F-35A Lightning II and Patriot Scoop Switzerland Air 2030 Selection

 - June 30, 2021, 12:08 PM
Four F-35As from the U.S. Air Force’s 388th Fighter Wing deployed to Payerne in Switzerland for the two-week evaluation in June 2019. When an F-35 order is placed, Switzerland will become the 15th nation to join the program. (Photo: US Air Force)

Switzerland’s Federal Council announced June 30 that it will ask parliament to procure 36 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs to answer the air force’s Neues Kampfflugzeug (NKF, new fighter) requirement. They will replace the current Northrop F-5E Tigers and Boeing F/A-18 Hornets as part of the wider Air 2030 program. The selection follows a rigorous evaluation that involved all four contenders—including Boeing's Super Hornet, Dassault's Rafale, and the Eurofighter Typhoon—partaking in in-country trials.

At the same time, Switzerland is to procure five Raytheon Patriot fire units for the Bodluv GR long-range air defense requirement, the U.S. system triumphing over the Eurosam SAMP/T. A ceiling figure of CHF2 billion ($2.17 billion) is earmarked for expenditure on the surface-to-air missile acquisition, which will significantly enhance Switzerland’s ground-based defenses.

The F-35A deal is three times more expensive, with up to CHF6bn allocated. The February 2021 bid received from Lockheed Martin quoted CHF5.06 billion for the acquisition costs. Expected overall cost of the F-35A over a 30-year lifespan is CHF15.5 billion, some 2 billion less than the nearest competitor. Maintenance will be performed in Switzerland by Ruag Aerospace.

As well as having the lowest costs, the F-35A was a clear winner in the evaluation, scoring 336 points overall—a margin of 95 over the nearest competitor. It also placed highest in three of the four main criteria. These included effectiveness, in which the F-35’s superior systems and networking provide the best situational awareness. The evaluation also noted that the simple system operation and information superiority would significantly reduce training costs, while the type was assumed to offer a technological lead further into the future than the other candidates.

The F-35A also placed first in the product support category, aided by the fact that the F-35 is in service with a sizeable number of European nations. It also topped the interoperability category, offering “extensive opportunities for collaboration in operations and broad access to data and specialist resources,” according to the Swiss government release.

Direct offset was the one area where the F-35 did not place first. Switzerland requires a 60 percent offset by order value, to be fulfilled within four years after the final delivery. Data autonomy was a key area that was considered, with all four candidates guaranteeing to meet the criteria. In the case of the F-35, the Swiss noted the emphasis placed on cybersecurity.

Mirroring the performance of the F-35A in the Swiss evaluation, the Patriot also placed highly against the SAMP/T, achieving top spot in all four main criteria, especially in effectiveness. The system is also cheaper, with an acquisition quote of CHF1.97 billion and a projected 30-year overall program cost of 3.6 billion. In this case, the offset requirement is 100 percent, again to be fulfilled after four years.