WASHINGTON — Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab will build a T-X production facility in West Lafayette, Indiana, where it will manufacture its portion of the Air Force trainer jet it is developing with Boeing, the company announced Wednesday.

The company plans to invest $37 million in the site, which will produce “major structural sections” and conduct final assembly of Saab’s piece of the jet, according to a Saab news release. Then those elements will be sent to Boeing’s facility in St. Louis, Missouri, to be mated with the rest of the trainer.

Construction on the new facility will begin in 2020, and Saab intends to hire at least 300 full-time employees from the area during the initial years of the site’s operation.

The announcement, made Wednesday during a ceremony at West Lafayette-based Purdue University, fulfills a promise Saab officials made in 2017 to establish a new manufacturing center in the United States once the Boeing-Saab team had won the T-X contract.

At the time, Saab President and CEO Håkan Buskhe said the company was still considering site locations, as well as whether to repurpose an existing production facility or construct a new campus. However, he was confident at least 90 percent of the jet could be made in the United States — an important qualifier under the Trump administration, which has touted “Buy American” policies.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels and Buskhe attended the ceremony on Wednesday.

“After careful consideration, we have chosen West Lafayette, thanks to the visionary leadership of both the State of Indiana and the world-leading Purdue University,” Buskhe said. “Today’s announcement is a part of our growth strategy in the United States, and deepens our relationship with the U.S. customer. We see great possibilities here for this facility and our partnerships.”

In addition to building the new facility, the Swedish company will partner with Purdue University, a hub of engineering talent in the Midwest, to conduct research on advances in sensors, artificial intelligence and autonomous technologies.

During the ceremony, Buskhe noted the scope and level of investment of these activities has not been decided.

Under the T-X program, Saab and Boeing will produce at least 351 trainers for the U.S. Air Force. The Navy and Marine Corps is also interested in buying the jet, and the Air Force is considering its use for simulating adversaries during combat and for light-attack missions — a prospect that could land the Saab-Boeing team additional sales in the hundreds.

The Air Force awarded the $9.2 billion T-X contract to Saab and Boeing last year, and the service’s first T-X squadron is expected to be operational in fiscal 2024.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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