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Swiss fighter project obtains initial approval

Switzerland's Conseil national, the lower house of its Federal Assembly, has approved funding for the initial stage of an effort to replace its air force's Boeing F/A-18C/Ds.

Contained within Bern's 2017 military acquisition programme, the process of selecting a new fighter is now under way, with its choice to be finalised by 2020. Financing should be in place by 2022 and deliveries are to commence in 2025.

An initial Swfr10 million ($10 million) has been allocated for preparatory studies, testing and other pre-acquisition costs.

In addition, the Conseil national also approved a proposal to extend the life of its current fleet of 30 Hornets to 2030.

A recent report compiled by a group of defence experts for the country's defence ministry recommended a range of options, including the acquisition of between 30-70 new combat aircraft or purchasing a lower initial number of new jets, bolstered by life-extended F/A-18s.

Potential costs would range from Swfr5-18 billion, says the report.

It notes that without any intervention, its Hornets will reach the end of their 5,000h-per-airframe life no later than 2025.

Although the acquisition of second-hand F/A-18s would be popular with the public, it says, the condition of most used examples on the market is worse than that of Switzerland's own fleet. The costs of any refurbishment required would outweigh the useful flight hours likely to be obtained, it adds.

In addition to its F/A-18s, Bern operates a fleet of 35 aged Northrop F-5s. It previously sought to replace these with 22 Saab Gripen Es, but the purchase was axed in May 2014 following a national referendum on the deal.

The Tigers are due to retire from service in early 2020, according to the report.

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