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Switzerland - F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter

The Federal Council proposed on 30 June 2021 that Parliament approve the procurement of 36 F-35A fighter aircraft from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin. "In terms of effectiveness, the F-35A achieved the best result because it has a marked technological advantage over the other candidates: it includes entirely new, extremely powerful and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace. The F-35A is able to ensure information superiority; this means pilots benefit from a higher situational awareness in all task areas when compared with the other candidates. This is especially true for day-to-day air policing. What is more, the F-35A is the only aircraft that has been designed from the ground up to be especially difficult for other weapons systems to detect. The resulting high survivability is a great advantage for the Swiss Air Force.

"In addition, because the F-35A is comparatively easy to operate and is able to provide information superiority, it requires less training and has a better ratio of flight to simulator hours. Because of this, the F-35A requires about 20% fewer flight hours than other candidates, and about 50% fewer take-offs and landings than the Air Force’s current jet aircraft, which the F-35A will be replacing."

The F-35A also achieved by far the best result in terms of costs. Both procurement and operation costs are the lowest for this aircraft. At the time the bids were made in February 2021, the procurement costs amounted to CHF 5.068 billion – well under the financial cap of CHF 6 billion set by voters. Even when accounting for inflation up to the time of payment, procurement costs will remain below the credit limit. The F-35A also has the lowest operating costs of all of the candidates evaluated. The total costs of the F-35A (i.e. procurement plus operating costs) amounts to approximately CHF 15.5 billion over 30 years.

On 27 September 2020, Swiss voters in a referendum voted by a razor-thin majority of 8,670 votes to approve the government spending more than $6.5 billion on fighter jets. The Swiss legislature has approved an Air 2030 modernisation program, which would see the country buying up to 40 new aircraft and spending a further $2 billion on a ground-based air defence system. The new aircraft would replace the ageing fleet of the 30 F/A-18 French Hornets, which will go out of service in 2030. Any new jets would be delivered by 2025.

On September 30, 2020 the US State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Switzerland of forty (40) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $6.58 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale. The Government of Switzerland requested to buy up to forty (40) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft; forty-six (46) Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines; forty (40) Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II+ (Plus) Tactical Missiles; fifty (50) Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs); six (6) Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II Special Air Training Missiles (NATMS); four (4) Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II Tactical Guidance Units; ten (10) Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II CATM Guidance Units; eighteen (18) KMU-572 JDAM Guidance Kits for GBU-54; twelve (12) Bomb MK-82 500LB, General Purpose; twelve (12) Bomb MK-82, Inert; twelve (12) GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II) All-Up Round (AUR); and eight (8) GBU-53/B SDB II Guided Test Vehicle (GTV).

Also included are Electronic Warfare Systems; Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence/Communications, Navigational, and Identification (C4I/CNI); Autonomic Logistics Global Support System (ALGS); Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS); Full Mission Trainer; Weapons Employment Capability and other Subsystems, Features, and Capabilities; F-35 unique infrared flares; reprogramming center access; F-35 Performance Based Logistics; software development/integration; flight test instrumentation; aircraft ferry and tanker support; Detector Laser DSU-38A/B, Detector Laser DSU-38A(D-2)/B, FMU-139D/B Fuze, KMU-572(D-2)/B Trainer (JDAM), 40 inch Wing Release Lanyard; GBU-53/B SDB II Weapon Load Crew Trainers (WLCT); Cartridge, 25 mm PGU-23/U; weapons containers; aircraft and munitions support and test equipment; communications equipment; spares and repair parts; repair and return support; personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical documents; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.

The Swiss broadcaster SRF reported 21 June 2021 that Switzerland's ministry of defence was looking to purchase the American F-35A Lightning II fighter jet. The Lockheed Martin jet "performed by far the best in the evaluation process" conducted by the military. According to the three anonymous sources speaking to the SRF, the US fighter jet "both financially and technically, the stealth jet is well ahead of the F/ A-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter and the Rafale."

“According to insiders, the preparations for the eagerly awaited Federal Council (executive body) decision are well advanced. A media release about the purchase of the F-35 has already been drafted - but the entire Federal Council could still decide otherwise,” SRF said, citing three independent unnamed sources. The sources told SRF that: “Switzerland can buy a larger number of F-35s with the budgeted CHF6 billion than would be the case with the three competitors. The F-35’s simulator could also be an asset. It would allow the F-35 to carry out significantly more virtual training missions than with the competition.”

At least two of the seven Federal Council members would prefer a European fighter jet, SRF said. Critics, who include the Group for a Switzerland without an Army, the leftwing Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, have promised to launch a referendum against any decision to buy a US fighter jet.

However, the news that the country's defence minister Viola Amherd wants to recommend the government buy the US F-35 jet and not French Rafale or the Airbus Eurofighter - the country's traditional weapons suppliers - was likely to cause tensions with its European neighbours. Relations between the EU and Switzerland have frayed after Bern walked away last month from signing a comprehensive framework agreement between the EU and Switzerland due to "remaining substantial differences on key aspects." The decision marked an end to seven years of negotiations which would have modernised an existing web of agreements that number more than 120. Swiss voters have rejected joining the EU and the Eurozone and instead rely on bilateral agreements with the political and economic union.

Behind the scenes, France was ramping up intensive lobbying efforts to get the bid for the fighter jets by offering an additional counter deal which, amongst other things, would provide political support to the landlocked country at the EU level. The leaks surrounding the acquisition of the US-made fighter jets could be an opening gambit by Swiss authorities playing hardball with the EU. One commentator warned, "Switzerland, after decades of buying military kit from different European arms makers [is] now going to buy F-35s from [the] US. Sovereign decision but wise for CH to crudely spurn its closest neighbours?" According to local reports in the country, Switzerland's Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, perhaps fearing the coming wrath of neighbors, prefers a European aircraft.

Perceptions of the EU in the small Alpine nation have hardened in recent years. The German ambassador to Switzerland lamented recently that "in some media and social networks, it is depicted as a monster." Following Brexit, the EU is increasingly worried that allowing neighbouring states to craft their bespoke deals could encourage other countries to either not join the club or encourage others to leave. Yet, increasing pressure on Switzerland by Brussels to capitulate to EU demands on the terms of the relationship has worried politicians and citizens of the country that the nation's strict interpretation of neutrality could be threatened.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2021 18:28:12 ZULU