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Army chief backs defence spending plans



The head of Switzerland's general staff says he is confident in the army's SFr1,178 million Armament 2000 equipment investment programme. Hans-Ulrich Scherrer told a news conference that buying new armoured vehicles was a vital part of the programme.

He made the statement after a key senate committee on Thursday voted in favour of purchasing 186 Swedish-made CV-9030 armoured personnel carriers at a cost of SFr990 million.

An additional SFr188 million of the defence budget will go on mine-clearance and communications systems. The new acquisitions, which still need approval by parliament, are part of a strategy to develop a fully operational armoured brigade.

Further purchases would be reviewed once details of the planned "Army XXI" reforms were clarified.

General Scherrer said that the 2001 defence budget represented a drop in real terms of 17 per cent over its 1990 equivalent. According to current plans up to 2003, the drop would reach 32 per cent.

However, he said that the army must be able to count on the appropriate level of investment. In a reference to the "Army XXI" proposals to reduce the size of the force, he said a smaller army would suffer no loss in effectiveness.

According to Switzerland's defence procurement chief, Toni Wicki, the Armament 2000 programme plays an important role for Swiss industry. Wicki said that the programme's investment plans would occupy 1,000 Swiss workers for five years.

Meanwhile, the Officers' Society has come out in favour of cutting the number of troops in the Swiss army from 360,000 to 180,000. However, they also called for major investments in technology and an increase in defence spending.

swissinfo with agencies


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