Europe without neutrals: Switzerland provides combat aircraft for NATO exercise
The website of NATO’s Allied Air Command reported on May 10 that the bloc’s partner Switzerland is contributing four (McDonnell Douglas-manufactured) F/A-18 Hornet multirole combat aircraft to an air exercise in Portugal.
The annual exercise is run under the name of Tiger Meet. (All the aircraft involved have tiger emblems.) This year it includes nine squadrons with fifty aircraft and 1,000 personnel from eight nations.
NATO Tiger Meet 2021 drills are being run from the Beja Air Base in Portugal and include squadrons from NATO member states and from partner states as well. Switzerland is in the latter category. The Swiss aircraft flew to Portugal from their base at Meiringen. They are part of Fliegerstaffel 11, which has been a component of the NATO Tiger Association since 1981. Austria is also a participant.
NATO describes the combat aircraft exercise as designed to practice NATO Ally-Partner interoperability.
The commander of the Swiss NATO Tiger detachment, Major Andrin Witschi, was quoted as saying the two-week drills provide the opportunity to “fly Joint All Domain Operation sorties day and night” and to drill in “Electronic Warfare, Space and Cyber scenarios.”
He further acknowledged that Swiss combat aircraft can’t practice at home what they can at the NATO event, where interacting with “our NATO Partners at squadron-level really enhances our flying skills.” Witschi didn’t elaborate on for which situations and against which adversary the Alpine nation feels compelled to prepare. The NATO report did stress that the exercise was employed to practice for “real-world missions.”
The F/A-18 Hornet was first used by the U.S. in the 1986 bombing of Libya, and again in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991. It is decidedly not a civilian or a pacific plane.
Although the Swiss constitution mandates military neutrality, since it joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1996 and became a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council the following year, constitutional restrictions have been circumvented. The nation contributed to NATO’s Kosovo Force and even sent a small contingent of security personnel to serve under NATO in Afghanistan (2004-2007).
It status was elevated to an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme in 2009.
Switzerland has participated in the Partnership for Peace Planning and Review Process, is a supporter of the Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building, is a contributor to several NATO Trust Fund projects in other nations and has made training facilities available for Partnership for Peace training activities, including the international training center of the Swiss Army.
The nation may have sat out the two world wars of the last century as a neutral entity. But as with the rest of Europe it has now been firmly enmeshed in NATO’s net.