Switzerland to Buy F35A and Patriot SAMs

The Swiss Federal Council will propose to parliament the procurement of 36 F-35A fighter aircraft and 5 Patriot fire units from the US manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon respectively. The procurement is expected to have a volume of around 7 Billion Swiss Franc (6.4 Billion Euro).

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Other candidates for the fighter aircraft included Airbus’ Eurofighter, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault’s Rafale, while the other consideration of the SAM system was Eurosam’s SAMP/T. For both the fighter aircraft and the longer-range SAM system, the candidate promising the highest benefit was also the one priced the lowest.

The F-35 proved the most effective aircraft as “it includes entirely new, extremely powerful and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace. The F-35A is able to ensure information superiority.” The F-35 is also seen as easy to operate and for training purposes “requires about 20% fewer flight hours than other candidates, and about 50% fewer take-offs and landings than the Air Force’s current jet aircraft”. The greater survivability of the aircraft, due to its stealth capabilities, as well as its technological lead for its planned 30-year service life, are also cited as advantages.

The F-35 scored the highest in terms of product support and cooperation as well. This is attributable in part to the F-35A high quantity of production and widespread use across Europe. The aircraft will be operated and maintained in Switzerland by the Swiss Air Force and RUAG Switzerland. “While Data autonomy is ensured, in the case of the F-35A, the system’s cyber management, the security of its computer architecture and its cyber protection measures combine to ensure an especially high level of cybersecurity.”

The one evaluation category in which the F-35 performed worse than the other candidates was that of direct offset. Foreign companies that are awarded contracts in the context of procurement must compensate 60% of the contract value by awarding contracts in Switzerland (offsets), namely 20% through direct offsets and 40% through indirect offsets in the area of security-relevant technology and industrial base.

As far as fleet size is concerned, a fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the long term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions.

The F-35A also achieved by far the best results in terms of cost, with both the procurement and operation costs being the lowest of all of the candidates evaluated. At the time the bids were made in February 2021, the procurement costs amounted to CHF 5.068 billion (4.6 billion Euro) – well under the financial cap of CHF 6 billion set by voters. The total costs of the F-35A, meaning both procurement and operating costs, amount to approximately CHF 15.5 billion (13.7 billion Euro) over 30 years. This is around CHF 2 billion less than the second-lowest bidder.

In the evaluation of longer-range SAM systems, Patriot won out against SAMP/T in all four main categories, in particular in the main category, effectiveness. Patriot has an effective altitude of well over 20,000 metres and an effective distance of well over 50 kilometres. This is an extraordinary operational distance for a longer-range SAM system that will allow Patriot to contribute significantly to Switzerland’s integrated air defence. The area to be defended is 15,000 square kilometres; this can be achieved with five Patriot fire units.

At a procurement cost of CHF 1.97 billion (1.8 billion Euro), Patriot also proved the cheaper system. Combined with its projected operating costs over 30 years, the total costs for the Patriot system will be around CHF 3.6 billion (3.3 billion Euro), also significantly less than its competitor. The offset obligation of 100% of the order must be fulfilled in full no later than four years after the final delivery.

The F-35 will replace the F/A-18 Hornets and F-5 Tigers currently in service. After about 40 years of service, the 26 Tigers are obsolete. Until the introduction of a new combat aircraft, 25 Tigers will continue to be operated in training and to a limited extend for air police service in good conditions. The 25 Hornets are not seen as entirely obsolete, but their maintenance past 2030, when most air forces will retire, the aircraft is seen as costly and risky.

By Kevin Klemann

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