Switzerland will replace its Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornet fighters with 36 Lockheed Martin F-35As, following a decision announced by Bern on 30 June.

The nation’s Air2030 selection has delivered a dual blow to European industry, with Switzerland’s Federal Council having rejected offers of the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon – along with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – and the Eurosam SAMP/T air-defence system. The programme’s ground-based air defence component will be met by acquiring five Patriot systems from Raytheon.

F-35A Payerne

Source: Armasuisse

The F-35A underwent Swiss evaluation at Payerne air base in 2019

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” Bern’s Armasuisse defence procurement agency says.

While all four fighter candidates met the nation’s evaluation requirements, Armasuisse says the F-35A procurement bill will total Swfr5.07 billion ($5.48 billion) – roughly Swfr2 billion lower than any of the rival proposals. Bern has budget approval to spend Swfr6 billion on the new fighter fleet, plus Swfr2 billion on air-defence equipment.

“With 336 [evaluation] points, it showed the highest overall benefit and was the clear winner, with a lead of 95 points or more over the other candidates,” it says. The F-35A came first in three of its four main assessment categories, falling short only in terms of direct industrial participation.

Factoring in projected operating costs over a 30-year period, the F-35A acquisition should cost approximately Swfr15.5 billion, Armasuisse says.

“In terms of effectiveness, the F-35A achieved the best result because it has a marked technological advantage over the other candidates: it includes entirely new, extremely powerful and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace,” Armasuisse says. Also pointing to the type’s stealthy design, it adds that “the resulting high survivability is a great advantage for the Swiss air force”.

The type’s “ease of operation… requires about 20% fewer flight hours than other candidates, and about 50% fewer take-offs and landings than the air force’s current jet aircraft”.

The Lockheed type also ranked first with regard to product support, “because of its efficient operation and maintenance, modern training design, and the high security of supply throughout its service life”.

An assessment of co-operation potential also placed the US model ahead of its rivals, “offering extensive opportunities for operational collaboration and broad access to data and technical resources”.

However, “In direct offset, the F-35A did not achieve the best result at the time the bid was made,” it says. “The offset obligation of 60% of the order must be fulfilled in full no later than four years after receipt of the final delivery.” RUAG will be responsible for in-country maintenance.

“Switzerland will become the 15th nation to join the F-35 programme of record, joining several European nations in further strengthening global air power and security,” says Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed’s general manager of the F-35 programme.

“Swiss industry will have the opportunity to participate in research and development, production and sustainment opportunities that will extend their capabilities into the future,” Lockheed says.

Introduction of the new fleet is scheduled for completion by 2030, with deliveries expected to commence in 2027.