Gripen jet order faces referendum next spring

Swiss citizens are expected to vote next spring on whether to accept a government plan to purchase 22 Swedish fighter jets for 3.12 billion francs ($3.37 billion).

Gripen jet order faces referendum next spring
Photo: Anders Zeilon

One obstacle toward acquiring the Saab Gripen combat aircraft was lifted on Wednesday when the senate voted 27 to 17 in favour of the controversial project, which opinion polls show is opposed by a majority of Swiss.

The upper house had approved the deal in principle last March but a motion on releasing the money required for the purchase failed by one vote.

The latest vote follows approval last week by the lower house of parliament for the jets, which are set to replace the Swiss Army’s ageing F5 Tiger fleet.

The Swiss government initially announced its decision to order the Swedish fighter jets back in November 2011, saying they were the cheapest of three options.

The process of getting legislative approval, however, has been drawn out, with differing views over whether the Gripen is the right plane or if the jets are even needed.

Speaking to the lower house of parliament on September 11th, Swiss President Ueli Maurer defended the planes as necessary, noting on the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attack in the US that Switzerland should be prepared for the unexpected.

But politicians from the Liberal-Green and left-wing parties are vowing to mount a referendum against the deal.

The referendum will attack the method of financing the jets, which under the plan approved by both houses of parliament would see annual payments made over 10 years from the budget of the army.

The ATS news agency reported that the vote will likely be held in May 2014.

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