Swiss activists have triggered a national referendum to stop the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from the US.
On Tuesday, the Swiss government announced that campaigners had cleared the bar of 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for a referendum on the planned purchase of 36 of the Lockheed Martin-built planes as part of an extensive refurbishment of the capability of the Swiss air force by 2030.
Under Switzerland’s highly devolved constitutional system, the government is obliged to set a date for such a vote and abide by its outcome.
Switzerland became the 15th country to sign up to buy the jets, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, in June last year. Still, the decision has been mired in controversy, not least because military neutrality is the central tenet of Swiss foreign policy.
The activists want the referendum to be held in March — the same month the U.S. offer would expire. The Swiss defense department, addressing a meeting of the Swiss executive branch on Wednesday, argued that the timetable is simply too tight.
Opponents say the planes — at a purchase cost of about $6 billion — are too expensive, would tie Swiss security too closely to the United States, and are ill-suited for the needs of Switzerland.
The Swiss air force mostly uses such fighters for air patrols in its European skies and not in conflicts abroad.
The Swiss constitution holds that Switzerland is a neutral country, curtailing its ability to take part in foreign conflicts.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Swiss government noted that other Western countries including Canada, Finland and Germany had also opted for the F-35.