COLOGNE, Germany — The Gripen fighter just can’t seem to land in Switzerland, as its manufacturer Saab has dropped out of the race to supply the country with a new fleet of combat aircraft.
The company, which is based in Sweden, issued a statement on its website Thursday saying it will no longer partake in flight demonstrations of the Gripen jet planned for June 24-28 in Payerne, Switzerland. Saab had planned to present a developmental Gripen E plane and possibly an older but already fielded "C" variant.
According to the company, the decision came after the Swiss procurement agency, armasuisse, “formally recommended” that Saab stay home. “The reason is that the flight tests have been designed to only evaluate aircraft that are operationally ready in 2019," the statement reads.
Saab goes on to say that Switzerland should have known all along about the status of the Gripen E development. The jet “will enter into operational service years before Switzerland has scheduled deliveries and will meet all its defined capabilities,” the company claims.
Swiss government officials seemed surprised that Saab was presenting its withdrawal as the result of a curveball thrown at the Gripen.
The likelihood of the jet failing one or more of the seven test missions designed for all competitors had become apparent over some time, an armasuisse spokesman told Defense News. From a Swiss perspective, nudging Saab to retreat was meant to be a face-saving move for the Swedes.
The Swiss have not revealed where the Gripen E offer was thought to be lacking, saying only that all the components and sensors must have the highest technology-readiness level in current aircraft configurations.
The elimination marks the second defeat for the Gripen in the neutral country of Switzerland in recent years. The population voted down a procurement of the jet in 2014 in an acrimonious referendum that the government wants to avoid repeating at all costs. This time around, officials want to put the $6 billion-plus aircraft acquisition up for a population-wide vote only in general terms, leaving the choice of a model up to government analysts later on.
The remaining lineup of contenders are the F-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter, the Rafale and the F-35A.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.