Patria has signed its first contract for servicing landing gear components on the F/A-18 Hornet with the US Navy.

Text: Jukka Nortio
Photos: Harri Hinkka

The contract between Patria and the US Navy covers the disassembly, inspection, parts, repairs, assembly and testing of various landing gear components. The partnership marks the culmination of several years of sales and marketing efforts.

“This contract is an important new conquest for us. Another major achievement is the fact that we now finally have a contractual mechanism in place that allows us to sell our services not only to the US Navy but also to its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) partners who use Hornet aircraft”, explains Patria’s Sales Manager, Military Exports Teemu Lähdekorpi.

The new partnership stems from the US Navy’s determined efforts to modernise its Fleet Readiness Centre (FRC), which has been responsible for servicing the Hornet fleet. The US Navy is looking to gradually retire its Hornet F/A-18 A–D fleet and switch to more modern aircraft, such as the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and the F-35. A number of industrial operators in the US are also investing in more modern aircraft. The US Marines will continue to use the A–D Hornet fleet until the end of the 2020s and many of the FMS partners potentially until well into the 2030s.

Breaking through to a new market

The change in circumstances has given foreign operators an opportunity to offer their services to a market that will continue to have demand until the end of the life cycle of the current generation of Hornet aircraft. The breakthrough partnership also paves the way for projects involving components other than the landing gear in question.

Building the partnership has been a long and complex process. The first step was to negotiate an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) agreement that enables servicing with the manufacturer of the landing gear. The latest amendments to the agreement date from the summer of 2017.

“The second step, and an important one, was to find a partner in the US. Our contract with our American partner is based on us acting as their subcontractor. This model makes it considerably easier for us to operate in the US”, Lähdekorpi says.

The most significant step forward was the US Navy’s accepting Patria as a potential service provider and agreeing to audit Patria’s facilities and procedures. The auditors were happy with what they saw and authorised Patria to service three of the Hornet’s landing gear sub-assemblies: the shock absorber, the lever and the bellcrank.

“Now that the contract is signed and our supply chain in order, and with the US Navy approving us as their supplier, we can finally offer our expertise and services to the US Navy’s purchasing office”, Lähdekorpi says.

Patria’s servicing capacity among the best in the world

There is already an international Third Party Transfer Agreement in place to facilitate the provision of industrial services between Hornet users in various countries, but it does not enable the provision of services to the US Navy and therefore the FMS partners. The key issues from Patria’s perspective are that Patria’s ability to service Hornet landing gear has been recognised as one of the best in the world, it has the OEM’s licence to service various landing gear components and a good partner in the US, and the audit performed by the US Navy was a success. Patria is able to provide its services competitively, which is why it landed the contract with the US Navy’s procurement organisation.

The contract gives Patria an opportunity to demonstrate its strong technological expertise and unwavering reliability. However, the contract is still just a spearhead to break into the market.

“We want to expand on our current source approval and introduce new products that we can offer to the US Navy and the FMS partners. Our sales and marketing team is extremely active in industry events, and we are constantly recruiting new staff and improving our processes in order to be able to deliver a wider range of products”, Lähdekorpi says.

The US plays a key role in servicing Hornet aircraft. Being able to provide services to the US Navy is extremely important, as many of the countries that use Hornet aircraft rely on the US Navy to service their fleet.

Patria leading the field

What makes Patria special is the fact that it is the first foreign Hornet landing gear maintenance provider to get a contract for servicing the US Navy’s landing gear components outside of the US.

“Ensuring our capacity, resources and competence is vital for us to be able to provide our customers with the standard of service that we have promised in all circumstances”, says Product Group Manager, Component MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul)  Piia Kuusisto.

Servicing and manufacturing components for the US Navy are not completely new processes, as Patria has been performing similar work on Finnish components for decades. Some things are new, however. “The US Navy has its own requirements and maintenance instructions, and the scope of the work therefore differs slightly from the work that we perform on the Finnish Defence Forces’ fleet”, Kuusisto explains.

Patria’s partnership with the US Navy increases Patria’s Hornet maintenance capacity. This also gives the Finnish Defence Forces access to a wider range of competence and resources for servicing its aircraft fleet. The reliability of Finland’s defence improves with Patria’s increasing understanding of the Hornet.