Having firmly rejected a proposal to acquire modern fighter aircraft in 2014, the Swiss electorate appears poised to green light a potential CHF 6 billion (€5.6 billion) acquisition, according to a poll published on 20 August.
The poll, conducted for broadcaster SRF by gfs.bern, indicates 58% of voters favour a government plan – without foreknowledge of the selected aircraft: 39% are opposed, 3% have no opinion.
The procurement programme, now known as Air 2030, aims to acquire 36-40 modern combat aircraft to replace the Confederation’s ageing fleet of F-5 TIGER II and F/A-18C/D HORNET aircraft. In contention are the Eurofighter TYPHOON, Dassault RAFALE, F/A-18E/F SUPER HORNET and F-35 LIGHTNING II. Withdrawn last year – apparently on the recommendation of the Swiss procurement authority, armasuisse – was the Saab GRIPEN E. This rather odd decision is seen by some as a controversial one, centred on adherence to a ‘clean’ regulatory process rather than the exercise of common sense: the specification limited candidates to aircraft operational by 2023, which GRIPEN E was not at the time schooled to be. That decision robs the Swiss Air Force of an opportunity to evaluate an aircraft that is arguably at least as good as and – in some eyes – better than any of its peers. On the grounds that limiting choice artificially is relatively unintelligent unless there are over-riding strong reasons for doing so, this seems to be a flaw in the procurement process.
However – with an apparent about turn in public perception of the need for new aircraft over the last six years, perhaps something may yet be done to rectify the barring of GRIPEN. Or not. Whatever the case, decisions are now likely to be made relatively quickly, since a key demand of the Request for Proposals is for delivery of aircraft to begin by 2025. Perhaps one of the reasons behind the shift in public opinion is the statement that, unless legacy aircraft are replaced, “Swiss airspace will be unprotected by 2030.” Absent any formal treaties of alliance, Switzerland may grudgingly have recognised the nation can no longer depend solely on the neutrality that has kept it out of direct armed conflict since the days of the Emperor Napoleon.