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A Swiss Army exercise in 1896, painting by Joseph Clemens Kaufmann


The Swiss Armed Forces perform the roles of Switzerlandmarker's militia and regular army: under the country's militia system professional soldiers constitute only about 5 percent of the military personnel; all the rest are conscript citizens aged from 20 to 34 (in some cases up to 50) years. Because of a long history of neutrality, the army does not take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world.

The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Compulsory military service concerns all male Swiss citizens; women can serve voluntarily. They usually receive the marching order at the age of 19 for military conscription. About two-thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, an alternative service exists. Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in boot camp for a duration from 18 to 21 weeks.

Following the end of the Cold War there have been a number of attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether (see Group for a Switzerland without an Army). A notable referendum on the subject was held on the 26 November 1989 and, although defeated, did see a high percentage of the people of favour of such an initiative. A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after the 9/11 attacks, was defeated by over 77% of voters.

The reform "Army XXI" was adopted by popular vote in 2003, it replaced the previous model "Army 95", reducing the effectives from 400,000 to about 200,000. Of those 120,000 are active and 80,000 are reserve units.

History

The Swiss army originated from the cantonal troops of the Old Swiss Confederacy, called upon in cases of external threats by the Tagsatzung or by the canton in distress. In the federal treaty of 1815, the Tagsatzung prescribed cantonal troops to put a contingent of 2% of the population of each canton at the federation's disposition, amounting to a force of some 33,000 men. The cantonal armies were converted into the federal army (Bundesheer) with the constitution of 1848. From this time, it was illegal for the individual cantons to declare war or to sign capitulations or peace agreements. Paragraph 13 explicitly prohibited the federation from sustaining a standing army, and the cantons were allowed a maximum standing force of 300 each (not including the Landjäger corps, a kind of police force). Paragraph 18 declared the obligation of every Swiss citizen to serve in the federal army if conscripted (Wehrpflicht), setting its size at 3% of the population plus a reserve of one and one half that number, amounting to a total force of some 80,000.

The first complete mobilization, under the command of Hans Herzog, was triggered by the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. In 1875, the army was called in to crush a strike of workers at the Gotthard tunnel. Four workers were killed and 13 were severely wounded.

Paragraph 19 of the revised constitution of 1874 extended the definition of the federal army to every able-bodied citizen, swelling the size of the army at least in theory from below 150,000 to more than 700,000, with population growth during the 20th century rising further to some 1.5 million, the second largest armed force per capita after the Israeli Defence Forces.

A major manoeuvre commanded in 1912 by Ulrich Wille, a reputed germanophile, convinced visiting European heads of state, in particular Kaiser Wilhelm II, of the efficacy and determination of Swiss defences. Wille subsequently was put in command of the second complete mobilization, and Switzerland escaped invasion in the course of World War I. Wille also ordered the suppression of the general strike (Landesstreik) of 1918 with military force. Three workers were killed, and a rather larger number of soldiers died of the Spanish flu during mobilization. In 1932, the army was called to suppress an anti-fascist demonstration in Geneva. The troops shot dead 13 unarmed demonstrators, wounding another 65. This incident long damaged the army's reputation, leading to persistant calls for its abolition among left wing politicians. In both the 1918 and the 1932 incidents, the troops deployed were consciously selected from rural regions such as the Berner Oberlandmarker, fanning the enmity between the traditionally conservative rural population and the urban working class. The third complete mobilization of the army took place during World War II under the command of Henri Guisan (see also Switzerland during the World Wars). The Patrouille des Glaciers race, created to test the abilities of soldiers, was created during the war.

In 1989, the status of the army as a national icon was shaken by a popular initiative aiming at its complete dissolution (see: Group for a Switzerland without an Army) receiving 35.6% support. This triggered a series of reforms, and in 1995, the number of troops was reduced to 400,000 ("Armee 95"). Article 58.1 of the 1999 constitution repeats that the army is "in principle" organized as a militia, implicitly allowing a small number of professional soldiers. A second initiative aimed at the army's dissolution in 2001 received a mere 21.9% support. Nevertheless, the army was shrunk again in 2004, to 220,000 men ("Armee XXI"), including the reserves.

Structure of the Swiss Army XXI


Structure

The armed forces consist of 134,886 people on active duty, of which 4,230 are professionals, with the rest being conscripts or volunteers. Women, for whom military service is voluntary, numbered 1,050: less than 1% of the total, but 25% of career soldiers. Once decided to serve, they have the same rights and duties as their male colleagues, and they can join all services, including combat units. Recruits are generally instructed in their native language; however, the small number of Romansh-speaking recruits are instructed in German.

In contrast to most other comparable armies, officer candidates are usually not career regulars: after seven weeks of basic training, selected recruits are offered the possibility of a cadre function. Officer candidate schools take place separately from NCOs training, but NCOs have the possibility of becoming officers later on. There are currently 17,506 officers and 22,650 NCOs in the Swiss Armed Forces.

High Command

In peacetime, the armed forces are led by the Chief of the Armed Forces (Chef der Armee), who reports to the head of the Department of Defence and to the Federal Council as a whole. The current Chief of the Armed Forces is Lieutenant-General (Korpskommandant) André Blattmann. Lt-Gen Blattmann replaced Lieutenant-General (Korpskommandant) Roland Nef who resigned on July 25, 2008 following allegations of sexual harassment.

In times of crisis or war, the Federal Assembly elects a General (OF-9) as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (Oberbefehlshaber der Armee). There have been four Generals in Swiss history:

Officers which would have the title of general in other armies do not bear the title general (OF-8: Commandant de corps, OF-7 Divisionnaire and OF-6 Brigadier), as this title is strictly a wartime designation. The distinctive feature of their rank insignia are traditionally stylized edelweiss (image). However, when Swiss Officers are involved in peacekeeping missions abroad, they often receive temporary ranks that do not exist in the Swiss Army, to put them on an equal footing with foreign officers. For example, the head of the Swiss delegation at the NNSC in Koreamarker (see below) had a rank of major general.

Land Forces

Since the Army XXI reform in 2004, the basic structure of the Land Forces has been reorganised in the following units: infantry brigades 2, 4, 5 and 7; mountain infantry brigades 9, 10 and 12; armoured brigades 1 and 11. Four territorial regions link the Land Forces with the cantons by coordinating territorial tasks inside of their sector and are immediately responsible for the security of their regions, depending only on the decisions of the Federal Council.

Air Force

The Swiss Air Force has been traditionally a militia-based service, including its pilots, with an inventory of approximately 456 aircraft whose lengthy service lives (many for more than 30 years) overlapped several eras. Beginning with its separation from the Army in 1996, however, the Air Force has been down-sizing, now approximating 270 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and moving more towards a smaller, professionalized force.

Its primary front-line air-defence fleet consists of 33 F-18 Hornets (Squadrons: 11, 17, 18. 34 were originally bought, but one crashed) and 54 remaining F-5 Tiger II (110 were originally purchased). In October 2008 the Swiss Hornet fleet reached the 50,000 flight hour milestone.

A report in the Swiss news magazine FACTS reveals that the Swiss Air Force only provides ready-to-take-off aircraft during office hours – on working days. The air force staff declared that, due to financial limits, they are not operational all the time. The difficulty of defending Swiss airspace is illustrated by the mountainousmarker character and the small size of the country; the maximum extension of Switzerland is 348 km, a distance that can be flown in little over 20 minutes by commercial aircraft. Furthermore, Switzerland's policy of neutrality means that they are unlikely to be deployed elsewhere.

Intelligence gathering

The Swiss military department maintains the Onyx intelligence gathering system, similar to but much smaller than the UKUSA's Echelon system.

The Onyx system was launched in 2000 in order to monitor both civil and military communications, such as telephone, fax or Internet traffic, carried by satellite. It was completed in late 2005 and currently consists in three interception sites, all based in Switzerland. In a way similar to Echelon, Onyx uses lists of keywords to filter the intercepted content for information of interest.

On 8 January 2006, the Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblick (Sunday edition of the Blick newspaper) published a secret report produced by the Swiss government using data intercepted by Onyx. The report described a fax sent by the Egyptianmarker department of Foreign Affairs to the Egyptian Embassy in Londonmarker, and described the existence of secret detention facilities (black sites) run by the CIA in Central and Eastern Europe. The Swiss government did not officially confirm the existence of the report, but started a judiciary procedure for leakage of secret documents against the newspaper on 9 January 2006.

Naval patrol

Landlocked Switzerland does not have a navy, but it does maintain a fleet of military lake patrol boats. The Aquarius-class Patrouillenboot 80 PBRs, operated by Motorboat Company 10, patrol Lake Genevamarker, Lake Lucernemarker, Lake Luganomarker, Lake Maggioremarker and Lake Constancemarker.

Conscription

Switzerlandmarker has mandatory military service ( ; ; ) for all able-bodied male citizens, who are conscripted when they reach the age of majority, though women may volunteer for any position. People determined unfit for service, where fitness is defined as "satisfying physically, intellectually and psychically requirements for military service or civil protection service and being capable of accomplishing these services without harming oneself or others", are exempted from service but pay a 3% additional annual income tax until the age of 30, unless they are affected by a disability. Almost 20% of all conscripts were found unfit for military or civilian service in 2008; the rate is generally higher in urban cantons such as Zurichmarker and Genevamarker than in the rural ones. Swiss citizens living abroad are generally exempted from conscription in time of peace. while dual citizenship by itself does not grant such exemption.

Operations

Switzerland being a neutral country, its army does not take part in armed conflicts in other countries. However, over the years, the Swiss army has been part of several peacekeeping missions around the world.

From 1996 to 2001, The Swiss Army was present in Bosnia and Herzegovina with headquarters in Sarajevo. Its mission, part of the Swiss Peacekeeping Missions, was to provide logistic and medical support to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE as well as protection duties and humanitarian demining. The mission was named SHQSU standing for Swiss Headquarters Support Unit to BiH. It was composed of 50 to 55 elite Swiss soldiers under contract for 6 to 12 months. None of the active soldiers were armed during the duration of the mission. The Swiss soldiers were recognized among the other armies present on the field by their distinctive yellow beret. The SHQSU is not the same as the more publicized SWISSCOY, which is the Swiss Army Mission to Kosovo.

Switzerland is part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) which was created to monitor the armistice between Northmarker and South Koreamarker. Since the responsibilities of the NNSC have been much reduced over the past few years, only 5 people are still part of the Swiss delegation, located near the Korean DMZ.

Shelters and fortifications

Swiss building codes require radiation and blast shelters to protect against bombing. There is a bed for 114% of Swiss residents in one of the many shelters. There are also hospitals and command centres in such shelters, aimed at keeping the country running in case of emergencies. Every family or rental agency has to pay a replacement tax to support these shelters, or alternatively own a personal shelter in their place of residence.

Moreover, tunnels and key bridges are built with tank traps. Tunnels are also primed with demolition charges to be used against invading forces. Permanent fortifications are established in the Alpsmarker, as bases from which to retake the fertile valleys after a potential invasion. They include underground air bases which are adjacent to normal runways; the aircraft, crew and supporting material are housed in the caverns.

However, a significant part of these fortifications have been dismantled between the 1980s and during the "Army 95" reformation. The most important fortifications are located at Saint-Mauricemarker, Gotthard Passmarker area and Sargansmarker. The fortification on the left side of the Rhône at Saint-Maurice is no longer used by the army since the beginning of the 1990s. The right side (Savatan) is still in use.

The Swiss government thought that the aim of an invasion of Switzerland would be to control the economically important transport routes through the Swiss Alps, namely the Gotthardmarker, the Simplonmarker and Great St. Bernardmarker passes, because Switzerland does not possess any significant natural resources. Those who actually served in the Swiss Army during the war never criticised this concept - even if it openly meant that the enemy could take the civilian population in the plains hostage.

Equipment

Weapons marked in bold are considered personal equipment of the soldier, who is responsible for their well-functioning and must keep them at home until the end of the military service (unless living near an external border of Switzerland). Between brackets is the number of such weapons in personal equipment as of 31 January 2009. Swiss army knives are also issued, but are not considered weapons.

Small arms





Combat vehicles

Source: Swiss Armed Forces - Land forces weapon systems (p. 12)

Quotes

  • "The best troops – those in whom you can have the most confidence – are the Swiss." – Napoleon


References

The last days of old Berne, painting by Friedrich Walthard

Notes

  1. Armeezahlen www.vbs.admin.ch (German)
  2. FACTS No. 06/30 - Page 20
  3. Imogen Foulkes. Swiss still braced for nuclear war. BBC News, 10 February 2007.
  4. McPhee, John. La Place del la Concorde Suisse. New York: Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), 1984. p.47


Bibliography

  • Henrotin, Gerard. Swiss Revolver Model 1882 Explained (eBook) H&L Publishing - HLebooks.com, 2009
  • McPhee, John. La Place del la Concorde Suisse. New York: Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), 1984.


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