As arms sales boom, Norway's Kongsberg opens missile factory

By Gwladys Fouche

KONGSBERG, Norway (Reuters) - Norwegian defence manufacturer Kongsberg Gruppen opened a new missile factory on Thursday to meet surging demand for weapons from Western countries spooked by Russia's war in Ukraine and China's modernisation of its armed forces.

NATO allies are racing to increase their own production of weapons, ammunition and missiles, partly to supply Ukraine but also to replenish stocks and be able to counter new threats.

The decision to build the plant, nestled among pine-covered hills outside Kongsberg about 90 km (56 miles) southwest of Oslo, was taken in 2021, before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, when Kongsberg saw increased demand for its missiles.

Some of that demand came from the U.S. Navy, selecting Kongsberg's Naval Strike Missile (NSM) for its fleet, an anti-ship missile with a range of 250 km.

"Then Ukraine started, and it wasn't a surprise to us that the demand increased," Eirik Lie, Kongsberg's head of defence and aerospace, told Reuters after opening the plant, which will employ 1,200 people.

More akin to a giant tech lab than a military arsenal, the facility cost 640 million crowns ($61 million), with the Norwegian government putting up 200 million crowns and the European Union 10 million.

In one gleaming-white room straight out of a sci-fi movie, 24 robotic arms hanging from the ceiling will help build the NSM, and its cousin the Joint Strike Missile (JSM), a cruise missile for Lockheed Martin's F35 fighter jets.

The plant will produce "several hundreds of missiles per year", Lie said, declining to give a specific number. Neither would he say how much production was expanding by, only that growth was "exponential".

There is more to come. "We are looking to increase our production," said Lie. "We are looking at the U.S. and Australia as alternatives."

Kongsberg declines to say whether its NSM has been donated to Ukraine by some NATO allies, but Reuters reported in 2023 that the U.S. was working on giving some of its NSMs to Ukraine to help defeat Russia's naval blockade in the Black Sea.

The NSM is currently used by 14 countries, 11 of which are in NATO or the EU, said Kongsberg.

($1 = 10.5744 Norwegian crowns)

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Kongsberg; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Mark Potter)