Defence minister lays out fighter jet plan

A Gripen jet on display at an air show in Switzerland. Voters turned down a bid to buy new Gripen models in 2014. Keystone

Swiss Defence Minister Guy Parmelin has announced a fighter jet strategy that involves refurbishing current planes for half a billion francs and laying the groundwork for purchasing new ones by 2025. 

This content was published on November 21, 2016 - 22:09

Parmelin’s strategy was based on a report prepared by a group of experts about possibilities for purchasing new planes. He told the press on Monday that rushing the process and procuring new jets more quickly, as several parliamentarians have argued for, would be “the worst” possible decision because “a serious approach” must be taken to avoid setbacks. 

However, Parmelin did call on parliament to rapidly grant a CHF10 million ($9.8 million) loan for the evaluation and selection process of new planes. Cabinet’s submission to parliament of the 2017 army budget at the beginning of next year will mark the official beginning of that process. 

The scope of the evaluation of new planes remains to be determined, with the possibility of limiting it to three jets (Gripen, Eurofighter and Rafale models) or just one of those three. 

In any case, Parmelin foresees choosing the new planes by 2020 and obtaining funding for the purchase by 2022. The jets should become operational between 2025 and 2030 under the defence minister’s plan. 

In the meantime, the air force’s current F/A-18 jets will be used to secure Switzerland’s airspace, and most of them will have reached the end of their lifespans of 5,000 flight hours by 2025. The report from the expert panel recommends extending their flight hours to 6,000 by evaluating and reinforcing structural weaknesses if necessary and replacing certain parts of the jets. That extension will cost around CHF490 million, according to the report. Parmelin plans to ask parliament for the funds next year. 

Parmelin also plans to allow some of the air force’s ageing Tiger jets to continue flying, in limited capacity, until new planes are purchased. 

The F/A-18 jets in particular have been involved in a series of recent accidents. An F/A-18 military jet crashed into the mountains in late August while two Swiss F-5 fighter jets from the Patrouille Suisse aerobatic display team collided in the Netherlands in June. Two more F/A-18 had to written off after crashes in France andSwitzerland in 2015 and 2013 respectively. 

According to the defence ministry, only 25 of its 53 F-5 Tiger fighter jets are air worthy, while 30 of 34 F/A-18 planes are operational. The acquisition of new fighter planes has stalled after the Swiss people voted against the acquisition of 22 JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets in 2014. 

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