Swiss Armed Forces


The Swiss Armed Forces (German: ''Schweizer Armee,'' French: ''Armée suisse,'' Italian: ''Esercito svizzero,'' Romansh: ''Armada svizra)'' operates on land and in the air, serving as the primary armed forces of
Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...

. Under the country's militia system,
regular soldiers
regular soldiers
constitute a small part of the military and the rest are conscripts or volunteers aged 19 to 34 (in some cases up to 50). Because of
Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...

's long history of neutrality, the Swiss Armed Forces do not take part in conflicts in other countries, but do participate in international peacekeeping missions. Switzerland is part of the NATO
Partnership for Peace The Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, ; french: Organisation du traité de l'Atlantique nord, ), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernme ...
programme. The regulations of the Swiss militia system stipulate that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personally assigned weapons, at home (until 2007 this also included ammunition), or in an armoury.
Compulsory military service Conscription, sometimes called the draft in the United States, is the mandatory enlistment of people in a national service National service is a system of either compulsory or voluntary government service, usually military service. Conscription ...
applies to all male Swiss citizens, with women serving voluntarily. Males usually receive initial orders at the age of 18 for military conscription eligibility screening. About two-thirds of young Swiss men are found suitable for service, while alternative service exists for those found unsuitable. Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in
basic trainingBasic Training may refer to: * ''Basic Training'', a 1971 American documentary directed by Frederick Wiseman * ''Basic Training'' (1985 film), an American sex comedy * Recruit training {{disambiguation ...
for 18 weeks (23 weeks for special forces). The reform "Army XXI" replaced the previous model "Army 95" and was adopted by popular vote in 2003, reducing manpower from 400,000 to about 200,000 personnel, with 120,000 receiving periodic military training and 80,000 reservists who have completed their total military training requirements. A further reform effective in 2018 heralded the reduction of forces to 100,000 members.


The land component of the Swiss Armed Forces originated from the cantonal troops of the
Old Swiss Confederacy The Old Swiss Confederacy or Swiss Confederacy (Modern German New High German (NHG) is the term used for the most recent period in the history of the German language, starting in the 17th century. It is a translation of the German (). The mo ...
, called upon in cases of external threats by the
Tagsatzung The Federal Diet of Switzerland (german: Tagsatzung, ; french: Diète fédérale; it, Dieta federale) was the legislative and executive council of the Swiss Confederacy which existed in various forms since the beginnings of Swiss independence ...
or by the canton in distress. In the
federal treaty The Federal Treaty (German: ''Bundesvertrag'', French: ''Pacte fédéral'', Italian: ''Patto federale'') was the legal foundation for the new Swiss Confederacy of 1815. It came about after interventions by the great powers of the Sixth Coalition th ...
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 A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles A principle is a proposition or value that is a guide for behavior or evaluation. In law, it is a rule Rule or ruling may refer to: Human activity * The exercise of political ...
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 A standing army is a permanent, often professional, army. It is composed of full-time soldiers who may be either career soldiers or conscripts. It differs from army reserves, who are enrolled for the long term, but activated only during wars o ...
, 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 Mobilization is the act of assembling and readying military troops and supplies for war. The word ''mobilization'' was first used in a military context in the 1850s to describe the preparation of the Prussian Army. Mobilization theories and ...

, under the command of
Hans Herzog Hans Herzog (1871) File:Swiss Medal Hans Herzog, Switzerland's General during the Franco-Prussian War 1870 - 1871, reverse.jpg, left, The reverse of this medal showing the armed Helvetia in a mountainous landscape prepared to defend the Swiss neu ...

Hans Herzog
, was triggered by the
Franco-Prussian War The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War,, german: Deutsch-Französischer Krieg often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire The Second French Empire (; officially the French Empire, ...
in 1871. In 1875, the army was called in to crush a strike of workers at the
Gotthard tunnel , it, Galleria del San Gottardo , other_name = , line = Gotthard Line , location = Traversing the Saint-Gotthard Massif in the middle of the Swiss Alps , coordinates = , os_grid_ref = , status = , system ...
. 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 male citizen, swelling the size of the army (at least in theory) from under 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
Israel Defense Forces The Israel Defense Forces (IDF; he, צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל , ''lit.'' "The Army of Defense for Israel"; ar, جيش الدفاع الإسرائيلي), commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym An acron ...
. A major manoeuvre commanded in 1912 by
Ulrich Wille Conrad Ulrich Sigmund Wille (5 April 1848 – 31 January 1925) was the General (Switzerland), General of the Swiss Armed Forces, Swiss Army during the World War I, First World War. Inspired by the Prussian techniques that he had been able to obse ...

Ulrich Wille
, a reputed
Germanophile A Germanophile, Teutonophile or Teutophile is a person who is fond of German culture, German people and Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , la ...
, convinced visiting European heads of state, in particular
Kaiser Wilhelm II en, Frederick William Victor Albert , house = Hohenzollern , father = Frederick III, German Emperor , mother = Victoria, Princess Royal , religion = Lutheranism (Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church), Prussian United) , signature = ...

Kaiser Wilhelm II
, of the efficacy and determination of Swiss defences. Wille was subsequently put in command of the second complete mobilization in 1914, and Switzerland escaped invasion in the course of
World War I World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously known as the Great War or "The war to end war, the war ...

World War I
. Wille also ordered the suppression of the 1918 general strike ('' Landesstreik'') with military force. Three workers were killed, and a rather larger number of soldiers died of the
Spanish flu Spanish flu, also known as the Great Influenza epidemic or the 1918 influenza pandemic, was an exceptionally deadly global influenza pandemic An influenza pandemic is an epidemic of an influenza virus that spreads across a large region ...
during mobilization. In 1932, the army was called to suppress an anti-fascist demonstration in Geneva. The troops shot dead 13 demonstrators, wounding another 65. This incident long damaged the army's reputation, leading to persistent 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 The Bernese Oberland ( German ''Berner Oberland''; "Bernese Highlands Highlands or uplands are any mountainous region or elevated mountainous plateau. Generally speaking, upland (or uplands) refers to ranges of hills, typically up to . Highland (or ...

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 World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a World war, global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved World War II by country, the vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great ...
under the command of
Henri Guisan Henri Guisan (; 21 October 1874 – 7 April 1960) was a Switzerland, Swiss army officer who held the office of the General (Switzerland), General of the Swiss Armed Forces during the Second World War. He was the fourth and the most recent man ...
(see also
Switzerland during the World Wars During World War I World War I or the First World War, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously known as the Great War or "The w ...
). The
Patrouille des Glaciers, near the highest checkpoint Image:Bertol.jpg, 300px, Bertol Hut, above Bertol Pass The Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG) is a ski mountaineering race organised every two years by the Swiss Armed Forces, in which military and civilian teams compete. It ...
race, created to test the abilities of soldiers, was created during the war. In the 1960s and 1970s, the armed forces were organised according to the "Armee 61" structure. Horse mounted
cavalry Cavalry (from the French word ''cavalerie'', itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldiers or warriors who Horses in warfare, fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the most mobile of the combat arms, operating as li ...

dragoon Dragoons were originally a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. From the early 17th century onward, dragoons were increasingly also employed as conventional cavalry and trained for combat wi ...

s) were retained for combat roles until 1973, and were the
last non-ceremonial horse cavalry
last non-ceremonial horse cavalry
in Europe, as were
bicycle infantry Bicycle infantry are infantry at the Battle of the Somme (July–November 1916) during the First World War Infantry is an army specialization whose military personnel, personnel engage in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry ...
battalions until 2001. Since 1989, there have been several attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether. A notable referendum on the subject was held on 26 November 1989 and, although defeated, did see a significant percentage of the voters in favour of such an initiative. However, a similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after the 11 September attacks in 2001 in the US, was defeated by over 77% of voters. 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 late 2001 received a mere 21.9% support. Nevertheless, the army was shrunk again in 2004, to 220,000 men ("Armee XXI"), including the Swiss Reserve, reserves. In 2016, the Federal Assembly (Switzerland), Swiss Federal Assembly voted to further reduce the army from 140,000 men to 100,000 men, reducing the time of basic training from 21 weeks to 18, but also to increase the military budget by 2.4 billion Swiss francs.


As of 1 March 2017, the Swiss Armed Forces consist of 120,496 people on active duty (in Switzerland called ''Angehöriger der Armee'', shortly ''AdA'', engl.: ''Member of the Armed Forces''), of which 9,163 are professionals, with the rest being conscripts or volunteers. Women, for whom military service is voluntary, numbered 929: less than 1% of the total, with over 25% thereof being officers. Once decided to serve, women 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 language, Romansh-speaking recruits are instructed in German. In contrast to most other comparable armed forces, officers are generally not career regulars. Under the most recent army reform, all soldiers complete a full recruit school of 18 weeks. During the initial 18-week training period, recruits may volunteer for consideration to continue with NCO training. After the completion of NCO training, individuals are promoted to Sergeant and integrated into platoons at recruit schools as squad leaders (''Gruppenchefs'', ''Chefs de Groupe'', ''Capogruppi''). Squad leaders support their platoon commanders for the 18-week duration of the recruit school, with the exception of those who volunteer for officer school — they leave after 7 weeks of service as squad leaders — while those who volunteer for higher NCO school leave after 12 weeks of service as squad leaders. Officer candidates complete a 15-week course to prepare them for their role as platoon leaders (''Zugführer'', ''Chef de section'', ''Caposezione''), which traditionally culminates in a march covering in 24 hours. After promotion to Lieutenant, platoon leaders return to their recruit schools, where they take charge of a recruit school platoon for 18 weeks. There are currently 14,345 officers and 22,807 NCOs in the Swiss Armed Forces. Those of higher rank serve for more time each year; an ordinary soldier may serve 365 days over 30 years, while a high-ranking officer may serve 2,000 days before retiring. Each promotion requires more time, which is known as "paying your rank". This describes the mechanism of a soldier fulfilling their rank's minimal service time after being promoted into said rank. Companies subsidize military training by continuing to pay their employees, who list their ranks and responsibilities on their résumés.


Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...

has mandatory military service for all able-bodied male Swiss citizen, citizens, who are conscription, 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 psychological 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 37, 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 Canton of Zurich, Zurich and Canton of Geneva, Geneva than in the rural ones. Fifth Switzerland, Swiss citizens living abroad are generally exempted from conscription in time of peace while dual citizenship by itself does not grant such exemption. On 22 September 2013, a Referendums in Switzerland, referendum was held that aimed to 2013 Swiss referendums, abolish conscription in Switzerland. With a turnout of 47.0% on this particular question, over 73% voted against eliminating conscription.

Structure since 2018

In peacetime, the Swiss Armed Forces are led by the Chief of the Armed Forces (Switzerland), Chief of the Armed Forces (''Chef der Armee''), who reports to the head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport and to the Swiss Federal Council as a whole. The current Chief of the Armed Forces is Lieutenant-General (''Korpskommandant'') Thomas Süssli. Lt-Gen Süssli replaced Lieutenant-General (''Korpskommandant'') Philippe Rebord on 1 January 2020. * Chief of the Armed Forces (Switzerland), Chief of the Armed Forces, in Bern ** Joint Operations Command, in Bern ** Training and Education Command, in Bern ** Armed Forces Command Support Organisation, in Bern ** Armed Forces Logistics Organisation, in Bern ** Armed Forces Staff, in Bern *** Medical Service, in Ittigen In times of crisis or war, the Federal Assembly of Switzerland, Federal Assembly elects a full General (Switzerland), General (Comparative military ranks, OF-9) as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (''Oberbefehlshaber der Armee''). The rank is distinct and particular, as it is associated exclusively with wartime fighting or a national crisis due to war among Switzerland's neighbouring countries.

Army history

Under the "Armee 61" structure, the Army was organised into Field Army Corps 1, Field Army Corps 2, 2, and 4, and Mountain Army Corps 3. This structure was superseded by the "Armee 95" structure and thereafter the "Armee XXI" structure. Since the Army XXI reform in 2004, the basic structure of the Army has been reorganised in the following units: infantry brigades (2 and 5); mountain infantry brigades (9 and 12); Armoured warfare, armoured brigades (1 and 11). Additionally two large reserve brigades (Infantry Brigade 7 and Mountain Brigade 10) exist. Four territorial divisions link the Army with the cantons by co-ordinating territorial tasks inside their sector and are immediately responsible for the security of their regions, depending only on the decisions of the Swiss Federal Council, Federal Council.

Air force history

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. However, beginning with its separation from the Army in 1996, the Air Force has been downsizing; it now has a strength of approximately 270 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and is moving towards a smaller, more professional force. The primary front-line air-defence fleet consists of 30 F/A-18 Hornets (34 aircraft were originally purchased, with three F/A-18D and one F/A-18C lost in crashes) organized into three Squadron (aviation), squadrons (11, 17 and 18) along with 53 Northrop F-5, F-5 Tiger IIs (98 F-5E and 12 F-5F originally purchased). In October 2008, the Swiss Hornet fleet reached the 50,000 flight hours milestone. In 2017, the Swiss Hornet fleet reached the 100,000 flight hours milestone as well as 20 years of flight operations. In peacetime the Swiss Air Force does not maintain 24/7 operational readiness status, owing to the limited budget and staff available. The Swiss Air Force is now working on extending the operational times, aiming to be maintaining readiness for two armed jet fighters round-the-clock by 2020. The difficulty of defending Swiss airspace is illustrated by the Swiss Alps, mountainous character and the small size of the country; the maximum extension of Switzerland is 348 km, a distance that can be flown in a little over 20 minutes by commercial aircraft. Furthermore, Switzerland's policy of neutrality means that they are unlikely to be deployed elsewhere (except for training exercises).

Intelligence gathering

The Swiss military department maintains the Onyx (interception system), Onyx List of intelligence gathering disciplines, intelligence gathering system, similar to but much smaller than the international Echelon (signals intelligence), 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 of 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 (black sites) run by the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA in Central Europe, 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.

Lakes flotilla

The maritime branch of the Army maintains a flotilla of military patrol boats to secure several sizeable lakes that span Switzerland's borders. These boats also serve in a search and rescue role. During the Second World War Switzerland fielded the Type 41 class patrol boat, Type 41 class of patrol boats, armed with an anti-tank rifle (later replaced by 20mm auto-cannons) and dual machine guns. Nine units were commissioned between 1941 and 1944. These boats were upgraded in 1964, notably receiving radars, radios and modern armament, and were kept in service into the 1980s, the last being decommissioned in late 1983. The force utilises later the ''Aquarius''-class (''Patrouillenboot'' 80) riverine patrol boats, which are operated by Motorboat Company 10 of the Corps of Engineers and which patrol lakes Lake Geneva, Geneva, Lake Lucerne, Lucerne, Lake Lugano, Lugano, Lake Maggiore, Maggiore and Lake Constance, Constance. In June 2019 Finnish shipbuilder Marine Alutech delivered first four of 14 ''Patrouillenboot'' 16, the ''Patrouillenboot'' 80's successor, to the flotilla and these boats's manufacturer designation as Watercat 1250 Patrol, all ships of this class will be named for astronomical object. File:Spiez-IMG 8698.JPG, The ''Spiez'', a Type 41 class patrol boat, Type 41 patrol boat, on display at the Swiss Museum of Transport File:Patrouillenboot 80 - Schweizer Armee - Steel Parade 2006.jpg, ''Aquarius''-class patrol boat, Type 80 class patrol boat, Type 80


The prime role of the Swiss Armed Forces is Homeland Defence. Switzerland is not part of any multinational war-fighting structure, but selected Armed Forces members and units do take part in international missions.

Military and civil defence

After World War II, Switzerland began building homes with 40 cm-thick concrete ceilings that might survive firebombing of the type that destroyed Bombing of Hamburg in World War II, Hamburg and Bombing of Dresden in World War II, Dresden. In the 1960s they began constructing fallout shelter, radiation and blast shelters that could survive one to three bar (unit), bars (100–300 kPa) of pressure from a nuclear explosion. Building codes require blast shelters, which are said to be able to accommodate 114% of the Swiss population. Small towns have large underground parking garages that can serve as sealed community 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; many private shelters serve as wine cellars and closets. Thousands of tunnels, highways, railroads, and bridges are built with tank traps and primed with demolition Explosive material, charges to be used against invading forces; often, the civilian engineer who designed the bridge plans the demolition as a military officer. Hidden guns are aimed to prevent enemy forces from attempting to rebuild. Permanent fortifications were established in the Swiss Alps, Alps, as bases from which to retake the fertile valleys after a potential invasion. They include underground air bases that are adjacent to normal runways; the aircraft, crew and supporting material are housed in the caverns. However, a significant part of these fortifications was dismantled between the 1980s and during the "Army 95" reformation. The most important fortifications are located at Fortress Saint-Maurice, Saint-Maurice, St. Gotthard Pass, Gotthard Pass area and Sargans. The fortification on the west side of the Rhône at Saint-Maurice has not been used by the army since the beginning of the 1990s. The east side (Savatan) is still in use. During the Cold War the military expected that any invasion would likely come from the northeast, as the Soviet Union associated the country with NATO despite its stated neutrality. The Swiss government thought that the aim of an invasion would be to control the economically important transport routes through the Swiss Alps, namely the St. Gotthard Pass, Gotthard, the Simplon Pass, Simplon and Great St. Bernard passes, because Switzerland does not possess any significant natural resources.

Peacekeeping overseas

Operating from a neutral country, Switzerland's Armed Forces do not take part in armed conflicts in other countries. However, over the years, the Swiss Armed Forces have been part of several peacekeeping missions around the world. From 1996 to 2001, the Swiss Armed Forces were present in Bosnia and Herzegovina with headquarters in Sarajevo. Their mission, as part of the Swiss Peacekeeping Missions, was to provide logistic and medical support to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), 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 six to 12 months. None of the active soldiers were armed during the duration of the mission. The Swiss soldiers were recognised 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. In its first military deployment since 1815, Switzerland deployed 31 soldiers to Afghanistan in 2003, and two Swiss officers had worked with German troops. Swiss forces were withdrawn in February 2008. Switzerland is part of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), which was created to monitor the armistice between North Korea, North and South Korea. Since the responsibilities of the NNSC have been much reduced over the past few years, only five people are still part of the Swiss delegation, which is located near the Korean DMZ.


See also

*Military ranks of the Swiss Armed Forces *Swiss Guard *National Redoubt (Switzerland)

Notes and references


* John McPhee, ''La Place de la Concorde Suisse'', New York: Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), 1984. *Field Army Corps 1, ''Sécurité au seuil du XXIe siècle: Histoire et vie du Corps d'Armee de Campagne 1'', c.2000. .
German-English Dictionary of military terms from the Swiss Armed Forces

External links

Swiss Armed Forces — Official website

* Clip 15 Minutes with the Swiss Armed Force

Virginia International Tattoo: Swiss Army Central Band
{{DEFAULTSORT:Swiss Armed Forces Military of Switzerland, Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports