Switzerland Concludes F-35 Purchase

Switzerland has made its procurement of the F-35 Lightning II combat aircraft official. The country’s defense procurement agency, Armasuisse, signed the CHF6.035 billion ($6.25 billion) contract for 36 F-35 conventional takeoff ‘A’ variants with the U.S. government on September 18.

Days earlier, on September 15, the Swiss Parliament approved funding for the acquisition thereby clearing the way for official signing of the contract and dodging a second nationwide referendum related to the combat aircraft element of Switzerland’s Air 2030 program. The Air 2030 program involves replacements for the Swiss Air Force’s aging fleet of both F-5 Tiger and F/A-18 Hornet jet fighters and its ground-based anti-aircraft defense architecture.

Proponents of holding a second referendum – after having narrowly lost the first referendum by fewer than 10,000 votes back on September 27, 2020 – argued that the first vote did not focus specifically on the acquisition of the F-35 fighter itself, but on the larger procurement project in general.

Their “Stop the F-35” initiative gathered sufficient signatures to hold a second referendum, but the Federal Council – wary of waiting to hold a referendum and missing the expiration on the offer period that ends in the spring of 2023 – insisted on pushing forward with the contract.

Switzerland’s direct democracy model allows for voters to generate a plebiscite provided 50,000 valid and verifiable voter signatures (100,000 are required if the initiative involves amending the constitution), or eight of Switzerland’s 26 cantons (states within the greater federal state), call for one.

For a neutral country that has not fought a war in 200 years the idea of procuring expensive new-generation combat aircraft is considered an extravagance by opponents who generally have little difficulty collecting the required signatures.

An earlier such referendum held in 2014 proved successful in overturning a planned acquisition of Gripen fighters from Sweden’s Saab.

Proponents of moving forward with the procurement pointed out the potential inflation impact and delivery delays that would result from waiting to hold another referendum.

Ultimately the government opted in favor of finalizing the contract rather than waiting to hold another referendum. The deal was accompanied by an offset agreement with F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin under which Swiss industry could receive up to CHF2.9 billion ($3 billion) in related workshare.

The F-35 will replace the legacy F-5 and F/A-18 “classic” Hornet fighter inventories from 2027 through 2030. The first eight units will be produced in Fort Worth, Texas, with as many as 24 subsequent units manufactured and assembled at Leonardo’s Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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