ZURICH, April 25 Switzerland will postpone delivery of 22 Gripen jets from Saab by about two years so it can co-ordinate its purchase with a larger deal from Sweden and possibly save on costs, the government said on Thursday.
"We hope... to realise certain synergies in the production and development of the programme," Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said at a news conference.
The Swiss government said it would be advantageous to co-ordinate its acquisition with Sweden's expected purchase of between 60 and 80 planes. The bill for Switzerland's 22 new Gripens would remain below 3.126 billion Swiss francs ($3.43 billion), it said.
Switzerland has wrangled for three years over how to replace its aged Northrop F-5E/F Tiger fighters, purchased in 1976 and 1981. In November the government opted to buy 22 JAS-39 Gripens for a price tag of 3.1 billion Swiss francs ($3.4 bln).
But the purchase of the warplanes has proved controversial, as it will require spending cuts in other areas, such as education and agriculture.
Sweden's parliament is expected to vote on its jet purchase in September, and the Swiss parliament has the Gripen purchase on its agenda for October, a spokeswoman for the Swiss defence ministry said.
The two countries were still in negotiations and further details still had to be ironed out, she also said.
Earlier this month, Switzerland said it would consider alternative bids after test reports published by the SonntagsZeitung newspaper suggested the Gripen did not "meet minimum expected capabilities". ($1=0.9117 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Mike Nesbit)