Military of Switzerland

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Military of Switzerland
Military manpower
Military age20 years of age
Availabilitymales age 15-49: 1,855,808 (2000 est.)
Fit for military servicemales age 15-49: 1,579,921 (2000 est.)
Reaching military age annuallymales: 42,169 (2000 est.)
Military expenditures
Dollar figure$3.1 billion (FY98)
Percent of GDP1.2% (FY98)

The Armed Forces of Switzerland is a unique institution somewhere between a militia and a regular army. It is equipped with modern, sophisticated, and well-maintained weapons systems and equipment. In 1993, the Swiss government ordered 34 FA-18 fighter jets from the United States of America.


Military services

On May 18, 2003, Swiss voters approved the military reform project "Army XXI" that will drastically reduce the size of the Swiss Army. Starting in January 2004, the current 524,000-strong militia will be pared down to 220,000 conscripts, including 80,000 reservists. The defence budget of currently SFr 4.3 billion ($3.1 billion) will be trimmed by SFr 300 million and some 2,000 jobs are expected to be shed between 2004 and 2011. The mandatory time of service for normal soldiers is curtailed from 300 to 260 days. All able-bodied Swiss males aged between 20 and 30 must serve, for women, service is voluntary. After having served 260 days, most personnel are assigned to civil protection duties until the age of 37.

A new category of soldiers called "single-term conscripts" will discharge the total time of service of 300 days of active duty in one go. Recruiting to the single-term conscripts is on a voluntary basis, but it should not exceed 20% of a year's draft. The rest continue to follow the traditional Swiss models of serving about three months at first and then doing three or four weeks per year until the required number of days has been reached.

The armed forces have a small nucleus of about 3,600 professional staff, half of whom are either instructors or staff officers. Women may volunteer to serve in the armed forces and may now join all units, including combat troops. About 2,000 women already serve in the army but, until the reforms ‘’Army XXI’’, were not allowed to use weapons for purposes other than self-defence. Since the reforms, women can take on any position within the armed forces.

In addition to this, the Swiss Army undertakes the basic military training for new recruits to the Swiss Guard.

Defence ministers

Member of the Federal Council heading the "Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports", (formerly "Federal Military Department"):

High Command

In peacetime, the armed forces are led by the Chief of the Armed Forces, who reports to the head of the Department of Defense and to the Federal Council as a whole. The current Chief of the Armed Forces is Korpskommandant (Lieutenant General) Christophe Keckeis.

In times of crisis or war, Parliament elects a General (OF-9) as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. There have been four generals in Swiss history:


There is an organized movement in Switzerland (Gruppe Schweiz ohne Armee; GSoA) aiming at the abolition of the military. The Swiss have voted twice on such a referendum. The first time was in 1989, when 35.6% of the voters voted in favour of abolishing the Swiss Army. The second vote was in 1999, with 23.2% in favour.

In 1992, after the Swiss government decided to buy FA-18 jets, they collected about half a million signatures within one month for a referendum. The population decided to buy the jets, although 42.9% voted against the project.

The organization is still active in antimilitaristic work and also in the anti-war movement.


All able-bodied males are conscripted to the armed forces. For women the service is voluntary. Since 1996, Swiss citizens can apply for civil service instead. This option is only available to those found physically fit enough to join the armed forces. Entry to the civilian service is based on moral grounds and subject to a successful application.

A significant number of young males choose to avoid military service by visiting a doctor who attests to their incapability to do military service on medical grounds. This can be on either physical or mental grounds. Those who are found unable to serve the military pay an additional 2% income tax. As of January 2004, the income tax was raised to 3% by the Federal Council.

Conscription occurs at the age of 18 years. About half the service is done during an initial training period of 21 or 18 weeks, depending on the service branch, with the exception of the Grenadiers, a Ranger-type unit with a 25-week boot camp. Initial training (following regular boot camp) for members of the AAD, Switzerland's new SAS-type Special Forces unit, which is an all-volunteer professional unit with a rigorous selection process, is 18 months. Thereafter, men remain in the military until the age of 34, performing three weeks of training every year or every other. It is possible to postpone the military service to finish high school. The successive training weeks can also be postponed, but there is limited scope. In the normal case, men interrupt their work during these weeks. The employer is paid compensation of 70% of the ensuing costs.

To reduce training and logistics costs, the Swiss military standardizes on a few carefully selected types of weapons. For example, Switzerland uses only one rifle model, and two types of ground-based anti-aircraft systems. Swiss army knives are also issued, although they are neither red nor considered weapons.

Famously, members of the armed forces keep their rifles and uniforms in their house for immediate mobilization. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in peculiar ways to make this organization effective. The people are advised to keep the ammunition and the rifle in separate places, both out of reach of unauthorized people. No statistics are published on the abuse of military rifles, but because unregistered handguns are easily available in Switzerland, only an insignificant percentage of gun crimes involves the relatively unwieldy army rifles.

Swiss building codes require radiation and blast shelters to protect against bombing. There is a bed for every Swiss person 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. 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 Alps, as bases from which to retake the fertile valleys after a potential invasion.


In contrast to most other comparable Armies, officer candidates are not necessarily career regulars. Instead, until 2004 officers were traditionally selected from the pool of NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and then underwent OCS (officer candidate school, which was and is open to both militia - i.e. officers who also have a civilian job - and future professional officers), five months of intensive training that emphasized small-unit and platoon-sized unit tactics. This system ensured that all officers knew what it was like to be a grunt. Unfortunately, this advantage (at least from a leadership point of view) was abolished with the Army XXI reform as a concession to the Swiss economy which was increasingly unhappy about having its future leaders away for two years at at time (the time it took to become an officer until 2004). In the new system, officers-to-be are selected early on from the pool of boots (based on criteria such as leadership potential but also education) and sent to officer training fairly quickly, which reduces the time these "instant officers" take to be fully trained but also means that they neither have the advantage of having been NCOs nor having had time to slowly mature as leaders. Consequently, the new system has already come under pressure and is under review.

To assure a generally high level of military leadership above the rank of first lieutenant, the Army maintains the HKA (Hoehere Kaderschule der Armee) which is responsible for an array of professionally run schools such as BUSA (Berufsunteroffiziersschule der Armee) which runs a program for professional non-commissioned officers, the MILAK (Militaerakademie) which runs a bachelor degree program for professional officers similar to the U.S. Army's West Point, programs for company and batallion commanders, a number of staff courses, and the General Staff and Command College (Gst S), an elite training program whose graduates leave their former branches and are inducted into the so-called General Staff Corps. Future general staff officers are selected from the best company commanders and undergo batallion commander training before starting general staff training. Only 30 new trainees are selected per year and even fewer complete the demanding training. Being a general staff officer is a prerequisite for a range of important jobs on Brigade and higher level, such as G2 (chief of intelligence) or G3 (chief of operations). The ratio of professional versus militia officers is about 1:1. As a rule of thumb, a significant number of senior civil servants and business leaders in Switzerland are general staff officers.

See also

External Links

de:Schweizer Armee


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