by Bill Sweetman
The decision to buy a new fighter follows a delay in Switzerland's plans, while the government considered postponing the new-aircraft purchase and extending the lives of its F-5E/F Tigers. It was reported in October that the new-aircraft approach had been selected.
This is a major boost for Saab, partly offsetting the Gripen's elimination from India's fighter competition in April and putting the "Next Generation" (NG) variant on solid ground in the near term. The Swedish air force is committed to the NG, but without a firm schedule for production.
The decision -- including the defeat of Rafale -- can only help Saab's chances in Brazil, where Gripen, Rafale and Super Hornet remain in contention, with a decision to be announced early in 2012.
Saab had actually eased back on some aspects of the NG program, so as to leave potential partner Embraer with the high-level work that it wants. However, work continues on installing avionics in the demonstrator and the manufacture of a production-type E/F airframe.
It's also a very big deal for RUAG, Switzerland's government-owned defense company, which currently supports Switzerland's fighter force and has already been engaged to build the larger drop tanks for the NG.
A detailed report in the Geneva-based Le Temps (registration required) states that the deal includes a big role for RUAG in the development of the NG. Le Temps comments that the order is risky, cites the Norwegians' preference for JSF and quotes one officer as saying that a Gripen buy "risks a new Mirage affair."*
However, there is a certain current of intra-Swiss disagreement to the report, which notes that RUAG, with most of its facilities in German-speaking central Switzerland, benefits at the expense of other companies -- "notably Romande" (French) -- which were hoping for offset contracts.
Update: Dassault's press release is headed "Rafale International is surprised by the choice of the Swiss federal council". That's the second time in three weeks that those pesky customers have surprised Dassault, and that is not a good thing.
Meanwhile, we have live video coverage from Linkoping.
* In the early 1960s, Saab pitched the J35F Draken to Switzerland, which went on to choose the Mirage III -- and then spent a fortune on fitting the Mirage with a Hughes radar and fire control system, Falcon missiles and short-take-off capability, all of which were standard on the Draken. Revenge is a dish best served cold.