Swiss lower house of parliament backs Gripen fighter jets


ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss lower house of parliament on Wednesday backed Switzerland's proposed purchase of 22 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden's Saab (STO:SAAB B), a deal worth $3.4 billion (2.15 billion pounds).

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.

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.

Switzerland, which hasn't fought an international war for 200 years, wants the Gripen jets to replace its aging Northrop F-5 Tiger fighters, a move unpopular with some because it will require cost cuts in other areas, such as education.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley and Martin de Sa'Pinto)

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