Print this page | Close window
Swiss Air Force

The Present

Air policing of Swiss airspace (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
Air policing of Swiss airspace

Protection, Assistance and Opening to the World

Today the Air Force's key mission covers all kinds of air policing, as demonstrated at the widely-publicised 1985 Geneva summit meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. The end of the Cold War four years later brought about a series of massive changes. The downsized Air Force of today is the outcome of the amalgamation of the Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Defence, implemented in 1996 as part of the reorganisation of the armed forces.


Alouette III (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
In 1976, Alouette III helicopters were deployed to the areas hit by earthquakes and landslides in northern Italy.

The first extensive air rescue mission ever flown by the Air Force goes back to 1946, a spectacular glacier rescue with Fieseler-Storch aircraft.

The introduction of helicopters in 1952 opened up new perspectives for air rescue in the following decade.

From 1968 on, two Pilatus PC-6 Porter aircraft specially equipped for forest firefighting were stationed in the Ticino.

In 1974, the newly established Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit supported the first Swiss relief operations abroad in the African countries of the Chad basin, which had been hit by drought and widespread famine. Two Swiss Armed Forces Pilatus PC-6 Porters were deployed for almost four months to ensure both liaison and emergency transport in this large area.

In May 1976, two of our Alouette III helicopters supported Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit medical experts for two weeks when they were deployed after an earthquake hit the Friaul region in Northern Italy. In the wake of the massive landslide that buried the village of Morignone on 28 July 1987, and the violent storms on 31 August and 4 September 1987, four military helicopters were deployed to support the disaster relief mission in the Valtellina region in Italy.

Another important event was the graduation of the first four female pilots (provisionally still assigned to the Air Transport Service) in 1995.


Super Puma (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
Super Puma operating in Albania
As air rescue and transport services are becoming ever more important, large helicopters are employed to increase operational efficiency. The effectiveness of this was impressively demonstrated in 1999 with a series of evacuations of stranded people in the Alps during the 'winter of the century', as well as humanitarian aid missions during the Kosovo conflict.


On the way to aerial combat training over the Mediterranean, near Sardinia.
On the way to aerial combat training over the Mediterranean, near Sardinia

At the beginning of the Seventies, the search was on for suitable training areas abroad. It was in 1977 that Switzerland carried out its first firing trials in Vidsel (Sweden). 1978 saw the first appearance abroad of the 'Patrouille Suisse' (which had been formed for the Swiss National Exhibition Expo-64) - flying Hunter aircraft at Salon-de-Provence (France). In 1985, Swiss Air Force pilots began low-altitude aerial combat training in Sardinia. Since 1991, these exercises are held over the North Sea (UK).

The foundation for foreign country training exchanges was laid with a Protocole d'accord for pilot training, signed with France in the Eighties. This was followed by other agreements with numerous foreign defence forces. Since 1996, the Commander-in-Chief of the Swiss Air Force is a member of the European Air Chiefs Conference (EURAC).


Time and again the Swiss Air Force has found itself at the mercy of the politicians. No other branch of the armed forces stirs up such strong feelings as the Air Force. The most recent example of this is the 1993 referendum aimed at preventing the procurement of 34 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet interceptor aircraft. As in 1912, however, the people decided in favour of their Air Force. …and so YES to 34 FA-18 Hornets.


As of 2001, emphasis will be on the expansion of aerial transport capacity. The Air Force will take possession of 12 new Cougar transport helicopters at the rate of one a month. The new pilot training plan which comes into force in 2004 (with a transitional solution as of 2002) will take into account the changed and increasingly stringent requirements. Work on the Air Force XXI is in full swing.


Further milestones in the history of the Swiss Air Force

2006 – A far-reaching reform

2006 – A far-reaching reform

On 1 January 2006, the Swiss Air Force faced fundamental organisational changes. By adapting the processes and structures to the new armed forces command organisation, logistics and command support were largely outsourced. Further details are provided in pdf format (in German only) at:


Command Support Training Unit 30

2008 – The formation ceremony of the Command Support 30 Training Unit in Frauenfeld

On 1 January 2008, following a long period of preparation and planning, the Signal/Command Support 1 and the Air Force Command Support 34 training units were combined in the new Command Support Training Unit 30 External website (CS TU 30), which was inaugurated with a ceremony on Friday, 4 January 2008, in Frauenfeld. The CS TU 30 was attached to the Air Force.


2008 – The referendum

2008 – The referendum “Stop combat aircraft noise in tourist areas”

On 24 February 2008, the Swiss people were voted on the popular initiative “Stop combat aircraft noise in tourism areas” External website. Content opens in new window brought by the Franz Weber Foundation. The initiative demanded that in times of peace, military exercises using combat aircraft should not be permitted in tourist areas. However, the electorate followed the recommendations of the Federal Council and Parliament, and rejected the referendum decisively with 68% nays. Although all cantons voted against the referendum, the communes that were especially affected by aircraft noise accepted it.


Popular initiative “No new combat aircraft”

2009 – The referendum “No new combat aircraft!”

Submitting the popular initiative “No new combat aircraft”, which demanded a moratorium on the purchase of any combat aircraft until 31 December 2019, the Group for Switzerland without Armed Forces GSoA wanted to prevent the Confederation from procuring new combat aircraft to replace the obsolete Northrop F-5 Tiger II (Tiger-Teilersatz TTE) aircraft. The collection of signatures began on 10 June 2008 and ended in May 2009, and the initiative was submitted to the Federal Chancellery on 8 June 2009 with 107,828 authenticated signatures.


The GSoA withdraw the initiative

On 15 November 2010, the press was informed that the referendum had been withdrawn as the GSoA considered their initiative to have successfully put pressure on the project and caused the Federal Council to put the partial replacement of the aged Tiger fleet on the back burner. Thus, they considered the objective achieved.


Group PRO-Kampfflugzeuge (German for pro-combat aircraft)

2009 - Website

In the spring of 2009, the information group PRO-Kampfflugzeuge (German for pro-combat aircraft) launched an informative website, which provided convincing manufacturer and aircraft type independent arguments for a quick partial replacement of the obsolete Tiger combat aircraft, in German called Tiger Teilersatz TTE (Tiger-Teilersatz TTE). Supporters of the replacement project were given important arguments and statistics to be used in discussions on the indispensability of acquiring new combat aircraft from peace, security and economic political perspectives. The website was operated by the “Verein Informationsgruppe PRO-Kampfflugzeuge”, the “association of the information group pro-combat aircraft”, headed by Hans-Ulrich Helfer, a politician from the Liberal Democratic Party of Switzerland from Zurich as president and Erich Grätzer, a former air force lieutenant as vice-president, who were assisted by experts.


F-5 Tiger II

2010 – The Federal Council to postpone the Tiger partial replacement

At the meeting on 25 August 2010, the Federal Council confirmed its basic approval of the partial replacement of the 54 obsolete Tiger F-5 fighter jets.
Based on the financial situation of the Confederation and the general priorities at the time, however, the procurement was postponed to 2015 at the latest.


F/A-18 Hornet

2010 – Permanent operational readiness of alert patrols

On 15 September 2010 during its third autumn session, the National Council approved the motion “increased air patrol service readiness outside of normal work hours” submitted by Hess Hans, National Councillor from the Canton of Obwalden, with 98 votes cast in favour and 47 votes against the motion. Previously, on 7 December 2009, the motion had already been submitted to and in its spring session, on 16 March 2010, been accepted by the Council of States.

Quote from Hans Hess’s justification statement for the motion: “In 2003, the Federal Council decided on the permanent surveillance of Swiss airspace. This decision was based on passive airspace surveillance, which has been ensured since July 2005 around the clock with both the Florako system and identification operators. This was an important first step but a decisive increase in safety could only be achieved if intervention capabilities were also available outside of normal working hours”. On 3 February 2010, the Federal Council requested the approval of the motion.



2011 – The National Council urges the Federal Council to procure the combat aircraft

On 9 March 2011, after it had approved the motion by its Security Commission, which demanded the prompt acquisition of combat aircraft, the National Council urged the Federal Council to promptly procure combat aircraft.


2011 – The Gripen is the best solution for the Swiss Armed Forces

On 30 November 2011, the Federal Council decided to procure 22 Saab Gripen combat aircraft to replace the obsolete Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft. This procurement is to be proposed for authorisation to Parliament as part of the armament programme in October 2012.
SAAB Gripen (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
SAAB Gripen

2013 – First landing of a combat aircraft of the Swiss Air Force at a Russian air base

On 29. August 2013, during the eleventh International Aerospace Salon MAKS-2013 in Zhukovsky, an aircraft of the Swiss Air Force landed for the first time at a Russian air base. The following day, the F/A-18D Hornet with the markings J-5232 flew a presentation for the first time for the Russian public that responded with disbelief, amazement and spontaneous applause.

F/A-18D Hornet in Zhukovsky. (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
F/A-18D Hornet in Zhukovsky.

Saab Gripen (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
Saab Gripen

2014 – Referendum against the procurement of combat aircraft

Bern, 29 January 2014 – The request for a referendum against the Gripen Fund Act of 27 September 2013 for the procurement of the Gripen combat aircraft has been formally declared successful, with 65,384 valid of 65,797 signatures on the referendum petition submitted to the Federal Chancellery by the Gripen opponents.

On 15 January 2014, the Federal Council decided to put the referendum to a public vote on 18 May 2014.


In its 2013 autumn session, Parliament approved the purchase of 22 Saab Gripen at a cost of CHF 3.126 billion.


For questions about this page: Public Information Swiss Air Force
Last updated: 26.11.2014
Badge Swiss Air Force
Print this page | Close window