FORT WORTH, Texas–Finnish Air Force officials visited Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] F-35 facility here Wednesday, ostensibly to evaluate future fighter jet procurement options as part of its HX program.

A pair of signs welcoming Finnish Air Force Commander Major General Kim Jäämeri were spotted on video boards at the entrance to the facility. A handful of Finnish Air Force airmen were seen inside the administrative portion of the sprawling complex that assembles and puts the finishing touches on F-35 aircraft before they are deployed to base locations and partner nations.

The Marine Corps' short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B performs a vertical landing. Photo: Lockheed Martin.
The Marine Corps’ short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B performs a vertical landing. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

The Finnish Ministry of Defence in June said a working group proposed buying multi-role fighter jets after making a preliminary assessment of how to replace its F/A-18 aircraft. Finland said the life cycle of its F/A-18s will end by the end of 2020s.

The project to replace the F/A-18s will last about 15 years and needs to be launched this fall at the latest. Finland said the procurement decision should be made in the early 2020s.

In its report, the Finnish Ministry of Defence said three major factors limit the service life of the F/A-18s: weakening comparative capabilities, structural fatigue, and challenges in obtaining system support. Substantial additional costs would be incurred if the service life of the aircraft were extended. This would also not provide additional options for replacing its capabilities.

Other key deadlines for Finland’s fighter procurement include decisions associated with requests for information (RFI) and quotation during 2015-2019 with a decision to procure in the early 2020s. Finland said separate financing must be earmarked for the project as it is not possible to replace the capabilities of the F/A-18 fleet within the framework of current defense budget levels.

Finland is rumored to be debating leaving its tradition of military neutrality for NATO membership in light of Russian military efforts. The F/A-18 is developed by Boeing [BA].