The voting public of Switzerland has narrowly approved the acquisition of a new combat aircraft to replace the McDonnell Douglas F-18C/D Hornet and Northrop F-5E/F in service under its AIR 2030 project requirement.
The neutral country requires a popular mandate to acquire major weapons capabilities, and with a voter turnout of nearly 60 per cent of Switzerland’s voting age citizens, a bare majority of 50.1 per cent voted on September 27 in favour of the acquisition.
“The vote represents a long-term investment in the security of the Swiss population and infrastructure,” Defence Minister Viola Amherd said in a statement. “In a democracy, it’s a given that we respect the majority decision.”
There are four combat aircraft vying to replace 30 F-18C/Ds and about 53 F-5E/Fs. These include the Eurofighter EF-2000, Dassault Rafale, Lockheed Martin F-35A, and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Switzerland has allocated a budget of US$6.5bn (A$9.05bn) for between 30 and 40 new combat aircraft, and an additional US$2bn (A$2.78bn) for a ground-based air defence system.
To this end, the US Defense Security Acquisition Agency (DSCA) advised on September 30 that Switzerland has been approved to acquire both the F-35A and the F/A-18E/F, as well as the Patriot PAC-3 anti-aircraft missile system. This notification is a pre-approval based on Switzerland’s requirement, and does not mean one of these will proceed to contract.
Interestingly, both of the DSCA approvals indicate the potential value of the proposals is above that of the Swiss government’s budget which is capped following the referendum. Minister Amherd told media that, “If we can get suitable aircraft for less, we will certainly look at that.”
In summary, the F-35A notification includes 40 aircraft, six spare P&W F135 engines, a package of 100 AIM-9X live, training, and captive carry air-to-air missiles, a small number of GBU-54 JDAM and GBU-53/B SDB II GPS guided bombs, electronic warfare systems, Autonomic Logistics Global Support System (ALGS) and Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) access, simulators, reprogramming centre access, and a package of training, spares, logistics, and other support services. The F-35A’s total estimated cost is US$6.54bn (A$9.12bn).
The Super Hornet notification covers 36 F/A-18E single-seat and four F/A-18F two-seat aircraft, eight spare GE F414 engines, 25 ATFLIR targeting pods, electronic warfare systems, 48 JHMCS helmet systems, a similar AIM-9X and GBU package as listed in the F-35 notification, AN/ALE-55 Towed Decoys, and a package of training, ferry, logistics, and other support services. The estimated cost of the Super Hornet package if US$7.452bn (A$10.51bn).
The Swiss government requires final proposals to be delivered by November 18, with a decision on the successful aircraft to be announced by June 2021.