COLOGNE, Germany — French procurement chief Joël Barre met with his Swiss counterpart Martin Sonderegger this week for bilateral talks on a multibillion-dollar Swiss air-defense program and other defense topics.
The Oct. 15 gathering in Switzerland was the first high-level meeting between the two procurement organizations since Barre took office in August 2017. It follows France’s recent acquisition of an initial batch of PC-21 trainer aircraft, made by Swiss manufacturer Pilatus Flugzeugwerke.
The visit comes as French companies Dassault and MBDA each await the fate of their offerings in the upcoming Swiss “Air 2030” program, valued at more than $8 billion. The effort amounts to a complete revamping of the neutral country's air-defense and air-policing capabilities, with roughly $6 billion envisioned for a new fleet of fighter aircraft and $2 billion for ground-based defenses.
The Swiss government over the summer invited bids from Dassault for its Rafale jets, and from MBDA and its parent joint venture Eurosam for the SAMP/T air-defense weapon.
Also in the running for the aircraft portion are Airbus and its Eurofigher Typhoon, Saab and its Gripen E, Boeing with its F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin with its F-35A. Vendors were asked to submit pricing options for a fleet of 30 or 40 aircraft.
In the ground segment, MBDA's competitors include Raytheon's Patriot system and Rafael's David's Sling.
A spokesman for Armasuisse, Switzerland’s defense procurement arm, told Defense News that similar bilateral meetings would be held with other governments whose companies have a stake in the Air 2030 program. “We talk to all governments,” said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, the “competitive dialogue” phase of the program is in progress, which means the Swiss government engages in the complicated game of answering contractors' questions about programmatic details – some individually, some directed at the whole group.
Companies are expected to deliver their offers by February.
Asked what types of questions the procurement chiefs discussed this week, the Armasuisse spokesman said, “Of course there were questions, but we don’t make those types of conversations public.”
Swiss government officials are in the midst of sifting through feedback from political parties, trade unions, and regional governments on the best path toward making Air 2030 a reality. The key question for proponents is how to convince the population, under the rules of Switzerland’s famous direct democracy, that the bulk sum of more than $8 billion is worth spending while leaving the decisions on hardware types to the government.