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Swiss army to undergo major reforms

The government has approved plans for a new "slimline" Swiss army, including a drastic reduction in the number of soldiers, and major changes to mandaory training. The costs will, however, not be lowered.

The outgoing defence minister, Adolf Ogi, who had championed the reforms, described the measures as a "revolution".

Under the new plan, announced on Wednesday, the current number of 360,000 active duty soldiers will be reduced to 119,000. At the same time, the number of reservists is to be cut down from 200,000 to 80,000.

In addition, the federal government is lowering the maximum age of mandatory service from 42 to 30.

The long-term aim of the reforms is to achieve a more professional and modern armed forces.

Curt Gasteyger, of the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva, told swissinfo that the changes will make Switzerland's army "better equipped to face military challenges in the future".

Starting in 2003, the total time in service will be reduced from 300 days to 280. However, the amount of time spent in basic training is set to increase from 15 weeks to 24.

The army will continue to be comprised of two main branches: an air force and a ground force, while a group of 1,600 soldiers will be formed to serve abroad.

Despite being slimmed down, the army's budget is not expected to shrink. Over the next four years, the annual budget will be SFr4.3 billion ($2.56 billion).

In 2004, the budget will be reviewed and revised depending on how it is affected by the new reforms.

The process of slimming down the Swiss army has been going on for the past 10 years. In 1990, the army was made up of 800,000 soldiers but after the end of the cold war, the government decided to restructure and reduce its size.

The latest Swiss reforms follow a recent trend towards cutting military forces across Europe.

The number of soldiers in the German army has been reduced from 600,000 in 1990 to 335,000 today. In France, Italy and Spain, "professional armies" are replacing mandatory service.

swissinfo with agencies


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