ZURICH Aug 25 The head of Switzerland's Free Democrats (FDP) indicated that his party is unlikely to support the planned purchase of 22 Gripen jets from Saab, a newspaper reported on Saturday, which may scupper the 3.1 billion Swiss franc ($103.82 million)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.
In response to a question by the Neue Zuercher Zeitung on 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 Gripen order."
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 of buying the jets may also be put to a referendum.
"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." ($1 = 0.9632 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Hugh Lawson)