Since the 19th century, the Swiss have been armed with…

Since the 19th century, the Swiss have been armed with handguns and rifles that they themselves have developed and produced. The recent announcement that the Armee-Aufklarungsdatchment 10 (AAD10), the most elite Swiss military unit, has adopted the Glock has attracted attention.

Prior to the establishment of the AAD10 in 2003, Swiss airborne special operations capability rested with the Swiss Air Force’s 17th Parachute Recon Company (FSK-17), which was formed in the 1970s as an airborne recon unit. Counterterrorist operations prior to the formation of the AAD10 rested primarily with canton police forces. The AAD10, on the other hand, was formed as a special-forces/counterterrorist unit along the lines of the British Special Air Service. Although the FSK-17 was the only Swiss military unit tasked with missions outside of Switzerland, these missions were mainly limited to intelligence gathering on approaching enemy forces or on blowing up bridges and rail lines near Switzerland. In comparison, the AAD10 has a global mission to carry out rescues of Swiss citizens inside or outside of Switzerland.

An AAD10 sniper and his observer scan typical Swiss Alpine terrain for a target

Peace Through Strength

When initially formed the AAD10 was comprised of 30 troops. As of 2011, it has expanded to 91. The AAD10 was not formed sans opposition: many felt it would interfere with Switzerland’s traditional neutrality. In typical spineless fashion, the liberal press in Switzerland argued that Swiss citizens held hostage could always be freed through negotiation. However, the Swiss population in general realized that strength ensures neutrality. They follow the precept of Latin military writer Vegetius: “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” or “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Recently, there has been discussion of deploying members of the AAD10 against Somali pirates, but the Swiss Parliament is divided on the issue. Switzerland doesn’t have a Saint Bernard in this fight because (to the best of my knowledge) there are no Swiss-flagged vessels—Parliament’s lack of enthusiasm is logical. A stronger—though politically incorrect—argument in favor of engaging the AAD10 with the pirates is to give the AAD10 a chance to be blooded against an enemy that shoots back. But the AAD10 typically does not deploy overseas because Switzerland lacks the transport capability to support such operations. This is consistent with what I had observed in the 1980s: I was watching an FSK-17 training where operators were jumping from small single-engine aircraft; since the operators were normally inserted in small numbers, the size of the craft posed no issue—all the jumps I saw were free-falls.

AAD10 Missions

One of the AAD10’s missions is seizure of important facilities that are either in Switzerland and occupied by terrorists, or outside of Switzerland and important to its security. The AAD10 is trained to deal with incidents at one of Switzerland’s four nuclear power plants, protect Swiss citizens and facilities, evacuate Swiss citizens from danger or areas of civil unrest, and engage in direct actions and unconventional warfare. Notably, the AAD10 had been planning to carry out a mission to rescue Swiss nationals from Libya in June 2010, but the Swiss press had leaked information about the mission before it was underway—in a small country such as Switzerland, operations security can be difficult. Reportedly, Swiss citizens living and working outside of Switzerland have a hotline number to call for AAD10 extractions. Of course, whether the unit receives permission to carry out the operation is the bigger question.

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  • Great comments. Trust the Swiss to get the job done. They are precision people! Commmander. Dr. Bob. Semper. Fi!

  • Bruce

    I, myself, would have chosen differently… but that is why there is a Reply column! A Sig Sauer version of a Colt 1911A would be a better choice. Better action and much more in the way of “extras.” You don’t use a handgun to ventilate people but to knock them down and take them out of the equation. A .45 caliber weapon does just that.

  • Sumner Thompson

    I like the Swiss slogan. Just because they are neural does not mean they won’t step in when the going gets tough. They have good firearms including the old K-31, Swiss made. Good ammo too. Not bad for an old timer that will do the job whenever it is called upon to do so. But nothing is forever and now they have gone outside the country for arms. Well, good luck on that. I think the Swiss are perfectly capable of developing their own arms but what do I know?