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Swiss Air Force (Schweizer Luftwaffe)

The Swiss Air Force is the spearhead of the Swiss Armed Forces for the third dimension. We protect our airspace in support of our armed forces and population and carry out air transport both at home and abroad partly within the context of civil affairs support and peace-keeping operations. The missions of the Air Force are: maintaining air sovereignty (air policing, air defence), air transport and collection of intelligence. For this purpose, the Air Force has militia personnel – approx. 26,000 officers, NCOs and soldiers at its disposal. Its professional structure relating to command and control, instruction, maintenance, administration and professional aviators corps comprises 1,600 full-time employees.

Swiss airspace imposes ever increasing challenges. Due to the location in the heart of Europe, the density of international civilian air traffic in Swiss skies is particularly high, and the small size of our country requires short response times. Therefore, the Swiss Air Force needs state-of-the-art assets, such as the F/A-18 combat aircraft, the modern PC-21 trainers and the versatile EC635 Eurocopter helicopters.

The Swiss Air Force maintains air sovereignty over Switzerland regardless of the situation, 365 days a year. Missions change according to the potential threat, though even in normal circumstances the demands in air policing are high. On an almost daily basis, the Air Force, in what are known as “live missions,” monitors overflights by foreign aircraft on military or state duties, ensuring that the flights comply with the terms of diplomatic clearance. Once a week on average, the Swiss Air Force jets fly a “hot mission.” In these air policing operations – similar to those carried out by traffic police on the ground – aircraft that breach rules in controlled airspace, usually due to an error or technical problems, are intercepted and checked. Usually, the Air Force helps the concerned aircraft to safely continue its flight, but if necessary it will force the errant pilot to land.

Transport missions are very important, consisting primarily in supporting the ground forces by transporting equipment and troops with Super Puma, Cougar and EC635 helicopters. But the Air Force also carries out flights for other domains of the Federal administration, and regularly assists disaster relief operations by transporting food to cut off valleys or even evacuating people by airlift if need be. The helicopters also have firefighting capabilities. Another mission for aerial transport in support of the public is carrying out search and rescue flights in cooperation with Swiss Air Rescue REGA, in which the Air Force covers the search responsibility. The Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter fixed-wing airplane flies special forces paratroopers to the area of operations.

The Air Force organisation is an arm (service) of the armed forces and thus part of the defence sector of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS). Together with Land Forces, Armed Forces Logistics and Command Support Organisations, Armed Forces College, Armed Forces Staff (AFS) and Joint Staff, the Air Force forms the defence sector.

The Air Force is led by its Commander-in-Chief Air Force. His subordinates are the Chief of Training, the Chief Operational Staff, and CEO of the Air Force Logistic Organization. In contrast to the battalions of the Land Force, all battalions and squadrons are basically subordinated to the Air Force Training Command, which consists of three units. If an operation is due, the squadrons and battalions are subordinated to the Operational Staff, having operational command over all operations of the Air Force. The Air Force Logistic Organization is responsible for supply and maintenance of Air Force material. Regional and particular interests have prevented merging all logistics under a single organization.

The beginnings of military aviation in Switzerland can be traced back to the year 1891, when the General Staff considered the procurement of a captive balloon. With the purchase approved, a group of volunteers reported for duty at the first Airship Recruit School in Bern in 1900. 12 years later, the Swiss Officers' Association called for public donations to help fund military aviation in Switzerland. The result - 1.7 million Swiss Francs - surpassed all expectations. The authorities, however, proved rather reluctant in adopting these new ideas.

In 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, Switzerland built her first military air force, enlisting some private pilots who had already been flying successfully. Eight aircraft of six different types were assembled at Berne. During the war this little air force carried out 40,100 flights with a heterogenous collection of aircraft, some built later in Switzerland being added to the nucleus. In the years after the war some batches of surplus Fokker D.VIIs, Hanriot HD.ls, Nieuport 28C.ls and Zeppelin C.IIs (the last named built by the famous airship works) were purchased, while the Federal Aircraft Works at Thun produced its own Hafeli DH.3 and DH.5 observation biplanes in considerable numbers. The late twenties saw the introduction of Dewoitine D.27 fighters and Fokker C.V-E observation biplanes, both types being built under licence in Switzerland.

At the beginning of the Second World War the Fliegertruppe consisted of 224 front-line aircraft, of which only the 30 Messerschmitt Me-l09E-3s were of contemporary design. A further batch of 50 more Messerschmitts were delivered between October 1939 and April 1940, together with the first licence-built D-3800, a Swiss version of the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406. In the following years Switzerland served as a sanctuary for many damaged Allied aircraft. No fewer than 154 American B-17 and B-24 bombers crowded the Dubendorf Airfield at the end of the war. A total of 253 aircraft landed or crashed in Switzerland.

After World War II, the Swiss did not have a clear long-term concept for aircraft procurement. Procurement politics between 1946 and 1972 were a zigzag course. The manufacturers created unrealistic expectations regarding the material and developing costs. The distribution of the development potential of three aircraft plants was not suitable for creating a breakthrough for the Swiss aircraft industry. On 23 September 1947 and 24 March 1949 the Swiss parliament decided to buy 175 De Havilland Vampire combat aircraft. In order to have the requested 400 combat aircraft, the Swiss government negotiated with De Havilland to purchase one hundred DH-112 Venom in 1950.

The N-20 Aiguillon (Sting) was ordered by the Military Department in May 1948. The F+W in Emmen began work on this ambitious, radically innovative new fighter. The N-20 was a tailless, swept-wing airplane reminiscent of the United States Navy's Vought F7U. A three-fifths scale demonstrator flew successfully in 1951. The Federal Council decided due to problems with its engines, to cancel the development in 1952.

The Swiss firm Flug und Fahrzeugwerke Altenrhein AG (FFA) developed a combat aircraft for the Swiss Air Force. The aircraft, known as the P-16, first flew in April 1955 and achieved supersonic flight for the first time in August 1956. The Swiss government was sufficiently impressed with the P-16 that an order for 100 airframes was placed in 1958. Unfortunately, the crash of two prototypes caused the order to be suspended. While the cause of the accident was a relatively minor defect in the aircraft's hydraulic system that was easily corrected, the Swiss government remained convinced that the design was faulty and cancelled the order. In reality, the Swiss government did not mention all the other reasons for the cancellation. The P-16 became a victim of a change in the Swiss concept of aerial warfare. Unfortunately, the cancellation of the P-16 led to the Swiss aircraft industry's inability to develop a jet airplane, but its design later led to the success of the business jet called the Learjet.

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Page last modified: 19-05-2014 19:43:14 ZULU