Finland approves construction of Patria’s F-35 assembly facility

HELSINKI — Patria will build a site in Finland to assemble F-35 Block 4 fighter jets, now that the government’s Finance Cabinet has approved a proposal to lease land and facilities from the Ministry of Defense.

The project is linked to the $9.6 billion jet supply contract signed between the Finnish MOD and US firm Lockheed Martin in February 2022. The deal covers the delivery of 64 F-35s to the Finnish Air Force.

The construction of the aircraft assembly facility is part of the so-called industrial component of the first stage of the contract. The umbrella project required signing a lease for suitable assembly plant development space. This was found near the city of Nokia. The site lease was signed in January between the Finnish Defense Forces and Defense Properties Finland, the government agency tasked with managing real estate and assets belonging to the Finnish Defense Administration.

Construction work on the engine assembly building is expected to begin in the second half of 2024. Under the terms of the industrial agreement concluded between Finland and Lockheed Martin, engine maintenance at the Nokia facility will continue throughout life cycle of the Air Force F-35 fleet.

“Industrial cooperation linked to the F-35 deal will create critical maintenance and repair expertise for Finland’s domestic defense industry. This includes performance areas such as maintenance reliability. The agreement will also create significant expertise in Finland for F-35 engine assembly and testing,” Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen said.

The assembly plant will operate in close cooperation with the regional aircraft hub in Tampere run by Patria’s aviation division. An estimated 100 people will work in various assembly roles at the facility.

The government owns 50.1%. Fatherland, and the Norwegian company Kongsberg controls the rest. Patria itself owns half of Norwegian defense contractor Nammo.

The F-35s are to replace the Air Force’s aging McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet jets. These planes are scheduled to be retired by 2030. The first batch of F-35s on order is expected to be delivered and then deployed to Arctic air bases in Finland’s Lapland region by 2026.

The industrial cooperation element of the F-35 acquisition agreement is expected to be phased out through 2030. The expansion of the industrial agreement may include the production or assembly in Finland of certain components and systems used on the aircraft.

The Air Force has already tested the F-35’s suitability and adaptability for operating in extreme weather conditions, especially in Finland’s arctic regions during the country’s long winters characterized by limited daylight.

In recent exercises, the agency regularly used sections of “closed highway” in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions as temporary airstrips. The Air Force is currently conducting such maneuvers as part of the weekly Hanki exercises in the northern part of the country, which will continue till March 2.

Gerard O’Dwyer is Defense News’ Nordic affairs correspondent.

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