US and Swiss air force commanders discuss fighter jet deal
The head of the US air force met with his Swiss counterpart on Tuesday after a three-day visit to the Alpine nation.
Charles Q. Brown Jr. and Peter Merz appeared before the media at the Payerne air base in western Switzerland, where they stressed the need for Western countries to boost security cooperation.
“Recent events underscore the importance of working together to strengthen our strategic partnerships in order to meet our shared security requirements,” Brown told journalists, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Merz said that cooperation between non-NATO member Switzerland and the US on security affairs was to “enter into a new era” with the planned Swiss purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from US company Lockheed-Martin.
The CHF6 billion ($6.37 billion) credit for the deal was narrowly approved by Swiss voters in 2020, but it has since become subject to debate after left-wing campaigners started gathering signatures to force another ballot.
And since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the issue of the jets – as well as of Swiss defence policy in general – has been debated even further, with left-wing disarmament calls countered by suggestions to give a bigger budget to the army.
Merz said a rejection of the F-35s in a public vote would be the “worst scenario, not for [him] but for the whole of Switzerland, whose airspace would no longer be protected”.
The left-wing opponents, which include the Group for a Switzerland without an Army and the Social Democrats, say the F-35A is an attack plane that is not needed by a neutral country which needs only to police its airspace.
Other European countries are also reportedly preparing to buy the US-made jet for their air forces, including and , raising fears that any delay to the Swiss deal could lead to higher costs or a lost place in the queue.
Brown’s visit – as well as Switzerland’s decision to buy the fighter jets – were planned before the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month. Neither of the two army heads discussed the Ukraine war in detail on Tuesday.
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