After Saab Gripen, Why Switzerland Could ‘Undo’ Its $6.5B F-35 Stealth Fighter Jet Deal With The US?

Switzerland’s plan to acquire US-made F-35 stealth fighter jets is likely to face a referendum. While the proposed $6.5 billion deal is yet to be cleared by the Swiss parliament, a non-government organization has started collecting signatures, calling the move “unnecessary and overrated Ferrari” for the army.  

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Earlier this year, the Swiss Federal Council had proposed that “Parliament approve the procurement of 36 F-35A fighter aircraft from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin and five Patriot fire units from US manufacturer Raytheon”.

According to the Council, an evaluation has revealed that “these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost”.

“The Federal Council is confident the F 35 fighter jets are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future. The Federal Council took the decision at its meeting on 30 June,” the Council said in a statement.

The Swiss Move & Counter-Move

Switzerland is looking to buy F-35 jets because the Swiss Air Force’s current equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030. The Federal Council sought to replace its current fleet of fighter aircraft and procure a new system for longer-range ground-based air defense (GBAD).

The Council said it had based its decision on a comprehensive technical evaluation of four new fighter aircraft candidates — Eurofighter by Airbus, Germany; F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing, USA; F-35A by Lockheed Martin, USA; Rafale by Dassault, France.

The NGO, the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSoA), has been resisting the move, saying that “F 35 is an overpriced luxury toy for some army officers”.

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The Federal Council had earlier claimed the “F-35A has the lowest operating costs of all of the candidates evaluated.” “The total costs of the F-35A (i.e. procurement plus operating costs) amount to approximately CHF 15.5 billion over 30 years. This is around CHF 2 billion less than the second-lowest bidder,” the Council said.

In its campaign, GSoA is raising few specific arguments against procurement of the stealth fighters, calling them “oversized,” “shoots far beyond the target as a stealth aircraft for bombing raids,” “aircraft is an overrated and expensive” one.

An Italian F-35. (via Twitter)

The NGO also claims that aircraft is “almost a dozen of errors which are so serious that they can lead to the crash of the plane or otherwise become life-threatening for the pilots”.

GSoA has alleged that “if these fighter jets become operational then Swiss F 35s will be subject to America’s surveillance. The US secret service will always be in the F 35 cockpit”, and there is a risk that, “these fighter jets will be used to do more than protect Swiss airspace, contravening its tradition of neutrality”.

Czech Air Force Gripen fighter jets. (via NATO Twitter)

Last week, the NGO began collecting signatures for a referendum on the stealth fighters. The group, which enjoys the support of the left-wing Swiss Green Party, will need to collect 100,000 signatures in the next 18 months to bring the issue to a national vote.

As of August 31, the group garnered 4,123 votes on “Stop the F-35” initiative.

How Gripen Deal Was Grounded

This is not the first time that Switzerland is witnessing opposition to a foreign fighter jet proposal. A decade ago, Gripen, manufactured by Swedish company Saab, was about to replace the Swiss Air Force’s F-18.

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But three years later, the acquisition process was halted following a referendum and Swiss voters rejected the proposal. Finally, the contract had to be canceled. 

Last year, Swiss voters approved the government plan to spend $6.5 billion on a new fighter aircraft. Now that the Federation Council, Switzerland’s executive branch, has selected the winner, the final stage to successfully procure these fighter jets will be securing approval from the Parliament.