Second to last of the 5 candidates vying for the replacement of Swiss Air Force air fleet under the AIR2030 program, it’s Lockheed Martin’s turn to present it’s 5th generation fighter jet in Payerne on 07th June 2019. The manufacturer who doesn’t have demonstration jets on loan for testing, asked the Pentagon who responded positively by dispatching not less than 4 aircrafts all safely landing on 31st May 2019.

While on 23rd  March 2018 the DDPS had defined the requirements that the new weapon systems would have had to satisfy, on 25 January 2019 the five candidates presented their offers for new jets to Armasuisse: Eurofighter (Airbus, Germany), F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing, USA), Rafale (Dassault, France), F-35A (Lockheed-Martin, USA) and Gripen E (Saab, Sweden).

The fighter jets are from the 34th Fighter Squadron (later FS), part of the United States Air Force’s 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. For the story the 34th FS is on August 2, 2016, the US Air Force declared first Air Force squadron to have reached initial operational capability with the F-35A. Their arrival was preceded by the landing of a Boeing C-17A “Globemaster III” of the 437Th AW / 315Th “Charleston” from the AMC “Air Mobility Command” to supply all the logistics for the evaluation needs.

By comparison, this is the only 5th generation jet compared to other the candidates. Despite of the critics of the recent years, nothing seems to stop now the manufacturer who has really made tremendous efforts to counter the last waves of criticism. First, by promoting extensive communication highlighting it’s first deployment to the Middle East in April or more than 200’000 hours flight record over 400 aircraft since early June. Last but not least, manufacturing cost reduction as well as the economic impact and the implication of the local industries in the manufacturing of the fighter are also advanced to convince the undecided.

From a technological point of view, different systems are tested in Switzerland (DAS, AESA, EDTS). In terms of air policing, the QRA and revolutionary sensors and communication systems between jets seems to fulfill largely the swiss specifications. This being said, there are other obstacles and variables to be taken into consideration.  First it must also be compatible and integrated into the air defense system, it must fit the 8 billions budget, the local manufacturers implication ( i.e the current F/A 18 C/D have been fully assembled in Switzerland) but last and not least it must pass the popular vote in November. All of this doesn’t discourage the manufacturer who put all he got to impress the media and locals present on that particular day.

The acquisition is made for the next few years and that the modularity and the evolutionary capacity make it a very serious candidate whose exploitation should be optimized in the long term to pass the pill of its unit cost for version “A” of USD 89.2 million (production unit cost source https://www.f35.com/about/cost). On 25th of june, Payerne will welcome the last candidate, the  Saab Gripen. This will not be easy either for the manufacturer who’s previous fighter jet was collaterally rejected by the budget vote on it’s acquisition in may 2018 by 53,8 % of the people.

Article and images: Deyan Raleff

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