Having selected the Gripen E/F to fulfill its F-5 replacement requirement, the Swiss air force is calmly confident that the acquisition makes it through the political process unscathed. Lt. Gen. Markus Gygax, the air force chief of staff, spoke to AIN last month about his service’s plans for the machine.
“We are in the process of finalizing the configuration. We want the same thing as the Swedes. We do not want an aircraft that is Swiss-unique–it must be exactly the same. And we will use it for all three missions: fighter, recce and air-to-ground. We need [the Gripen] to support the F-18 in the air-to-air role, and to gain the other two missions, which we have lost.”
Under Swiss planning the Gripen would begin operations in the air-to-air role, initially with Iris-T and AMRAAM missiles, but possibly adding Meteor at a later date. Reconnaissance capability would then be added, although the decision over which podded system would provide that capability has not yet been taken, and rests between the Rafael RecceLite, Saab SPK 39 and Thales DJRP.
“We lost our air-to-ground capability with the Hawker Hunter,” explained Gygax. “Today it is easy to rebuild, thanks to the capabilities of the aircraft and simulators. We can send pilots to the Swedish air force so the knowledge will come back very fast.” The Litening laser designation pod and a range of laser- and GPS-guided bombs would be the most likely equipment for the ground-attack role.
Switzerland is hoping to buy 22 Gripens, with a planned split of 16 Gripen E single-seaters and six Gripen F two-seaters. They are planned to equip two squadrons at Payerne, with both units to be fully operational by around 2025. Initial pilot training would be conducted in Sweden, but it is possible that two or three of Switzerland’s eight Pilatus PC-21 trainers could be reconfigured with a Gripen-style cockpit in place of the current F-18 workstation.
The Gripen is to replace the Northrop F-5, and some questions have been raised over the slippage of the new fighter buy. “Delaying [the Gripen acquisition] is absolutely no problem for us,” asserted Gygax. “Right now we have 54 F-5s in the inventory. With only three squadrons that is enough–we need only 36. The F-5’s structure is no problem until the end of this decade.”