Swiss government sets sights on F-35A fighter jet fleet

Switzerland looks set to choose the US option over European competitors following months of intense lobbying. Keystone / Giuseppe Lami

The Swiss government wants to upgrade the country’s air defence system by buying 36 F-35A fighter aircraft from United States manufacturer Lockheed Martin and five Patriot surface-to-air missile units from another US firm Raytheon.

This content was published on June 30, 2021 - 16:01

The Federal Council (governing body) will ask parliament to approve the dual purchase on the basis that they offer the best value for money and technical specifications compared to rival bids.

Costing just over CHF5 billion ($5.4 billion), the F-35A jets can be bought under the CHF6 billion budget narrowly approved by Swiss voters in a hotly contested referendum last September.

The bill is also around CHF2 billion cheaper than other aircraft that were also considered - Boeing’s Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, and Airbus’s Eurofighter Typhoon. The government’s choice of aircraft followed several months of intense lobbying from both Europe and the US to try to win the lucrative order.

Replacing Switzerland’s ageing fleet of F-5 Tigers and F/A-18 Hornet jets has proved far from a straightforward process. In 2014, voters rejected the first plan to buy Gripen jetsExternal link from the Swedish Saab manufacturer, forcing the defence ministry to go back to the drawing board.

The Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSoA) said on Wednesday that it would launch another referendum to challenge the choice of F-35A, together with the Green Party and Social Democrats.

The Green Liberal Party stated that it would examine the environmental impact of the fighter jet choice.

The Patriot missile systems will cost CHF1.97 billion, which the government says is less expensive than the one other rival bid. Over the course of 30 years’ service, the F-35A aircraft are expected to cost the public purse CHF15.5 billion with an additional CHF3.6 billion attributed to the Patriot missiles.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” stated a press release on June 30. It also states that 36 aircraft are adequate to protect Switzerland and to ensure that its airspace is not used by foreign parties in the event of a conflict.

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