| 26 May 2024, Sunday |

Switzerland nears $6.5 bln fighter decision after years of delays

After a decade of political wrangling over a 6 billion Swiss franc ($6.5 billion) competition among bids from Europe and the United States, Switzerland’s cabinet met on Wednesday to choose a next-generation fighter plane.

The Rafale from Dassault, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F35-A Lightning II, and the four-nation Eurofighter produced by Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo, and Britain’s BAE Systems are among the contenders.

Swiss television reported last week that the F-35 provided the best technical and financial features in a Swiss evaluation, but the final decision was still open.

A deal by Switzerland with a European manufacturer could be seen as an attempt by Bern to heal relations with the European Union after the collapse of talks earlier this year about a new agreement to regulate their ties, analysts said.

As the first of three face-offs ahead of procurement decisions in Finland and Canada, the outcome is being eagerly monitored.

Switzerland’s latest fighter offer is motivated by a compelling need to replace its aging Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighter airplanes and its 30 Boeing F/A-18 Hornet combat planes, which are scheduled to retire in 2030.

According to Gareth Jennings, aviation editor at defense publication Jane’s, both are suffering from fatigue and serviceability issues, which have resulted in groundings.

Switzerland may also choose a $2 billion air defense system from Eurosam, a Franco-Italian company, over Raytheon’s Patriot, a US company.

Neutral Switzerland last year narrowly approved the funding for new fighters in a national referendum.

Opinion polls had shown the plan would easily win approval in a country where armed neutrality is a tradition, but only 50.2% of voters approved the funding in September.


The “Air2030” contest is Switzerland’s latest foray into the arms market after voters seven years ago rejected the purchase of Gripen jets from Sweden’s Saab.

That vote was about financing the order but evolved into a bitter referendum on the Gripen itself, according to Jane’s.

This time, Switzerland organized a vote on the overall procurement before proceeding with a detailed selection.

But a new referendum campaign opposing the purchase will be launched immediately if the Swiss government decides for one of the two American jets, Priska Seiler Graf, a member of parliament for the left-leaning Social Democrats, said.

“The American jets are simply too expensive. It’s not just about buying them, but the upkeep and operating costs will be massive over time,” she added.

“We should look for a European solution since Switzerland is part of Europe and we don’t want to be reliant on the US.”

Anti-arms activists argue that Switzerland, which hasn’t fought a foreign war in almost 200 years and has no obvious opponents, doesn’t require cutting-edge fighters.

Supporters, on the other hand, argue that Switzerland has to be able to defend itself without relying on others.

According to Francis Tusa, editor of Defense Analysis, the latest campaign drew competitive bids from the US and offers of tighter integration with Europe, but the worth of any contract would be realized in years of follow-on assistance.

  • Reuters