ZURICH, Sept 18 Switzerland's upper house voted
in favour of buying 22 Gripen fighter jets from Swedish defence
firm Saab on Wednesday, although the purchase may
still face a popular vote.
Swiss lawmakers voted 27 to 17 to finance the $3.4 billion
deal, which would replace the country's aging fleet of Northrop
F-5 Tiger fighters with the Gripen jets, mirroring a lower house
vote last week.
"We have a responsibility as a small, neutral state to take
the necessary safety precautions for our airspace," Defence
Minister Ueli Maurer told the upper house.
Shares in Saab traded 1.9 percent higher at 134.80 SEK,
outperforming a flat OMXS30 index.
The deal could still be derailed by a popular referendum if
at least 50,000 people or eight cantons call for one within a
limited timeframe. Left-wing politicians have said they will
attempt to bring the issue to a popular vote.
The Gripens are unpopular with some in Switzerland, which
hasn't fought an international war for 200 years, because the
deal will require cost cuts in other areas, such as education.
Saab has pledged to use local suppliers in Switzerland for
major components of the new jet to sweeten the deal.
Last month the company said its suppliers had so far signed
456 contracts with 117 Swiss companies valued at 315 million
Switzerland opted for the Gripen as a cheaper alternative to
the Eurofighter Typhoon, developed by a consortium of BAE
, Finmeccanica and EADS, and Dassault
Aviation's Rafale jet.
(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian and Martin de Sa'Pinto; Editing
by Louise Heavens)