By JARI TANNER Associated Press
HELSINKI (AP) — Finland has agreed to buy 64 Lockheed Martin fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of combat planes in a 10 billion-euro ($11.3 billion) deal that represents the Finnish military’s largest ever purchase, the government said Friday.
The Nordic country picked the U.S. company’s F-35A fighters from among five contenders, which also included the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, France’s Dassault Rafale, Britain’s Eurofighter Typhoon and Sweden’s Saab Gripen.
The Finnish air force has a fleet of more than 60 F-18 Hornets, acquired in the early 1990s. It started looking for a successor aircraft in 2014.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said her government’s decision, based on a recommendation by the Finnish Defense Forces, to purchase F-35A was unanimous.
“New fighters are a key part of Finland’s defense,” Marin told a press conference. “Fighters protect the integrity of Finnish airspace, protect society from airstrikes and support (Finnish) army and navy operations.”
The Defense Ministry said Friday that the price tag for the deal with Lockheed Martin includes training and other equipment.
The U.S. aerospace, arms and defense company said in a statement it was “honored” the Finnish government picked the F-35 “through its thorough, open competition.”
“We are honored the Government of Finland through its thorough, open competition has selected the F-35, and we look forward to partnering with the Finnish Defence Forces and Finnish defence industry to deliver and sustain the F-35 aircraft,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 Program. “The F-35 will provide Finnish industries unique digital capabilities that leverage 5th Generation engineering and manufacturing. The production work will continue for more than 20 years, and the F-35 sustainment work will continue into the 2070s.”
Lockheed Martin said the deal would include “a robust weapons package, a sustainment solution tailored to Finland’s unique security of supply requirements, as well as a comprehensive training program.”
European Union member Finland is a militarily non-aligned nation but closely cooperates with NATO in a way similar to neighboring Sweden.
Switzerland, another militarily non-aligned European country, and NATO members Denmark and Norway previously decided to buy the F-35.
Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia, has increased its bilateral defense and military cooperation with Sweden, Norway and the United States in the past few years.
Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin said Friday that there are currently more than 730 F-35s in service worldwide. The main F-35 plant is located in Fort Worth.
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.