Why did France’s neighbor choose the F-35 over the Rafale?

Despite being close neighbors of France, Switzerland and Belgium chose the US F-35 stealth fighter, rather than the Rafale, the pride of the French aviation industry.

On June 30, 2021, the Swiss Air Force announced the results of the tender for the purchase of new fighter aircraft. The Swiss contract has attracted all the big players in the Western and American fighter production village, to compete for a contract worth more than 7 billion USD.

The new fighter aircraft selected by Switzerland, which will replace the expired fleet of light and medium jet fighters F-5E and F-18C, with the top three candidates including the US F/A-18E/F and F-35 and Rafale of France. And at The end winner of Switzerland’s $7 billion contract race is the most modern design and the only stealth fighter produced in the West(for export), is the F-35A.

Indian airforce rafale jet
Indian airforce Rafale

Previously, many analysts had speculated that the French Rafale fighter jet would be chosen. However, if you compare the capabilities of these two types of fighters, you will get an insight into the reasoning behind the Swiss decision.

The Rafale first flew in 1986, and it even fell short of the latest American and Soviet designs at the time; In fact, the Rafale was a relatively old design, with limited capacity, to be able to carry out deep upgrades.

The F-35 is currently only in the early stages of the development cycle, expected to continue to be upgraded and remain in production for at least two decades or more. In particular, the F-35 converges the latest technological quintessence in aviation, not only of the US, but also of many other countries.

Although the F-35 is a significantly larger fighter than the Rafale and a much more advanced one, due to the larger scale of production and higher efficiency of the US defense production sector, the cost even half as cheap as Rafale.

What worries F-35 operators is the huge cost of maintenance and use for the entire life of the F-35. But in the face of the threat of modern new air defense systems like the S-400, in many tenders, the F-35 always prevails.

best fighter aircraft

Furthermore, there is a difference in engine efficiency between the two planes, which means that one F-35 engine, but produces more thrust, than Rafale’s two M88 engines combined. Not to mention the M88 engine, which has the weakest performance, of all fighter engines today.

Switzerland has been exploiting the maintenance infrastructure and armament of American fighters; The Rafale is therefore the only fighter in the competition, incompatible with the existing Swiss infrastructure. If the Swiss buy French planes, they must dispose of all their existing weapons inventory.

Next is the close relationship between the US and Swiss militaries, built over decades, which could also be eroded, should Switzerland later switch to non-US fighters.

However, the Rafale also has some significant advantages, including lower maintenance requirements, access to modern air-to-air missiles such as the Meteor and the fact that the missile is fully ready to fight.

In contrast, the F-35 is not yet fully capable of combat and is still far from ready for engagements, even at moderate intensity. But Switzerland is unlikely to get involved in any conflicts in the near future, which is no big deal.

If Switzerland requires, the F-35 can integrate the European Meteor missile; although the F-35’s standard long-range air-to-air missile is the AIM-120D, which has a much shorter range.

Rafale also has the advantage of being more independent, of which France has no restrictions, on the intended use of the aircraft; while the use of the F-35 is more strictly regulated and this fighter has even been found to spy on European countries and send information back to the US.

In fact, Rafale has struggled to compete with the F-35 on the international stage; even in the case of neighboring Belgium, when France offered to reinvest the entire value of the contract, back into the Belgian economy, if the French Rafale was chosen by Belgium as its fighter. But Belgium denied the offer.

Egyptian Air Force rafale aircraft
Egyptian Air Force Rafale aircraft

Not even the Rafale can compete with other American fighters like the F-16E and F-15 in tenders in Singapore, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Although Rafale has won contracts in Greece and Croatia, both purchased used Rafale and were supplied by France with some old Rafale fighters “for free”.

Rafale has also secured contracts in Egypt, Qatar and India; However, none of these countries are “qualified” to buy the F-35. But with Switzerland, it is a different story, when it has an abundant budget and has a good relationship with the US. So no wonder Switzerland choose the F-35; despite being “neighbors” to France. 

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