Swiss lawmakers opposing the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter for the country’s air force have collected enough signatures to trigger a nationwide referendum.
On June 30, 2021, the Federal Council of Switzerland announced that 36 F-35s would replace the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques of the Swiss Air Force. The contract is priced at 5 billion Swiss francs ($5.4 billion).
The decision caused controversy among politicians and lobbyists who pointed to inconsistencies in the fixed price stated in the offer. Notably, the documents of the Federal Office of Armaments (known as armasuisse) make several mentions of “estimated costs”.
After auditing the acquisition program, the Federal Audit Office called upon armasuisse to complete the financial aspects of its risk assessment.
In the meantime, the association Stop F-35, launched by two political parties, the Socialist Party and the Greens, as well as the lobby organization ‘Group for a Switzerland without an Army’ (GSsA), started collecting signatures to trigger a referendum.
A similar initiative had already blocked the acquisition of 22 Saab Gripen E fighters in 2014 after they had been selected by the Federal Council. The Swiss system requires 100,000 signatures for a “popular initiative” ‒ the Swiss referendum model ‒ to be considered.
The goal was seemingly reached on August 16, 2022, when the opponents to the F-35 officially filed their challenge.
“Despite […] COVID times, and a very high invalidation rate of signatures, we managed to harvest them in just one year,” Stop F-35 wrote in a statement. “The Federal Council and Parliament must now do everything possible to enable a popular vote and an urgent and necessary public debate on the largest arms contract in Swiss history – we are ready!”
The opening of a new debate might corner the Federal Council, whose goal is to sign the contracts with the United States before March 31, 2023 ‒ the expiration date for the agreed offer. Moreover, the target for the first F-35 to be delivered to the Swiss Air Force by 2025 would likely be in jeopardy.