Fighting over new Swiss jets

April 28, 2014, 1 Comment

Gripen Ja poster

Switzerland is neutral but it isn’t pacifist, with a policy of armed neutrality. Defence eats up 7.2% of the national budget, funding the “best army in the world” (as the Swiss Defence Minister likes to call it) and on 18 May the Swiss will vote on whether or not to buy 22 new fighter jets for the air force. Given the Swiss attachment to military service and arms exports, restrictions on which regularly fail to win referendums, you’d think it’d be an easy win for the military. But if the polls are right, it will lose.

The problem is probably that it’s an awful lot of money for a plane that doesn’t even exist yet. The Gripen E jets, made in Sweden by Saab, have yet to be built to the Swiss specifications, so only exist on paper. However the up-front costs for these paper planes are 40% of the total, with no guarantees of the outcome.

And the total cost is a smidge over 3 billion Swiss francs. Plus the costs of running and maintaining the jets, which is put at an extra 3 billion by the Yes lobby and at twice that by the Noes. Either way these planes come with a jet-set price tag. Many Swiss voters are questioning if they are necessary, especially as they won’t be the only ones in service: the Swiss air force will keep its 32 F/A-18 jets.

It doesn’t help that when an Ethiopian Airlines plane was recently hijacked and had to land at 6am in Geneva Airport, it had to be escorted by French fighters. The Swiss pilots were not yet at work. It turns out that the Swiss air force is ready for anything as long as it happens during office hours (excluding a long lunch). The poor spokesman had to explain to the press that “Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend.”

So maybe spending the 3 billion francs on having a full-service air force rather than a Ryanair one would be a better use of the money.

Gripen Nein posterSwitzerland is rich enough to afford new planes, but does it need them? Austria (twice the area) has just 15 fighter jets in total, so do the Swiss need 54? The Yes lobby has been having a field day with patriotic posters and leaflets justifying the expenditure; threats have been conjured up and the situation in Ukraine used to scare the voters, without mentioning that Mr Putin might well invade on a Sunday.

The No lobby has focused on the cost and uncertainty of the whole project. And so far is winning the argument, with 52% saying they will vote No. What is sure is that it will be Swiss voters who will decide what happens, one of the inherent strengths of Swiss politics. Imagine voters in the USA or UK being given a say in how the defence budget is spent!

It could be that this is one defence project too many at a time when even Switzerland its tightening its financial belt. The Swiss already have more tanks than the British, despite being ‘war-dodgers’ as The Sun newspaper so subtly put it, so will they say yes to more planes?

On 18 May we will all find out.


One Comment on "Fighting over new Swiss jets"

  1. TJ Martin Thursday May 1st, 2014 at 09:02 PM · Reply

    Do I ever wish [ we here in the US were able to vote on Military purchases ] Honestly we don’t so much as get a say as to how much money the US Military receives …. never mind the ability to vote on what they spend it on .

    A humorous aside in relation to the CH Military’s ‘ hours ‘ kept ; When we live in VT USA .. the State Patrol as well as local police department did not respond to calls between the hours of 12 midnight and 5 am .

    Any updates on the Immigration issue Diccon ?

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