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Finland takes good care of the aircraft fleet of its Defence Forces

Published on 20.4.2022
Tampere University
F/A-18 Hornet hävittäjälentokone ilmassaThe Boeing F/A-18 C/D Hornet, a US-built, twin-engine, multi-role combat jet, is part of the Air Force’s main fleet. In peacetime, the Hornet is used for flight training as well as monitoring and securing of Finland's territorial integrity. Photograph: Finnish Defence Forces
Finnish fighter aircraft have a good level of security of supply. Thanks to close cooperation between mechatronics researchers at Tampere University and experts from the Defence Forces and domestic industrial companies, the Defence Forces’ aircraft remain in good working order throughout their life cycle.

There have been questions about why Russia has not used more of its aircraft in its invasion of Ukraine. Jussi Aaltonen, Research Manager at the Unit of Automation and Mechanical Engineering at Tampere University, believes that one reason is that Russia’s aircraft are not fully operational.

“In practice, this could mean that Russia does not have spare parts and maintenance is not working,” Aaltonen says.

Fortunately, the situation in Finland is different. Tampere University’s Mechatronics Research Group’s research and development with the Defence Forces, VTT and domestic industrial partners such as Patria and Insta has already continued for twenty years. Thanks to this cooperation, the entire life cycle of the current combat jet fleet is secured. The Air Force operates fighter aircraft and the Army helicopters.

“For example, the full capability of the Air Force fleet is available as required. The aircraft will remain fully fit for their mission until the end of their life cycle,” Aaltonen promises.

This means, for example, that the Air Force’s current F/A-18 Hornets can be easily replaced by the new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters when the time comes. The first F-35 stealth fighter jets will be delivered to Finland in 2026.

Even two thirds of the aircraft fleet are fully operational

Military aircraft are operated and maintained in different ways in different countries. The US, for example, has a huge defence budget and domestic spare parts factories. 

In Finland, the maintenance of the Defence Forces’ equipment is based on our preparedness to defend our country alone. This is why securing the life cycle of the fleet and making maintenance affordable and efficient have been a priority.

In the US, for example, it is only recently that real attention has begun to be paid to the availability of military equipment.  In the past, for example, less than half of its fighter aircraft may have been mission-capable.

“In Finland, we have an excellent situation because the availability of our fleet is at a level that other countries are aiming for,” Aaltonen says. 

Aircraft systems are at the heart of the research in Tampere. The cooperation has involved extensive research into problems in fighter aircraft’s hydraulic, environmental control, fuel and other mechanical systems and the development of solutions to improve the reliability and availability of the fleet.

“Our hydraulics expertise is world-leading. We have conducted tests in field and laboratory conditions and in flight,” says Kari T. Koskinen, professor of mechatronics.

Tampere University’s research has resulted in new theoretical knowledge that has been used to develop the technology of the fleet and practical solutions for e.g., predicting aircraft failures and monitoring the condition of the equipment.

Teaching aircraft engineering with an emphasis on maintenance and systems functionality

Tampere University is presently the only university in Finland where aircraft engineering can be studied. The studies are part of the Master’s Programme in Mechanical Engineering. Until 2018, advanced level education in aircraft engineering was offered by Aalto University.

The Defence Forces and related industry support the education at Tampere University.

Annually, some 15–20 students start studying aircraft engineering.  After the studies, most of them find employment in military aviation, for example, in aircraft maintenance and servicing and related development work, but the studies also provide a good basis for other fields.

“In addition to the operation of aircraft systems, the advanced studies cover such topics as aerodynamics, flight mechanics and life cycle management. Our programme is not a traditional aerospace engineering module but has a clear focus on maintenance and systems performance from the perspective of Finnish industry,” Koskinen explains.  

Tampere University of Applied Science’s aircraft engineer training is also based on the courses implemented by the University.

Moreover, the University provides further training for Defence Forces personnel and conducts educational cooperation with the defence and aerospace industries.

Further information

Jussi Aaltonen
+358 40 849 0522
jussi.aaltonen [at] tuni.fi ()

Kari T. Koskinen
+358 400 634 242
kari.koskinen [at] tuni.fi

 

Text: Anna Aatinen
Photo:
Finnish Defence Forces