BERN --- The evaluation of candidate aircraft for the acquisition of a new fighter jet for the Swiss Armed Forces was completed with the departure of the Lockheed Martin F-35A. Four of the five announced candidates completed flight and ground tests in Payerne. The fifth candidate (Gripen E from Saab) decided not to participate in the flight and ground tests and withdrew from the evaluation. The tests were conducted by armasuisse in collaboration with the Air Force.
For armasuisse and the armed forces, preliminary work on the acquisition of a new fighter jet to replace the F/A-18C/D and F-5 E/F began about a year and a half ago. On 25 January 2019, the five candidates submitted to armasuisse the tenders they drew up on the basis of the requirements published on 23 March 2018 by the Swiss Ministry of Defence (DDPS). Switzerland had requested bids for the following aircraft, which it had been offered: Eurofighter (Airbus, Germany), F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing, United States), Rafale (Dassault, France), F-35A (Lockheed-Martin, USA) and Gripen E (Saab, Sweden).
From February to March 2019, specialists of armasuisse and the Air Force proceeded to test the aircraft in the simulators of the different candidates. These tests were organized with the respective manufacturers and ran parallel to the "product support audits".
During these audits, the air forces of the manufacturing countries made presentations of the operation and maintenance of their aircraft and their required training curricula. Then, from April to mid-June, in-flight evaluations were conducted in Payerne, in parallel to the evaluation of the responses that the manufacturers had made to the catalog of questions during the first offer.
Flight tests in Payerne
As part of the flight tests, each candidate was subjected to eight missions that were to be performed with one or two combat aircraft. Seven of the eight missions had specific tasks. The last mission could be chosen freely, either to repeat one of the predefined missions, or to demonstrate particular characteristics.
The objective was to check the sensors in the Swiss environment, the compatibility with the technical infrastructure of our country as well as the degree of maturity of the combat aircraft. The Empa Research Institute also carried out noise emission measurements at Payerne and Meiringen.
Four out of five candidates took the flight tests in Switzerland and completed all eight missions. On the recommendation of armasuisse, Swedish manufacturer Saab has decided not to take part in the flight tests with its Gripen E and will not take part as a result of the procedure.
The following four candidates remain in the running:
• Airbus with the Eurofighter (DE)
• Boeing with the F / A-18 Super Hornet (USA)
• Dassault with his Rafale (FRA)
• Lockheed Martin with the F-35A (USA)
Great interest of the media and the population for the tests
With the support of the armed forces, armasuisse organized for each candidate a demonstration on the military aerodrome of Payerne, during which the manufacturer was able to present his plane. These events generated a great deal of interest from the media in Switzerland and abroad: between 50 and 80 media professionals took part in each of the four presentations.
Moreover, nearly 2,000 citizens had the opportunity to attend the afternoon sessions for "spotters". They were able to watch and photograph the planes up close. Many other aviation enthusiasts have followed the tests from the various spectator seats around the military aerodrome.
Next steps of the project
For armasuisse, in cooperation with the Army Staff, the Air Force, the Army Logistics Base and the Command Support Base, it is now necessary to gather the results and conclusions from the flight and ground test evaluations into special reports. These reports will also be used to determine the required size of the fleet for each aircraft model.
On the basis of the results of the analysis and evaluation phase, armasuisse will then prepare a request for proposals which it will send to the candidates at the end of 2019. Based on the results of this second offer, armasuisse will compare the benefits of the candidates on the basis of the specialized reports and will determine the overall utility for each aircraft.
The results, together with a complete risk analysis, will be incorporated into the appraisal report, which will compare the overall usefulness of each candidate with its acquisition and operations costs over a period of 30 years.
Work on the evaluation report will begin in the second half of 2020. The report will only be finalized after a possible referendum poll. The Federal Council will then decide on the model and the number of aircraft to be acquired.