BERN --- The Federal Council wishes to give the Swiss people the opportunity to vote on the acquisition of new fighter jets and of a new air defense system. At its meeting of March 9, 2018, it decided to present the Air2030 program to Parliament in the form of a planning decree. Decrees of this nature are subject to referendum.
The current means of protecting Swiss airspace must be replaced. The F / A-18 fighter aircraft will reach the end of their service life in 2030, while today, the F-5 Tigers still in service are only operational for the air policing by day and with good visibility. Against an adversary equipped with modern means, they would have no chance. Ground-based air defense systems (Rapier, Stinger and anti-aircraft artillery) will also soon be reaching the end of their service life.
For these reasons, in the autumn of 2017, the Federal Council took the decision in principle to plan for a maximum allocation of 8 billion francs for the renewal of airspace protection. For this purpose, and for future investments in ground systems it is necessary to grant an increase of the order of 1.4% per year in real terms to the military budget. According to the decision in principle, the manufacturers are required to offset the full purchase price in Switzerland.
As the Federal Council has not yet decided on the procedure for the Air2030 program, the DDPS has submitted several alternative projects, after consultation with the Federal Office of Justice and the Federal Chancellery. As the renewal of airspace protection is an essential element of the security policy and as the two previous projects for the acquisition of fighter jets were put to the popular vote, the Federal Council intends to allow the Swiss people to have they say on this one as well. In doing so, it respects the democratic spirit of Switzerland, and also accedes to Parliament's demands.
It therefore decided to give a major scope to the renewal of airspace protection in the form of a planning decree (Article 28 (3) of the Parliament Act). If Parliament approves this decree, it will be subject to referendum, that is to say that the population will have the opportunity to collect signatures for a popular vote.
Capital importance for the security of Switzerland
According to the law on Parliament, planning decisions are preliminary decisions which set the objectives to be attained. If they are major in scope, they are subject to referendum. The major scope is justified by the fact that the protection and defense of the airspace are of paramount importance for the security of Switzerland, and that the financial burdens related to the renewal of the means of protecting the airspace are considerable.
It is planned to present the acquisition of the new fighter planes and that of a new system of ground-based air defense as two components of the nation’s air defense. For the record, the acquisition of the F / A-18s in 1993 and the attempted acquisition of Gripen in 2014 had already been the subject of popular votes.
The Federal Council has instructed the DDPS to draw up a draft planning decision according to the decisions taken in principle in autumn 2017. The next step is the opening by the Federal Council of a consultation procedure. According to the timetable, a referendum vote can then be held as soon as possible, at the latest in 2020, in other words before the Federal Council takes a decision on the type of fighter plane.
This will already allow it to be fixed and to avoid unnecessary planning work. Then, the Federal Council could ask for the acquisition in Parliament, presumably with the Armaments Message 2022.
Other rejected solutions
Instead of going down the road of a popular vote, it would have been possible to choose the way for the revision of the law on the army, or another law related to the protection of airspace.
The Federal Council rejected this way of proceeding. Air Force equipment is subject to constant change as it is dependent on evolving threats and technology. If it were defined in law, it would have to be constantly revised.
The Federal Council also rejected the usual procedure for armaments acquisitions, namely in the context of the annual Armaments Message, and without prior decision in principle subject to the referendum, because this procedure would not allow the people to decide.
The Federal Council wants to give it the opportunity to do so.