The ‘conscripted militia’ model presents the Swiss Army with unique problems in training organisation and logistic support. Dim Jones reports.

A recruit undertakes initial training of 18 weeks, and is thereafter required to undertake eight annual four-week continuation exercises before his commitment is fulfilled. Training is carried out in two main geographical areas: Bure, in the northwest, for some infantry and all armoured training; and Walenstadt and St Luzisteig in the east for infantry only. Prior to 2010, the army carried out all its own support; since then, this has been provided by RUAG, through two CTC support depots, one at Bure, and the other – which I had the opportunity to visit - at Mels.

Under the contract, RUAG is responsible for technical, infrastructure and logistic support of the Land Forces Training Centres (LFTC), working alongside a military logistics organisation. Between the two support centres, the company employs about 150 personnel, which is a significant number for rural Switzerland – and, of course, many of them are in the militia system themselves.

A typical training year at the LFTC will comprise three 12-week periods of recruit training, and six four-week continuation exercises in battalion strength (up to 1000 personnel). Arrival procedure involves registration and, in the case of recruits, initial issue of personal equipment (including a personal weapon) which the soldier will retain throughout his military service, the idea being that he should be able to ‘fight his way’ from home to his unit if recalled. Personnel arriving for annual exercises will also need to be issued with personal specialist equipment, such as laser harnesses, and the unit with all other equipment from armoured personnel carriers (APCs) through mortars, machine-guns and night-vision devices to pens and paperclips. During the exercise, there will also be a need for the exchange of unserviceable items. There are small warehouses at the training locations, which may be up to four in number and up to 25 km apart; however, all valuable or sensitive equipment is stored centrally.

The Swiss Land Forces Training Centre at Walenstadt, managed by RUAG, hosts recruit training as well as continuation exercise up to battalion strength.
The Swiss Land Forces Training Centre at Walenstadt, managed by RUAG, hosts recruit training as well as continuation exercise up to battalion strength. Image credit: Swiss Army.

During the exercises themselves, the CTC’s primary task is technical support for the training, such as video, positioning and operation of pyrotechnic simulation devices, and running the after-action reviews (AAR). RUAG personnel may also provide technical advice to the Exercise Director and his staff, and may instruct them in the use of the specialist equipment; all instruction of soldiers is by military personnel. RUAG do not deal with ammunition, other than the pyros required for simulation.

After the war game is over, all equipment other than personal needs to be checked in, routine maintenance accomplished, defective items replaced, and administrative action taken for anything missing. Ideally, there will be a free week between one training period and the next but, in extremis, there may only be a weekend, leading to four days of frenzied activity. The skeleton permanent staff at the depot would be overwhelmed by this task, so personnel are seconded from other duties and additional staff – almost all previously qualified – are engaged locally. If not immediately required, the equipment and vehicles must be stored; the support centre stores vehicles but, apart from minor work, their maintenance is done by the military.

RUAG is also responsible for the more mundane aspects of infrastructure upkeep: from snow-clearing and grass-cutting through building maintenance to live-firing target repair and security. The ranges are open areas and, when not in use by the military, are accessible to the general public. This means that they must be cleared before training recommences, and it can take up to 90 minutes to cover all the trails on a range area.

Industry support to the military encountered some resistance in the early days but is now well established in Switzerland. RUAG is a government-owned company, but must still compete for contracts and is acutely aware that it is not the only service-provider either headquartered in, or with a presence, in the country. There is, therefore, some incentive to ‘get it right’. The rapport between the Swiss Army and the company suggests that RUAG is doing so.

Originally published in Issue 3, 2018 of MS&T Magazine.