Patria military vehicle factory revs into life in Valmiera

It was handshakes all round in Valmiera May 24 when – four years after a foundational agreement was signed – officials from Latvia and Finland cut the ribbon on a brand new Patria military vehicle factory.

The motorcade of Latvian Prime Minister Evika Siliņa and Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo swept into Latvia's northern industrial city in glorious sunshine where a large crowd of local government officials, soldiers and journalists from Latvia, Finland and Estonia were waiting for them at the 10-million-euro Defence Partnership Latvia facility.

Patria's Valmiera presence is a near-copy of one of its plants in Finland and occupies a large space south of Valmiera city center that has been earmarked for future development. While some of the surrounding buildings are still in a semi-dilapidated state, new infrastructure is in place and the cool, white Patria facility shone in the sweltering sunshine, its sheer 12-meter walls looking tantalisingly like a large block of ice cream.

Patria facility in Valmiera
Patria facility in Valmiera

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Orpo said relations between Latvia and Finland were "deeper and stronger than they have ever been before" and that the new factory would serve to "increase Latvia's attractiveness as a provider in the international market" as well as "enhancing European security for years to come".

Initially the factory will serve the needs of the Latvian military, turning out around 30 armored 6x6 vehicles each year, but capacity is expected to increase and in future it could "serve the needs of allies" in the Baltic region and beyond, Orop suggested.

For her part, Siliņa also said the plant would be able to "increase capacity if needed" and would allow the Latvian military to work with the "highest level equipment, technology and training" in readiness for "various security scenarios".

Valmiera mayor Janis Baiks was clearly delighted to see the plant opening in what he described as "an industrial city", adding that "In these complex geopolitical times we have a new duty – to contribute to the development of Latvia's military industry – and we in Valmiera are doing that."

"Today is an historic day... but I would like to say this is just the beginning," Baiks said, presenting a flag and symbolic oak tree in a pot to mark the occasion.

Patria factory in Valmiera
Patria factory in Valmiera

Several officials also seemed to be dropping hints that future military production cooperation projects might be in the pipline – though they remained tight-lipped about details or timeframes. 

Speaking to LSM, Prime Minister Orpo said there was room for even deeper cooperation with Latvia:

"Yes, we need more projects like this. On the table we have the security environment, how to help Ukraine, how to ramp up our defense industry together, border security, cooperation in NATO, in the EU and in all these issues we have concrete steps on the table, not only words, concrete action."

Latvian Defense Minister Andris Sprūds was equally upbeat describing the day as "a success story for Latvian industry, for Lavian-Finnish cooperation that we are opening the production line here in Latvia, so it's an example of how Latvia can expand its own military industry, its security of supply and also its supply of the armed forces.

"It's complex but a strategic decision was made to move forward with local industry and its an excellent example we can use to establish other partnerships as well. We have decided that 30% in our big procurements should be localised, in Latvia, and Patria in this case is an excellent example. Of course we need to do our homework. We have approved the defense industry law in parliament, we have established a state defense corporation," said Sprūds, describing how cooperation in munitions production was currently planned with Finland, Norway, France and Italy.

Patria 6x6
Patria 6x6

"We are are also establishing a production line for ammunition here," he said, while saying Latvia was additionally "looking for different opportunities and moving forward with different technologies including drone technologies" to establish an "ecosystem with production, testing and training".

The Latvian Armed Forces (NBS) will be the recipients of the vehicles produced in Valmiera, and Defense Chief Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš could barely contain his enthusiasm at the prospect.

"This is a huge and very important project of our armed forces, developing our military capabilities" beamed Kalniņš. "Our soldiers, especially our territorial units, are very happy with this platform. It absolutely fits our vision. It's not just one type of armored vehicle – we are looking in the future to see this factory produce wider [types of] platforms for the Latvian armed forces."

Kalniņš confirmed he had been in one of the new 6x6 vehicles and described it as "absolutely amazing – I drove in all terrains and even on the water – it floats!"    

Scissors used in Patria pening ceremony
Scissors used in Patria pening ceremony

As the officials cut the ribbon on the new facility with large scissors that looked as if they might be quite useful in a military situation themselves, the 9-liter Scania diesel engine of a Patria XA-300 6x6 roared into life. After a brief tour of the facility – where certain parts remain off-limits for photography due to security concerns – it was the prime ministerial motorcade that was revving up again, whisking the leaders off to their next engagement, leaving the remaining journalists to sit in the cab of a demonstration vehicle and suppress the strong urge to go "Brrrrm, brrrm!".

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