Swiss pick Lockheed Martin's F-35A as next fighter jet

ZURICH, June 30 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s government has chosen Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II as its next-generation fighter plane, it said on Wednesday, a move that will likely trigger another referendum over the contract.

Neutral Switzerland will buy 36 F-35As after an evaluation found it to have “the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost”.

The F35-A beat bids from Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Rafale from France’s Dassault and the four-nation Eurofighter built by Italy’s Leonardo, Britain’s BAE Systems and Airbus representing Germany and Spain.

The government also decided to buy the Patriot surface-to-air missile system from U.S. manufacturer Raytheon as it looked to update its air defences. Raytheon beat competition from the Franco-Italian Eurosam consortium .

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

The F-35A “achieved the best result because it has a marked technological advantage over the other candidates”, the government said following an evaluation.

The aircraft was particularly suited to the air policing role, the government said, while it had a high degree of survivability because it was designed to be especially difficult for enemies to detect.

The F-35A was 2 billion Swiss francs cheaper than the next lowest bidder, the government said, when it came to buying and operating the aircraft.

Procurement costs amounted to 5.07 billion Swiss francs -– below a financial cap of 6 billion set by voters -- while the total operating costs come to 15.5 billion francs over 30 years.

The Swiss decision was closely watched as the first of three face-offs ahead of aircraft procurement decisions in Finland and Canada. (Reporting by John Revill, Editing by Michael Shields, Tim Hepher)