US aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin intends take part in the future political campaign for the purchase of military jets by the Swiss military despite the warnings of the Federal Councilor Viola Amherd.
Five years after the rejection of the Gripen acquisition by a popular vote, the renewal of the Swiss fighter fleet is back on the scene. The Swiss should again vote on the subject in a year.
In anticipation of this new vote, the Swiss Society of Officers (SSO) last weekend called on the four manufacturers in the running to sell combat jets to Switzerland to consider a financial participation for the future campaign.
That sparked an uproar. It is out of the question for many military and politicians to consider foreign companies participating in the campaign. Contacted by the RTS last Sunday, several officers have distanced themselves from this initiative, evoking a "crazy idea," "a dangerous game" or "naivety".
The next day, Federal Councilor for Defense Viola Amherd also acted quickly to dismiss the idea by calling SSO to order, even though it is independent of the Department of Defense. In the process, the officers' umbrella organization finally gave up its call for outside financing of the referendum campaign.
Lockheed Martin ready to commit
The controversy generated by this call does not seem to have cooled down the Texan manufacturer of the F-35, Lockheed Martin, which opened shop in Switzerland in March. "We will support any public campaign for the purchase of fighter planes, but we must still think about how to do it and with what resources," says Robert Kelley, Lockheed Martin director for Switzerland, interviewed Saturday in the Forum TV program.
For him, the candidates must be able to make their voice heard: "We will implement everything that is adapted and legal in Switzerland. After all, in terms of public decision, all parties involved have a right to make their views heard, so that people are informed when it's time to vote, but I can tell you that we will support the campaign for a 'yes' next year."
Robert Kelley specified that this investment can take the form of round tables organized with other manufacturers, or of public events such as airshows.
When told of the intervention of the Swiss authorities, who demand the greatest restraint of the competitors since they were scalded by the failure of the Gripen sale in 2014, in particular because of the strong lobbying of the Swedish manufacturer Saab, Robert Kelley slightly nuanced his remarks: "If the Defense Department tells us not to do something, we will not do it, but that is an important decision for the Swiss and I think they should have a complete information of all the actors involved. We will therefore make any contribution likely to inform people on this issue."
"Out of the question" for others
For one of the other candidates, who answered unofficially, it is "out of the question" to finance or participate in the financing of a political campaign in Switzerland. The other two aircraft manufacturers in the running have not yet responded.
Asked in Forum, UDC national councilor Thomas Hurter believes that the problem is a delicate one, and could be taken as an interference in the eyes of the population.
"We have to explain to the Americans that our system is not like theirs, we have to be careful, we've seen it with the Gripen," he analyzes.