Switzerland Outlines New Air Defense Requirements

 - March 27, 2018, 4:16 AM
Switzerland's NKF program aims to replace both F-5s and F/A-18s. (Photo: DDPS/Swiss Air Force)

On March 23 the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection, and Sports (DDPS) published a document setting out its basic requirements for both a new fighter (“NKF”—Neues Kampfflugzeug) and a ground-based air defense system (“Bodluv”—Bodengestützte-Luft-Verteidigung). The document names potential suppliers and establishes offset requirements.

Switzerland had ordered the Saab Gripen E to replace its aging Northrop F-5s in August 2012. Under Swiss law, government decisions are ratified by public referendum, and in May 2014 the nation voted against the purchase, leaving the air force increasingly struggling to meet its air defense commitments. As the challenges grew it was only a matter of time before a new fighter competition would be launched.

In early 2017 a panel examined possible packages, and the Federal Council opted to pursue a program worth in the region of CHF8 billion ($8.45 billion) that would cover approximately 30 aircraft and the ground-based system. The new program, launched in November 2017 as “Air 2030,” would replace Switzerland’s F/A-18 Hornets as well as the F-5s. The DDPS announced earlier in March that, unlike the previous failed fighter buy, the public referendum would be held before any equipment is selected. That vote is likely to take place by spring 2020, following parliamentary discussions through 2019. Selection could occur in late 2020, leading to an IOC in 2025. The F-5s will be retired before that time, and the F/A-18s phased out gradually after deliveries of the NKF.

For the NKF requirement the Swiss government will approach Eurofighter (Typhoon), Dassault (Rafale), Saab (Gripen), Boeing (F/A-18E/F) and Lockheed Martin (F-35). The specifications call for an aircraft with air defense as its primary mission, but with the ability to perform strike and reconnaissance missions. The fighter must be interoperable with those employed by neighboring states and NATO Partnership for Peace nations, particularly in terms of communications, IFF, and tactical datalinks. An off-the-shelf product is sought, with no “Helvetization” required beyond “minimal adjustments” such as may be necessary to integrate into the Swiss command and control network. Final assembly of the aircraft in Switzerland is “not a requirement, but is not ruled out.”

No fleet size is specified, but it must be able to maintain four aircraft on patrol during times of tension for at least four weeks, and the logistics network must be able to maintain operations for six months without any assured spares support from outside Switzerland. Ruag is named from the outset as the center for maintenance, repair, and overhaul. Another requirement is that at least part of the evaluation be conducted in Switzerland by Swiss pilots. The evaluation will consider costs based on procurement and operation of the equipment for 30 years.

Meanwhile, the Bodluv requirement is seeking a ground-based system with a horizontal range of at least 31 miles (50 km) and altitude engagement capability of at least 39,370 feet (12,000 m), with the system’s radars contributing to the overall Swiss RAP (recognized air picture). Systems to be invited to bid are the Eurosam SAMP/T, Rafael David’s Sling and the Raytheon Patriot. Currently the Swiss have Rapier and Stinger missiles.

Offsets for both requirements are at least 100 percent, divided among direct offsets associated with the purchase (20 percent), indirect offsets for Switzerland’s defense/security industry (40 percent), and the remaining 40 percent for other industries. Moreover, the offsets must be distributed across Swiss regions along the lines of 65 percent for German-speaking regions, 30 percent for French speakers and 5 percent for the Italian area.