Swiss army on track to shrink reserves

Swiss troops in a training exercise during media day in April Keystone

At the start of next year, the Swiss Armed Forces will shrink its reserves down to 100,000 troops and its training will be shortened by three weeks. and agencies/jmh

The changes ahead for the nation’s much-debated conscription army also include the introduction of militia groups in a state of “high readiness” in case of emergency, Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported over the weekend.

The changes stem from a decision in parliament in 2016 to reduce the number of available troops from 140,000 to 100,000, setting a goal of having a well-trained force that can mobilise quickly.

Parliament also prioritised a rapid mobilisation concept that, in case of emergency, calls for being able to deploy 35,000 troops within 10 days.

Basic training will be reduced to 18 weeks followed by six refresher courses of three weeks each. Currently, basic training generally lasts 21 weeks, with certain roles requiring more or less.

Service days for soldiers will drop to 245, down from 260. The army’s layout will also change, with three airfields, seven training grounds and dozens of firing ranges and other training facilities set to close.

A long debate

Parties on the political left originally sought more troop reductions. The House of Representatives nearly tabled the legislation over the budget, causing the reforms to be postponed until 2018.

In April, Philippe Rebord, who took over as head of the Swiss Armed Forces in January, concluded that the army’s CHF5 billion ($4.96 billion) budget is not sufficient.

He told reporters then that the budget set aside by parliament would not be enough in the long term because of the army’s ageing artillery, tanks, and wheel guard armour. He said that the army’s performance could be compromised if these armament systems aren’t replaced in a timely fashion.

He also said that preparedness was an issue. Switzerland is supposed to be able to deploy 8,000 fully-equipped soldiers within eight days, and 35,000 within ten days. But that requires 18,000 recruits per year, he said, and as of 2016 there were just barely enough.

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