The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Will Switzerland buy American fighter jets?

  • By Paige Baschuk
  • 25 August 2022

Swiss voters will ultimately decide whether or not the country moves forward with its proposed purchase of 36 fighter jets from the U.S.-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin, Swiss government officials announced this week.

Will Switzerland buy American fighter jets?

Supporters of the purchase say the F-35s are right for Switzerland’s military. Critics say they are unnecessary ‘luxury jets.’

The road to Lockheed Martin

In 2020, the Swiss Parliament passed a national referendum to modernize the Swiss air force by a razor-thin margin of 50.1 percent. The vote left the decision of which aircraft to purchase and who to buy them from up to the defense ministry.

In June 2021, Switzerland signed a contract to buy the F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin for $6.1 billion. Swiss government officials first explored buying Airbus’s Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault’s Rafale and Boeing’s Super Hornet, before settling on Lockheed Martin. If the deal goes through, Switzerland will be the 15th foreign country to do so.

But the plan was mired in controversy from the start and Swiss activists began collecting signatures for a voter referendum quickly after the announcement. Under Switzerland’s direct democracy model, any issue that garners more than 100,000 signatures triggers a voter referendum. Government officials confirmed this week that the required signatures have been verified and that the issue will go on a ballot.

The Swiss government has only until March to finalize the Lockheed contract so parliament will have to move quickly during its September session to agree upon terms for the referendum and get the issue on ballots. Parliament will have to abide by the results of the vote, but pulling out of the deal could put Switzerland in a delicate position with Washington.

Will Switzerland buy American fighter jets?

The vote to upgrade Switzerland’s military passed by the smallest of margins in parliament, pictured above.

Supporters and critics

“This is a misunderstanding of popular law, if not an abuse of it,” Thierry Burkart told the Financial Times this week. Burkart is the head of Switzerland’s Free Democratic Party and has been an outspoken supporter of the contract since the start. Burkart is part of a parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, the minority is made up of Switzerland’s Green Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSoA). They say the costs for running and maintaining F-35 fighter jets surpass the costs of the other aircrafts considered. Critics also say the Swiss government was “seduced” by the U.S. defense contractor into buying “luxury jets” the Swiss do not need.

Will Switzerland buy American fighter jets?

Critics of the purchase argue that Switzerland’s military does not need to be modernized or expanded, even while Russia and Ukraine are at war.

Switzerland’s defense ministry gave the F-35 fighter jets strong marks on a cost and performance basis, despite some parliament members voicing concern over broader diplomatic and financial issues.

In July, Swiss media SRF revealed that they had received leaked documents showing that the French government promised Switzerland billions in rebates and negotiation support in Brussels if they purchased Dassault’s Rafale jets.

The expected outcome of the referendum is currently too close to call, according to local pollsters.

This article may be freely shared and re-printed, provided that it prominently links back to the original article.

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