WATCH: Swedish Gripens arrive for winter weather combat tests

The Air Force is conducting a rigorous in-country evaluation of the five contenders to replace the ageing fleet of Hornet jets.

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File picture of Saab ground crew as Gripen aircraft arrive at Pirkkala Air Base, 29th January 2020 / Credit: Ilmavoimat

Two Gripen-E fighter jets built by Swedish manufacturer Saab have arrived at Pirkkala Air Force Base to start two weeks of intensive testing and evaluation.

They’re the third of five aircraft types 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.

The single-engine multi-role fighters Gripen family of jets has been the main fighter aircraft of the Swedish Air Force since the mid-1990s and various models have been exported to countries in Central Europe, South Africa and South East Asia.

The latest incarnation of the jet – with improved on-board power, more fuel capacity, and upgraded radar array – is being used by the Swedish and Brazilian air forces.

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.