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Despite skeptic Swiss lawmakers, US moves forward with F-35 offer

The U.S. government and Lockheed Martin submitted the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the New Fighter Aircraft (NFA) competition organized by the Swiss government.

On September 27, 2020, Switzerland held a referendum on whether it should acquire or not new fighter jets. 50.1% of voters have voted “yes” to the procurement of new aircraft for the Swiss Air Force. The acquisition aims to replace the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques that are still assigned to secondary tasks.  New jets are to be delivered by 2025.

Trump administration and Lockheed Martin have now moved forward with an offer that includes the sales of up to 40 F-35A stealth fighter jets and a training program. The industrial participation of Switzerland is also on the table, with an opportunity to assemble up to 4 fighters locally.

“We are confident that our F-35 offer is the best and most affordable solution for the Swiss NFA competition,” said Greg Ulmer, F-35 Program vice president and general manager, in a statement. “We are offering the only 5th generation fighter at the cost of 4th generation aircraft while offering Switzerland an aircraft that will protect Swiss sovereignty for decades to come.”

The offer was submitted on November 18, 2020, the same day Airbus and Germany proposed their own fighter jet, the Eurofighter Typhoon. France is expected to submit the Dassault Rafale, and Boeing should offer the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The Saab Gripen E/F was excluded from the competition as it will not be operational before 2023.

However, Lockheed Martin might encounter some political reluctance, as several Swiss politicians that had campaigned against the procurement voiced their opposition to the choice of Lockheed Martin. “Buying the American F-35s, which are the most expensive, is excluded,” said Roger Nordmann, the leader of the Socialist group in the Federal Assembly.

Throughout the campaign, some political representatives argued that the M-346, a trainer jet produced by Leonardo, would offer “sufficient performance for the work of the Swiss air police.” However, the Federal Department of Defense clarified the need for higher-performing fighter jets. “In these times of heightened tension, the Swiss Air Force must be able to maintain air sovereignty for weeks or even months in order to prevent unauthorized use of Swiss airspace,” it reminded. “Our old planes need to be replaced — otherwise, the Swiss airspace will be unprotected from 2030.”

 

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