Switzerland, perhaps known as among the calmest or least turbulent nation in recent geopolitical history, may acquire as many as forty F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, thus joining the fast-growing coalition of nations committed to the fifth-generation stealth aircraft.
Does this signal anything of significance? Certainly.
Any Swiss interest in an F-35, one could say, interestingly reinforces the countries’ long-standing commitment to peace and neutrality. The stealth fighter is in part engineered to demonstrate a measure of air-superiority to the point that it deters any potential aggressors, therefore keeping the peace.
As of several years ago, Switzerland maintains a stand of “armed neutrality,” meaning they support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s peacekeeping mission but are not formally a military member of the alliance. The country has maintained a “neutral” stance since 1815.
“The F-35 proposal is a total package offering that includes up to 40 F-35A aircraft, a sustainment solution tailored to Swiss autonomy requirements, and a comprehensive training program,” a Lockheed statement reads.
From a strategic and tactical or force-posture position, there are several reasons why an F-35 might be appealing. Initially, Swiss consideration of the F-35 lends additional credibility to the established performance of the aircraft in training exercises such as the Air Force’s Red Flag simulation wherein the aircraft managed to destroy a large number of adversary platforms without being seen. These kinds of dynamics might explain why the list of potential F-35 partners continue to grow at a rapid pace beyond the original scope. Japan, Israel, South Korea and now maybe the United Arab Emirates are among more recent arrivals to the world of F-35. The possible acquisition also speaks to a changing global threat environment wherein expansionist U.S. rivals such as Russia and China are themselves fast-acquiring fifth-generation platforms. The Chinese not only already have the J-20 and J-31 fighters but also appear to be engineering a maritime J-31 variant to compete with the F-35B and F-35C.
While it may not be known if competing Russian and Chinese fifth-generation planes actually rival an F-35 in terms of sensing, computing and attack technologies, it nevertheless is a reality which continues to inspire protective responses throughout the world.
There is yet another factor of interest to any possible Swiss decision, that being intelligence; an F-35 partner will of course have an ability to network and interoperate with other nations’ F-35s. The F-35 operates with a common data link enabling information sharing among all F-35s.
Also, not to be overlooked, any F-35 arrival in Switzerland will doubtless bring a significant economic impact upon the country’s economy through an infusion of jobs and possible technological sophistication in the world of aeronautics, weaponry and aviation, not to mention stealth. The Lockheed proposal seems well aware of this possibility, stating “should the F-35 be selected as the new fighter for Switzerland, this industrial work would take place in all Swiss regions. Swiss industry has the opportunity to compete for direct production of components for use on all F-35s produced, sustainment projects focused on supporting the Swiss Air Force and enhancing Swiss autonomy, and cyber security projects directly related to the F-35.”
To date, the F-35 has been selected by thirteen nations and operates from twenty-six bases worldwide, with nine nations operating F-35s on their home soil. There are more than 585 F-35s in service today, with more than 1,190 pilots and 9,750 maintainers trained on the aircraft, a Lockheed statement says.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.