Jul 12, 2011 By Robert Wall AviationWeek.com
London - Upcoming national elections in Switzerland and Denmark could re-energize fighter competitions there, although the outcomes are far from certain.
The Danes will cast votes for their representatives in the fall, and industry officials believe the outcome could shape the fighter procurement process, which is unfolding slowly. Last year, Denmark delayed a decision on whether to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing F/A-18E/F or Saab Gripen NG; but a U.S. industry official says the country’s involvement in NATO’s Libyan operations has put renewed focus on fighters and could lead to an acceleration of the program.
Less certain is whether the competitive landscape could change again. Copenhagen earlier opened the door to a new competitor, when it allowed the F/A-18E/F into the battle. Now Eurofighter Typhoon officials are ramping up efforts to jump back into the fray as well.
The situation in Switzerland is similarly fluid. Last year, the government decided to halt the F-5 replacement program to save money and effectively deferred introduction of a new aircraft to no earlier than the end of the decade. The move was a setback for Saab, Eurofighter and the Dassault Aviation Rafale, which were in the running and had undergone extensive trials; Boeing had earlier withdrawn its bid.
The Swiss defense ministry, meanwhile, has begun an assessment on whether the F-5s can be upgraded again to bridge any operational gap. At the same time, Bern is still devising financing plans on how to pay for the eventual Tiger replacement, with a report due by year-end.
But the two chambers of the Swiss parliament are raising objections to the decision by the Federal Council, or executive branch, to hold off on the fighter modernization effort. The National Council, the lower house of the Federal Assembly, has passed a motion to expedite the program, with the other chamber arguing that the replacement decision should come during the next legislative period during 2012-15. But there are differences between the motions passed by the two chambers, which are due to be reconciled in September.
Whether the competitive arena shifts again, or whether any accelerated modernization planning will open the door again to other players, remains uncertain. A European industry official believes a type selection could come late this year or early next, which would restrict the competition to the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. The bids put forward by Swiss industry remain valid until the end of the year.
Another element of uncertainty is how the Tiger replacement might be funded. The program to buy roughly 22 aircraft is expected to cost 4 billion Swiss francs ($4.7 billion). Options being studied include raising taxes, generating savings in other areas or selling infrastructure such as airports.
The stakes are high in both contests for all players. Saab, for instance, is eager to secure an export order in Europe for its Gripen, particularly in light of being eliminated from the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program. Lockheed Martin is looking to Denmark to further expand its European footprint for the F-35. And for Eurofighter, completing deals in Switzerland and Denmark would bolster the company’s effort to secure more European air force orders while supporting its argument to new operators—in Eastern Europe, for example—that acquiring Typhoon offers huge interoperability potential and cooperation opportunities.