As if last week’s crash of a Blue Angel and Thunderbird on the same day wasn’t strange enough, a Patrouille Suisse F-5 Tiger and Russian Knights Su-27 Flanker crashed within hours of each other on Thursday 9 June. The Swiss pilot ejected after an apparent mid air collision over Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands, while the Russian pilot died in a crash near Moscow.
The Swiss F-5s collided while practicing their display routine prior to the Leeuwarden airshow on Friday. One aircraft came down near the town of Bitgum, north west of the airbase. Rescue service confirmed the pilot ejected. An Air Medical Services helicopter was dispatched to the crash site.
The second F-5 involved in the incident landed safely after half an hour or so, minus half of its right hand horizontal stabilizer. The trailing edge of the right wing also showed some damage from the collision.
If it is up to the Swiss government, the 54 remaining Swiss F-5 Tiger aircraft are disposed off in two years time. This was announced earlier this week by the Bundesrat, the seven-member council which constitutes the government of Switzerland. The outcome of the Gripen referendum on 18 May will not affect this proposal, according to minister of defence and Bundesrat member Ueli Maurer.
The Swiss will invest 771 million Swiss francs (878 million USD) into their army, but to make financial room certain systems in the inventory will have to be axed. This also includes the 54 remaining F-5E/F Tigers.
Switzerland bought a total of 98 F-5E single seat and 12 F-5F dual seat fighter aircraft in two batches in 1976 and 1981. Over the last decade or so, a significant number of F-5s were already sold to the United States, who uses them as aggressor aircraft for the US Navy and US Marines. A smaller number of aircraft was leased to Austria for several years.
The most famed Swiss user of the F-5 is the display team Patrouille Suisse. The exact future of the team is not yet known, but the axing of the F-5 may very well also mean the end of Patrouille Suisse.
In a referendum on 18 May, the Swiss voters get their final say over the planned purchase of 22 Saab Gripen E fighter aircraft. These aircraft will replace the F-5s as the second Swiss Air Force fighter, next to the 32 Swiss F/A-18C/D Hornets now in use. The recent mischief about the Swiss Air Force not being able to supply 24/7 fighter coverage (see here and here), may secure a ‘yes’ for the Gripens as the outcome of the referendum.
May 18 is going to be another important day in the story of Saab Gripen. On this day, Switzerland will hold a national referendum to decide whether the country should buy 22 Gripen E fighter aircraft to replace aging F-5E Tigers.
The Swedish Gripen E was selected by the Swiss government two years ago, after a thorough comparison with the Dassault Rafale and the Typhoon. A national vote has to be held however, as opponents of the deal collected the 50,000 signatures required for a referendum.
The pending deal is worth 3,4 billion USD. Only last December, Brazil decided on buying 36 Gripen E/Fs, worth 4,5 billion USD. Sweden itself has purchased 60 Saab Gripen Es.
In Switzerland, the F-5Es are nearing the end of their lives. The aircraft is still being flown, one of the users being the aerial demonstration team Patrouille Suisse.