Two Rafale fighter jets built by French manufacturer Dassault have landed at Pirkkala Air Force Base to start two weeks of intensive testing and evaluation.
They’re the second of five aircraft types which will be coming to Finland through the end of February, as the Air Force weighs up the pros and cons of each in the process to determine which company will win the €10 billion contract to replace the country’s ageing fleet of Hornet jets.
Rafale means “burst of fire”, and the two aircraft were escorted in Finnish air space by a Finnish F/A-18D, one of the jets that Rafale hopes to replace.
Although the French military is the main user of the Rafale jets, they’ve also been sold to India, Egypt and Qatar. However the high price in relation to other jets has put off some buyers including neighbouring Belgium who opted for American aircraft instead of Dassault.
What’s happening at Pirkkala Air Base?
The aircraft will take part in simulated long-term war games, where the candidate jets will play their roles as part of Finland’s defence systems. In the simulated battles they’ll face the Air Force’s current F/A-18 Hornets and Hawk jet trainers.
The Air Force says the event is taking place in Finland so that each plane can be tested under Finnish winter operating conditions – and also to provide a balanced evaluation for each of the five candidate aircraft.
The other contenders taking part in ‘Operation HX Challenge’ are America’s Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet; and Sweden’s Saab Gripen.
Eurofighter’s Typhoon aircraft from a base in England were the first to take part in the evaluation exercise.
Although all the aircraft are designed to operate in sub-zero temperatures, the challenges come when the temperatures hover around freezing with snow, sleet or freezing drizzle throwing extra challenges at the jets. Harsh weather conditions can have an impact on the performance of electro-optical sensors in particular.