It’s Official Now: Switzerland Has Chosen The F-35 As The Next Swiss Air Force Fighter

Swiss F-35
An F-35A from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Four aircraft from Hill deployed to Payerne in 2019 for Air2030 selection. (Image credit: Claudio Tramontin).

The Swiss Federal Council announced Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II is the aircraft selected from its New Fighter Aircraft competition. It won against the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing Super Hornet.

As some “insiders” had already revealed last week, the F-35 has won the Swiss evaluation to find a replacement for F-5 Tiger and F/A-18C/D Hornet jets currently in service with the Swiss Air Force. As a consequence of the Air2030 evaluation program, the Federal Council has decided to procure 36 F-35A.

“The Federal Council will ask parliament to procure 36 F-35A fighter aircraft from the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the procurement of 5 Patriot fire units from the US manufacturer Raytheon. In the evaluation, the two systems achieved the highest overall benefit and at the same time the lowest overall costs. The Federal Council is convinced that the two systems are best suited to protecting the Swiss population from airborne threats in the future as well. It made the decisions at its meeting on June 30, 2021,” says an official Swiss MOD statement that also highlights how they also opted for the American Raytheon’s Patriot ground-to-air defense system over the SAMP/T of the French MBDA and Thales.

The Swiss Federal Council based its decision on the extensive technical evaluation, which included four candidates for a new fighter aircraft (Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Boeing Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35). Interestingly, the F-35 scored first also in term of costs: according to the Swiss MOD the Lightning was the aircraft “with the highest overall utility and by far the cheapest”:

All candidates have met the requirements for Switzerland. For both the combat aircraft and the Bodluv GR [missile] system, the evaluation for one candidate each resulted in the highest benefits and at the same time the lowest costs. The fighter aircraft are the F-35A. With 336 points, it shows the highest overall benefit, with a clear gap of 95 or more points to the other candidates. The aircraft performs best on three of the four main criteria:

• In terms of effectiveness , the F-35A achieves the best result thanks to its pronounced technological lead over the other candidates. Based on this, the F-35A has novel, very powerful and comprehensively networked systems for the protection and monitoring of the airspace. In this way, the F-35A achieves superior information and enables the pilots to be more aware of the situation in all areas than the other candidates. This also applies in particular to the everyday air police service.

In addition, only the F-35A is designed from the ground up in such a way that it is difficult for other weapon systems to detect. The resulting high survivability is a particular advantage for the Swiss Air Force.

In addition, the comparatively simple system operation and the information superiority of the F-35A change the training content and the ratio of flight to simulator hours. As a result, around 20 percent fewer flying hours are required than with the other candidates and around 50 percent fewer take-offs and landings than with today’s Luftwaffe jet aircraft, which will be replaced by the F-35A.

Ultimately, as the most modern weapon system, the F-35A can be assumed to have a technological lead well into the future. Given the intended useful life of 30 years, this is a major advantage over the other candidates.

• In product support , the F-35A achieved the highest rating due to its efficient operation and maintenance, advanced training and high security of supply during the entire service life. This is also due to the fact that the F-35A is produced in the largest number of units and is also used in Europe by the largest number of countries.

• The F-35A also shows the best result in cooperation . It offers extensive opportunities for collaboration in operations and broad access to data and technical resources.

• In direct offset , the concept of the F-35A does not achieve the best result at the time the offer is submitted. The offset obligation of 60 percent of the order value must be fully fulfilled no later than 4 years after the last delivery.

In terms of fleet size, for all four candidates the number of 36 aircraft meets the need to protect the airspace in an ongoing situation of heightened tension. The purpose of the Air Force is to prevent Swiss airspace from being used by parties in a military conflict.

In the last article, we mentioned the concerns about data sovereignty and cybersecurity the selection of the F-35 may imply. The Swiss MOD addressed them as well in their public statement:

“In its decision, the Federal Council also took into account the technological dependencies of the manufacturer and the country of manufacture. Dependencies cannot be completely ruled out when procuring systems. However, it turned out that all candidates guarantee the required data autonomy. With the F-35A, cybersecurity in particular is very well ensured because cyber management, the security of the computer architecture and the cyber protection-oriented measures are comprehensively guaranteed.

As with all other candidates, Switzerland itself determines which data it exchanges with other air forces via data link connections or which logistical data is reported back to the manufacturer with the F-35A. In addition, the aircraft is operated and maintained in Switzerland by the Air Force and RUAG Switzerland.”

Dealing with the costs, as mentioned, the F-35A resulted as the cheapest (with a difference to the second cheapest candidate around 2.16B USD (2B CHF):

In addition to the benefits, the F-35A also achieved by far the best result in terms of costs. Both procurement and operation are cheapest for this aircraft. The procurement costs at the time of the offers in February 2021 amount to CHF 5.068 billion. They are clearly within the specified financial volume of 6 billion francs that the electorate has decided. Even if the inflation is added up to the time of payment, the procurement costs are within the credit limit.

The F-35A is also the cheapest aircraft of all providers in terms of operating costs. The total costs, which consist of procurement and operating costs, amount to around 15.5 billion Swiss francs over 30 years for the F-35A.

The difference to the second cheapest candidate is in the region of CHF 2 billion.

“We are honored to be selected by Switzerland and look forward to partnering with the Swiss government, public, air force and industry to deliver and sustain the F-35 aircraft,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 Program in a public statement. “With the selection, Switzerland will become the 15th nation to join the F-35 program of record, joining several European nations in further strengthening global airpower and security.”

According to Lockheed, the Swiss F-35 will deliver economic and technical advantages to the nation for decades to come. Swiss industry will have the opportunity to participate in research and development, production and sustainment opportunities that will extend their capabilities into the future. As a new participant in the F-35 program, Switzerland will benefit from Lockheed Martin’s dedication to autonomy and sovereignty in integrating indigenous solutions.

It’s not clear where the Swiss F-35 jets will be assembled: Cameri FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) facility in northwestern Italy, where Italian and Dutch F-35s are assembled is quite close to Switzerland.

“To date, the F-35 operates from 21 bases worldwide, with nine nations operating F-35s on their home soil. There are more than 655 F-35s in service today, with more than 1,380 pilots and 10,670 maintainers trained on the aircraft,” proudly says Lockheed Martin. In the end, no matter the criticism or issues, the F-35 continues to win all around the world.

Global Patriot

Dealing with the Patriot, the offer for Switzerland was proposed by Raytheon Technologies, in partnership with Swiss-based Rheinmetall Air Defence AG and Mercury Systems, Inc. “We value the trust that Switzerland has placed in our team and in the advanced capabilities of our Global Patriot solution. Our Raytheon, Rheinmetall and Mercury team will work with industry to deliver the Swiss Patriot system to meet Switzerland’s air defense needs and safeguard its sovereignty,” said Tom Laliberty, Raytheon Technologies vice president of Land Warfare and Air Defense.

Patriot will be procured via the Foreign Military Sales process with the U.S. Army; when the sale is complete, Switzerland will become the 18th member of a Global Patriot network, which includes seven other European countries.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.