Fighter aircraft have begun to descend on Switzerland to compete in the nation’s “Air 2030” programme, which will see the winner replace the Swiss Air Force’s ageing Boeing (formerly McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18C/D Hornet and Northrop F-5E Tiger II fleets.

The $8.2-billion (USD) programme is the result of an analysis which detailed that Switzerland would need 30-40 aircraft to replace its ageing fighters and would be able to comfortably safeguard Swiss airspace, such as performing interception missions on aerial targets which are outside the range of ground-based defences.

The Swiss Air Force has operated the Northrop F-5E Tiger II since 1976 and the Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornet since 1996. The F/A-18C/D replaced the air arm’s aged Dassault Mirage IIIBS/DS/RS, which was fully withdrawn from operational service in 2003.

Northrop F-5E Tiger II [Registration: J-3038] of the Swiss Air Force’s Fliegerstaffel 19 taxiing to depart RAF Fairford after attending RIAT 2016. Image – Khalem Chapman ©.

Flight trials and demonstrations have begun on five aircraft which are under consideration for the replacement contract. These trials are taking place at Payerne Air Base and will conclude in early July. The Swiss Defence Ministry have stated that each competitor must complete eight test flights, including a night flight, and that each aircraft competing will have the same mission profiles, allowing for an equal playing field.

Five aircraft are set to take part in the “Air 2030” programme, including the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen E and the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. A Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 and Typhoon T.3 operated by the Royal Air Force are currently at Payerne Air Base undergoing flight trials and are the first competitors to take to the air in the programme. A Typhoon FGR.4 and T.3 are being used as Airbus’ competitive platforms as the Royal Air Force operate the jets in its most recent configuration. See below for an image gallery of the contenders in “Air 2030.”

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In 2011, the Swiss Air Force selected the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen NG to partially replace its Northrop F-5E Tiger II fleet. A contract was signed, worth roughly $3.1-billion (USD), for 22 aircraft but the was subsequently cancelled in May 2014, following a public referendum in which 53.4% of Swiss voters voted against the acquisition.

Each aircraft will be present for two weeks to conduct flight trials. The F/A-18E/F will follow after the Typhoon at the end of April, which will then be followed by the Rafale, the F-35A and finally, the Gripen E.

The “Air 2030” programme continues with flight trials, despite a re-evaluation of the programme taking place. Swiss Defence Chief, Viola Amherd, has reportedly tasked former astronaut and military pilot, Claude Nicollier, with reviewing the original report which was produced in 2017.

More follows…

By Khalem Chapman [12/04/2019]