Two US Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft and two French Rafale aircraft break formation during a flight over France on May 18, 2021, during Atlantic Trident 21. The multinational exercise involved military service members from the US, France and the UK. Photo: US Air Force / Staff Sergeant Alexander Cook

After securing major contracts in Greece, Croatia, India and Egypt, French aeronautics firm Dassault Aviation is close to inking a major deal with Switzerland for the Rafale fighter jet, according to local media reports.

The Air 2030 tender for the Swiss Air Force was launched in 2020 following the positive outcome of a referendum on whether Switzerland should acquire new fighter jets.

According to AerotimeHub, 50.1% of voters have voted “yes” to the procurement estimated at 6 billion Swiss francs (roughly US$7 billion). The acquisition would concern 30 to 40 aircraft to be delivered by 2025.

The choice of the model of the new combat aircraft by the Federal Council could be made before the end of June 2021. If Switzerland was to pick the Rafale, it would mark yet another success for the French fighter jet. 

The Rafale is still competing in Finland and is also being considered by Ukraine and Indonesia.

The Swiss order aims to replace the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets and the few remaining Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II antiques that are still assigned to secondary tasks.

The main purpose of the upcoming multi-role fighter jet will be to carry out air policing missions.

Four contenders are currently in the race: the Dassault Rafale, the Lockheed Martin F-35, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Saab Gripen E/F was excluded as it will not be operational before 2023. 

Six foreign customers are procuring and operating the F-35 — Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium and Singapore.

Lockheed Martin serves as the prime contractor with a global supply chain of more than 1,900 companies based in the US and in every nation acquiring the F-35 — a tempting consideration for governments trying to foster high-tech job creation.

The Air Force’s F-35A joint strike fighter is once again embroiled in controversy as questions emerge about costs, the future employment of the aircraft and how many the service needs — factors which affect foreign sales of the aircraft. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jensen Stidham

However, the odds could be in favor of the French offer, according to Le Matin. 

The first indication is that a US-based solution would be politically unwise.

The Swiss politicians who had initially campaigned against the procurement later voiced their opposition to the Boeing F-18, and even more so to the Lockheed Martin F-35.

“Buying the American F-35s, which are the most expensive, is excluded,” said Roger Nordmann, the leader of the Socialist group in the Federal Assembly. 

The second element presented by Le Matin is that the Federal Office of Armaments (Amasuisse) recently acquired from the French manufacturer Thales the aerial surveillance system SkyView.

“Even if it is not compulsory, there would be consistency between a surveillance system of French origin and French planes,” the daily states.

The final argument, though slightly more anecdotal, is that the Rafale was the only aircraft highlighted by Priska Seiler Graf, a member of the Security Policy Commission which will decide on the fighter jet, in a question regarding the operational range of the Swiss Armed Forces.

For years, Croatia has been in the process of modernizing its air force by replacing older Soviet-era aircraft with both new and secondhand aircraft.

On May 28, the nation took a major leap forward by selecting the Dassault Rafale F3-R for its air force, following an international call for tenders as part of its Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft program.

Croatia is acquiring 12 second-hand aircraft from the French Air Force in a deal worth €999 million (US$1.2 billion). France is to deliver the first six aircraft in 2024, with the remainder following in 2025.

In addition to the aircraft, the deal also includes a flight simulator, basic weapons package, ground and test equipment, spare parts, staff training according to the principle of “training of trainers,” comprehensive support from authorized representatives of manufacturers for a period of three years, and a warranty of 12 months for each delivered aircraft, engines, other equipment, and spare parts.

Meanwhile, the Finnish Government will decide which of the companies’ fighters to purchase by the end of 2021. 

The program is expected to cost €10 billion with requirements including not only the aircraft but also ‘technical systems, training systems, necessary maintenance equipment, test equipment and spare parts, along with weapons, sensors’ and other support equipment. 

According to the Dassault website, The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base.

The US$115 million jet fighter is able to carry out various combat aviation missions: air superiority and air defense, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.

The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and with the French Air Force in 2006. With more than 30,000 flight hours in operations, it has proven its worth in combat in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria, the company said. 

Sources: Le Matin, AerotimeHub, Lockheed Martin, Defense & Security Monitor, Dassault Aviation, Air Force Technology