Four F-35A Jets Undergoing Evaluation In Payerne To Replace Swiss Air Force F-5 And F/A-18 Aircraft As Part Of “Air 2030”

One of the Hill AFB F-35A deployed to Aviano AB, Italy. Four F-35s from the same wing are currently deployed to Payerne, to take part in Air 2030. (Image credit: Claudio Tramontin).

The 5th gen. jets, belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, arrived directly from the US

F-35As belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron “Rude Rams”, based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are participating in the flight and ground evaluation for “Air 2030” in Payerne Air Base from June 6 to 13.

“Air 2030” is the Swiss Air Force’s program aimed to the selection of the future fighter that will replace both the F-5 and F/A-18 jets in service today. The program was announced last year after a referendum rejected the acquisition of the Saab Gripen E back in 2014.

Four F-35As, sent by the US Air Force to support Lockheed Martin, arrived in Payerne after a transatlantic flight from Hill AFB in the late evening of May 31, 2019. The jets involved are serials 13-5077, 13-5079, 13-5081, 13-5083. This event also represents the first time the fifth-generation aircraft lands in Switzerland.

According to SkyNews, the jets “will carry out a total of eight missions with one or two fighter aircraft for four days each. Before the actual test flights, the providers are offered the opportunity to get an idea of ​​the procedures in Swiss airspace with another flight. Each aircraft will also start a night flight.” The systems mainly tested are reported to be the AESA radar, EOTS and DAS.

Other candidates already evaluated are the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Dassault Rafale (which was also carrying the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod). The next and last candidate will be the Saab Gripen E, expected to begin its evaluation from June 25. After the end of the last evaluation the Swiss Air Force will choose a winner; still, Swiss citizens will have a referendum before the fighter jet will be selected.

Noteworthy, among the contenders, the F-35 is the only jet that is not available in two-seater version, hence the Swiss pilots won’t have a chance to actually fly the aircraft.

Interestingly, while on their way to Europe, the four F-35s made an unplanned landing at Burlington International Airport, home base of the Vermont Air National Guard, due to weather and refuelling issues. The participation of the fifth-generation jet in the Swiss evaluation generated also controversy on social medias after what has been defined as an “aggressive advertising campaign” on Twitter and on the F-35’s official website, where Lockheed Martin stated: ”The F-35 meets the requirement of the Swiss Air Force for a fighter aircraft to protect the Swiss airspace for the next 50+ years” and “At Lockheed Martin, we understand how important maintaining military neutrality is to the people of Switzerland. In a turbulent world where threats to national security are constantly evolving, the F-35 offers the best platform for the Swiss military to adapt to and meet those threats – both now and for decades to come.”

Meanwhile, F-35A jets from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings are deployed to Aviano Air Base in Italy, as part of a Theater Security Package (TSP).  They will remain in Europe for several weeks and are expected take part in exercises like Astral Knight 2019, held last week at Aviano, FWIT (Fighter Weapons Instructor Training) 2019 at Leeuwarden, Netherlands, and the TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) at Albacete, Spain.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.