Switzerland Becomes Latest Nation to Choose F-35 for Its Next Fighter Jet

Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs, assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, fly over the base and the surrounding area on Feb 14, 2018. (Andrew Lee/U.S. Air Force)
Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs, assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, fly over the base and the surrounding area on Feb 14, 2018. (Andrew Lee/U.S. Air Force)

The government of Switzerland announced Wednesday it has chosen Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to replace its aging fleets of F-5 Tigers and F/A-18 Hornets.

Citing unmatched performance, production support and cost benefits of bringing the conventional takeoff and landing Lightning II model into its inventory, Switzerland said it will buy 36 F-35As, the standard variant, for the program. It passed up Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet, Airbus' Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault's Rafale, also competing for the program.

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The deal with Lockheed costs roughly $5 billion Swiss francs, which amounts to $5.5 billion in U.S. currency and under the government's voter-set cap of $6 billion Swiss francs.

"The F-35A has the lowest operating costs of all of the candidates evaluated," the Swiss Federal Council said in a release. The Swiss adopted the decision to bring in new fighters in a September referendum; it now heads to parliament for final approval.

"The total costs of the F-35A (i.e. procurement plus operating costs) amounts to approximately 15.5 billion [francs] over 30 years," amounting to $2 billion in savings over its nearest competitor, the government said.

"[The F-35A] includes entirely new, extremely powerful and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace," the council said.

Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, noted that Switzerland will be the 15th nation, apart from the U.S., to join the program.

According to the company, the F-35 operates from 21 bases worldwide with more than 655 F-35s in service. Majority of allied partner nations operate the conventional takeoff F-35A, the same variant flown by the U.S. Air Force.

The F-35 program was founded by nine partner nations: the U.S., the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Canada has not committed to buying the aircraft, but is expected to announce its choice this year. Turkey was removed from the program in 2019.

Foreign Military Sale, or FMS, customers include ­Israel, Japan, South Korea and Belgium. Over the last two years, the U.S. government has also cleared the sale of F-35s through FMS awards to Singapore and Poland.

Finland is set to announce its fighter pick this year.

At least 50 F-35 jets have been delivered to allies including the United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark, with dozens more on the way throughout the European continent.

Through a previous replacement attempt, Swiss voters in 2014 rejected the country's effort to replace its Hornet fleet with Saab JAS-39 Gripens for its air policing mission. In September, the referendum passed with a narrow margin of 50.1%.

In a statement, Boeing said its F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet was the "right choice," and will request a debrief from the Swiss government to understand its decision.

"We are disappointed by Switzerland's selection," the company said. The Super Hornet "would bring unmatched capability and lifecycle value to the Swiss Air Force, including our industrial partnerships and robust services offerings."

In another win for the U.S., Switzerland said it chose to buy five Patriot missile defense systems from Raytheon Technologies, choosing it over France's Eurosam SAMP/T system.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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