by Captain Peter Chen
Last January, I was fortunate enough to be invited by a Swiss officer who had been my classmate at the Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis, Virginia, to visit the Swiss Logistics Officer School at Wangen, Switzerland. It was an opportunity that few Americans haveto observe and learn about the logistics operations of the Swiss Army.
One might ask, "Why study the Swiss Army?" The first things that come to mind when someone mentions Switzerland probably are the Swiss Army knives and Swiss chocolate that we buy in the post exchange. The Swiss tradition of neutrality puts the country out of the minds of most military planners. Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), its participation in foreign affairs has increased. It is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership for Peace, and the Swiss Army sent a detachment to Bosnia to serve as an element of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In 1999, the Swiss Company (SWISSCOY) became part of the Kosovo Peacekeeping Force, in cooperation with the German and Austrian armies, and provides logistics support to the Austrian Army.
Peacekeeping operations around the world show that joint operations clearly are the way of the future. Although the United States has not planned any joint operations with Switzerland for the immediate future, we still would benefit from studying how its army conducts operations. In joint operations, we cannot afford to be so narrow-minded that we focus solely on U.S. military doctrine and our way of doing business.
Mission of the Swiss Army
To understand Swiss Army transportation, it is important to understand the mission of the Swiss Army. Traditionally, the Swiss Army has been a purely defensive force. Its three security missions are promoting peace, preventing war, and providing assistance. In 1995, the Swiss Army was completely reorganized and modernized under the Army '95 initiative. Someone who served in the "old" Swiss Army hardly would recognize the new army and its new weapons, equipment, and uniforms.
The fact that promoting peace is the Swiss Army's number one mission reflects Switzerland's commitment to European and world affairs, while maintaining its neutral tradition. Preventing war reflects the traditional defensive mission. The last mission, providing assistance, is shared with other armies of the world and refers to providing disaster relief and other domestic assistance. Since the Swiss Army has not engaged in war since the Napoleonic Wars (1792 to 1815), this mission has grown in importance.
Under Article 18 of the Swiss Constitution, every male is responsible for military service. The period of service as a "citizen soldier" begins at age 20 and ends at age 42 (52 for officers). After initial training, a citizen soldier is required to serve a certain number of days before his service ends. For younger men, this can translate into up to 3 weeks in a year. The Swiss Army uses a system of staggered refresher training to ensure the readiness of the army. When a citizen soldier completes his training, he takes home his individual equipment, which includes a personal weapon with a basic load of ammunition. This draft system allows the Swiss Army to maintain a potential force of 400,000 with only 2,000 full-time commissioned and noncommissioned officers.
The Swiss Army is organized into three field army corps and a mountain army corps. In these four corps are six field divisions, three mountain divisions, five armor brigades, and three fortress brigades. At the canton (state) level, there are four territorial divisions and two territorial brigades.
Swiss Army forces are divided into combat troops, combat support troops, and logistics troops. Combat troops comprise infantry and mechanized units. Combat support troops include artillery, fortress, engineer, and signal personnel. Logistics troops include transportation, medical, maintenance, supply, veterinarian, and rescue troops.
The rescue troops are unique to the Swiss Army. They provide disaster relief and are trained to use explosives for rescue purposes. They offer several classes during the year to fire departments and other agencies around the world.
The logistics requirements of the Swiss Army are small compared to those of the U.S. Army. The Swiss Army is not designed for force projection, nor does it have a logistics system for overseas deployment. Since the main strategy of war is defensive (hence the fortress brigades), most of the supplies the Swiss Army needs are pre-positioned inside well-protected depots or mountain fortresses.
Modes of Transportation
The primary modes of transportation for the Swiss Army are rail and highway. According to Swiss doctrine, rail is used when transporting supplies or equipment a distance of 150 kilometers or more.
Swiss rail operations are relatively simple compared to American rail operations, especially when it comes to rail loads. Vehicles simply drive onto the rail cars. They are not tied down. The rear wheels are chock-blocked. For long trips, the rear wheels are blocked from three sides, and the blocks are nailed down. Special cars for heavy equipment such as tanks have metal surfaces that have holes in them into which heavy metal blocks fit like LegoÔ toy blocks. If it is necessary to load or offload equipment in an area that has no railhead, the last car in the train usually is a special car that can be converted to a mobile ramp (see photo below).
|The last car in a train carrying Swiss equipment usually is a special car that can be converted to a mobile ramp.|
By doctrine, trains will not venture into hostile territory. However, if an attack is imminent, the unit commander has the option of stopping the train inside one of the many tunnels in Switzerland and offloading the vehicles inside the protection of the tunnel. Unlike American railcars, Swiss railcars are sometimes loaded off center so large tracked vehicles overhanging the cars will pass safely through tunnels that have off-center rails.
Switzerland does not have a seaport, so it does not have a navy. However, it does have a merchant marine. The Swiss Luftwaffe (Air Force) does not have large fixed-wing transporters like the C-130, but it is planning to acquire medium transport aircraft as soon as next year. However, considering the small size of the nation, fixed-wing transporters are not crucial. The Swiss Luftwaffe uses the Super Puma transport helicopter as its primary cargo and personnel mover. It also uses Alouette-3 helicopters and small, fixed-wing passenger aircraft.
Saurer and Steyr trucks are the backbone of the Swiss Army. Like the U.S. family of medium tactical vehicles, Saurer trucks come in two- or three-axle versions; e.g., Saurer 6DM and 10DM (the numbers refer to weight in metric tons). The Steyr trucks are similar to the older Saurer trucks. The Swiss Army began procuring Steyr trucks when production of the Saurer trucks ceased.
For a light or command car, the Swiss Army uses the Puch, which is the Swiss version of the Mercedes jeeps found in most NATO armies. Despite its diminutive appearance, the Puch can carry up to eight passengers. In between the Puch and the large Saurer or Steyr truck is the Duro, a truck that is smaller than an American high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle, but it can carry up to 20 soldiers.
|The surface of the obstacle course used to train Swiss truck drivers is covered alternately with rocks, gravel, sand, cobblestones, and dirt.|
By doctrine, the Swiss truck driver's duties include transporting up to 44 passengers and moving ammunition, equipment, and supplies. The typical Swiss Army truck driver is trained in a driving simulator for 8 to 12 hours before actually driving. I had the opportunity to drive a Saurer 10DM 3-axle cargo truck through the obstacle course at the Transportation School at Wangen (the Swiss equivalent of Fort Eustis). The obstacle course contains stretches of narrow, hilly roads with tight turns. The course surface is covered alternately with rocks, gravel, sand, cobblestones, and dirt (see photo above). On part of the course, drivers must negotiate a descent of over 85 degrees. The driving exercises are conducted independently in all types of road, weather, and light conditions.
The Transportation Battalion
A typical Swiss motor transport unit is comparable to a light truck company in the U.S. Army. The traffic police, who function much like U.S. Army military police (MP's), are part of the Transportation Troops. If we look at the organization of Transportation Battalion 5, for example, we see that it has five companies: companies 1 and 2 are traffic police; companies 3, 4, and 5 are transportation truck companies.
This type of integration of services is common in the Swiss Army. For example, an engineer pontoon bridge company is assigned its own MP's. As the movement control officer for Task Force Eagle in Bosnia, I often found arranging MP escorts for heavy equipment transporters (HET's) troublesome because I had to coordinate with the G3 to send a division-level fragmentary order (FRAGO) to the brigade to request MP escorts. (A Task Force Eagle "FRAGO" also meant "request approval from a general officer.") The Swiss Army battalion commander does not have to worry about this type of problem.
The Swiss Army has been composed mostly of reserves for a very long time. While many European nations were neutral at one time or another, only the Swiss Confederation has remained neutral for almost 200 years. Still, potential invaders throughout history have recognized that the Swiss Army is always ready and capable of defending its territory.
The future U.S. Army envisioned by Chief of Staff of the Army General Eric K. Shinseki is a lighter, more mobile Army that will require integration of reserve component units. Gone are the days when U.S. forces conduct an operation alone. We are certain to conduct operations with nations other than those that have been our traditional adversaries or allies in the past. That is why I believe it is important for us to learn as much as we can from other armies, and there is much to be learned from the Swiss Army. ALOG
Captain Peter Chen is the liaison officer for the 21st Theater Support Command in Bucharest, Romania. He previously served as the operations officer for the 39th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control) in Kaiserslautern, Germany and was the Task Force Eagle movement control officer during Stabilization Force rotations 3 and 4 to Bosnia. He is a graduate of the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Transportation Officer Transition Course, and the Armor Officer Basic Course.