By Mike Stone and Essi Lehto
WASHINGTON/HELSINKI -Finland has chosen U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters in a tender to replace ageing F/A-18 combat jets and plans to order 64 planes with weapons systems, the government said on Friday.
Lockheed Martin competed for the deal with Sweden’s Saab, U.S. rival Boeing, France’s Dassault and Britain’s BAE Systems.
The procurement is worth an estimated 8.378 billion euros ($9.44 billion), the government said.
“When comparing military performance, the F-35 best met our needs,” Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen told a news conference.
Military planemakers have been vying for the deal since late 2015, when the Finnish defence ministry began the search for a new jet to replace Finland’s old Hornet fighter bought in 1992 from McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing.
Finland is the 14th nation to opt for the F-35.
The choice strengthens the small Nordic nation’s defence cooperation with its allies, most significantly the United States and Norway, said researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“Finland and Norway already train together in the north so it will be a political decision to determine what intelligence is shared and when,” he told Reuters, referring to the potential for the jets to share data in real time.
Unlike Norway, Finland is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) but it has forged stronger ties with the organisation in recent years and chosen military equipment compatible with NATO members.
In 2014 Finland and Sweden signed an agreement to train together and allow NATO assistance in crisis situations.
Reuters reported earlier on Friday that Lockheed Martin was set to win the contract.
($1 = 0.8871 euros)