Swiss defence chief stands by fighter jet choice

Viola Amherd is the head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport. Keystone

Defence Minister Viola Amherd is standing by the government’s decision to buy F-35A jets despite pushback from a left-wing coalition.

This content was published on September 4, 2021 - 17:03

"I am convinced of the decision because we made a very serious, good evaluation," the defence minister told Swiss public broadcaster SRF.

Shortly before the summer vacations, the Federal Council (executive body) announced it wants to buy 36 new F-35 aircraft from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin.  This decision has stirred up criticism from many quarters. A left-wing alliance, spurred by the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSoA), recently began collecting signatures in a bid to trigger a popular vote on the issue.

Should critics of the decision get enough signatures – and it seems they might – the defence department would be confronted to a second vote on the procurement of fighter jets.

Ahmerd is less than enthusiastic at the prospect.  "A year ago, the population said yes,” she notes. “To now attack with a popular initiative what falls within the competence of the Federal Council and parliament is questionable for me. But I would never question our democratic instruments."

Opponents of the decision claim the American fighter jet is unsafe and unsuitable for Switzerland’s military needs. They also believe the government is underestimating the costs of maintaining and operating such jets, which at CHF5 billion were the cheapest of the lot on offer.

The Swiss defence chief points out other European countries that have also purchased the F-35, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.  

"They all did their own evaluation processes and also came to the conclusion that this was the best  aircraft. I don't think all of those evaluations have come to the wrong conclusion," she says, adding that the price tag on the jets was binding.

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