Switzerland has started off the competition to replace its ageing fleet of fighter jets, by inviting five European and United States companies to submit their bids.
The defence ministry has sent the first offer for tender out, a statement said on Fridayexternal link. The new jets under consideration are: the Swedish Gripen E (Saab), the French Rafale (Dassault), German l'Eurofighter (Airbus), and from the American side, the successor to the FA-18, the Boeing Super Hornet and the F-35A from Lockheed-Martin.
Under its Air2030 programmeexternal link, Switzerland is aiming to procure new combat aircraft and ground-based defences in a programme valued at CHF8 billion ($8.1 billion). It is the biggest arms procurement programme in modern Swiss history.
Neutral Switzerland also uses fighter jets to police the skies during events like the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The new fleet would replace the current Northrop F-5 Tigers and F/A-18s which are scheduled to be retired in the 2020s
Armasuisseexternal link, the Federal Office for Defence Procurement, said it was asking the firms to submit pricing for 30 or 40 planes, including logistics and guided missiles, as well as an assessment of the number of aircraft necessary to fulfil the Swiss Air Force's needs.
The manufacturers have until January 2019 to submit an offer, after which the planes will undergo tests and a second tender round will be opened, with the plan to finish the assessment by the end of 2020.
In March the government said that Swiss voters would have a say on whether to buy new fighter jets – but not on the type of jet.
It added that the two previous projects to buy new jets – F/A-18s in 1993 and Gripen fighters in 2014 – had also been subject to a nationwide vote. The 22-plane Gripen contract was rejected by 53.4% of voters.
The pacifist Switzerland Without an Army group in March criticised the government’s strategy and said it would start collecting signaturesexternal link for a referendum against the purchase.