Lockheed’s F-35 topples competition in Swiss fighter contest

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WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has emerged victorious in Switzerland’s $6.5 billion fighter competition, beating out entrants from Eurofighter, Dassault and Boeing.

Over the course of the program, Switzerland plans to spend up to 6 billion Swiss francs (U.S. $6.5 billion) to buy 36 F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing models to replace its aging Hornet fleet, the government announced Wednesday.

Switzerland will also purchase five Patriot missile defense systems from Raytheon Technologies, which defeated the SAMP/T system from France’s Eurosam.

The win is a massive coup for Lockheed, strengthening the company’s F-35 sales campaign in Europe and dealing a harsh blow to the Eurofighter Typhoon — which is manufactured by a consortium comprising Italy’s Leonardo, the U.K.’s BAE Systems, and Airbus, which represents Spain and Germany. Lockheed also beat out the Dassault Rafale and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

In a news release announcing the decision, the Swiss Federal Council stated that the F-35 promised the highest performance for the lowest price, with Lockheed’s proposal coming in at $2.16 billion less than its nearest competition over a 30 year forecast.

Meanwhile, the F-35 scored better in effectiveness, product support and cooperation than the Rafale, Super Hornet and Typhoon. The Federal Council pointed specifically to the Joint Strike Fighter’s survivability and situational awareness as selling points that were seen as advantageous for the Swiss Air Force’s air-policing mission.

“In terms of effectiveness, the F-35A achieved the best result because … it includes entirely new, extremely powerful and comprehensively networked systems for protecting and monitoring airspace,” the Federal Council stated.

“We are honored to be selected by Switzerland and look forward to partnering with the Swiss government, public, air force and industry to deliver and sustain the F-35 aircraft,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. “With the selection, Switzerland will become the 15th nation to join the F-35 program of record, joining several European nations in further strengthening global airpower and security.”

The F-35′s victory was forecast by Swiss broadcaster SRF, which reported last week that the F-35 had scored best in the performance evaluation. According to SRF, Switzerland would be able to purchase more F-35s with its budget than the competing aircraft.

However, political and industrial considerations also played a role in the decision. Throughout the competition, the Swiss government made clear that competitors must provide a robust package of offsets meant to boost Switzerland’s defense-industrial base. The Federal Council noted that the F-35 did not achieve the best performance in the area of offsets.

Although the Swiss decision did not lay out which competitor offered the best offset package, Airbus had provided the Swiss government a 700-page dossier on economic offsets, Reuters reported on June 27. That proposal included an offer to conduct final assembly of the Typhoon in Switzerland.

To meet industrial participation requirements, Lockheed proposed a batch of offsets that included domestic production of about 400 F-35 canopies and transparencies, the creation of a maintenance hub in Switzerland that would maintain European F-35 users’ canopies and transparencies, and the creation of a Swiss cyber center of excellence.

It also offered to sweeten the pot with an option to conduct the final assembly of four F-35 aircraft at existing Ruag facilities in Emmen. However, company officials acknowledged that would add a “significant cost” to the program.

Meanwhile, Boeing highlighted the ease of transition from Hornet to Super Hornet, stating that Switzerland would save money by reusing up to 60 percent of its “existing and intellectual infrastructure.”

In a statement, Boeing said it was disappointed by the Swiss decision.

“We believe that the Boeing F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet is the right choice for Switzerland, as it would bring unmatched capability and lifecycle value to the Swiss Air Force, including our industrial partnerships and robust services offerings. We look forward to a full debrief to better understand the decision,” the company said.

The Swiss decision is unlikely to face any headwind in the United States, which preemptively cleared both the F-35 and F/A-18 sales to Switzerland in September 2020.



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