Acamar Founder and President Michael Unbehauen discusses Swiss air defense, the eight billion franc Air2030 program, and Acamar's study, Air2030plus, on Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF - Swiss Radio and Television). He explains that far too much emphasis is being placed on the fighter aircraft. Instead, Switzerland should focus more on ground-based air defense and invest in a cheaper dual-role trainer/fighter jet.
The English translation of the interview is below.
Das Schweizer Verteidigungsdepartement VBS will acht Milliarden Franken für die Luftverteidigung ausgeben. Das sei zu viel, sagt ein US-Experte zum Programm Air2030. Die für die Schweiz nötigen Mittel zur Verteidigung seien für die Hälfte zu haben. Das VBS sieht das anders.
Interview by Priscilla Imboden, SRF - Swiss Radio and Television
Michael Unbehauen has years of experience as Air Defense Officer in the US Army; as lead planner for international cooperation in the field of air and missile defense in Europe for example, where he was tasked with establishing surface-to-air missiles in Poland.
"Switzerland’s use of the F/A-18 for all air policing missions is a waste of capacities and money,"
says Michael Unbehauen, Former US Air Defense Officer
He was also commander of the only foreign military facility in Israel, an American radar station, a position in which he reported to the US president.
Currently, Unbehauen works as consultant for air defense concepts. His verdict on the Air2030-Program of Switzerland contains criticism: "For the particular needs of Switzerland, a more effective defense for less money would be possible."
Small Tasks for High Performance Fighter Jets
The eight billion Swiss Francs are far too much for the defense of Swiss airspace. On top of that, they are being invested in the wrong way, according to Unbehauen, who was born in Germany and grew up there.
He shares how he gets to this conclusion in a study for which he was commissioned by the Social-democratic Party of Switzerland. There is on one hand the planned procurement of fighter jets for six billion Swiss Francs. This is an exaggeration, according to the American military expert.
"It is very unlikely that Switzerland will be attacked by air forces, without NATO intervening."
-Michael Unbehauen, Former Air Defense Officer
In most cases, Switzerland utilized its air force for air policing missions to monitor civilian sport planes for example. "A high performance fighter jet is needed in about 20-30 percent of missions. Switzerland’s use of the F/A-18 for all air policing missions is a waste of capacities and money."
Unbehauen proposes a two-type aircraft Air Force: light, more economical aircraft for regular missions, in addition high performance fighter jets for more robust missions. Thus, he says, Switzerland would be able to save billions of Swiss Francs while still being able to effectively secure its airspace.
The planned new fighter jets are most of all suited for combating attacks of enemy fighter aircraft. But he could not comprehend how such a scenario will likely unfold: "It is very unlikely that Switzerland will be attacked by air forces, without NATO intervening."
Undertake Different Investments
But there are other threats that the Defense Department is not taking seriously, says Michael Unbehauen. This year, the US and Russia canceled the INF Treaty for missiles of medium and shorter ranges.
The US is now developing such weapons systems, as is Russia. It is foreseeable that there will be an increase in proliferation of such weapons, also in Europe, for example in Ukraine. All of this will also concern Switzerland. "Investments are being made into cruise missiles, drones, ballistic missiles. Weapons for which aircraft are not the optimal means to defend against."
An attack of a state on Switzerland remains still very unlikely. But increasingly, terrorist organizations are also acquiring drones or cruise missiles.
US Air Defense Officer Michael Unbehauen therefore recommends for Switzerland to invest more into ground-based air defenses against such weapons and much less into fighter jets. Switzerland could so defend its airspace more efficiently- and save a lot of taxpayers’ money at the same time.
"We don’t need a Fair Weather Air Force"
Christian Catrina is in charge of the Air2030 program at the Defense Department. In an interview, he is taking position to the stated accusations of the study: "It is true, that especially concerning is the defense against drones or cruise missiles, certainly we have some catching up to do. That is the intention behind fortifying ground-based air defense." We have to see that also short range systems could also be modernized with time. "This is not part of Air2030 but that will have to happen."
Experts are saying that operating F/A-18 aircraft for air policing in Switzerland is too expensive. An alternative would be lighter and more economical aircraft for such missions. Catrina disagrees: "These aircraft, that this talk is about, are technically not appropriate." Furthermore, to have two fleets of different aircraft is from an economic viewpoint sheer nonsense.
"We don’t need a fair weather air force, but an air force that could take care of all tasks under all circumstances," this is the conclusion of Catrina.