STOCKHOLM/ZURICH Aug 25 Sweden said on Saturday
it would buy 40-60 new JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets from aerospace
firm Saab after inking a deal last year to share some
of the development costs with Switzerland.
Sweden has not previously said how many of the next
generation Gripen planes it would buy, although its development
partner for the jet, Switzerland, said late last year it would
buy 22 at a cost of 3.1 billion Swiss francs.
"The partnership with Switzerland means that together we can
procure and operate a high-capability fighter plane programme at
a lower cost than we had been forced to pay if Sweden had
procured (the jets) alone," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik
Reinfeldt said in a newspaper article signed by the leaders of
all four parties in the ruling Alliance.
But the head of Switzerland's Free Democrats (FDP) indicated
in a newspaper report that his party was unlikely to support the
country's planned purchase of 22 of the jets, which could
scupper the Swiss side of the deal.
Switzerland's parliament is expected to vote on the
controversial purchase to replace aged Northrop F-5E/F Tiger
fighters, in October. In order for it to pass, the pro-business
FDP must back it.
Asked by the Neue Zuercher Zeitung whether the FDP would
pull the plug on the deal, party president Philipp Mueller said:
"At least, we're about to do so. It has been known for some
time that there are a lot of question marks surrounding the
Mueller cited questions about the yet to be developed
technologies used in the jets and the chance of cost overruns as
reasons to object to the purchase.
The government opted last November to buy 22 JAS-39 Gripens.
But the decision is unpopular with some because it will require
spending cuts in other areas, such as education. The issue may
even be put to a referendum in Switzerland.
"We will fight for a good, effective and financially viable
fighter plane," he said. "Given our knowledge today, the Gripen
doesn't fulfill the requirements to succeed with the people."
But the Swedish prime minister said Sweden needed the
planes, expected to come into service in 2023, to defend its
territory and carry out its international commitments.
Purchasing the jets would not come at the expense of other
military spending and would be good for Swedish industry, he
"The decision is necessary in terms of our defence
capabilities, but also positive for Swedish jobs, Swedish
exports and Swedish research and development," Reinfeldt said.
Sweden's agreement with Switzerland includes sharing the
costs for training pilots and mechanics, maintenance and future
upgrades to the plane during its expected 20 year life-cyle.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson and Catherine Bosley; Editing by