French-speaking SMEs are mobilizing to obtain the economic benefits of the F-35 – rts.ch

French-speaking SMEs are mobilizing to obtain the economic benefits of the F-35 – rts.ch
French-speaking SMEs are mobilizing to obtain the economic benefits of the F-35 – rts.ch

Compensatory deals linked to the new F-35 combat aircraft and the Patriot air defense system are whetting the appetites of French-speaking SMEs. But the challenge is great for these small companies, because they are often poorly equipped to collaborate with the two American behemoths which manufacture this equipment.

More than four billion francs in compensatory business, including 30% for the French-speaking economy. The economic stakes surrounding the purchase of the 36 F-35 combat aircraft and the Patriot ground-to-air system are enormous.

Beyond the direct financial benefits, signing a contract with one of the two American suppliers – Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – opens the door to medium or even long-term collaboration.

But accessing this pie is not easy for SMEs. They must attract the attention of two veritable colossi, who are sometimes thousands of times larger than them. These little Companies do not always have the manpower necessary to initiate such an important collaboration.

“We are 40 people in the middle of an industrial area,” explains Jonathan Müller, technical director in a Biel-based company specializing in microelectronics. “We don’t have a marketing department or a private seller. So for small structures, it’s complicated to seek out big companies.”

The difficulty of positioning yourself well

For other entrepreneurs, the challenge is more technical, as David Hirschi, boss of DaxAir, based in Dombresson (NE), explains: “We have a product that already exists today, which is used for observation, to detect, for example, an intrusion into a perimeter or the start of forest fires. However, these are sectors in which Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are not at all.

He continues: “So they are not going to want to take our product and resell it. They will instead be looking for suppliers who can manufacture parts for the plane for example, which already exist.”

David Hirschi believes in it despite everything: “We will still try to approach them. Even if, with our segment, it is difficult to place ourselves on this type of compensatory business.”

First meeting between American manufacturers and French-speaking SMEs

In order to facilitate access to the two American giants, the French-speaking Group for Defense and Security Equipment (GRPM) brought together the different players in this matter last week. A first meeting between French-speaking SMEs, suppliers, the Swiss arms company RUAG and Armasuisse.

The manufacturers presented their strategy to a hundred entrepreneurs present, with, on one side, a cold and direct Lockheed Martin and, on the other, Raytheon which played the proximity card. A difference in style that struck the audience: “Lockheed Martin came as an American company, with representatives who traveled from the United States, while Raytheon has had two representatives based in Switzerland for a year and a half” , reports a Vaudois entrepreneur.

“They told us that they could come and visit our companies before registering us as potential suppliers. This is support that we need, because we, a small Swiss SME, are not cut out to take on an American giant.”

Towards a regrouping of forces

To strengthen their visibility, SMEs are now considering uniting. The form of this grouping must still be defined, but the will is there, according to Christophe Gerber, vice-president of the GRPM: “The Swiss economic ecosystem is made up of many small and medium-sized companies and this is not easy for both major partners to tour all SMEs They do not necessarily have the motivation to do so.

There is therefore a real need to regroup forces, to create clusters (groups of interdependent companies, editor’s note) for example, or to find a big brother who can play the role of bridgehead to simplify collaboration.”

He specifies: “Concretely, nothing has been set up, but it is starting to come.” The GRPM indicates that this grouping should be defined this fall.

A working group for French-speaking Switzerland

The file seems to be moving forward, even if, on the French side, concerns remain around compensatory matters. RUAG has announced several measures to try to reassure SMEs and local authorities.

It notably provides for calls for tenders from companies, but also the creation of a working group dedicated specifically to compensatory matters in French-speaking Switzerland.

Matthew Henderson

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