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Defence contractors unleash massive lobbying campaigns to win fighter jet deal

International defence contractors have enlisted the help of PR firms, embassy personnel and ex-military and senior state officials in the run-up to the largest-ever defence investment in Finnish history. Finland is slated to replace its aging Hornet fighter jet fleet by the year 2025. Several manufacturers from different countries are already pouring money into campaigning, even though the final decision on the over 10-billion-euro deal won’t be reached for another five years. 

Ruska-harjoituksessa lennetään yli 50 koneella tällä viikolla.
The race is on to supply Finland's next fighter jet fleet. Image: Ilmavoimat

Finland’s upcoming tender process to choose a new fleet of fighter jets to defend the country won’t just pit the planes’ manufacturers against each other, as it will also draw the PR firms and experts the vying contractors have hired into the fray. 

Finnish communications agency Kaiku Helsinki has agreed to assist the Eurofighter jet manufacturer BAE Systems, while the global public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies’s Finland branch will lend a hand in F-35 fighter’s US manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s promotional work. Miltton, the communications agency with the highest turnover in Finland, has signed on to promote the makers of the Gripe NG jets, Sweden’s Saab.

The PR firms will help the fighter jet manufacturers convince Finnish decision-makers of their aircrafts’ superior features. The lobbying effort has already begun in earnest, as the teams have already approached MPs, defence administration members, the press and leaders in Finland’s defence industry.

A chance to see things up close

For example, members of the parliamentary defence committee have been offered a chance to meet with the fighter jet manufacturers at air shows. At the Turku Air Show in the summer of 2015, politicians were invited to try out an F-35 fighter jet simulator.

Mark Parkinson, director of the BAE Systems Eurofighter campaign in Finland, says that BAE representatives have also already met with key persons from the political arena and the defence forces. 

“We brought two Eurofighter jets to the Kuopio Air Show and a significant number of VIPs were on hand as our guests. We were able to tell them about the fighters’ performance,” he said.

The Hill+Knowlton employee expects each of the competitors to up the ante next year.

“Next year Finland will celebrate its centennial. This will provide excellent opportunities for us to meet with stakeholders and tell them about our products,” Parkinson said.

Some MPs resist

Chair of Finland’s parliamentary defence committee Ilkka Kanerva has decided only to meet with the defence contractor’s lobbyists in the committee meeting rooms. He says he has been receiving invitations from the competing firms since last spring.

“I’ve received invitations to various air shows, but I’ve told them my calendar is full,” he said.

Kanerva has also criticised the firms’ targeting of dozens of military officers, even if the law in Finland permits such activity.

“Of course I would hope that the best of the best would be working for the public, and not private lobbying firms,” the seasoned politician said.

Defence force readiness

Ex-Air Force Commander Lauri Puranen says the Finnish Defence Forces is powerless to prohibit officers from working in the private sector, but ventures to say that the officers in question are not out lobbying, but are instead used to provide important military expertise to the defence manufacturers.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle has also learned of attempts by the lobbying teams to influence officers currently serving in the Finnish Defence Forces. For example, in a recent meeting of the Nordic Officer Alliance known as NOA, the Finnish representatives were seated next to officers that enthused about the excellence of their fighter fleets and weaponry. Discussions about jet technologies and performances at joint air exercises are also unavoidable.

Puranen admits that the phenomenon is not unknown to him, but says he has trained his officers to beware of attempts to influence their opinions during the tender process, and believes that they have taken his warnings to heart.

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