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Swiss defence concept now includes air strikes abroad

Drei F-35-Jets in der Luft
Switzerland has decided to procure 36 F-35 fighter jets. With them, air strikes are also possible on targets abroad. Keystone / Bo Amstrup

The Swiss army has expanded its definition of defence: “offensive actions, also outside the country’s borders, now belong to defence operations”. This has the backing of Defence Minister Viola Amherd, who wants to see closer cooperation with defence alliance NATO.

The idea is that in the event of a conflict, the army shouldn’t just wait at the border and try to prevent the enemy from entering Switzerland. It should also be able to fight abroad – and from the air: primarily with combat aircraft, but also with drones.

This offensive scenario, which Amherd supports, is called “air interdiction”. “If you wait until the missile hits your house, you no longer have to defend. It’s too late. You have to ensure that you can stop it before it reaches its target,” she said.

In fact, it is about much more than just repelling approaching missiles, as the army paper “Strengthening Defence CapabilitiesExternal link” shows. “Possible targets are air bases, radar installations, drone launchers and guided missile stations,” it said.

“[A country’s] long-range assets can also be used to engage attacking ground forces before they meet [that country’s] defence mechanisms,” it continued. “On the one hand, attacks on deployment axes, command and logistics facilities or troop concentrations are intended to weaken the fighting strength of enemy forces. On the other hand, the aim is to restrict their mobility. For example, they can be prevented from deploying their weapon systems in a coordinated manner or from bringing in troops.”

Defence concept redefined

Air interdiction was one of four evaluation criteria in the procurement of new fighter aircraft, research by “SRF Investigativ” showed at the beginning of 2022. The bidders had to demonstrate that their aircraft were suitable for air strikes abroad.

At the time, these offensive strategies were still classified. From today’s perspective it is clear why air interdiction capabilities were already a central concern for the armed forces: because it was in the process of redefining and broadening the concept of defence. And it looked for and found the ideal aircraft: the F-35 from Lockheed Martin.


At the same time, the US fighter jet is an important step towards so-called interoperability: the Swiss army is to be made potentially compatible with other armies. Army chief Thomas Süssli wants “more intensive international cooperation” in the future, especially a rapprochement with NATO. For this he needs the right material.

Rapprochement with NATO

But won’t increased international cooperation and a rapprochement with NATO lead to conflicts with Swiss neutrality? Defence Minister Viola Amherd dismisses these concerns. “We don’t want to and cannot get involved in or interfere in foreign military conflicts,” she said. “As long as we don’t do that, then we’re respecting neutrality. It’s also clear that in cooperation with other countries we mustn’t create facts in peacetime that would force us to interfere later.”

So Amherd sees no problems as long as Switzerland doesn’t join NATO and thus become obliged to provide assistance under Article 5External link? Is anything possible short of accession?

“Yes, anything is possible as long as we don’t interfere in foreign military conflicts,” she said. “We can take part in joint exercises, but we must clearly state that we will not be able to offer support in an emergency.”

Translated from German by Thomas Stephens


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR