The Swiss Air Force will have full 24/7 fighter interception capability in 2020 at the earliest. Defence Minister Ueli Maurer has decided to recall the readiness build-off that was implemented in 2010.
Since four years the role of air police was the task of the Swiss Army, as a result of project ILANA: Interventionsfähigkeit des Luftpolizeidienstes ausserhalb der normalen Arbeitszeit or Intervention Ability of the Air Police Service outside normal Working hours. But helicopters cannot do what is sometimes needed: scramble quickly and fly high with the possibility to use lethal force against all aerial targets if necessary.
The doubtfulness of the 2010 decision – a budgetary matter – was clearly noticed on 27 February 2014. As a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 landed on the international airport of Geneva in Switzerland it needed Italian F-2000s (Eurofighter Typhoons) and French Mirage 2000s to keep an eye on it. Neither the Swiss F-5E Tigers or the capable F/A-18C/D Hornets left their shelters.
The storm of criticism that followed resulted in the defence ministry situation report strikingly called The Swiss need an Air Force (Die Schweiz braucht eine Luftwaffe). “The change from a single shift to a three-shift operational tempo is going to take at least six years”, minister Maurer says, “while we need to recruit new pilots and air combat control officers, and we need the time to train them.”
The Schweizer Luftwaffe will likely grow with a 100 personnel, including ground crew, support and firefighters, which will cost about 35 million dollar per year extra. From 2016 the Swiss will have a two-shift fighter readiness, from 2020 a 24/7 readiness provided by three shifts.
Defence Minister Ueli Maurer emphasized the urgent need to purchase the 22 Swedish-made SAAB JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighters. “The Gripens will not only make our Air Policing task better and more secure, they will enable us to scramble fighters more quickly and to keep two to four aircraft airborne at all times.”
Despite all criticism Mr. Maurer does say that the Swiss aerospace control – from 2004 executed by the Florako radar system – functions perfectly. He adds: “The Geneva Case would not have played out much differently if the Schweizer Luftwaffe did have a more permanent intervention ability. French Air Force aircraft would have escorted the airliner the few kilometres into Swiss airspace to Geneva anyway.”
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger based on source information provided by the Schweizer Luftwaffe Kommunikation VBS
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