Switzerland's bid to at least partially replace its 54 Northrop F-5s has returned to square one after the government postponed any fighter acquisitions until the second half of the decade, and charged the defence and finance ministries with generating a new jet procurement proposal next year.
The decision, prompted by Switzerland's financial situation, opens the door to a possible return by Boeing to the competition. Boeing withdrew its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in April 2008, citing Swiss mission requirements that did not stipulate an AESA sensor. But it indicated in June that it was ready to re-enter the competition if Switzerland set a new requirement.
That has now come to pass. Following the federal council's decision to adjourn the F-5 replacement programme, the defence ministry confirms that "a new series of tests" would follow the presentation of a revised proposal to parliament after elections in October 2011.
© Swiss air force
A new contest could widen the field beyond the three candidate airframes that completed extensive evaluations in late 2008: Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen. These assessments found the programme's budget - initially around $1.9 billion - insufficient for the 22-33 aircraft being sought.
But the defence ministry estimates the cost of buying 22 jets at SFr4-5 billion ($3.9-4.9 billion), with maintenance costs adding further to a financial outlay deemed "a very high amount even for a rich country".
While it confirms that a US airframe could be part of the new evaluation, the defence ministry has ruled out consideration of Russian machines, citing the difference of the technology deployed therein and attendant difficulties of comparison. It is "too early to say" how many jets will be covered by the new proposal.
The defence government confirms its "disappointment" with the federal council's decision to postpone replacement of the F-5, which it deems "obsolete" after three decades in service. However, it stresses that "the whole cabinet" is agreed on the need for new jets, but simply "haven't the money" to immediately pursue replacement plans.
It stresses also that while its 33 F/A-18 aircraft are sufficient to meet air policing requirements in the near term, new jets are required in the longer term, should a major crisis supplement more routine needs created by events such as a G8 summit or meeting of the World Economic Forum.