The Swiss government has chosen to buy the Gripen fighter jet, rather than the Eurofighter or France’s Rafale, giving a much needed boost to Saab of Sweden.

The decision to purchase 22 Gripen fighters to replace the Swiss air force’s antiquated Northrop Grumman F-5s will be a huge disappointment to the European consortium behind the Eurofighter and an even bigger blow to Dassault, manufacturer of the Rafale. The Rafale, one of a handful of fighters being considered by India, has so far failed to win any export orders.

The Gripen is already in service in the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand, apart from its native Sweden, but Håkan Buskhe, Saab’s chief executive, admitted that the victory was “a little bit of a surprise for us”.

“The Swiss …selection confirms that Saab is a market leader in the defence and security industry and that Gripen is a world-class fighter system that provides the best value for money,” Mr Buskhe said.

All three aircraft have been under exhaustive tests for a number of years, and the Swiss air force is known to be particularly exacting. Moreover, Switzerland is seen as a market in which political factors, although never negligible, are secondary to pure performance and economic considerations.

Given that Switzerland is known globally for applying highest procurement standards and requesting state-of-the-art technologies, Saab is both proud and delighted that Gripen has been chosen as the Swiss air force’s future multirole fighter aircraft, Saab said in a statement.

The Swiss government said all three aircraft had clearly met their technical requirements, and could have been purchased. But the Gripen – which is single rather than double-engined and therefore lighter – was not just the cheapest of the trio, but also the jet with the lowest expected running costs over its lifespan.

Bern said the cost factor was particularly important in the context of extremely tight military spending. The Swiss parliament has acknowledged the need for constraints, but simultaneously pushed for a 100,000-strong army and improvements to various weapons programmes.

“Financial considerations played a decisive role in the selection decision,” said the government in a statement.

All three manufacturers also offered Switzerland extensive offset agreements, allowing Swiss companies significant work on the project.

The Swiss defence ministry will now open talks with Saab on how the contract can be further refined, before Bern puts the proposal to parliament early next year.

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