A special Swiss Parliamentary committee will review the Federal Council of Switzerland’s selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as the next fighter jet to fly with the colors of the Swiss Air Force.

The decision to acquire 36 F-35As was announced on June 30, 2021. The US-made fifth-generation fighter jet was chosen over its competitors, the Dassault Rafale, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The F-35 was said to have come out on top in three out of the four criteria of the competition: efficiency, product support, and cooperation. It should replace the Swiss Air Force’s McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques. 

Since the announcement, lawmakers and media commentators have contested the decision, calling into question certain terms of the selection, and the resulting contract. For example, the SonntagsZeitung and the SonntagsBlick, two Swiss newspapers, contested the announced price, arguing the figures were “estimates based on the best available data” rather than fixed. 

The looming pressure of a new referendum

While the Federal Office of Armaments (Armasuisse) denied the reports, a “popular initiative” ‒ the Swiss referendum model ‒ was launched to challenge the choice. As a consequence, the Control Committee of the National Council announced it would examine “the legality and the advisability of certain aspects of the evaluation procedure followed for the choice of the new combat aircraft”. The committee will also investigate the alleged destruction of documents by Armasuisse.

The aim of the examination, due to begin in February 2022, is mainly to legitimize the choice of the aircraft in the eyes of the general public. In 2014, a similar popular initiative blocked the acquisition of 22 Saab Gripen E fighters.

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Several lawmakers are collecting signatures to challenge with a referendum the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet for the Swiss Air Force.