The Swiss Air Force has officially started providing round-the-clock protection of Swiss airspace with two F/A-18s ready to take off within 15 minutes at all times.
The 24/7 air policing started on December 31, after several years of calls for greater air force readiness.
The Swiss Hornets were previously available for emergencies only during office hours. This proved especially troublesome during the 2014 Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane hijacking when Swiss fighters did not scramble because the incident occurred outside of working hours. The passenger aircraft landed in Geneva around 6 am in the morning.
Starting from December 31, the Swiss Air Force has two Hornets on standby, ready to take off fully armed at all times. The service has been introducing the capability gradually since 2016, when two aircraft were on standby from 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays for 50 weeks. In 2017, this presence was extended to 365 days. Since the beginning of 2019, the jets have been on standby from 6 am to 10 pm.
During 2020, two F/A-18s performed 15 “hot missions” (responding to aircraft violating Switzerland’s air sovereignty) and 290 “live missions” (escorts of foreign state aircraft that are allowed to fly over Switzerland with a diplomatic clearance).
The Hornets will mainly perform Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) missions out of the Payerne airbase in western Switzerland. To prepare the base for 24/7 operations, the government will have to spend CHF30 million (approx. $34 million) a year and employ an additional 100 personnel.