On June 30, the Swiss government picked Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets over French Rafales and European Typhoons to replace its aging fleet of F-5E Tiger and F/A-18 Hornets.
Last September, with a razor-thin majority, 50.1% of Swiss people voted in favor of a $6.5 billion budget to buy 30-40 new jets under the Air 2030 Program, which includes upgrading the country’s aircraft and defense systems.
According to Swiss media reports, the 36 F-35A jets can be bought for $5.4 billion costing $2 billion cheaper than other jets.
“With 336 points, [the F-35A] showed the highest overall benefit and was the clear winner with a lead of 95 points or more over the other candidates,” Swiss Federal Council’s report said.
The F-35 beat the other hot-shot jets of the western world, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Airbus’ Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale.
Boeing’s Super Hornet
Since the Swiss Air Force is already operating ‘Legacy’ F/A-18C/D Hornets, an upgrade to advanced Super Hornets seemed a natural choice.
The Super Hornet can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons, making it one of the most lethal, advanced, combat-proven, multi-role frontline fighters in service today.
Despite operating and training advantages, the Super Hornet could not impress upon the Swiss and match the “usefulness” criteria for the Swiss Air Force.
On the other hand, Boeing is pitching its F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet to the Indian Navy which is also pitched against French Rafales for the Indian aircraft carriers, as reported by EurAsian Times.
The Airbus-manufactured Eurofighter Typhoon is an advanced, new-generation, swing-role aircraft with experience of serving in combat zones of Libya, Iraq, and Syria.
Currently operated by more than 10 countries around the world, the customers of the $124 million jet include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait among other European countries.
The aircraft possesses both adequate weapon availability (up to 6 bombs whilst also carrying six missiles, a cannon and a targeting pod) and sufficient processing power to simultaneously support missile in-flight updates and bomb in-flight targeting, according to the official website.
It was widely reported that Typhoon may win the bid as Switzerland, a non-European Union (EU) country, is looking to improve relations with EU. Despite Airbus submitting a 700-page dossier on economic “offsets”, the F-35 trumped the Typhoon.
The 4.5 generation French fighter jet was mooted as the best choice for the Swiss Air Force by experts and analysts around the world.
Known for its versatility, interoperability, flexibility, and survivability, the Dassault Aviation’s Rafale is relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats, according to the website. India is one of the customers of Dassault Rafales.
With a low operational cost, lower maintenance requirements, and access to superior long-range air-to-air missiles like the Meteor, the Rafale inked two deals this year alone, one with Greece and the other with Croatia, both European countries.
One of the reasons suspected for rejecting Rafale is its non-compatibility with American air-launched missiles such as the AIM-9 or AIM-120 that Switzerland currently operates, according to experts.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
Switzerland will become the 15th nation to operate the fifth-generation single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighter jet.
Considered the most technologically advanced airplane ever built, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter combines high-end stealth with unmatched situational awareness.
According to a press statement issued by Lockheed Martin, 14 nations operate more than 655 F-35s worldwide and six of them are European partners.
In addition to compatibility with American military technology, the superior avionics and stealth capabilities may have impressed the Swiss to choose a stealth jet for a neutral country that hasn’t fought many wars in its history.
“In their Air 2030 upgrade program [the Swiss] are looking for a combined defensive air network. The F-35 is the best tool to adapt to geopolitical and technological change and provide valuable data as they look to upgrade their ground-based air defense systems,” Jim Robinson, Lockheed’s F-35 Switzerland campaign manager told Forbes.
Despite a green signal, there might be hurdles before a final deal is inked.
The EurAsian Times earlier reported on the domestic opposition and the possibility of a new referendum to reverse what people called an unnecessary “Ferrari” option.
With inputs from Anshruta Banerjee