HELSINKI — Patria will build a site in Finland for the assembly of F-35 Block 4 fighter jets, now that the government’s Ministerial Finance Committee has approved the Defence Ministry’s land and facilities lease proposal.

The project is linked to the $9.6 billion jet procurement contract reached between Finland’s MOD and the American company Lockheed Martin in February 2022. The deal covers the delivery of 64 F-35s to the Finnish Air Force.

The building of the aircraft assembly facility forms part of the contract’s so-called stage one industrial component. The umbrella project required the signing of a lease for a suitable assembly plant development site. This was found near the town of Nokia. The site lease was signed in January between the Finnish Defence Forces and Defence Properties Finland, the state organization tasked with managing properties and assets owned by Finland’s defense administration.

Construction work on the engine assembly building is slated to commence during the second half of 2024. Under the terms of the industrial deal struck between Finland and Lockheed Martin, engine maintenance at the facility in Nokia will continue throughout the entire life cycle of the Air Force’s F-35 fleet.

“Industrial cooperation tied to the F-35 agreement will generate critical maintenance and repair expertise for Finland’s indigenous defense industry. This includes performance areas like reliability of maintenance. The agreement will also create significant know-how in Finland for F-35 engine assembly and testing,” Defence Minister Antti Häkkänen said.

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

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

The F-35s are set to replace the Air Force’s ageing McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet jets. These planes are scheduled to retire by 2030. The first batch of the F-35s on order are due for delivery and then deployment to Arctic air bases in Finland’s Lapland region by 2026.

The industrial cooperation component of the F-35 acquisition deal is expected to be scaled up in stages by 2030. The broadening of the industrial agreement may include the production or assembly in Finland of certain parts and systems used in the aircraft.

The Air Force has already tested the F-35′s suitability and adaptability to operate in extreme weather conditions, especially in Arctic areas of Finland during the country’s long winters that feature limited daylight.

In recent exercises, the service routinely used stretches of “closed highway” in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions as temporary airstrips. The Air Force is currently running such maneuvers as part of the weeklong Hanki drills in the north of the country, which are to continue until March 2.

Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.

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