The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

The Swiss Military needs Growth and more Equipment

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 4 December 2023

In the Swiss military, more weapons and soldiers are needed to ensure national defense, but there is a lack of courageous politicians.

By Prof. Dr. Christoph Mörgeli, Weltwoche, board member of Pro Switzerland
The Swiss Military needs Growth and more Equipment
Swiss Infantry Training

As Head of Operations Command, Corps Commander Laurent Michaud must ensure the readiness of the army and plan and lead its operations. Unlike army commander Thomas Süssli, the former trainer of grenadiers and paratroopers comes from the combat troops. This is why the direct, robust Vaud trooper is considered the strong figure in the army hierarchy alongside the more politically oriented figurehead Süssli. At the general meeting of the Swiss Military Association (VMG), the association of over thirty military clubs and societies, Michaud’s presentation on the Swiss Armed Forces in Bern last Saturday was eagerly awaited.

The good news is that the army has recognized the signs of the times. It is taking the return of war in Europe as an opportunity to finally strengthen the country’s defense capabilities again. This core mission applies to all spheres of activity: ground, air and cyberspace. In order to avoid using the unpleasant word “rearmament”, Corps Commander Michaud spoke of an “increase” in stocks and costs of around 13 billion francs in a first tranche by the early 2030s. This is to be made possible by the budget increase to 1 percent of gross domestic product already approved by the Federal Council and Parliament. It should be noted that the “Black Book” presented by the army leadership in August has not yet been discussed and approved by the national government.

Loss of leadership skills

According to Laurent Michaud, the aim is to fill gaps quickly. The Swiss military must be prepared for the most dangerous threat rather than the most probable one. According to today’s army concept, civil protection, helping and rescuing, is the main focus, and our soldiers master these tasks well.

However, there is a huge need for action when it comes to suitability for “combat”. Our army, with the “citizen soldier at its core”, must be able to win a duel, cope with violence and its effects, mobilize in the long term and defend itself. To this end, joint exercises should be carried out again by the large units, with the hierarchical levels being trained under pressure. The Chief of Operations expressed a rather internationalist view under the motto “Learning from and with others”: joint exercises with foreign troops and “interoperability” would in future “guarantee freedom of action”. Which could certainly be seen the other way around: As soon as foreign command centers lead, one’s own army loses situational leadership competence.

The return to the core mission of strengthening the defense army comes not a moment too soon. Only ten of the current seventeen infantry battalions are fully equipped, and only two of the three mechanized brigades have battle tanks. Instead of increasing their stocks, the Federal Council has decommissioned 25 operational Leopard 2 tanks in order to sell them abroad. In terms of artillery, the fifty-year-old self-propelled howitzers are to be replaced by a modern medium-range system from Sweden or Germany. To modernize the air defence system, the procurement of modern ground-based air defence equipment (Bodluv) of the American Patriot type, which networks the missiles and radars, was approved.

The Swiss Military needs Growth and more Equipment
F/A-18 from the Swiss Airforce (2014)

A referendum confirmed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter aircraft. The Swiss Air Force now routinely conducts night and low-altitude flight training abroad, soon in the UK. There is a significant gap in the area of reconnaissance drones due to delays and breakdowns with the Israeli suppliers. The logistics and infrastructure that were hastily centralized during the implementation of Armed Forces XXI must be decentralized again as quickly as possible and at considerable cost.

12,000 posts, 56 generals

However, the biggest problem for the Swiss military lies in its numbers. In 2030, a maximum of 120,000 soldiers will still be serving instead of the 140,000 set. Of these, just 21,000 would still be fit for combat, a number that would fit into Bern’s Wankdorf stadium. Instead of at least 6,000 civilian conscripts per year, there are currently just 2,800.

The current civilian service model effectively creates an attractive freedom of choice for young men, which violates the current Federal Constitution, which states: “Every Swiss citizen is obliged to perform military service.” However, because the law provides for alternative civilian service, the army loses around 7,000 men fit for service every year, which is equivalent to a full brigade. Statistically, just over 1000 of them have a real conflict of conscience. The rest choose the far looser civilian service in order to optimize their professional and private life planning. As a result, there is now a “shadow army” of 55,000 people doing civilian service. They are all missing not only from the army, but also from the military associations that keep the idea of military service and the militia system alive in society.

Before politicians set about reorganizing the current compulsory service model and discussing a compulsory security service, they should address the revision of the Civilian Service Act. The centrist party bears a great deal of responsibility for the shortcomings, as it unanimously opposed the urgently needed tightening of the rules on conscription in the 2020 summer session. Given the convenient alternative, how are military commanders supposed to enforce strenuous exercises, weeks of compulsory community service and, in the event of any breaches of orders, detention and fines from their subordinates? A battalion commander also pointed out the free-rider problem in the NZZ: “Who would even enlist in the event of a conflict? Wouldn’t they all apply for civilian service? With what moral justification could we commanders order the remaining conscripts into life-threatening missions?”

The return to the core mission of strengthening the defense army comes not a
moment too soon.

Political Will

However, neither the entire Federal Council nor the Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) seem to be taking the mounting problems seriously enough. In a knee-jerk reaction, the national government decided on a short-term cost-cutting measure of CHF 1.6 billion for the army at the beginning of the year. In doing so, it deviated from the parliamentary goal of May 2022 to gradually increase the army budget from around 0.7 percent of gross domestic product today to at least 1 percent from 2023 to 2030 at the latest.

This was a completely wrong signal – to the detriment of the armed forces. The head of the DDPS, Viola Amherd (center), willingly submitted to Karin Keller-Sutter’s (FDP) austerity measures at the expense of Switzerland’s defense capabilities. Switzerland is now at the bottom of the European league in terms of defense spending per capita, with the exception of the Vatican. Even worse: despite the war situation in Eastern Europe, Amherd wanted to reduce the army by 7,000 members under pressure from the left. Luckily, she ran up against this in the Federal Council on November 1.

In contrast to the Swiss military, the number of personnel in the DDPS has steadily increased and now comprises 12,130 employees. No fewer than 56 generals command or manage the shrinking forces. This is the same number as the Army XXI, which is almost twice as large. A 25-member study commission appointed by the head of the department is working on a future security policy at the green table. The direction of travel is shown by the involvement of Green National Councillor Marionna Schlatter, who fought with the army abolitionists against the purchase of new fighter jets (“Cold War was yesterday”). Meanwhile, Marco Jorio is one of the most prominent critics of permanent armed neutrality.

The newly planned State Secretariat for Security Policy (Sepos) turned out to be a disaster in terms of personnel, strategy and structure. The expensive bureaucracy associated with it will be of no interest to either national defense or the militia army. Toni Eder (center), a military lieutenant colonel, was replaced in the office of Secretary General of the DDPS by Daniel Büchel, who holds a Center Party membership card but has never completed a military promotion course. His wife Kerstin Büchel, a Swiss citizen since 2007 and former centrist candidate for the National Council, served as General Secretary to Swiss Post Board of Directors Chairmen Claude Béglé and Urs Schwaller (both center). She was one of the recipients of the confidential memo from 2013, according to which the Group management had already been informed at the time about non-compliant transfers of CHF 30 million at PostBus Switzerland Ltd.

Climate protection and feminization

Viola Amherd wanted to make a name for herself with sustainability and climate protection, but above all by feminizing the army. Her party colleague Brigitte Hauser-Süess, former President of the CVP Women and a qualified teacher of office subjects, stands behind her like a shadow. She has a finger in every important personnel decision.

As Head of Security Policy, Pälvi Pulli, who was born in Finland, pursues a decided course of rapprochement with NATO. Michaela Schärer took over as head of the Federal Office for Civil Protection in 2021 from a divisional officer; she has never served in the military. And Amherd would probably have preferred no-one better to succeed her as head of the army than Divisional Commander Germaine Seewer from the Upper Valais, if she were still eligible in terms of age.

In short: there is too much politics and too little military, too many desks and too few firing ranges, too much DDPS and bureaucracy and too little army. Unfortunately, despite the return of war in Ukraine and the Middle East, Federal Councillor Viola Amherd has failed to present herself to the Swiss population as a trustworthy defense minister with strong leadership qualities. This is exactly what her German counterpart Boris Pistorius (SPD) would have exemplified. It is not that Amherd has failed to do so. Worse still, she didn’t even try.

Most Read

Sunday, April 7 – Round Up

7 April 2024
Sunday, April 7 – Round Up
Switzerland may fund French nuclear projects as it grapples with internal issues in the news this Sunday morning.

Swiss Employers Association: Increase Retirement Ages

8 April 2024
Swiss Employers Association: Increase Retirement Ages
Following the rejection of a pension initiative, the Swiss Employers' Association (SAV) recommends a gradual raise in retirement age to 66.

Diehl Defence Will Develop Drones For Swiss Defence Firm Skysec

12 April 2024
Diehl Defence Will Develop Drones For Swiss Defence Firm Skysec
Diehl Defence collaborates with Skysec Defence under a new agreement to enhance drone defense capabilities for military use.

Zurich VC Lakestar Secures $600 Million In New Funds

12 April 2024
Zurich VC Lakestar Secures $600 Million In New Funds
Lakestar successfully closes two new funds, accumulating $600 million, to advance Europe's digital sovereignty.

Stay in Touch!

Noteworthy

Thai Central Group to Allegedly Takeover KaDeWe
Thai Central Group to Allegedly Takeover KaDeWe
12 April 2024
Leonteq and Raiffeisen Extend Partnership
Leonteq and Raiffeisen Extend Partnership
12 April 2024