Switzerland had officially joined the F-35 club. The ‘neutral’ country has inked an agreement to acquire three dozen F-35 stealth fighter jets from the US.
The head of Switzerland’s armaments service and F-35A program director inked the procurement deal that is to cost just over six billion Swiss francs (around $6B USD) for the aircraft that will be delivered between 2027 and 2030.
Earlier, the deal to purchase 36 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter jets received final clearance from the Swiss lawmakers, moving the multi-billion dollar deal forward without holding a referendum sought by opponents.
The F-35 was selected by Switzerland as its next-generation fighter plane last year, infuriating opponents who pledged to hold a referendum to reverse what they dubbed a pointless “Ferrari” option.
However, the government has now received the go-ahead to purchase the 36 aircraft from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin by a sizable majority of the lower house National Council. With 128 votes in favor and 67 against, the council members approved the deal.
The sale has already been approved by the Council of States, the upper house where the cantons of Switzerland are represented.
“The American F-35A is the right aircraft for Switzerland,” argued Jacqueline de Quattro of the Liberals (FDP) party. “It’s the cheapest plane, the best from a technological point of view.” Switzerland decided to purchase F-35s in June 2021, and it has until March 2023 to finalize the deal.
The country is procuring 36 fifth-generation F-35s to replace the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques of the Swiss Air Force.
The replacement of Switzerland’s fleet of F/A-18 Hornet aircraft would cost approximately six billion Swiss francs, which voters narrowly approved in September 2020.
Despite some debate surrounding the F-35’s selection—especially in light of the American fighter program’s cost overruns—a Swiss parliamentary investigation found no grounds for doubt.
Switzerland will join the expanding list of European nations that have selected the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fifth-generation aircraft, including Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.
In another decision, the National Council rejected a request to decommission the F-5s before the first F-35 is delivered to the Swiss Air Force in 2025. As a result, the 25 such aircraft will keep on carrying out limited activities such as training missions.
Referendum On F-35
The EurAsian Times had earlier reported that the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland and the Green Party opposed the deal, started the “Stop F-35” initiative, and began gathering signatures to call for the referendum.
They submitted 100,000 signatures gathered from Swiss citizens in August 2022. However, less than a week later, the Federal Office for Civil Protection (DDPS) declared that it was too late to set up a referendum before its agreement with the US expired.
The contracts about the order with the United States must be completed before March 31, 2023. The order will cost five billion Swiss francs ($5.5 billion). As a result, the association petitioned Swiss Parliament members to reject the contract signature deadline.
However, the lawmakers have now approved the deal. Following the decision, ‘Stop F-35’ issued a statement claiming that the National Council was disrespecting popular rights and “abandoning direct democracy.”
“We are preventing a major discussion which must absolutely be carried out,” said Pierre-Alain Fridez of the Swiss Socialist Party. “The population must be able to decide on this subject.” The transaction was also surrounded by additional controversy at the time.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, reportedly canceled his official trip to Switzerland in 2021 and suspended all high-level bilateral relations with that nation until the summer of 2022 due to Switzerland’s choice to purchase US-made fighters rather than French ones.
According to a confidential document acquired by Swiss public broadcaster SRF and also reported by EurAsian Times, France had given Switzerland a financial incentive to purchase Rafale planes rather than US F-35A aircraft.
The negotiation was still going on last summer, with France trying to persuade Switzerland to reconsider and buy its Rafale fighters despite the latter’s decision to purchase American F-35s.
Unnamed sources told SRF that ministers in the Swiss government had also sought the counter-offer from France. French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire suggested in the letter that a Swiss-French agreement on taxing cross-border workers be adjusted in favor of Switzerland to an estimated CHF3.5 billion.
He also promised France would back Switzerland as it weathered a difficult phase in its relations with the European Union. Switzerland, however, was unaffected by this and maintained its decision to buy US-made jets.