What do Americans think of the Swiss?

Watchmen from America in the Swiss Army

Kyle Wilson is no big deal in the US Air Force. Only now Master Sergeant of the "56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron", so main field women in a squadron responsible for maintaining the equipment. Regardless of this, the USA recently awarded the sergeant a medal, the “2018 Air Force International Affairs Excellence Award”. In gratitude for his commitment in the conflict between India and Pakistan, when the Pakistani Air Force shot down two Indian fighter jets over the Indian part of Kashmir with its F-16 fighter jets from the United States on February 27, 2019.

The award did not reward efforts to pacify the two countries that had been enemies for decades. Rather, Wilson has rendered services to his home country by protecting the US technology built into the F-16 from unauthorized access as a Security Cooperation Officer (SCO for short). How exactly was not disclosed.

Nor is it known that “security cooperation officers” from the USA are at work in Switzerland. Two in number, as the DDPS Defense Department confirms information from the Republic. But internally they are not called SCOs as in the USA, but Custodians, in German: guardian or guardian. Your name says it all. Because what they do is not perceived by their Swiss partners as “cooperation”, but as control.

Only with code from the USA

When Swiss fighter pilots try to shoot down a Sidewinder, an infrared-controlled short-range guided missile, with the F / A-18, “they must first ask for permission,” says a source from the Swiss Air Force. This goes so far that during exercises by Swiss F / A-18 pilots over the North Sea, together with members of the air force from other countries, it is necessary to specify which guided weapon with which serial number is intended to be shot down.

In order not to reveal more than necessary to the US inspectors, the Swiss sometimes use adventurous methods. The “Tages-Anzeiger” recently described an inspection of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile: The Americans were driven to the depot in a Swiss Army VW bus, the “sides and rear windows (...) of which were glued with opaque black film” so that the uninvited guests from overseas could not understand where the journey was going.

There has been speculation for many years about the technical dependence of the Swiss Army on the USA. It has long been known that only the American manufacturer Boeing has full access to the source code of the software for its F / A-18 fighter jets. Updates to the avionics are carried out by the supplier's technicians, the Swiss technicians are not even allowed to watch. It is also no longer a secret that the military navigation system only works with a code supplied by the US secret service.

Reports of such dependencies appear in the media whenever a billion-dollar arms deal is pending. Like the 6 billion Swiss franc fighter jet deal for which the two US aircraft manufacturers Lockheed Martin with the F-35 and Boeing with the F / A-18 Super Hornet are competing. The well-founded rumors are mostly spread by the competitors who try to discredit the American competition.

This time, however, it is speculated in the scene, the two European competitors are holding back, because the people do not decide on a certain fighter jet type, but on the principle of procurement. So Eurofighter manufacturer Airbus and Rafale manufacturer Dassault have the greatest interest in keeping the ball as flat as possible until the type decision, so as not to harm themselves in the end.

"Then neutrality is no longer applicable"

Especially since their products are not free from US technology either - and one can therefore wonder whether they are not also controlled by the USA. In any case, both Eurofighter and Rafale also use the digital data service of the military radio system Link 16, the friend-foe identification system IFF and the second military GPS channel. This means that they too are dependent on American keys. Without the “Yankee code” for the GPS system, for example, the fighter jets can only be used to a limited extent in bad weather or at night.

It should be added that Switzerland would hardly act autonomously in a conflict situation anyway, but would seek to close ranks with states whose interests are similar.

"If we are threatened, our neutrality is invalid," said the outgoing Air Force chief Bernhard Müller recently. In any case, Switzerland is already exercising its ability to cooperate within the framework of the Partnership for Peace, to which it has been a member since 1996. This is an instrument for cooperation between NATO and its partner countries.

The legend of the ominous on-off switch - which «Uncle Sam» only has to flick and the Swiss pilot cannot start his jet or fire the guided missile - has occupied Swiss politicians for two decades. The first worried attempts in this direction came from the SVP. During the Iraq war in 2003, the Thurgau National Councilor Alexander Baumann wanted to know whether it was true that, for technical reasons, the Swiss Air Force could “not take action against any airspace violations caused by US Air Force aircraft”.

Recently, the criticism has come from the left: “The USA can get our jets out of the sky at the push of a button. Or not let us start if they don't want to, ”said SP National Councilor Priska Seiler Graf recently.

There is also a more or less pronounced denial from the DDPS. "The Air Force can guarantee the preservation of air sovereignty, regardless of the origin of the aircraft attempting to use Swiss airspace without permission," said the then Defense Minister Samuel Schmid in 2003 when Alexander Baumann's question was answered in the negative.

His successor Viola Amherd recently stated that she had never seen evidence that the dependency on the two US fighter jets was greater than that of the two providers from Europe. "Remote control from abroad is impossible, even with today's F / A-18s and also with the new fighter aircraft," she said.

USA protect their interests

At the request of the Republic to the USCustodians In Switzerland, VBS head of communications, Renato Kalbermatten, confirms that there are two such “service providers”, as he calls the two Americans. These are stationed in Dübendorf, the first since 2006. However, they have "no influence, competencies or insights into the operations of the Swiss Air Force".

Its task is "to support the Swiss Army in technical and logistical areas of secure voice and data communication, which enables cooperation with other armed forces with special attention to cybersecurity." Further tasks of the Custodians denies Kalbermatten. In particular, it is not that they checked the presence of the guided missiles or the radar devices.

The USA is much more willing to provide information. In particular, Lieutenant General Charles Hooper. The friendly, corpulent gentleman, until recently head of the American Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), explains in YouTube videos openly and for the whole world what his agency is doing. The “Golden Sentry Program” is particularly informative. According to Hooper, this serves to protect national security and is required by law for the entire life cycle of all armaments and services originating from the USA, from simple rifles to fighter jets. Security Cooperation Officers or SCOs ensure that the guidelines are adhered to worldwide. Not just for security reasons, as Hooper explains in another video. But also to protect the US's foreign policy interests.

In the case of certain armaments, the Custodians alias SCOs carry out regular inspections and inventories of the serial numbers in the respective partner country. So they check whether all of them are still there and are really being used for the purpose for which they were sold abroad by the USA, which according to the Lieutenant General in one letter of offer and acceptance is contractually stipulated. As examples in this context, Hooper cites, among other things, the shoulder guided missile Stinger and the two air-to-air missiles AIM-9X Sidewinder and Amraam. All armaments that the Swiss Army also has at their disposal.

And who pays? The Swiss

The fact that the US is keen on control is met with understanding by US skeptics to a certain extent. Finally, other countries also check - in Switzerland the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) is responsible for this - whether their exported war material is still with the declared final recipient. In addition, after 2001 the Taliban fired Stinger missiles, which the CIA had once delivered to Afghan rebels to fight the Soviets, at US planes. The extent of control, on the other hand, is less well understood. Likewise that the Custodians not only report possible violations to the Department of Defense in Washington, but also to the State Department. And this from 146 countries.

None of this is free, as Lieutenant General Charles Hooper also knows. For American taxpayers, however, he has good news: It doesn't cost a cent, the customer pays all costs. The DDPS confirms this, at least indirectly. When asked who the wages of the Custodians Pay, Kalbermatten replies, the two civilians would work on a contract for the American state. And that “the corresponding services between Switzerland and the USA are contractually agreed”.