Switzerland disposes of anti-aircraft weapons — at the moment, the authorities are disposing of 60 defence systems, the first tranche of the Rapier anti-aircraft missile system has already been dismantled.
"It is planned that all systems will be dismantled and disposed of as part of these other tranches," said Kai-Gunnar Sievert, a spokesman for Armasuisse, the Federal Defence Procurement Office.
The Swiss Army purchased Rapiers in the 1980s. The installation includes a launch pad and a radar system. In 2007, the federal government again invested heavily in modernisation, when the Army purchased 2,000 modern guided missiles. They are also now being scrapped because Switzerland is decommissioning the Rapier from the end of 2022.
"Missiles are old, but not quite obsolete," says Peter Schneider, former editor-in-chief of the Allgemeine Schweizerische Militärzeitschrift [ASMZ]. For instance, the British defended the Olympic Games in London in 2012 with the help of Rapiers. "They can be very well used against low-flying targets such as drones," says a military expert. The Rapier could also be used to fight fighter jets or helicopters. According to Schneider, in this way Ukraine could protect the civil infrastructure.
The disposal is causing a backlash among security policymakers. "It is absurd that we are disposing of defensive weapons in Switzerland," says François Pointe, a member of the National Council from the Green Liberals. He supports the transfer of weapons to Ukraine. As the vice-president of the Security Policy Commission emphasises, it would be legally possible.
Rapier is a British-made system. Therefore, completely different rules apply to missiles than to Swiss weapons. According to a 2006 decision by the Federal Council, foreign systems that have been decommissioned must be sold back to the country of origin as a matter of priority. And as the Federal Council directly emphasises in its decision: "Without any conditions." Switzerland should not demand a ban on re-exports.
However, as noted, Bern did not receive a corresponding request from London. The federal government decided to dispose of the Rapiers in 2019 and never asked if England was interested in them — even after the start of the war, Armasuisse confirms. "It is not typical for Switzerland to actively offer decommissioned military systems for sale," says Armasuisse press secretary Kai-Gunnar Sievert.
Great Britain phased out Rapier missiles in 2021. The British Ministry of Defense said in response to a request that they disposed of all the missiles even before the start of the war. The disposal later drew criticism on the island. The main thesis was that these weapons could help Ukraine.
The Rapier story highlights a fundamental problem: Switzerland will decommission many foreign weapons systems in the next few years. For example, 248 M113 infantry fighting vehicles and over 100 M109 artillery guns [will be disposed of]. Both systems are American products and both are on the front line in Ukraine.
Earlier, it became known that the Swiss government will not change its long-standing policy prohibiting the transfer of Swiss-made weapons to third countries, in particular to Ukraine.
On 8 March, the lower house of the Swiss parliament confirmed that the transfer of Swiss tank ammunition to Ukraine at the request of Berlin should remain banned.