In 1993 the government of Switzerland completed negotiations to purchase 34 F/A-18 fighter aircraft (24 single-seat F/A-18Cs and 8 two-seat F/A-18Ds) from the U.S. Government as a Foreign Military Sale. McDonnell Douglas was the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman, General Electric, General Motors, and Hughes as the major U.S. subcontractors. NAVAIR provides administrative oversight, management, and support. The main reason the Swiss Air Force choose the F/A-18 Hornet after a thorough evaluation was the top performance of this aircraft. The Hornet has a very short reaction time from its alert position, very good aeroplane performance and flying characteristics and is able to accelerate extremely fast, reaching sonic speed within seconds. Its extremely good manoeuvrability in curvilinear flight is important in aerial combat in visual flight conditions and is proven to be of the best worldwide.
Its high performance radar allows the F/A-18 to detect and simultaneously engage multiple low flying targets with its long-range guided missiles, by day and night and under bad weather conditions. The Hornet is also well tested in electronic warfare. This aircraft, developed to operate from aircraft carriers, is very well suited for our mountainous regions and narrow valleys as well as our short runways.
With a total length of 17,10 meters, the F/A-18 is a little longer than the Mirage IIIS, and its span of 11,7 meters exceeds the F-5E Tiger II’s by 3,60 meters. The Swiss F/A-18 version weighs 16 tons (unloaded), approximately four times as much as the Tiger. It can easily load 7,5 tons, about six times the useful load the 1994 retired Hunter was able to carry. Two engines provide for a thrust of 16 tons, which is three and a half times as much performance as the engines of the F-5. Five thousand litres of fuel allow flights of more than one hour duration.
The acquisition of fighter jets for the Swiss Army have often been highly controversial. They led to the resignation of defence ministers in the 1960s and also saw a nationwide vote on the purchase of F/A-18 in 1993. Switzerland, with its system of direct democracy is virtually the only country in the world where major arms acquisitions can go to a national vote, and the expensive F/A-18 required exactly such. The fight over the F/A-18 jet came only years after the end of the Cold War era and followed a nationwide vote in 1989 when the pacifists landed a surprise by winning more than a third of the vote for their proposal to abolish the Swiss army.
The air force acquired a fleet of 34 F/A-18 in the mid-1990s. The first two aircraft were assembled in St. Louis, with the remaining 32 produced and assembled in Switzerland with parts both imported from the US and parts produced by five major Swiss subcontractors. The first aircraft assembled in Switzerland underwent a successful first test flight on 3 October 1996. The Swiss companies are subcontracted directly to both McDonnell Douglas and to Northrop Grumman, necessitating a close working relationship between the American contractors and their Swiss counterparts. The Swiss Defense Technology and Procurement Agency (GRD) functions as the Swiss program management office. The first two F I A-18s, assembled in St. Louis, were delivered to the Swiss in early 1996 after a successful first flight on 20 January 1996. From October 1996 on, the Hornets left the assembly bays at Emmen. Delivery was completed by the end of 1999. Squadron 17 was the first front squadron to retrain to the Hornet from June 1997 on, followed in the spring of 1998 by Squadron 18. Last but not least, retraining was concluded by Dübendorf based Squadron 11, in 1999. These three squadrons are part of the Surveillance Wing (Ueberwachungsgeschwader).
After his professional schooling and according to his potential and the requirements, the pilot of the Surveillance Wing is admitted to F/A-18 conversion courses. Basic training of six months includes theory, system knowledge, simulator and flight training, aerial combat exercises in visual flight, airborne interception exercises and engagement of ground and aerial targets. Another six months will be necessary to teach the pilot the art of navigation, independent interception and identification of aerial targets of all kinds as well as engagement of multiple targets and much more.
With its new PC-21 (JEPAS PC-21) jet pilot training, the Swiss Air Force is breaking new ground in converting pilots directly from the PC-21 to the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet. This is an innovation that is unique worldwide. In the nineties, the goal of training was conversion to the Hawker Hunter or the Northrop F-5 Tiger II External website. By the end of the nineties it became evident that one would have to focus on the requirements of the F/A-18. The training approach went from the Pilatus PC-7 Turbo-Trainer External website via F-5 Tiger to the F/A-18 Hornet.
But a jet trainer had to satisfy the specifications of the aircraft that was to be flown later. This requirement could not be met with the F-5 Tiger. Thus, the idea was born to convert from a propeller plane directly to the F/A-18. The PC-21 was the name of the practical solution. The Pilatus PC-21 is very sophisticated regards avionics and systems training and enables a training that had never been possible on the jet aircraft that used to be deployed. A disadvantage of the PC-21 is its limited engine power. This because its turboprop engine cannot achieve the propulsive power of a jet.
Professional military pilot training takes about five years and four months. First three years and four months of flying are required in combination with airline pilot training. Military flight training itself takes two years: 30 weeks on the Pilatus NCPC-7 and 45 weeks on the PC-21. During these 45 weeks of training topics such as technical conversion, instrument flight training (IFR), formation flying, navigation, air-to-ground attack, air policing and air warfare are taught. 210 missions are planned for each student.
By 2003 Switzerland's air force had received 34 F/A-18C/D Hornets. The first two aircraft were completed in the USA, but the remainder were assembled at the Swiss Aircraft and Systems factory near Lucerne. The air force was also seeking the $110 million Hornet 21 upgrade that will include new avionics, JMHCS, MIDS and other avionics improvements. Details were notified to the US Congress in March 2003. The Hornet superseded the Mirage III in the air-defence role, but the type remained in service as a reconnaissance platform until 2006. The F-5s would be replaced around 2010. F-5 numbers were slowly being reduced, with aircraft being sold to Brazil, the US Navy and elsewhere. In the meantime, 33 were to be upgraded by 2005. Talks were taking place with Poland for the disposal of the Hawk fleet.
On 7 April 1998, a two-seater F/A-18D Hornet with military registration J5231 crashed in Crans-sur-Sierre (Canton of Valais), killing two people, including the pilot. The second loss of an F/A-18D occurred on 23 October 2013, when J-5237 crashed in the Lopper area near Alpnachstad in the Canton of Obwalden, killing both crew members. Third loss of an F/A-18D on 14 October 2015 (J-5235) in France.
On April 30, 2008, after a thorough review of Switzerland's requirements for partial replacement of its Tiger fighter aircraft, Boeing decided not to enter the competition due to the disparity between the requirements for an F-5 replacement aircraft and the next-generation capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet. Boeing valued its long-standing partnership with Switzerland and looks forward to continuing its support and modernization of the F-18C/D as the Swiss Air Force moves into the future.
The Government of Switzerland intended in 2012 to purchase “Upgrade 21 Program” equipment to enhance survivability and communications connectivity and to extend the useful life of Swiss Air Force (SAF) F/A-18 aircraft. This phase of the F/A-18 "Upgrade 21 Program" will include continued procurement of 34 Fleet Retrofit Kits as follows: 6 AN/APX-111 Combined Interrogator Transponders, 6 Tactical Aircraft Moving Map Capability Systems, 5 Multi-functional Information Distribution Systems/Low Volume Terminals (Airborne Link-16), 68 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems, 36 Enhanced Interference Blanking Units and 31 Digital Communications to Wingtips. Also included will be related support and test equipment, engineering technical services, supply support, operation and maintenance training, documentation, and program management support. The estimated cost is $110 million.
This proposed sale would contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in Europe. The SAF has extensive experience operating the F/A-18 aircraft and should have no difficulties incorporating the upgraded capabilities into its forces. The SAF needs this upgrade to keep pace with high tech advances in sensors, weaponry, and communications. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not affect the basic military balance in the region.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on 04 December 2013 of a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Switzerland for F/A-18 Hornet follow-on support and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $200 million.
The Government of Switzerland requested a possible sale of follow-on support for Switzerland’s F/A-18 Hornet Upgrade Program to include: participation in the F/A-18 Engine Component Improvement Program (CIP), spare and repair parts, system integration and testing, classified and unclassified publications and technical documentation, flight testing, support and test equipment, transportation, personnel training and training equipment, software development, U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $200 million.
The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in Europe.
The proposed sale of this follow on support will allow the Swiss Air Force to extend the useful life of its F/A-18 fighter aircraft and enhance their survivability. The defense articles and services will be used to support the current Switzerland F/A-18 Hornet Upgrade 25 program and future upgrade programs. The Swiss Air Force needs this support to keep pace with technology advances in sensors, weaponry, and communications. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
The principal contractors will be Excelis Inc. in Clifton, New Jersey; Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Linthicum, Maryland; The Boeing Company in St. Louis, Missouri; General Electric Aircraft Engines in Lynn, Massachusetts; General Dynamics Information Technology in Wildewood, Maryland; Wyle Laboratories in Lexington Park, Maryland; MacKee, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Zenetex in California, Maryland. There are no offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
On 30 September 2020 the US State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Switzerland of forty (40) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of $7.452 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale. The Government of Switzerland has requested to buy up to thirty-six (36) F/A-18E Super Hornet aircraft; seventy-two (72) F414-GE-400 engines (installed); four (4) F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft; eight (8) F414-GE-400 engines (installed); sixteen (16) F414-GE-400 engines (spares); forty-four (44) M61A2 20MM gun systems; twenty-five (25) Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR)/other targeting pod; fifty-five (55) AN/ALR-67(V)3 Electric Warfare Countermeasures Receiving sets; fifty-five (55) AN/ALQ-214 Integrated Countermeasures systems; forty-eight (48) Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems – Joint Tactical Radio Systems (MIDS-JTRS); forty-eight (48) Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS); two hundred sixty-four (264) LAU-127E/A guided missile launchers; forty-eight (48) AN/AYK-29 Distributed Targeting Processor – Networked (DTP-N); twenty-seven (27) Infrared Search and Track (IRST) systems; forty (40) AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder tactical missiles; fifty (50) AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs); six (6) AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder Special Air Training Missiles (NATMs); four (4) AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder tactical guidance units; ten (10) AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder 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 AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars; High Speed Video Network (HSVN) Digital Video Recorder (HDVR); AN/AVS-9 Night Vision Goggles (NVG); AN/AVS-11 Night Vision Cueing Device (NVCD); AN/ALE-47 Electronic Warfare Countermeasures Systems; AN/ARC-210 Communication System; AN/APX-111 Combined Interrogator Transponder; AN/ALE-55 Towed Decoys; launchers (LAU-115D/A, LAU-116B/A, LAU118A); Training Aids, Devices and Spares; Technical Data Engineering Change Proposals; Avionics Software Support; Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS); Data Transfer Unit (DTU); Accurate Navigation (ANAV) Global Positioning System (GPS) Navigation; KIV-78 Dual Channel Encryptor, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF); Cartridge Actuated Devices/Propellant Actuated Devices (CADs/PADs); Technical Publications; AN/PYQ-10C Simple Key Loader (SKL); Aircraft Spares; other support equipment; Aircraft Armament Equipment (AAE); aircraft ferry; transportation costs; other technical assistance; engineering technical assistance; contractor engineering technical support; logistics technical assistance; Repair of Repairables (RoR); aircrew and maintenance training; contractor logistics support; flight test services; Foreign Liaison Officer (FLO) support; auxiliary fuel tanks, system integration and testing; software development/integration; and other related elements of logistics and program support.
For AIM-9X: containers; missile support and test equipment; provisioning; spare and repair parts; personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical data; and U.S. Government and contractor technical assistance and other related logistics support. For GBU-53/B SDB II and GBU-54: 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); weapons containers; munitions support and test 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.
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