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Military of Switzerland

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)

Table of contents
1 Military of Switzerland
2 Military branches
3 Defence ministers
4 Criticism
5 Discussion
6 External links

Military of Switzerland

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 defense 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 will be curtailed from 300 to 260 days. All able-bodied Swiss males aged between 20 and 30 must serve. Thereafter, 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 about 300 days of active duty in one go. Recruiting is on a voluntary basis and should not exceed 20% of a year's draft. The armed forces have a small nucleus of about 3,600 professional staff, half of whom are either instructors or staff officers, with the remainder mostly being fortification guards. The army has virtually no full-time active combat units but is capable of full mobilization within 72 hours. 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, so far, have not been allowed to use weapons for purposes other than self-defense.

The armed forces are organized in four army corps and an air force and are equipped with modern, sophisticated, and well-maintained gear. In 1993, the Swiss government ordered 34 FA-18s from the United States of America.

Military branches

Defence ministers

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


There is an organized movement in Switzerland (Gruppe Schweiz ohne Armee; GSoA) aiming at the abolishion of the military. The Swiss have voted on such a referendum several times but so far voted in favour of keeping the army.


Switzerland's militia is recruited by the Swiss national military and sports bureau. All able-bodied males are conscripted, trained and serve between the ages of 20 and 42 (52 for officers) for about a year and a half. Swiss physical education prepares young people for this training. Thereafter, men remain in the militia until the age of 50, performing a week of training each year.

To reduce training and logistics, the Swiss military standardizes on a few carefully selected types of weapons. For example, Switzerland has one rifle, and only three types of ground-based anti-aircraft systems.

To assure professional military leadership, the Bureau maintains professional schools for noncommisioned and commissioned officers. These require more than minimum service times.

As the name "military and sports bureau" would suggest, military training is not viewed as a temporary horror, but as a continuing set of enjoyable patriotic activities.

For military combat specialties that cannot be effectively trained in the brief national service period, such as combat pilots, commandos and military divers, the Bureau pre-trains teenagers using state-supported sporting centers for glider and flying clubs, scuba-diving and parachuting. Computer based training is a growing part of formal Swiss military training and certification, which is lifelong.

All of Swiss society celebrates shooting, and skill with the rifle. For example, each year Zürich shuts down for a whole day for its "Boys' Shooting Festival." Children, male and female, as young as eight and as old as seventeen compete in riflery. It is a traditional holiday.

It is commonplace to see young men and women from shooting clubs. In patriotic and sports parades they march in civilian clothes with standard-issue (black) military sharp-shooting rifles. Older men shoot together with the same attitude as those that play golf in other countries.

Weapons and equipment are inexpensively available at the army surplus stores, which sell everything the army uses, especially in obsolete forms. Swiss students habitually camp in surplus army gear.

Famously, militia members keep their rifles and uniforms in their house for immediate mobilization. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in peculiar ways to make this organization effective.

For example, most armies use assault rifles, which are designed for mass fire at close range, with a willingness to accept the relatively high casualties of this approach. The explicit justification is to substitute higher casualty rates and mechanized resupply of ammunition to compensate for recruits' poor skills with weapons.

To some extent, the Swiss substitute life-long weapons training for the logistics equipment required for mass unaimed fire. Swiss rifles are designed for long-range aimed fire, and shoot heavy, high-velocity bullets. Each militiaman is issued only 50 rounds of ammunition in a can. The can, rifle and militia member are inspected and trained each year during a week of national service training. The result is a safer soldier with more skills.

Swiss building codes require radiation and blast shelters, to protect against bombing. Further, tunnels and bridges are built with tank traps, mines and explosives. Permanent fortifications are established in the Italian alps, as a base to retake the fertile valleys after an invasion.

Swiss doctrine is "Total Resistance." The Swiss plan to destroy their country totally rather than give it to an invader. Surrender is legally impossible.

Switzerland is currently reorganizing its military into a smaller, less expensive elite professional military. Many citizens are reluctant to give up the power and romance of a large militia, but most recognize that modern weapons may well make a large group of riflemen much less effective than it once was.

However, Swiss mothers still teach their children that freedom grows from the guns of free men.

Citizens are concerned about terrorism, and passed new federal gun control legislation in 1997. Restrictive licensing is required for pistols and machine-guns, but the law has numerous exceptions for semiautomatic rifles of the types used by the militia and shooting clubs.

One famous story shows the pride and citizenship that makes the militia such a powerful part of Swiss life. It is said that Kaiser Wilhelm was touring a Swiss training depot. He stopped, and asked a Swiss recruit, "The Empire can field 500,000 men, the Swiss only 250,000. Does that worry you?"

The recruit said, "No sir. We'll just shoot twice."

External links

See also : Switzerland, Militia, Swiss Civil Service