Swiss leaders shrug off referendum on F-35 deal
Swiss legislators have given final approval for the country’s controversial purchase of F-35 fighter jets from the US, ignoring a successful petition drive that was supposed to force a public vote on the issue.
Switzerland’s lower house National Council voted to approve the $6 billion deal with US defense contractor Lockheed Martin on Thursday. The upper house, the Council of States, had previously approved the purchase of 36 F-35s.
The Swiss government, which received voter approval in 2020 to modernize the country’s fleet of fighter jets at a cost of up to $6.3 billion, reached a preliminary agreement with Lockheed Martin last year after choosing the F-35 over France’s Rafale, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the multinational Eurofighter Typhoon.
Opponents have argued that although voters narrowly approved the fleet's modernization, they didn’t agree to the F-35, which has been branded too expensive and not a good fit for militarily neutral Switzerland’s defense-focused air force.
Last month, the government confirmed that the “Stop F-35” opposition group had gathered the necessary 100,000 valid petition signatures to force a referendum.
The Swiss defense department argued that there wasn’t enough time to hold the vote before Lockheed Martin’s offer expired. The government has a March 2023 deadline to sign the contract or risk higher costs and a longer wait for the jets. Other countries, such as Germany, Finland and Canada, are queuing up to buy F-35s amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict.