Hoping to unseat Saab’s Gripen as Switzerland fighter replacement for its aging fleet of F-5, Dassault Aviation is reportedly sweetening its deal offer for its Rafale multirole fighter aircraft. Switzerland’s Le Matin newspaper, citing a high ranking Air Force officer has revealed that a January 19th 2012 letter from the French aircraft manufacturer ‘counter offer’ will be presented to Switzerland’s Council of States on February 13th. This unexpected development follows the November 30th 2011 selection of the lower cost Gripen despite the certainty that the Rafale had a scored better in evaluation against the Gripen and EADS Eurofighter Typhoon.
Under the new deal Switzerland is being offered 18 Rafales at a price of $2.94 billion. This compares favorably to the $3.37 billion that the Swedish company was offering for 22 Gripen aircraft. Most surprisingly the new offer is not only significantly below the $4.35 billion initially asked by Dassault but if agreed to, would also give Swiss Rafales unrestricted access to the entire French Air Force logistics infrastructure.
This would include sharing of high resolution satellite images from Helios IA, IB, IIA, IIB projects to which Italy, Spain, Belgium and Greece have already been included. In addition tactical data exchange with France’s four AWACS based at Avord Air Force Base would available on board the Rafale’s communication links terminals. These unprecedented and far reaching agreements would finally give Swiss pilots access to all French military air bases, training simulators, various air assets when participating in exercises, (probably tankers, transports and support), access to firing ranges and training corridors in the Mediteranean where supersonic flights can be conducted.
This new deal puts forward the Rafale superior range and access to the AWACS distributed tactical data as the force multiplier that permits 18 Rafales to fulfill the same operational requirements 22 Gripens (Switzerland evaluation reportedly concluded that 3 Rafales could be employed for every 5 Gripens).
Controversy surrounding the evaluation process
The actual deal itself is now set to undergo more scrutiny as reports of a mismanaged evaluation process have surfaced, forcing a parliament’s investigation. In a 5-pages open letter sent to various parliament members, a previously unknown “group for the army’s credibility and Integrity” is providing detailed accounts of the alleged manipulation of the evaluation’s scores that ultimately led to the Gripen’s selection. The parliamentary investigation that will now convene will certainly bring the program’s evaluation phase under a more critical eye. Managed by the Armasuisse agency, the program identified the 3 main areas of score-based evaluation for the competing aircraft;
1. 60% for operational effectiveness (air-to-air, air-to-ground, reconnaissance, further development potential)
2. 15% for adaptability (maintenance processes, compatibility with existing swiss infrastructure and ease of operation by the militia, noise emission)
3. 25% for cooperation and compensation (economic benefits to local enterprises and military cooperation)
In a presidential election year, the deal also exposes France’s highest ranking officials to political risks. After years of failure to secure international sales for the Rafale (United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Lybia and possibly India) they have now engaged the nation’s most coveted national strategic assets alongside Dassault commercial concerns.