Swiss Referendum Greenlights Fighter Procurement

Swiss fighter aircraft
Switzerland’s remaining 26 F-5E/F Tigers will be replaced as part of the Air2030 program along with the air force’s F/A-18 Hornets.
Credit: Tony Osborne/AW&ST

Switzerland has voted—by the narrowest of margins—in favor of buying new-generation combat aircraft for its air force.

Some 50.1% of voters gave their backing to the CHF6 billion ($6.5 billion) purchase of fighters, winning out by just 9,000 in a vote that received a turnout of 59% of the Swiss population.

The vote gives a green light for the country to replace both its McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets and Northrop F-5 Tigers starting in the mid-2020s.

“It was clear that this was a controversial topic,” Viola Amherd, Switzerland’s minister for defense, told a press conference after the referendum results were counted.

She said that the result would allow the Swiss armed forces to “fulfil its tasks and protect our population against air attacks.

Swiss media reporting suggests the poll may have been heavily influenced by the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with people concerned more about the future state of the economy than national defense. Others suggested the country’s armed forces may have a significant image problem.

The vote was the Swiss government’s second attempt to secure a national mandate for air defense modernization. In 2014, voters rejected plans for the procurement of the Saab JAS 39E/F Gripen as a replacement for the Northrop F-5 Tiger.

Officials have admitted there was no Plan B if a majority had voted down a future fighter procurement this time.

Amherd said there would be no impact on the budget or process for the procurement of the fighters, which is expected to lead to a type selection during 2021.

Four fighters are still in the running for the Air2030 requirement, including the Eurofighter being proposed by Airbus in Germany. The Dassault Rafale is being pushed by France, while the U.S. is offering both the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35A.

All four aircraft underwent trials in-country between April and June of last year. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.