Swiss Air Force: Wikis


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Swiss Air Force
Swiss Air Force logo.gif
Founded 31 July 1914
Country Switzerland
Role air defense
Size 1,600 active personnel[1]
Part of Swiss Armed Forces
Staff to the Chief
of the Armed Forces
Bundeshaus Ost, Berne
Head of the Air Force Lieutenant General Markus Gygax
Swiss Air Force Badge Schweizer-Luftwaffe Verbandsabzeichen.gif
Roundel Swiss roundel.svg
Aircraft flown
F-5 Tiger
Helicopter Eurocopter Cougar/Super Puma
Interceptor F/A-18 Hornet
Reconnaissance ADS-95 Ranger
Trainer Pilatus PC-7/PC-9/PC-21

The Swiss Air Force (German: Schweizer Luftwaffe; French: Forces aériennes suisses; Italian: Forze Aeree Svizzere) is the air component of the Swiss Armed Forces. It was established on July 31, 1914 but did not become a separate service until 1936, and an independent service separate from the Army until 1 January 1996.

The Swiss Air Force has seven air bases, the most important of these being Payerne, in western Switzerland. The others are the helicopter base at Alpnach and bases at Bern, Emmen, Meiringen, Sion and Locarno. The air force currently operates 248 aircraft and plans to down-size its fleet and personnel number in order to become a more professional service.



The history of the Swiss Air Force began in 1914 with the establishment of an ad hoc force consisting of a handful of men in outdated and largely civilian aircraft.[2] It was only in the 1930s that an effective air force was established at great cost, capable of inflicting several embarrassing defeats on the Nazi Luftwaffe in the course of an initially vigorous defence of neutral Swiss airspace.[3] The Swiss Air Force as an autonomous military service was created in October 1936.[2] After World War II it was renamed the Swiss Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Command (Schweizerische Flugwaffe Kommando der Flieger und Fliegerabwehrtruppen) and in 1996 became a separate service independent from the Army, under its present name Schweizer Luftwaffe.[4]

P-51 Mustang in the Dübendorf museum of military aviation

The mission of the Swiss Air Force historically has been to support ground troops (erdkampf) in repelling invasions of neutral Swiss territory, with a secondary mission of defending the sovereignty of Swiss airspace. During World War II this doctrine was severely tested when Switzerland was literally caught in the middle of an air war and subjected to both attacks and intrusions by aircraft of all combatants.[3] Its inability to prevent such violations of its neutrality led for a period to a complete cessation of air intercepts, followed by a practice of coercing small numbers of intruders to submit to internment.[5]

At the end of the 1950s, reflecting both the threat of possible invasion by the Soviet Union and the realities of nuclear warfare, Swiss military doctrine changed to that of a dynamic (mobile) defense that included missions for the Swiss Air Force outside of its territory, in order to defeat standoff attacks and nuclear threats, including the possibility of defensive employment of air-delivered nuclear weapons.[6] However the inability to field an air force of sufficient capability to carry out such missions led to a return of traditional doctrine.[7]


In 1995 the Swiss abandoned traditional doctrine and implemented a defensive plan that made control of Swiss airspace its highest and main priority. Modernization of the Swiss Air Force to achieve this mission was subject to popular referenda challenging its cost and practice.[4]

The missions of the Swiss Air Force are as follows:[4]

  • Protecting Switzerland’s airspace.
    • Guaranteeing air sovereignty (including air policing tasks).
  • Guaranteeing air defence.
  • Carrying out air transport operations.
  • Gathering and disseminating intelligence for political and military leadership.

Current state

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. Beginning with its separation from the Army in 1996, however, the Air Force has been down-sizing, now approximating 248 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and moving more towards a smaller professional cadre with fewer reserves.[8] Currently, the Swiss Air Force has a peacetime strength of around 1,600 full-time personnel with recall to about 21,500 reservists.[1]

Its primary front-line air-defence fleet consists of 33 F-18 Hornets and 54 remaining F-5 Tiger IIs of the 110 originally purchased between 1978 and 1985.[9] In October 2008 the Swiss Hornet fleet reached the 50,000 flight hour milestone.[10] Despite their age, all the Swiss Hornet remain highly capable due to the Upgrade 21 (UG21) programme conducted between 2004 and 2009 at RUAG, while another Mid-Life Update (MLU) will begin shortly.[11] By 2010 the Swiss Air Force intends to begin the Partial Tiger Replacement programme of the F-5 in the remaining squadrons that use it and hopes to acquire 22 new fighters, choosing between JAS 39 Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale.[12][13] However, the procurement of new fighter aircraft would almost certainly face political opposition from Switzerland's left-wing, anti-army and green groups.[12] Patrouille Suisse, the Swiss national aerobatic team, which also operates the F-5, will need to change to a new aircraft, either the F/A-18 Hornet or the new fighter, but its future remains unclear.[14]

By 2011 the Swiss Air Force will also be retiring its fleet of 60 Aérospatiale Alouette III, which will be replaced in due course by 2 VIP configuration Eurocopter EC-135s and 18 EC-635s.[8] The first EC-635 was delivered on 12 March 2008.[15 ]

A report in the Swiss news magazine FACTS reveals that the Swiss Air Force only provides ready-to-take-off aircraft during office hours – on working days. The air force staff declared that, due to financial limits, they are not operational all the time.[16] The difficulty of defending Swiss airspace is illustrated by the mountainous character and the small size of the country; the maximum extension of Switzerland is 348 km, a distance that can be flown in little over 20 minutes by commercial aircraft. The noise abatement issues have always been a traditional problem for the SAF because of the Swiss tourist industry.[17] Mainly due to these reasons, the SAF regularly participates in air-defence training missions with their Belgian, French and German counterparts, as well as NATO exercises. In recent years this included operations for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, the Euro 2008 football championships and the annual World Economic Forum.[17]


The operational wartime order of battle of the Swiss Air Force is as follows:[18][19] Headquarters, Swiss Air Force - Bern

  • 2nd Air Base - headquartered at Alpnach
    • 2nd Air Transport Wing - headquartered at Alpnach
    • 3rd Air Transport Wing - headquartered at Dübendorf
      • 3rd Air Transport Squadron - operating Alouette III/AS 332M-1/AS 532UL
      • 4th Air Transport Squadron - operating Alouette III/AS 332M-1/AS 532UL
  • 7th Air Base - headquartered at Emmen
  • 11th Air Base - headquartered at Payerne
    • 1st Air Transport Wing - headquartered at Payerne
      • 1st Air Transport Squadron La Une - operating Alouette III/AS 332M-1/AS 532UL
      • 5th Air Transport Squadron - operating Alouette III/AS 332M-1/AS 532UL
    • 11th Fighter Aviation Wing - headquartered at Payerne
      • 6th Fighter Aviation Squadron - operating F-5E
      • 17th Fighter Aviation Squadron - operating F/A-18C/D
    • 12th Air Target Squadron -operating Pilatus PC-9/F-5E
  • 13th Air Base - headquartered at Meiringen
    • 13th Fighter Aviation Wing - headquartered at Meiringen
      • 8th Fighter Aviation Squadron - operating F-5E / F/A-18C/D
      • 11th Fighter Aviation Squadron - operating F/A-18C/D
  • 14th Air Base - headquartered at Sion
    • 14th Fighter Aviation Wing - headquartered at Sion[nb 2]
      • 18th Fighter Aviation Squadron - operating F/A-18C/D
      • 19th Fighter Aviation Squadron - operating F-5E
  • 4th Transport Aviation Wing - headquartered at Bern (VIP flights)

Air defence

Radar and weather station on top of Mt Pilatus.

The high level air defence of the Swiss national airspace is the responsibility of the FLORAKO (German: FLugsicherungs Operations RAdar KOmmandosystem – Flight Operations Radar and Comumunications System), which operates a series of all-weather day/night fixed sites.[11] The first FLORAKO units became active in 2003 and the operational lifetime of the FLORAKO system is guaranteed for at least 25 years. The system can be further supplemented by a series of TAFLIR mobile radars, a variant of the Northrop Grumman AN/TPS-75 deployable in areas of difficult terrain or where specific coverage is needed.[11]

The Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) is currently headquartered at Emmen and achieves its task by operating a combination of radar-guided mobile Oerlikon 35 mm twin cannons, MBDA FIM-92 Stinger and Rapier surface-to-air missile systems.[11]



Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service[8] Notes
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet  United States Multi-role fighter F/A-18C 26
F/A-18D 7
Northrop F-5 Tiger II  United States Fighter F-5E 54 Currently used only for aerobatics, target-towing and electronic warfare training - scheduled to be completely replaced by 2015.[1]
F-5F 12
Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer  Switzerland Trainer PC-7 33 24 aircraft will receive a new cockpit (glass cockpit, updated avionics), the remaining 9 PC-7 will be sold.[20]
Pilatus PC-9  Switzerland Trainer PC-9/F 11
Pilatus PC-21  Switzerland Advanced trainer PC-21 6
Beechcraft 1900  United States VIP Transport 1900D 1
DHC-6 Twin Otter  Canada Photographic mapping DHC-6 1
Beechcraft Super King Air  United States Photographic mapping 350C 1
Pilatus PC-6 Turbo-Porter  Switzerland Light transport PC-6/B2-H2M-1 15
Dassault Falcon 50  France VIP transport Falcon 50 1
Cessna Citation Excel  United States VIP transport Ce-560XL 1
ADS-95 Ranger  Switzerland UAV ADS-95 24

Source: Swiss Armed Forces - Air Force assets (p. 12);[21] Schweizer Luftwaffe - Mittel: Flugzeuge, Helikopter, Flab[22]


Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service[8] Notes
Aérospatiale Super Puma  France Transport AS332M1 15
Eurocopter Cougar  France Transport AS532UL 12
Eurocopter EC 635  Germany Utility EC 635 18 Currently being delivered
VIP transport EC 135 VIP 2
Aérospatiale Alouette III  France Utility SA316B 20 Being replaced by EC 635

Source: Swiss Armed Forces - Air Force assets (p. 12);[21] Schweizer Luftwaffe - Mittel: Flugzeuge, Helikopter, Flab[22]


Name Origin Type In service Notes
Oerlikon 35 mm twin cannon  Switzerland anti-aircraft guns 45 known as "Flab Kanone 63/90"
FIM-92 Stinger  United States anti-aircraft guided missile 288
Rapier missile  United Kingdom anti-aircraft guided missile 54 known as "Mobile Lenkwaffen Flugabwehr"

Source: Swiss Armed Forces - Air Force assets (p. 12);[21] Schweizer Luftwaffe - Mittel: Flugzeuge, Helikopter, Flab[22]


  1. ^ The Allouette is currently being replaced by the Eurocopter EC 635 throughout the air force.[9]
  2. ^ During peacetime the 14th Fighter Aviation Wing is based at Payerne Air Base.[9]
  1. ^ a b c Air Forces Monthly, p. 67.
  2. ^ a b "The Pioneers". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 14 July 2009.  
  3. ^ a b "The Second World War". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 2 September 2009.  
  4. ^ a b c "The Present". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 2 September 2009.  
  5. ^ Lombardi, p.40–41.
  6. ^ "The Cold War". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 2 September 2009.  
  7. ^ Lombardi, p.45.
  8. ^ a b c d Air Forces Monthly, p. 70.
  9. ^ a b c Air Forces Monthly, p. 69
  10. ^ "Swiss Hornets reach 50,000 flight hours milestone". MilAvia Press. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 14 July 2009.  
  11. ^ a b c d Air Forces Monthly, p. 68
  12. ^ a b Air Forces Monthly, p. 74.
  13. ^ "Evaluation Partial Tiger Replacement (TTE)". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 2 September 2009.  
  14. ^ Air Forces Monthly, p. 71.
  15. ^ "Order of Battle - Switzerland". MilAvia Press. Retrieved 14 July 2009.  
  16. ^ FACTS: p. 20. 30 June 2009.  
  17. ^ a b Air Forces Monthly, p. 73.
  18. ^ Air Forces Monthly, p.66–74
  19. ^ (German) "Units of the Swiss Air Force". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 29 August 2009.  
  20. ^ (German) "Pilatus PC-7 Turbo-Trainer and NCPC-7". Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 2 September 2009.  
  21. ^ a b c "The basic organisation of the Swiss Armed Forces". Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports. Retrieved 12 July 2009.  
  22. ^ a b c "Mittel: Flugzeuge, Helikopter, Flab" (in German). Swiss Air Force. Retrieved 14 July 2009.  


  • Force Report: Swiss Air Force, Air Forces Monthly magazine in association with Air Forces Intelligence - The Online Air Arms Database, September 2009 issue.
  • Lombardi, Fiona (2007). The Swiss Air Power: Wherefrom? Whereto?. Zürich University. ISBN 978-3728130990.  
  • Roman Schürmann: Helvetische Jäger. Dramen und Skandale am Militärhimmel. Rotpunktverlag, Zürich 2009, ISBN 978-3-85869-406-5

External links

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