Switzerland has chosen Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II as its next-generation fighter jet, the government said on Wednesday, angering opponents who have pledged a new referendum to overturn what they dubbed an unnecessary “Ferrari” option.
The $5.5 billion deal adds a 15th nation to the world’s largest weapons project — a family of interconnected, single-engine jets to be used by the United States and its allies and partners.
It came alongside a $2.1 billion agreement to buy the Patriot surface-to-air missile system from US group Raytheon, with European competitors losing out on both deals.
The F-35 has faced multiple budget overruns, delays and technical setbacks, but is building export momentum. Critics say the project, valued at trillions of dollars over its lifetime, has seen costs soar while failing to meet goals on capability.
Neutral Switzerland will buy 36 F-35As after an evaluation found it had “the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government said.
The aircraft beat bids from Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Rafale from France’s Dassault and the four-nation Eurofighter built by Germany- and Spain-backed Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo and Britain’s BAE Systems.
The decision drew immediate criticism from anti-armaments campaigners and left-wing parties who will now launch a campaign for a referendum on the issue, the third Swiss vote on buying fighter jets.
Voters seven years ago rejected the purchase of Gripen jets from Sweden’s Saab, while the 6 billion Swiss franc ($6.5 billion) funding, which led to the decision to buy the F-35As, was only narrowly approved last year.
Opponents say Switzerland doesn’t need cutting-edge warplanes to defend its Alpine territory, which a supersonic jet can cross in 10 minutes.