Until Dec. 31, 2020, the Swiss Air Force F/A-18s were available for Quick Reaction Alert only on business hours. About 7 years ago, an embarrassing incident highlighted the need for a round-the-clock service.
Beginning on the last day of 2020, the Swiss Air Force F/A-18 Hornets have started providing H24 Quick Reaction Alert service to ensure the protection of the Swiss 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,” an official Swiss Air Force statement said.
The round-the-clock service comes nearly seven years after the embarrassing incident, when the Swiss Air Force couldn’t scramble fighter jets to respond to an hijacking because it happened outside of the service’s business hours (08.00 – 12 and 13.30 – 17.00).
As we reported back then, on Feb. 17, 2014, an Ethiopian Boeing 767, flying as ET 702 from Addis Abeba to Rome Fiumicino, was hijacked by the copilot while the pilot was in the toilet, and eventually landed at Geneva airport. The civilian aircraft was escorted on its route by two Eurofighter Typhoons of the 36° Stormo on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert). The two F-2000s, scrambled from Gioia del Colle Air Base, in Southeastern Italy, reached the Boeing 767 off Sicily, identified and shadowed it along its way across the Italian airspace.
When the Ethiopian flight reached the boundaries of the French airspace it was handed over to the French Air Force that escorted the hijacked airliner to the landing in Geneva because the entire interception took place early in the morning, outside the working hours of the Swiss F-18 Hornets.
According to France24, the plan to increase Swiss airspace surveillance was proposed to parliament in 2009, but it was boosted by the above mentioned incident five years later. To finalise the project, the Swiss Air Force had to create nearly 100 additional jobs; moreover, the new round-the-clock system will cost an additional 34M USD (28M Euro) a year.
Airspace protection does not come for free…
Anyway, on Sept. 27, 2020, the majority (50.2%) of Swiss voters gave the go ahead to the purchase of new combat aircraft in a referendum that called the citizens to say yes or no to a government-backed plan 6.49B USD funding packet to find a replacement for the F-5 Tiger and F/A-18C/D Hornet jets.
In November 2020, the Swiss Government received the second offer and will proceed with the final evaluation of four fighter models bidding for the contract (the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, and the Lockheed Martin F-35). The winner should be announced in the second quarter of 2021. The delivery of the new aircraft is slated to start in 2025 and end in 2030, if everything goes as planned.