On May 16, 1992, Finland announced that it had selected the F/A-18C/D Hornet to replace the entire front-line Ilmavoimat fighter force of two SAAB J-35 Draken squadrons and one squadron of MiG-21bis fighters. The Hornet won in a flyoff against the F-16A MLU, SAAB Gripen, Dassault Mirage 2000-5, and Mikoyan MiG-29.
A letter of acceptance was signed on June 5, 1992 for a total of 64 aircraft, with the first seven F/A-18Ds being built by McDonnell and the remaining 57 F/A-18C single seaters all being assembled by the Valmet Aircraft Industry Co. (now renamed Patria Finavitec OY) of Kuorevesi from McDonnell-supplied kits.
In Finland, the Hornets were initially to be used only for air defense, and the aircraft was not supposed to carry any air-to-ground armament. For this reason, the F/A-18 designation was shortened to F-18C and F-18D. The Finnish F-18C/Ds were to be capable of carrying and firing the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile. The AIM-9 L/M/S Sidewinder missiles, as well as the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles which will arm the Finnish Hornets, will be manufactured in the USA. However, the electronics suite provided with the Finnish Hornet is fully capable of air-to-ground roles, and an expansion to full air-to-ground capability is expected soon.
The F404-GE-402 EPE engine was selected for the Finnish F-18s. These engines were also to be assembled locally, with General Electric supplying 137 kits. The radar selected for the Finnish F-18s was the AN/APG-73, making Finland the first international customer to receive this radar which is much more capable thatn the APG-65 and can simultaneously launch up to 8 AMRAAMs. The fire-control radar was to be built entirely in the USA. However, the Hornet's onboard computer will be manufactured by Valmet. The computer is known as Dlec, and is reported to be of a new and revolutionary type.
The Finnish Hornets are equipped with the ITT/Westinghouse AN/ALQ-165 Advanced Self-Protection Jammer (ASPJ). The ASPJ contract was signed on September 30, 1994. The Ilmavoimat is the first customer for the ASPJ, the US Navy having cancelled its order in 1992. The ASPJs will cost about two million dollars apiece. Integration of the ASPJ with the Finnish Hornets will be handled by the US Navy. The aircraft will be equipped with a Finnish-built datalink.
The Finnish Hornets retain their arrester hooks, which will aid in operations from highway strips during winter.
The first Finnish Hornet crews were trained by VFA-125 based at NAS Lemoore. Three fighter squadrons were scheduled to receive the Hornet--HavLlv 11 of the Lappi Wing, HavLlV 21 with Satakunta Wing, and HavLlv 31 of the Karelian Wing. The first two operated the SAAB 35 BS and S, whereas the third operated the MiG-21bis. These three squadrons are currently the only fighter squadrons operated by the Finnish Defense Forces. A Finnish fighter wing operates a single fighter squadron of 12 to 20 planes, plus a few liaison planes, as well as maintenance, logistics, administrative, and base defense personnel.
The first F-18 Hornet for Finland's Ilmavoimat, an F/A-18D two-seater (HN-461), was flown at St Louis on April 21, 1995. Pilots were McDD test pilot Fred Madenwald and Navy officer Dave Stuart. The first four of 64 Hornets were delivered from St Louis to Tampere/ Pirkkala by US Navy and Finnish Air Force pilots on November 7, 1995. They were F/A-18Ds, serialed HN-462, HN-464, HN-465, and HN-466. The single-seaters are numbered HN-401 onwards. The first Valmet-assembled F-18C was delivered in June of 1996, with the order scheduled for completion in August of 2000. The last of 57 F-18Cs (serial number HN-457) was delivered on August 8, 2000, right on schedule.
First to convert was HavLLv 11 at Tampere-Pirkkala, which became operational with the Hornet in in the summer of 1997. The redundant Drakens were transfered to HavLLv 21 at Rovaniemi. The second Ilmaviomat squadron to transfer to the Hornet was HavLLv 31, which completed the transition from the MiG-21bis to the Hornet in March of 1998. Hornets replaced the SAAB 35S Drakens of HavLLv 21 in the early 2000s.
Finland is upgrading its fleet of F-18s with new avionics, including helmet mounted sights (HMS), new cockpit displays, sensors and standard NATO data link. Several of the remaining Hornets are going to be fitted to carry air-to-ground ordnance such as the AGM-158 JASSM, in effect returning to the original F/A-18 multi-role configuration. The upgrade includes also the procurement and integration of new AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. Work is scheduled to be finished by 2016. After the upgrades the aircraft are to remain in active service until 2020–2025. Over half of the fleet was upgraded by Jun 1, 2015.
Finland is currently considering the replacement of the Hornet, but no aircradt has yet been selected.
HN-401/HN-457 McDonnell Douglas F-18C Hornet HN-430 (HavLLV 21) crashed Nov 8, 2001 after midair collision with HN-413. Pilot ejected safely, HN-413 landed safely.
Siivet--The Wings magazine
Salevi Keskinen, Kari Stenman, Somen Ilmavoimien Lentokoneet,