As the decision on the next fighter jet to fly with the colors of the Swiss Air Force is about to be made, local media reports that the scales might be tilted in favor of the Dassault Rafale.
The Air 2030 tender was launched in 2020 following the positive outcome of a referendum on whether Switzerland should acquire or not new fighter jets. 50.1% of voters have voted “yes” to the procurement of new aircraft for the Swiss Air Force.
Estimated at 6 billion Swiss francs (roughly 7 billion dollars), the acquisition would concern 30 to 40 aircraft to be delivered by 2025. The order aims to replace the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques that are still assigned to secondary tasks. The main purpose of the upcoming multi-role fighter jet will be to carry out air policing missions.
Four contenders are currently in the race: the Dassault Rafale, the Lockheed Martin F-35, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Saab Gripen E/F was excluded as it will not be operational before 2023.
The odds could be in favor of the French offer, according to the local media Le Matin.
The first clue is that a US-based solution would be politically unwise. The Swiss politicians who had initially campaigned against the procurement later voiced their opposition to the Boeing F-18, and even more so to the Lockheed Martin F-35. “Buying the American F-35s, which are the most expensive, is excluded,” said Roger Nordmann, the leader of the Socialist group in the Federal Assembly.
The threat of another “popular initiative” (the Swiss referendum system) being launched would delay the acquisition of much-needed aircraft. As a reminder, in 2014, 53% of the Swiss electors rejected the funding to acquire 22 Saab Gripen E fighters, though they had been selected two years before by the Federal Council.
The second element presented by Le Matin is that the Federal Office of Armaments (Amasuisse) recently acquired from the French manufacturer Thales the aerial surveillance system SkyView. “Even if it is not compulsory, there would be consistency between a surveillance system of French origin and French planes,” the daily states.
The final argument, though slightly more anecdotal, is that the Rafale was the only aircraft used as an example by Priska Seiler Graf, a member of the Security Policy Commission which will decide on the fighter jet, in a question to the government regarding the operational range of the Swiss Armed Forces.
The choice of the model of the new combat aircraft by the Federal Council could be made before the end of June 2021. If Switzerland was to pick the Rafale, it would mark yet another success for the French fighter jet.
After a dry spell that lasted for several years, Dassault’s aircraft was recently picked by Greece and Croatia to modernize their air forces. Egypt also ordered another batch of 30 Rafales in May 2021. The Rafale is still competing in Finland, India, and could also be considered by Ukraine and Indonesia.