"Swiss Navy" redirects here. See also, Merchant Marine of Switzerland.
Military of Switzerland
Military manpower
Military age18-32 years of age obligatorily
36 for subaltern officers, 52 for staff officers and higher
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 military of Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Armed Forces, is a unique institution somewhere between a militia and a regular army. It is equipped with mostly modern, sophisticated, and well-maintained weapons systems and equipment.


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 shot 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 maneuver 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 the Swiss defense. 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 13 unarmed demonstrators, wounding another 65. This incident permanently damaged the army's reputation, leading to persisting 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 Oberland, 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).

In 1989, the status of the army as a national icon was shaken by a popular initiative aiming at its complete dissolution (GSoA) 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"), excluding the reserves.

Military services Edit

On May 18, 2003, Swiss voters approved the military reform project "Army XXI" to drastically reduce the size of the Swiss Army. Starting in January 2004, the 524,000-strong militia was pared down to 220,000 conscripts, including 80,000 reservists. The defence budget of SFr 4.3 billion ($3.1 billion) was trimmed by SFr 300 million and some 2,000 jobs are expected to be shed between 2004 and 2011.

The armed forces consist of a small nucleus of about 3,600 professional staff, half of whom are either instructors or staff officers, with the rest being conscripts or volunteers. All able-bodied Swiss males aged between 18 and 30 (in some cases longer) must serve, and although entry to recruit school may be delayed for highschool and equivalent education, it is no longer possible to delay it for university studies. About one third of them are excluded for various reasons, and these either serve in Civil Protection or Civil Service.

For women, military service is voluntary, but they now can serve in all the armed forces and can join all units, including combat units. About 2,000 women already serve in the army but, until the "Armee XXI" reform, were not allowed to use weapons for purposes other than self-defence. Since the reform, women can take on any position within the armed forces.

Due to the small size of the Swiss Air Force, competition to become a jet or helicopter pilot is extremely high. Candidate pilots and parachutists have to start training on their own free time from the age of 16, well before recruitment. However, if candidates appear at recruitment with a certificate showing completion of preliminary training, they are practically guaranteed that duty, if they pass the following selection during service. Aspiring pilots must however first complete basic training in a regular unit and then make officer before entering into a unit of only aspiring pilots.

The army has established a new category of soldiers, called "single-term conscripts," who volunteer to serve a single term of 300 days of active duty. The total number of single-term conscripts cannot exceed 15% of a year's draft, and these volunteers can only serve in certain branches of the military. The rest continue to follow the traditional Swiss models of serving from four to five months at first and then doing three weeks (four for officers) per year until they serve the required number of days or reach the age of 34.

Soldiers can be required to advance at least one step in rank, either to corporal or lieutenant. This is often required of Italian-speaking soldiers, because they make up a minority in the population and the armed forces, and there is a need for Italian-speaking officers. Some wish to avoid promotion, since it entails longer service time, however it also means a much higher salary as well as the benefit of several important skills such as personnel management.

With the new reform, if a soldier is promoted to corporal, he can no longer advance to lieutenant and onwards, as they are now follow two separate branches of development. However, many soldiers still prefer this, not simply because of a shorter service time (compared to lieutenants) but also because they have a more active, up-close role with the other troops as regular soldiers, instead of managing from a distance as officers.

Men who want to apply for service in the Swiss Guard need to have completed their basic military service in Switzerland, and are also required to be Catholic.

Naval Patrol Edit

Being landlocked, Switzerland does not have a navy, but it does maintain a fleet of military patrol boats, numbering 10 in 2006. They patrol the Swiss lakes - Lake Geneva, Lake Lucerne and Lake Constance. These boats are sometimes humorously referred to as the "Swiss Navy".

The 1991 David Brin novel Earth posits that several nations, enraged by the use of Swiss banking secrecy by drug smugglers, terrorists, and other ne'er-do-wells, launched a nuclear attack on Switzerland. The attack caused few deaths, because the Swiss had a network of fallout shelters, but it left the land radioactive and uninhabitable. As a result, the entire population took to the seas, thus creating the Swiss Navy, which rapidly became the most competent merchant-marine and naval fleet on Earth.. These events are set in the early 21st century, sometime before 2038.

Defence ministersEdit

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


Rank designations in German, French and Italian with abbreviations and corresponding NATO codes:


  • Rekrut (Rekr) / recrue (recr) / recluta (recl)
  • Soldat (Sdt) / soldat (sdt) / soldato (sdt)
  • Gefreiter (Gfr) / appointé (app) / appuntato (app)
  • Obergefreiter (Obgfr) / appointé-chef (app chef) / appuntato capo

Non-commissioned officers:

  • Korporal (Kpl) / caporal (cpl) / caporale (cpl)
  • Wachtmeister (Wm) / sergent (sgt) / sergente (sgt)
  • Oberwachtmeister (Obwm) / sergent-chef (sgt chef) / sergente capo
  • Fourier (Four) / fourrier (four) / furiere
  • Feldweibel (Fw) / sergent-major (sgtm) / sergente maggiore
  • Hauptfeldweibel (Hptfw) / sergent-major chef (sgtm chef) / sergente maggiore capo
  • Adjutant Unteroffizier (Adj Uof) / adjudant sous-officier (adj sof) / aiutante sottoufficiale
  • Stabsadjutant (Stabsadj) / adjudant d’état-major (adj EM) / aiutante di stato maggiore
  • Hauptadjutant (Hptadj) / adjudant-major (adj maj) / aiutante maggiore
  • Chefadjutant (Chefadj) / adjudant-chef (adj chef) / aiutante capo

Subaltern officers:

  • OF-1 Leutnant (Lt) / lieutenant (lt) / tenente (ten)
  • OF-1 Oberleutnant (Oblt) / premier-lieutenant (plt) / primo tenente (Iten)


  • OF-2 Hauptmann (Hptm) / capitaine (cap) / capitano (cap)

Staff officers:

  • OF-3 Major (Maj) / major (maj) / maggiore (magg)
  • OF-4 Oberstleutnant (Oberstlt) / lieutenant-colonel (lt col) / tenente colonnello
  • OF-5 Oberst / colonel (col) / colonnello

Higher staff officers:

  • OF-6 Brigadier (Br) / brigadier / brigadiere
  • OF-7 Divisionär (Div) / divisionnaire / divisionario
  • OF-8 Korpskommandant (KKdt) / commandant de corps / comandante di corpo
  • OF-9 General / général / generale (There are technically no Generals. In time of war, the Parliament will elect a General)

High CommandEdit

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 Korpskommandant Christophe Keckeis.

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 Korea (see below) had a rank of major general.

Intelligence communityEdit

The Swiss military department maintains the Onyx intelligence gathering system, similar in concept to the UKUSA's ECHELON system, but at a much smaller scale.

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 Egyptian department of Foreign Affairs to the Egyptian Embassy in London, and described the existence of secret detention facilities 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.

Peacekeeping missionsEdit

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.

Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHQSU) Edit

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. 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.

Mission in Korea (NNSC) Edit

Switzerland is part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) which was created to monitor the armistice between North and South Korea. 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.


Criticism Edit

There is an organised movement in Switzerland (Gruppe Schweiz ohne Armee; GSoA / Groupe pour une Suisse sans Armée; GSsA - Group for a Switzerland without an Army, in English) aiming at the abolition of the military. The Swiss have voted twice on such a referendum. The first time was in 1989, when 64.4% of the voters voted in favour of maintaining the Swiss Army. The second vote was in 1999, with 76.8% 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, with 57.1% voting to approve the project.

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

Generally, the army being criticized today by left-wing politicians who argue it is trying to save its existence by performing non-military jobs like protecting embassies or providing security services to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. This practice is seen to be justified by conservatives when regarding the lack of police forces (Switzerland leases police troops from Germany for the duration of the WEF).

Other criticism targets the planned acquisition of further F/A-18 jets, in sight of the coming retirement of F-5 Tiger IIs in 2011, and a CASA CN-235 transport aircraft, for example for evacuation purposes.Template:Cn Army critics say that F/A-18 are not needed, and that for humanitarian duties cargo space can be leased for much less money on civilian aircraft.Template:Cn


All able-bodied male Swiss citizens are conscripted to the armed forces. For women the service is voluntary. Since 1996, Swiss citizens can apply for civilian service instead. Entry to the civilian service is based on moral grounds and subject to a successful application.

A significant number of young men choose to avoid military service by visiting a doctor who attests to their incapacity to do military service on medical grounds, or try to fake it during recruitment through psychological and physical tests that are taken during recruitment. This can be on either physical or mental grounds. Those who are found unable to serve the military pay an additional 2% income tax, and must in any case serve in Civil Protection (Police, Fire Department etc.), though the duration of this is much shorter. As of January 2004, the income tax was raised to 3% by the Federal Council. Also, those who have conscience issues against war (for example, people who experienced violence at a young age, or have been in a warzone) can serve in Civil Service, where they do various kinds of social services, such as reconstructing cultural sites, helping the elderly and so on and so forth. However, a citizen may only request enrollment in Civil Service if they are psychologically and physically eligible for military service, but they have to put in one and a half times more time than they would as soldiers.

Conscription occurs at the age of 18 years. At the age of 20, 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, an elite infantry 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 30 (or longer, if the military service is not yet completed), performing three weeks of training every year. However, the service period of non-commissioned officers and officers is significantly longer. Due to a new military reform enacted in 2005, it is no longer possible to postpone the initial training to finish university, although it is possible to postpone in order to finish highschool or equivalent internships (for example for an aspiring carpenter who might only finish training at 19 or 20). For this reason many people try to get out of military service, so they can attend university immediately after finishing highschool. It is possible to split the time in basic training (as recruit) and service (as soldier) which would allow one to start university immediately, the second half must be served at the earliest possible opportunity, usually Christmas break, a time which is usually used to study for exams. Hence, this practice is very hard on the student, and generally not recommended. The successive training weeks can also be postponed, but there is limited scope. In general, men interrupt their work during these weeks. During military service, the employee is paid a compensation of 80% of his regular salary by the state. Most employers, however, continue to pay the full salary during military service. In this case, the compensation is paid to the employer. Employers cannot fire a person in service by law.


To reduce training and logistics costs, the Swiss military standardises on a few carefully selected types of weapons. For example, Switzerland uses only one rifle model (except for military police, who can also use Heckler & Koch MP5s), the FASS 90, and three types of ground-based anti-aircraft systems, including a Swiss-built and improved version of the Stinger (Swiss army knives are also issued, although they are neither red nor considered weapons). In 1993, the Swiss government ordered 34 FA-18 fighter jets from the United States of America, which were subsequently re-built in Switzerland, notably for the electronics. Also, the software supporting the pilot was improved and then sold to the United States of America. Switzerland traditionally depends on itself for supplies and parts, often using non-standard equipment, although this has changed somewhat.

Famously, members of the armed forces keep their rifles and uniforms in their homes for immediate mobilisation, as well as 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed tin, to be used for self defence while traveling to the mobilisation points. Additional ammunition is kept at military bases where the militia are supposed to report. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in ways that make this organisation very effective and rapid. Switzerland claims to be able to mobilise the entire population for warfare within 12 hours. In contrast, it can take several weeks to several months for a militarily-active country such as the United States to mobilise its military force.

Every year, those still in Reserve have to present themselves with their rifles at a shooting stand, and fire a certain number of rounds, which are issued.

Shelters and fortificationsEdit

Template:Cleanup 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. Every family has to pay a small 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 Alps, 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. The concept of underground fortifications in the Alps stems from the so-called "Reduit" concept of the World War II. It was intended that if the Axis Powers were to invade Switzerland, they would have to do so at a huge price. The army would barricade itself in the mountains within the fortresses, which would be very difficult to take.

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 Gotthard, the Simplon and Great St. Bernard 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. Only recently have allegations been made that certain parts of the Swiss economy worked at the biddings of the Hitler regime (banks, mechanical industry, and transportation services), suggesting that not only the army, but also the economy, prevented an invasion of Switzerland.[citation needed]


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 emphasised small-unit and platoon-sized unit tactics. This system ensured that all officers knew the trade skills of a non-commissioned soldier and mitigated resentment towards officers from NCOs.

This 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 a time (the time it took to become an officer until 2004). In the new system, officers-to-be are selected early based on criteria such as leadership potential and education and are sent directly to officer training. This system, which is similar to that employed in most countries of the world, reduces the time needed to train an officer but means that new entries are sometimes seen to lack credibility in the eyes of traditionalists. The new system is under review but remains in force.

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, programs for company and battalion 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 battalion 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, and aspiring managers used to be required to become officers by their company, which would give them personnel management skills amongst other things.

Weapon systems Edit

Small arms Edit

  • SIG 550 assault rifle (known as Sturmgewehr 90 or F ass 90)
  • SIG P220 semi-automatic pistol
  • HG 85 handgrenade
  • 40mm Gewehraufsatz 97 grenade launcher
  • Remington 870 multipurpose rifle 91 (known as Mehrzweckgewehr 91)
  • Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank rocket
  • PAL BB 77 Dragon anti-tank rocket
  • FIM-92 Stinger shoulder-fired anti-air missile

Armoured vehicles Edit

Aircraft Edit

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


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