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Army beats its drum at military tattoo

Getting to grips with a tank at the Army Days 2006 display in Thun

(Keystone)

The largest Swiss military display for several years has been opened by Defence Minister Samuel Schmid – in an effort to showcase an army undergoing major reforms.

Schmid said at the launch in Thun of "Army Days 2006" that the Swiss "want their army and should have the opportunity to see it".

Schmid told several hundred guests in Thun, home to one of the country's biggest military bases, that security always had to be updated – if it can be guaranteed today, it will not be automatically guaranteed tomorrow.

He said it was necessary to keep a critical eye on the situation and to look for things that can be improved.

Luc Fellay, a commanding officer, said the threats facing the world today are diffuse. "In the past we had threats to our borders, today there are no more borders to be threatened."

Fellay said Army Days was a chance to demonstrate that the Swiss army was changing with the times and had adapted to the circumstances.

This is the first time since 1998 that the army has presented itself in such a way to the Swiss public.

But the event has a long tradition and organisers are expecting as many as 100,000 visitors during the two-day event.

Infantry and armour

On the military training grounds crowds have been able to see the infantry, armoured vehicles, artillery, logistics and rescue, and military security. There are also displays of close combat, house searches and checkpoints.

The air force will be showing off one of the latest pieces of military hardware: a Eurocopter – albeit a model belonging to the German army, as a Swiss version does not yet exist.

A "Steel Parade" is taking place on both days, during which all of the army's armoured and non-armoured vehicles will file past.

Militia army

The Swiss army functions according to a militia principle. All men liable to do military service undergo basic training and broaden their ...

Army reforms

The Swiss army is never far from the headlines. On May 18, 2003 Swiss voters approved the military reform project "Army XXI" to reduce the size of the country's militia army by a third from 350,000 to around 220,000 soldiers.

Schmid said last year that the core soldiers assigned to standard territorial defence would be halved to 18,500 and the emphasis would be put on internal security supporting civil authorities.

The total number of soldiers – 120,000 active soldiers, 20,000 recruits and 80,000 reservists – would not change, thus preserving Switzerland's militia system and conscription.

Schmid hoped these measures would save SFr150 million ($123 million) a year.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

According to the federal constitution, the army's task is to prevent war and contribute to the maintenance of peace. It supports civilian authorities when there are serious threats to internal security and during crises.

Since the end of the Cold War, the army has also participated in humanitarian and peace missions.

During the Cold War, the Swiss army numbered 600,000 men who could be called up at short notice. In 1995 the army was reduced to 400,000 and today it is 220,000.

Today, able-bodied males between the ages of 20 and 36 must serve 260 days of military service. Military service is optional for women and Swiss living abroad.

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