* Defence minister says Gripen "satifactory"
* No concrete rival offers to Gripen so far
ZURICH Feb 14 Switzerland would consider
alternatives to the 22 Gripen jets it has agreed to buy from
Saab to replace older warplanes, its defence minister
said on Tuesday.
Flanked by his military chiefs of staff, Ueli Maurer told a
news conference the government would be ready to look at any
serious rival bids.
Maurer has come under pressure to justify the choice of
plane after a Swiss newspaper published extracts of two secret
test reports showing the Gripen fared worse than originally
thought in tests against rivals.
Test reports published by the SonntagsZeitung suggested the
Gripen did not "meet minimum expected capabilities" to carry out
air policing missions.
Maurer on Tuesday described the Gripen as "satisfactory"
according to a grading-scale used throughout the whole
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).
Maurer said at the time that Saab's offer was considerably
cheaper than rivals the Rafale built by France's Dassault
Aviation and EADS's Anglo-German-Italian
"The cabinet chose the Gripen because it fulfilled the
technical requirements...and was the most cost-efficient plane
and the only plane that could be financed under the available
budget," Maurer said on Tuesday.
Even aside from wrangling over the supplier, the purchase of
fighter jets is contentious as the government will have to cut
back on education and agricultural spending to fund the order.
According to recent newspaper reports, Dassault
put forward a counter offer to supply Switzerland with 18 Rafale
jets for 2.7 billion Swiss francs instead of an original demand
of 4 billion francs for 22 jets.
Maurer said on Tuesday the government had not received any
formal counter offers. "We've asked the French to give us a
really concrete offer," he said. "If we really do get a lower
offer, we'd be able to look at it."
Since the Swiss cabinet's decision, Dassault's Rafale has
emerged as the preferred bidder to supply India. Brazil is also
likely to chose the Rafale, government sources told
The Swiss government will present parliament with a purchase
order by June, which will be considered by the security
commissions of both the upper and lower houses. The final
decision on the jets is expected by the end of 2012.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Erica Billingham)