Swiss jet tender delayed
Bern, Switzerland (UPI) Aug 30, 2010
Switzerland has pushed back plans to upgrade its defense with new fighter jets.
The move comes only weeks before military officials were expected to announce the winner of a multibillion-dollar tender.
Swiss Defense Minister Ueli Maurer said the plan to replace about half of the Swiss army's aging fleet of F-5 Tiger planes, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, wasn't scrapped but rather will take longer than anticipated. Maurer said the postponement would "last at most until 2015."
The delay, experts warn, could strain the nation's air policing and defense tasks for longer than expected.
Maurer said the postponement was sparked by the global economic slowdown, which, in turn, led to budgetary constraints.
The tender concerns the purchase of as many as 54 new jets with three major defense companies competing for the multibillion-dollar deal. The competitors include EADS's Eurofighter, Dassault's Rafale and Sweden's Saab Gripen. All three had submitted proposals and were expecting a final announcement by September.
It is understood that Switzerland's Defense Ministry will now work with the Federal Department of Finance to "create by late 2011 the requirements for the procurement of the aircraft in the second half of the decade," the Defense Professionals Web site reported.
The tender was launched in January 2008 when all three contenders were thoroughly evaluated in a comprehensive process.
"All competing aircraft types, each in a two-seat configuration, were flown by a Swiss pilot and a pilot of the respective manufacturer during 100 test flights, performing different missions, including supersonic and night flights," Defense Professionals reported.
Regardless of the evaluation, however, budgetary constraints emerged. It became apparent that the slated spending limit wouldn't suffice for the tender project.
"The Defense Minister stated that the actual cost of replacing 22 F-5s would reach an estimated $3.4 (billion) to $4.8 billion," Defense Professionals reported. "This led to an earlier decision to suspend the competition."
Along with budgetary issues, a desire also emerged to use resources to cover other military shortcomings.
Switzerland also has 33 U.S.-made FA-18 Hornet fighter jets for its front-line defense forces.
Local media have painted Maurer as one of the tender's staunchest opponents since he assumed his duties 11 months ago.
The Swiss government now hopes to secure an adequate budget next year that will allow for the controversial tender during the second half of the decade.
Earlier this year, the Swiss parliament approved an ambitious armament program that includes programs for the procurement of military equipment worth about $492 million.
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