Switzerland: 10 criteria to evaluate what would be the best Swiss fighter plane

While the Swiss authorities are evaluating the performance and specificities of competing aircraft for the replacement of its F5 and F18, each manufacturer, backed by their country of origin, tries to highlight the strengths of its offer. In this Maelstrom of information, it is sometimes difficult to separate things, and objectively determine which aircraft would best meet the needs of the Swiss Air Force for the next 40 years. For this purpose, we will evaluate each device and each offer therein, in an 10 analysis grid objective criteria, addressing the operational, technical and political aspects of each offer. We will therefore study the Swedish offer of SAAB with the JAS 39 E / F Gripen, the French Dassault Rafale F4, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing A / F 18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed-Martin F35A.

1- Maneuverability of the device

Switzerland is a very specific theater for air superiority and possible air support. Anyone who has ever had the chance to see the dexterity of pilots of Mirage III or Swiss F5 evolving in their mountains will be convinced. Therefore, maneuverability is an essential factor for a fighter plane in Switzerland, the aircraft being brought to evolve in a very mountainous environment, and very complex, often near the summits. In this area, two aircraft are characterized for their ability to maneuver at low and medium altitude, close to the ground, to see the Gripen and the Rafale, obtaining the note of 5. The Typhoon is initially designed for high altitude, its maneuverability at low and medium altitude is lower, as the F18, which does not benefit from aeronautical design Eurocarnard, more manoeuvrante, get the rating of 4. The F35 is not a maneuvering aircraft, it was not designed for this, and its performance in this area is lower than that of an F16. He is credited with the note of 2.

Dassault Rafale in remote strike configuration, with 2 cruise missiles SCALP, 2 Mica EM
And 2 mica IR self defense.

2- Rusticity

Switzerland's defense strategy differs from those of other European countries, not being part of an alliance like NATO, and with natural physical protection, the Alps. In fact, the Swiss air force has a habit of deploying their aircraft in small groups, spread over various tracks more or less designed for that. The images of the F5 marked with a white cross coming out of a mountain to take off a portion of highway are known to all. In fact, the hardiness of the aircraft, namely its ability to be operated and maintained from a base and a runway, by a small technical team, is a key parameter in this assessment.

In this field, embedded aircraft, such as the Rafale and the F18, have an important design advantage, being inherently designed to be maintained in a highly constrained environment (the aircraft carrier), and based on a Reinforced structure to deal with very violent landings, allowing deployment from summary tracks. The F4 Rafale has an advantage over the F18, requiring half as many men for its maintenance than the US aircraft. He is credited with a note from 5, the 18 F4. Less performing in this area, Gripen and Typhoon receive a rating of 3. The F35A is credited with the rating of 1, requiring the most men and hours of maintenance per hour of flight, and above all, requiring a digital international interconnection for the ALIS software, poorly adapted to the Swiss strategy.

3- Detection and Communication Capabilities

Unlike NATO aircraft, which operate most of the time under the control of an Awacs, Swiss aircraft must evolve with their own means of detection and communication, relying only on the ground radar network. to complete their detection capability. In this area, the F35A is obviously the best placed, with a note of 5, the device being in itself a small awacs thanks to its equipment of detection, signal processing, and exchange of data with the other F35 and floor. The 4 other devices have comparable performances in this area, lower than those of F35, but sufficient for the needs of Swiss Defense. They are all 4 credited with the 3 rating.

The Lockheed-Martin F35A has the best performance in terms of detection / communication.

4- Stealth and non-detection

We finish this panel dedicated to the structural performance of devices with Stealth, in the sense of the ability of the device to make itself difficult to detect, so as to take the advantage over a potential adversary. In this area, as a precedent, the F35A has the advantage, stealth being one of the major assets of the aircraft, largely put forward by its manufacturer. He is naturally credited with a note from 5.
The Gripen, Super Hornet and Typhoon have powerful infrared detection systems, they can evolve without electromagnetic emission, and rely on their IRST to detect an enemy device. They are therefore credited with a rating of 2, having an advantage only in this area. The Rafale also has a powerful IRST, coupled with the PSECTRA system, allowing it to evolve passively. Above all, the aircraft is designed to move at great speed close to the ground, which is a significant advantage to avoid adverse detection, especially in an environment like the Swiss Alps. So it's worth a note from 3.

5 - Close Air Support (CAS)

Let us now focus on the operational capabilities of each aircraft, and to begin with, the capabilities of providing close air support to the ground forces. In this area, the Rafale F4 gets the highest rating of 5, for several reasons. It is the aircraft that has the most autonomy over its target, and the largest ammunition carrying capacity. Its dual-engine design makes it safer to move at low or very low altitude, especially since it has a high-performance terrain tracking and anti-collision system. Finally, its reinforced structure, legacy of the embedded aircraft that it is, allows it to make very tight evolutions at low altitude, even heavily loaded, determining criterion for the CAS. The Gripen is an excellent support device, although less efficient than the Rafale because of its lightness, and its single-engine configuration, it receives a note of 4. Like the F18, twin-engine and durable, but suffers from a shorter range over the target. The Typhoon is not optimized for this mission, and if it is twin-engine, the configuration of its air inlets cancels this profit at low altitude, the loss of an engine that can cause a pumping on the remaining engine. He is credited with a note from 3. Like the F35, which, if it undeniably represents excellent support capabilities, has only a reduced autonomy, and a carrying capacity is constrained to maintain its stealth. In addition, its single engine configuration is a significant disadvantage when the aircraft must move near the ground, as is its low maneuverability.

Cockpit JAS 39 E / F Gripen

6 - Air Defense and Sky Police

In the field of Air Defense, the Typhoon stands out over other competitors, being the only aircraft originally designed for this purpose. It has a ceiling and a higher rate of mounting, excellent detection capabilities, including a very good IRST, and can carry a high number of air-to-air missiles Meteor, ASRAAM, AMRAAM. He is naturally credited with a note from 5. The Rafale follows, with a note of 4, thanks to its ability to implement the missile MICA NG, perfect complement of the Meteor. In addition, by its hardiness, it provides excellent availability, key parameter for the police of the sky. The performance of the Gripen does not match those of the F4 standard Rafale, as well as those of the F18 Super Hornet, which for now does not carry the Meteor missile. They are both credited with a note from 3. The F35 is not an air defense device. Its IRST is not optimized for Air Air, its availability is mediocre, and its capacity of limited pockets as the device wants to remain stealthy. He receives the note from 2.

7- Electronic War

The operational environment in the coming decades will require significant means of electronic warfare, both to scramble the opposing signals and to resist their interference. In this area, the F35 has once again the advantage, because of its many effectors and its significant signal processing capability. He is credited with the note of 5, as the F18, not that the Super Hornet is more efficient than the others in this area, but we take into account the possibility for the Swiss Confederation to acquire some EA18 Growler to treat this. field. Rafale, Typhoon and Gripen perform poorly in this area, and only have self-defense systems. They are credited with the note of 2.

EA18 Growler, electronic warfare version of F / A 18 Super Hornet

8- Political Independence

To conclude this analysis, let us focus on the political and budgetary aspects of the offers proposed by the manufacturers, and the countries of origin of the devices. First of all, as Switzerland is a neutral country, aspects related to respect for political and technological independence are essential in the evaluation of the proposals made. In this field, Rafale and Typhoon, based on proprietary technologies and guaranteeing strategic autonomy in Switzerland, are the most efficient, with a rating of 5. The Gripen and the Super Hornet have a note of 4, because subjected to the very fluctuating export authorizations of the United States (50% of the Gripen is of American origin, whose engine). The F35 is only credited with a note from 2, as the device is designed for centralized control from the US with ALIS software. By choosing the F35, Switzerland would no longer be independent or neutral.

9- Military interoperability

Although Switzerland is neutral, it interacts militarily frequently with its neighbors, France, Germany, Italy and Austria. The F35, through its means of communication, is the most effective in these missions, especially as all of Switzerland's neighbors are members of NATO, and therefore use NATO protocols to communicate. He is credited with the grade of 5, while the other 4 gets the average grade of 3. It should be noted that France offers a more advanced interoperability in the field of the Sky Police, the French offer integrating a shared responsibility for this mission above Swiss soil, in times of peace.

Originally designed for Air Defense, the Typhoon can now carry a wide range of Air-Sol ammunition.

10- The price

Last but not least, the price is decisive in the choice that will make the Swiss Confederation, whose vote 2017 has shown that if the Swiss are willing to invest to defend their independence, they are also attentive to public spending . In this area, the 39 JAS obtains the rating of 5, the device with the lowest acquisition price, of the order of 60 m € per device, and the price per hour of the lowest flight, given to 7000 €. The Rafale and the F18 Super Hornet are credited with the rating of 4, because the cost of ownership is substantially equivalent, with a purchase price of 70 m €, and a price per flight hour of the order of 10.000 €. The Typhoon gets the rating of 3, being more expensive with the purchase of 10 m € than the Rafale, and the price per hour of flight reaching 13.000 €. The F35 is credited with the 2 rating, though 1 is more appropriate. Indeed, if the purchase price is now reduced to Typhoon level, the price per flight hour remains incredibly high, exceeding 30.000 €. In addition, the evolutions of versions are also very excessive, setting the operational standard of the first 100 F35 being evaluated at more than 65 m € per device, the price of a Gripen.


It is now time to summarize the notes made and explained in this analysis. We will not use moderation coefficients between the criteria, since each of them represents an objective and crucial criterion to be taken into consideration.

JAS 39 E / FF4 RafaleTyphoon (de)F18 E / FF35A
Detection / communication33335


As we can see, the F4 Rafale gets a significantly higher total than the other aircraft. He gets above-average scores in 9 10 criteria, and gets the highest score in 4 for which 2 is tied.

The Super Hornet F18 comes second, with 36 points, but only if Switzerland decides to buy some Growler, and is allowed to do it by the FMS.

The Gripen remains a coherent choice, the apparatus getting a score of 35, and the best score in the price and maneuverability criteria (tied with the Rafale). It only has 2 criteria below the average.

The Typhoon follows with 33 points, handicapped by its higher price, and its specialized DNA for La Défense Aérienne.

The F35A closed this panel, with 32 points, 20% less efficient than the Rafale in this ranking. While the F35 is the best performer in 4 domains, of which 1 alone ex-aeqo with the F18 Growler if acquired, it also has 5 ratings below average, closing the rankings on each of these criteria. Without a doubt, the F35A would represent, by its configuration, its price, performance, the choice the least consistent with the operational reality and political Swiss.

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