half of the decade.

Finland is not afraid of Iskanders?

Among the five finalists, which may be a bit surprising, there is no Raytheon company which, together with the Norwegian Kongsberg, provided Finland with the NASAMS 2 system. air defense. First of all, it is about costs, or as Admiral Paula Juhani Kaskeala, commander of the Finnish Defense Forces in 2001-2009, said, “Better to have one Cadillac or four Volvo?” Secondly, Helsinki considers the ability to combat ballistic missiles not only very expensive, but also secondary to the destruction of aerodynamic targets at a longer range and at a ceiling even above 15,000. meters, which is above the NASAMS 2 system in the current Finnish configuration.

Finland, which has been living “in the shadow of Russian ballistic missiles” since the beginning of the Cold War, recognizes that their threat is too much underlined in the West. Finnish experts believe that the effectiveness of combating them is lower than the real threat level in relation to other means of air attack at the disposal of Russia. On the other hand, the most effective defense against ballistic missiles is masking, infrastructure dispersion, warning system and appropriate shelters. This applies in particular to the threat of an attack by ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, but also to conventional loads.

The Finns consider the possibility of a massive attack by combat aircraft and cruise missiles attacking from different directions and over a wide range of altitudes to be a much greater threat. The ability to fight ballistic missiles is treated as an additional advantage, but with a reasonable cost-effect ratio. That is why it was decided to choose solutions that are more flexible in use and much cheaper than Patriot, which primarily provide other capabilities. The main criterion is to increase the protected area in general while maintaining high efficiency, both thanks to the increase in the range of damage and detection, as well as greater dispersion of components. This factor is particularly important in connection with the methods used by the Finns to protect infrastructure and armed forces through their centering and the extensive use of masking and simulation.

Five Volvo options instead of Cadillac

On October 28, 2020, inquiries were sent to the following entities: Diehl Defense, Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace (KDA), MBDA, Rafael and IAI. Each offers a different approach to the challenge of increasing the reach of Finland’s air defense both horizontally and vertically.

Read more: Dogfight! American THAAD vs. the Russian S-400/S-500 air defense missile systems

Kongsberg is considered a favorite, which together with the aforementioned Raytheon may propose new missiles with a greater range for the already operated NASAMS 2 system. This is the AMRAAM-ER missile, which, thanks to a more powerful rocket engine, achieves a much greater range and ceiling than previously used rockets. In fact, it has relatively little in common with the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, as it is a combination of a much more powerful Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile rocket with the AMRAAM missile guidance system. Together with the new radar, for example the Saab Giraffe, such an upgrade of the Finnish system would probably be the cheapest solution, which, as can be seen from the purchase history of NASAMS 2 in the Finnish configuration, is an important argument, and the performance of the ER missiles would close the “gap” after the Buky. Of course, it would be possible to purchase additional NASAMS fire units to increase the potential.

In the case of Diehl, the most likely offer is the IRIS-T SLM [Surface Launched Medium Range] system armed with launchers with 8 IRIS-T SL missiles, which should not be confused with the IRIS-T used in the IRIS-T SLS (Surface Launched Short Range) system acquired by Sweden in 2015. The version of the missile, marked IRIS-T SL, has an effective range of about 40 km and a ceiling of 20,000 m [during the tests in South Africa in February this year, it was fired towards a target about 30 km away], which is four times more than the IRIS version -T [10 km and 5,000 m respectively], which Sweden adopted under the designation RBS 98.

When it comes to MBDA, the obvious candidate is the Land Ceptor system in service with the British Armed Forces, or the Enhanced Modular Air Defense Solutions [EMADS] system, using CAMM-ER missiles, also proposed for Poland in the Narew program. It is a variant of MBDA rockets with extended range, belonging to the new generation CAMM family of anti-aircraft missiles. All missiles of this family are equipped with the same active self-guiding radar warhead and a cold-start system from a vertical launcher. The specificity of the CAMM-ER is the enlarged propulsion compartment, allowing to achieve a greater range in flight, exceeding 40 km.

It seems that the two Israeli companies participating in the proceedings have a real possibility of countering ballistic missiles in the package.

The first is the Rafael company, which can offer the Spyder-MR / LR system, providing a range of up to 70-80 km with I-Derby ER missiles and designed to counter aerodynamic targets [apart from them, it can also use I-Derby missiles and Python 5 thermovision guided missiles, with a smaller range], but also – at least theoretically – built in cooperation with the Israeli Raytheon, the much more powerful David’s Sling, which has the ability to counter certain ballistic missiles. It is armed with a two-stage Stunner missile. Its variant is offered to Poland as SkyCeptor for the second phase of the Wisła program, as the so-called low-cost missile.

The second Israeli bidder is Israel Aerospace Industries, which can offer the entire system or easily integrated components of a scalable solution known as Barak-MX, also appearing in the Polish Narew program. IAI uses three different classes of missiles in one system, which can be fired from the same type of launcher. The missiles used in the BARAK-MX system can fight air targets within a radius of 35 km [BARAK MRAD], 70 km [BARAK LRAD] and 150 km [BARAK ER], and the latter have the ability to fight ballistic missiles.

As you can see, Finland has a fairly large selection, both among various types of missiles as well as solutions with more or less autonomy. It is possible to both incorporate new launchers or missiles into the currently exploited NASAMS 2 system, as well as to combine two systems within a wider defense infrastructure. It is worth observing carefully the activities of Finland, which have the essential advantage that they are conducted in a very transparent manner, which allows you to familiarize yourself with both the explicit part of the offers as well as with the precise evaluation and selection criteria.

Read more: ‘S-400’ vs. ‘Patriot’: the Russian Missile Defence System is not Better than ‘Patriot’, US Said


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