Swiss defence minister Ueli Maurer has reaffirmed the nation's selection of the Saab Gripen E/F as the "optimal solution" to replace its air force fleet of Northrop F-5s.

Maurer called a press conference on 14 February to counter Swiss media reports questioning the 30 November 2011 selection of the Gripen, after the emergence of leaked evaluation documents which questioned the type's ability to tackle future aerial threats.

Confirming the next-generation version of the Gripen had met the established selection criteria - along with larger and more expensive rivals the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon - Maurer said the financial aspects of the respective bids had been of "crucial importance". Acquiring the single-engined Gripen for the expected 22-aircraft deal was "financially viable in the long term", he said, adding that the leaked report was an obsolete document from 2008.

Saab Gripen Demo aircraft

  © Katsuhiko Tokunaga/Gripen International

"Saab and Sweden are now in negotiations with Switzerland, optimising the complete package and preparing for the acquisition of Gripen E/F," the manufacturer said. "Saab is confident that the Gripen package gives Switzerland what it needs in all areas, particularly in terms of a fighter that delivers the best price-to-performance ratio with a long-term and agreed development path."

According to a schedule detailed late last year, the Swiss Federal Council should receive a final outline from Saab later this month.

Noting that earlier versions of the Gripen are in service with five air forces, Saab said the type "is capable of performing an extensive range of air-to-air, air-to-surface and reconnaissance missions employing the most modern range of weapons".

Its developmental E/F model features an active electronically scanned array radar and will also be able to carry MBDA's Meteor beyond visual-range air-to-air missile.

Local reports suggest Dassault could table an improved Rafale offer in a bid to derail negotiations with Saab, although a formal proposal has yet to be made.

Source: Flight International