Switzerland has chosen the Saab Gripen as its new fighter aircraft, in preference to the Dassault Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon. Defense Minister Ueli Maurier told journalists that the Swedish package including 22 jets is worth $3.4 billion. The Gripen is not the highest performing of the three contenders, he said, but it meets the Swiss requirement and offers the lowest acquisition and maintenance costs. Swiss media earlier reported that the Eurofighter offer was about $4.3 billion, and the Rafale in the middle range between the Typhoon and the Gripen.
The Swiss Parliament voted extra funds for defense last September, and told the government to conclude the fighter evaluation that it had suspended a year earlier. But Maurier said the extra funds must also pay for other defense improvements in Switzerland.
All three contenders were required to provide 100-percent offsets; there have been suggestions that the Gripen offer includes an option for replacement of the Swedish Air Force Saab Sk60 pilot training jets with the Pilatus PC-21. In any event, Zurich-based Ruag Aerospace will be an important partner in the Gripen acquisition, Maurier said, along with nearly 200 other Swiss companies. Swedish political neutrality was also a factor in the choice, he added.
The Swiss Air Force conducted flight evaluations of all three contenders in mid-2008, and was unofficially reported to prefer the Rafale. Since then, Saab upgraded the Gripen offer to the New Generation (NG) version, which has flown in prototype form with the more powerful GE F414 engine, Selex/Saab ES-05 Raven AESA radar, and structural changes to carry more weapons or fuel tanks.
AIN presumes that the Swedish Air Force will now accelerate its own requirement for a Gripen upgrade. Ten such aircraft may be ordered early next year. Saab noted that the full definition of the NG, also known as the Gripen E/F, has not yet been completed. Deliveries to Switzerland are scheduled from 2015 to 2018, to replace 40-year-old F-5E/F Tigers.
Saab said that Switzerland had applied “the highest procurement standards” and the selection proved that the Gripen offered the best value for money. Five foreign air forces have now chosen the Swedish fighter.
Dassault and its Rafale partners, Snecma and Thales, are clearly disappointed that the French warplane has not achieved a first export sale to a neighboring country. They said that the Swiss evaluation showed that a smaller number of more capable Rafales could have met the requirement “at an equivalent or lower cost.” Team Rafale added, “The ‘Swiss-tailored’ Gripen exists only on paper.”
After succeeding in Austria, Eurofighter will also be disappointed at the Swiss choice.
Boeing, on the other hand, may have best understood the Swiss requirement for a new fighter better than others. Despite previously selling F-18C/D Hornets to Switzerland, Boeing decided not to compete with the follow-on F-18E/F Super Hornet because “it was too much airplane,” according to a Boeing official recently.
Meanwhile, Saab must overcome significant hurdles before the Swiss sale is finalized. The Defense Ministry will present various Gripen acquisition options to the Parliament for approval next February. Then there could yet be a referendum on the deal, since the powerful “Switzerland Without An Army” lobby will resume its campaign to block the new fighter buy.