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ARMY

Switzerland to get 24/7 fighter jet protection from 2021

Switzerland will get round-the-clock airspace protection starting this week nearly seven years after the country was unable to scramble fighter jets to respond to an hijacking outside of business hours.

Switzerland to get 24/7 fighter jet protection from 2021
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Starting on December 31, two F-18 fighter jets will be operational 24/7 to protect the airspace over the small, landlocked country, the armed forces said in a statement.

“From now on, the air police service will be on call 24 hours a day to guarantee the security and the sovereignty over Swiss airspace,” the statement said.

The plan to increase Swiss airspace surveillance was proposed to parliament in 2009, but it was boosted by an incident five years later that cast a spotlight on the lack of round-the-clock protection.

READ: What you need to know about Switzerland's fighter jet referendum

In February 2014, an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot, Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn, hijacked his own plane, carrying 202 passengers and crew from Addis Ababa to Rome, and forced it to land in Geneva.

When Tagegn locked himself in the cockpit while the pilot went to the bathroom, Italian and French fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane through their respective airspaces.

But although the co-pilot-turned-hijacker quickly announced he wanted to land the plane in Switzerland, where he later said he aimed to seek asylum, Switzerland's fleet of F-18s and F-5 Tigers remained on the ground.

The Swiss airforce explained at the time that this was because its planes were only available during office hours.

Following the embarrassing incident, the Swiss parliament set a plan in motion to gradually scale up the airspace protection, with the aim of eventually ensuring that two fighter jets be constantly on call and capable of taking off with 15 minutes' notice.

The plan “has successfully been completed within the expected timeframe,” Tuesday's statement said.

To finalise the project, nearly 100 additional jobs have been created across the airforce, army logistics and command centres, it said.

The new system will cost an additional 30 million Swiss francs ($34 million, 28 million euros) a year, it added.

Member comments

  1. What a tragic waste of effort and money:
    1. ‘To guarantee the safety and sovereignty’ … with 2 jets?
    2. ‘Will be able to scramble within 15 mins’ – just about the time needed for a fighter jet to cross CH from one side to the other.
    CH needs an air defence agreement with a neighbouring major player, say Italy, France or Germany and not these expensive, and ultimately futile, video games.
    As for surveillance and interception of non-state threats, CH could resort to a fleet of versatile and advanced helicopters.

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ARMY

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home

On Monday, Switzerland imposed the working from home requirement. It includes the army as well.

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home
barracks are not as posh as one's own home. Photo by AFP

As part of Switzerland’s mandatory military service, new conscripts must undergo 15 to 18 weeks of basic training.

The exercises were supposed to begin on January 18th, but thousands of recruits who were scheduled to report to their assigned barracks got a reprieve of sorts.

To decrease the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the barracks, the army has decided that recruits should do their basic training  at home for the next three weeks.

“It's quite new”, Swiss army spokesperson Daniel Reist told the media, adding that “it is the ideal solution” during the pandemic. 

As a result of this unprecedented measure, some 5,000 of this year's 15,000 recruits will undergo their training from the comfort of their homes.

Reist said that each soldier received the learning module covering subjects such the operation of their service weapon, information on bacteriological and chemical arms, military regulations, and health protection.

“We leave them the choice of when to do their lessons, but they need six hours of telework each day”, Reist said.

Four hours of physical activity a week is also included in the training.

Though left pretty much to their own devices, the recruits won’t be able to slack off as their superiors can monitor when the person logs on and off.

And this theoretical knowledge will be tested when the recruits arrive at the barracks after three weeks home.

READ MORE: Swiss army 'on the front lines' in coronavirus battle 

Nor all the troops will be deployed at the same time, however.

The physical entry into the recruit school will be “staggered, in order to ensure that any conscript who tests positive for Covid-19 is optimally supported and that appropriate isolation and quarantine measures can be taken”, the Federal Department of Defense said in a press release

The first group, consisting of medical personnel who could be called upon to support the troops already mobilised with civilian personnel in Swiss hospitals, begin their service on Monday.

Those who are training from home will be called up on February 8th.

But not everyone is impressed by the new system.

“I can see that we have to make unconventional concessions right now, but I'm skeptical. Military service has a practical and social character which can’t be replaced by e-learning “, said Stefan Holenstein, president of the Swiss Society of Officers.

Despite its neutrality, Switzerland has compulsory military service. After undergoing basic training at the age of 19, Swiss are then required to spend several weeks in the army each year until they have completed at least 245 days of service.

Conscription is for men only but women can volunteer for any post.

READ MORE: Switzerland to get 24/7 fighter jet protection from 2021

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