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Switzerland Sets May 18 Vote on $3.4 Bln Gripen Purchase

Switzerland will hold a national referendum on May 18 to determine whether the country should buy 22 Gripen combat jets as Swedish weapons-maker Saab AB and the Swiss government seek to convince voters.

Opponents of the deal collected the required 50,000 signatures to force a national vote on the purchase valued at 3.1 billion Swiss francs ($3.4 billion), the Bern-based government said in a statement today, opting for the May date over a Sept. 28 option.

Switzerland selected the single-engine Swedish jet in November 2011 in favor of the Dassault Aviation SA Rafale fighter and the Typhoon built by a consortium of Airbus Group, BAE Systems Plc and Finmeccanica SpA. Deliveries of the planes to replace Northrop Grumman Corp. F-5 Tigers would begin in 2018.

While Saab said previously that it expected a referendum would take place ahead of contract finalization this year, 63 percent of Swiss oppose the purchase of the Gripen and 60 percent say Switzerland doesn’t need any new combat planes, according to a September poll by Isopublic. The survey of 1,000 people, conducted between Sept. 4 and 7 for SonntagsBlick newspaper, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Sweden last year committed to buying 60 Gripen Es, as the new model being developed also for Switzerland is known. Brazil said on Dec. 18 it would also buy 36 of the planes in a deal valued at $4.5 billion through 2023.

Switzerland expects to pay around 300 million francs annually over the next decade for the military jets that will support older-model Boeing Co. F/A-18s. Saab and its industrial partners have committed to returning 2.5 billion francs in business to Switzerland, the government has said previously.

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