WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has preemptively cleared Switzerland to purchase the F-35A joint strike fighter and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, just days after a public vote narrowly ok’d the Swiss government to move forward with a planned procurement of new fighter aircraft.
The two packages were posted on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s website Wednesday. DSCA posts formal notifications to Congress that State deems the sales are worth moving forward.
However, the potential packages are not a sign that Switzerland has decided the Lockheed Martin F-35 or Boeing produced F/A-18 are their fighter of the future. Rather, the announcement is a bureaucratic move by State and DSCA to make sure that, should the jets be selected, there will not be delays in getting the stealth fighter cleared. The DSCA has previously done so with F-35 requests from Belgium and Canada.
The F-35 package comes with an estimated price tag of $6.58 billion, while the F/A-18 package with a price tag of $7.452 billion. Both those totals, if they represent final figures — and DSCA notifications often do not — would exceed the approved $6.5 billion budget for the program.
In addition, State pre-cleared Switzerland to purchase the Patriot air defense system, a contender for a complimentary ground-based capability. The five Patriot batteries come with an estimated $2.2 billion price tag.
A national referendum on Sept. 27 approved the plan to go ahead with the procurement, along with $2 billion for a complementary ground-based air defense system, was narrowly approved by 50.1 percent of voters, a margin of just 8,670 votes.
Switzerland’s “Air 2030” program, which includes an estimated $6.5 billion to buy 30-40 new aircraft for policing the country’s airspace, has the F-35A and Super Hornet facing off against the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale. The Saab Gripen had been in the running as well, but dropped out last summer based on the criteria from the Swiss government.
All vendors must meet a deadline of Nov. 18 to deliver final proposals. The government will then evaluate the bids throughout the first half of 2021 and make a decision on the aircraft type and missile defense hardware by June.
Sebastian Sprenger in Cologne, Germany contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.