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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Switzerland Has Been Neutral For 200 Years–And is Now Buying F-35 Fighter Jets


As Reuters reported, “activists have withdrawn their campaign to stop Switzerland from buying 36 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets after the government signed a $5.5 billion procurement deal without waiting for a referendum.”

The Swiss Parliament approved the deal last week and a contract was signed Monday. Opponents to the deal had been working to gather signatures in an effort to force a referendum under Switzerland’s direct democracy system.

“The Alliance against the F-35 will not lend a hand for a pseudo-referendum in which the electorate cannot decide on the actual purchase decision,” the group said after the contract was signed. “A vote after the contract has been signed is nothing but a democratic farce. For this reason, the Alliance against the F-35 will withdraw its popular initiative, but remains convinced that the F-35 is a bad purchase and a billion-dollar risk for Switzerland.”

Switzerland chose the F-35 over other options. Opponents to the deal referred to the F-35 as unnecessary, or the “Ferrari” option. With the announcement, Switzerland became the 15th nation to join the largest weapon’s project in the world – “a family of interconnected, single-engine jets to be used by the United States and its allies.”

The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter, designed to penetrate contested air space and attack ground and air targets, without being detected. Stealth technology is crucial to the F-35s design; the jet has a low radar cross-section (RCS) thanks to a methodically shaped airframe and the use of radar-absorbent materials. To further lower the F-35’s RCS, the designers serrated the skin panels and masked the engine face and turbine. Also, the F-35 relies on a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI), which uses a compression bump and forward-swept cowl instead of a splitter gap or bleed system to divert the boundary layer away from the inlet duct – this eliminates the diverter cavity and further lowers the RCS.

The F-35 is the world’s best aircraft with respect to interconnectivity, or the ability to share information between different platforms. Similarly, the F-35 is the best with respect to data collection and synthesis, giving F-35 pilots an unrivaled sense of the battlespace, or situational awareness. Giving the pilot further improved situational awareness is the F-35’s glass cockpit. The main display features a 20-by-8-inch panoramic touchscreen. Instead of a standard Heads-Up Display (HUD), flight and combat information is projected onto the pilot’s helmet visor with a helmet-mounted display system (HMDS). The HMDS enables pilots to see flight information even when they are not looking straight ahead. Additionally, the Distributed Aperture System can be projected onto the HMDS, allowing the pilot to “see through” the aircraft. An F-35 pilot’s helmet costs $400,000.


F-35 shot from KC-135 tanker.

The Swiss activists felt that the F-35 – and its $400,000 helmet – were overkill; Switzerland is historically neutral and has gotten by just fine without outfitting its armed forces with fifth-generation technology. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the calculus for western European nations, however, sending previously apathetic militaries – with atrophying forces – scrambling to bolster their military power. The F-35 will serve in the Swiss Air Force alongside other American aircraft, including the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-5 Tiger II.

The F-35 will be Switzerland’s first-ever fifth-generation fighter.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.