The Swiss Air Force is now finally attained full operational readiness to protect the country with F/A-18 fighter jets. In a statement issued on 29th December, the Swiss military announced the round-the-clock quick-reaction availability of two F-18s for protection of the nation’s airspace.
“From now on, the air police service will be on call 24 hours a day to guarantee the security and the sovereignty over Swiss airspace,” the statement said.
Before this announcement, the Swiss Air Force used to be available only from 8:00 AM till 12:00 PM, and after ‘lunch break’ from 13:30-17:30 PM, that too only on weekdays. The force had been criticized and mocked the world over for its inability to maintain operational readiness.
The incapability came to highlight during a painful and embarrassing incident when the airforce could not respond to a plane hijacking in February 2014, as the alert was sounded after the working hours of the service.
During the incident, a Swiss Air Force spokesman stated: “Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend. It’s a question of budget and staffing.”
Subsequently, from 4 January 2016, a pair of Swiss F/A-18 Hornets were kept at 15 minute QRA readiness between 8.00 am and 6.00 pm on weekdays. This was increased as of 2 January 2017 to the same hours daily.
In September 2020, the country voted for the modernization of its air force in a nationwide referendum, approving a $6.5 billion fighter jet procurement program. The referendum was ‘won’ by just a thin margin of 50.1% votes.
After the referendum, the United States offered its F-35 Lightning II and F/A-18E/F fighter jets to the Swiss Government. However, no decision has been made yet as the planes are also competing with Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon for the order.
The new 15-minute quick reaction alert capability means that two fully armed F/A-18 Hornets would be airborne within 15 minutes of the alert, based at Militärflugplatz Emmen and at Payerne Air Base (the main base for QRA operations). During this time, the presence of F/A-18s will be steadily increased to full strength at permanent readiness.