September 11, 2013 / 10:31 AM / 4 years ago

Swiss lower house of parliament backs Gripen jets

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday backed the country’s proposed purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden’s Saab (SAABb.ST), a deal worth $3.4 billion (2.15 billion pounds).

A Swedish Saab Gripen fighter plane lands at the Swiss Army Airbase in Emmen, central Switzerland July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer

Lawmakers voted to support the government’s proposal to replace the country’s aging fleet of Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters with the Gripen jets by 113 to 68 votes.

The deal, which will be debated by the upper house of parliament on September 18, could still be derailed by a popular referendum even if approved, if at least 50,000 people or eight cantons call for one within a limited timeframe.

“We cannot win a war against our native country with these jets, should one ever break out, but in the case of conflict or tension we could hold out for a minimum of four or five weeks,” Defence Minister Ueli Maurer told parliament.

Switzerland opted for the Gripen as a cheaper alternative to the Eurofighter Typhoon, developed by a consortium of BAE (BAES.L), Finmeccanica SIFI.MI and EADS EAD.PA, and Dassault Aviation’s (AVMD.PA) Rafale jet.

Shares in Saab jumped on the news and were trading up 2.5 percent by 1107 GMT.

The move is unpopular with some in Switzerland, which hasn’t fought an international war for 200 years, because it will require cost cuts in other areas, such as education.

In order to sweeten the deal, Saab has pledged to find Swiss suppliers for major components of the jets.

Reporting by Caroline Copley and Martin de Sa'Pinto; Editing by Mark Potter

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