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Defence debate Government performs fighter jet U-turn

A Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet

A Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet lands during an assessment at the Swiss Army airbase in Payerne on April 30

(Keystone)

The Swiss government has changed its approach to buying new combat aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles. Voters will now be able to have a say only on the fighter jets, on which the government wants to spend no more than CHF6 billion ($5.95 billion). 

It has asked the defence ministry to present a planning decision no later than the beginning of September. This decision would be subject to a referendum. In parallel, a new air defence system should be bought, Defence Minister Viola Amherd told the media on Thursday. 

Amherd’s predecessor, Guy Parmelin, had sent a planning decision out for consultation which involved buying not only fighter jets but also ground-to-air missiles – for a total of not more than CHF8 billion. 

These plans were not well received. Centre-right parties rejected the two purchases being linked – a stance supported by an additional report ordered by Amherd. 

Former astronaut and military pilot Claude Nicollier, who had been charged with writing a report, recommended a single vote on the fighter jets. He argued it did not make sense to burden the political debate with another weapons system. The government now agrees. 

Price is right?

It is also the first time the government has commented on the price. Until now it had left open how much of the CHF8 billion would be spent on fighter jets. It has now set the cap for new jet fighters at CHF6 billion. 

Spending less would jeopardise the minimum necessary fleet size, Amherd said, while spending more would leave too little financial space for the ground-based air defence system. 

The five fighter jet candidates are currently being tested in Switzerland. How much the individual aircraft will cost the Swiss Army will not be known until the second round of bidding in mid-2020. 

“We’re convinced that with CHF6 billion we can acquire the aircraft necessary to ensure safety,” Amherd said. “Maybe it will be fewer than 40.” 

Reacting to the announcement, the Swiss Officers’ Society said in a statementexternal link it was concerned that CHF6 billion wouldn’t be enough for the 40 planes recommended by Nicollier. It called for up to CHF7 billion to be made available and for the planning decision to be presented to cabinet by the beginning of July rather than the beginning of September.

On the other hand, the pacifist group Switzerland without an Armyexternal link  said CHF6 billion was “clearly too much” for new jets. It welcomed the vote on just the planes, but said voters must know exactly what type of jet and how many of them they would be voting on.

Keystone-SDA/ts

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