Swiss abort major fighter jet purchase
Switzerland on Wednesday postponed its search for new air force fighter jets for several years, just weeks before it was expected to announce a decision on the multibillion dollar tender.
Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said at a news conference that the postponement of the replacement of about half of the Swiss army's ageing fleet of F-5 Tiger aircraft "will last at most until 2015".
The tender launched in January 2008 led to a fierce battle between European aerospace group EADS's Eurofighter, French firm Dassault's Rafale and the Gripen built by Sweden's Saab.
The Swiss government said in a statement that it had decided, "on the proposal of the Defence Ministry, to adjourn the partial replacement of 54 obsolete Tiger F-5 aircraft."
It cited budgetary constraints that emerged during the evaluation of the aircraft as well as a desire to use resources to cover other military shortcomings.
Switzerland also has 33 US-made FA-18 Hornet fighter jets for its frontline defence force.
Maurer, who took office 11 months after the process was launched, was a fierce critic of the tender, estimating that it would have wiped out all other major military purchases for eight years.
A decision on the choice of aircraft was last postponed in the spring, when Swiss media reported that the defence minister had estimated the cost of replacing 22 Tigers at 3.5 billion to 5.0 billion Swiss francs (2.7 billion to 3.8 billion euros; 3.4 billion to 4.8 billion dollars).
When the tender was launched, Switzerland had planned to spend 2.2 to 2.5 billion francs to replace the F-5s, some of which are more than 30 years old.
The Swiss government is now aiming to secure an adequate budget next year with a view to a purchase for the second half of the decade.
© 2010 AFP