Swiss voters could have final say on buying new US fighter jets

An F-35A fighter jet lands at the Emmen military airfield on March 18, 2022. © Keystone / Ennio Leanza

A left-wing coalition has gathered enough signatures to challenge the Swiss government’s plan to purchase F-35A fighter jets from the United States.

This content was published on August 16, 2022 - 12:33

Political groups behind the “Stop F-35” initiative, which opposes the government’s plan to buy 36 new F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, handed in over 120,000 signatures to the Federal Chancellery on Tuesday, more than the 100,000 required.

A CHF6 billion ($6.2 billion) deal to buy replacement fighter jets was approved by Swiss parliament in 2019External link and was rubber-stamped by Swiss voters the following year. But opponents soon started collecting signatures to force a new popular vote.

After carrying out evaluations, the Swiss government said the F-35A offered the best quality-price ratio compared to its competitors - Boeing’s Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, and Airbus’s Eurofighter Typhoon.

However, the “Stop F-35” campaigners claim that the US jet is an attack plane that is too expensive and unsuited to Switzerland’s modest air defence needs.

The opponents claim that the operating costs will be high, even if the purchase price is relatively low, and this has been proven in studies carried out in Canada, the US and Norway.

Price guarantee?

It is still unclear if and when the vote may take place. The coalition – the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSoA) – says a popular vote could take place before March 12, 2023.

The government initially planned to wait for the outcome of this initiative before closing the deal. However, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine and moves by other countries to re-arm, it reconsidered and signalled an intention to sign the contractExternal link before it expires in March 2023. This has been criticised by politicians on the left.

The government fears that the same price or delivery deadline offered by the US might not be guaranteed if the deal has to be renegotiated or pushed back, particularly as other countries, including Finland, Germany and Canada, are also queuing up to buy the jets.

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