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The Suisse Air Surveillance; Meiringen, January 25 & 26, 2018

The Suisse Quick Reaction Alert, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

In peacetime, the Swiss Air Force is currently not on stand-by 24 hours a day due to a limited budget reasons. From 2020 on, however, this will be the case, because from that moment there will be two F/A-18 Hornets stand-by 24 hours a day. The extensive air surveillance network is already for years 24 hours a day online.

In the last 35 years, Swiss military and civil airspace management has been dependent on the FLORIDA (FLugsIDs Operations Radar IDentifikation Alarm) air defense system. Since its retirement, however, Swiss airspace control and anti-aircraft operations have been carried out by THALES Raytheon FLORAKO. This system is operated from four fixed locations on the summits of the Pilatus, Scopi, Weisshorn and Weissfluh mountains in the Alps. At least one of these Command, Control & Communications (C3) facilities is always connected to the air defense and traffic control center in Dübendorf. The monitoring system is operational 24/7 and has the complete Swiss airspace under its control. The first FLORAKO unit was activated in 2003 The system consists of a number of subsystems. The first part is a communication system (KOMSYS). This system integrates elements of all geographically distributed parts of the FLORAKO system into a single data network. The second system is a radar station (FLORES). The four radar stations are the most important data sources and are supplemented by existing military and civil radar data. The third component is a layer radar system (RALUS). This system translates the data into flight routes and produces a complete civil-military aerial image for all authorities. The fourth subsystem is a warning message system (LUNAS-EZ). The Air Ops Centers are the combining factors between the FLORAKO system with real-time data. The fifth component is the military civil airspace management system (MICAMS). This secondary system offers a computer backup for flexible airspace use for both civil and military flight protection.

In Switzerland (including the airspace of Liechtenstein), military air surveillance is also called Permanent Air Monitoring (PlÜ). This ensures uninterrupted 24/7 surveillance with the FLORAKO system, whereby the IDO (IDentification Officer) and the TM (Track Monitor) will monitor the air situation. The Swiss Air Force has several operational

centers. In peacetime, the primary military command center is located at Dübendorf Air Base. The civil air traffic control Skyguide is also located in the same building. The locations of the other operational centers are a national secret. These command centers are part of the "Einsatz Luftwaffe" unit, the head of which is directly subordinate to the air force commander. The unit consists of the air force operations center with direct links to the emergency organizations such as the rescue service and the federal police. It is also connected with the two Skyguide air traffic centers in Geneva and Zurich, and the relevant military and civil aviation traffic control posts from the neighboring countries. Currently, the air is continuously monitored, but the means of intervention such as fighter planes and anti-aircraft are usually only available during the working day. Normally the increased availability of these resources is limited a few days a year. This heightened state is called PlÜ+ (PlÜ PLUS) or ILANA.

At various events in the past when the Swiss airspace was violated, the Swiss Air Force could not act because its pilots were out of service. That was the case in February 2014, when a pilot from Ethiopian Airlines demanded full control of his aircraft, while his co-pilot was at the time on the toilet. The man led the flight from his original route from Addis Ababa to Rome and eventually landed in Geneva. Two hundred passengers and the crew were on board of the aircraft at that time. The man warned the authorities about the change of course and his intention was to apply for political asylum in Switzerland. The pilot eventually surrendered to the Swiss police after the landing and was arrested. The incident made a big gap in Swiss air safety visible. No fighter jets could be scrambled to intercept the aircraft because the air force was not set to guard the Swiss air outside office hours. Instead, two Italian jet fighters were called to intercept and accompany the aircraft. After this event, Swiss politics started to improve this. Operational readiness for the Swiss Air Policing is continuously evolving until the end of 2020. From then on, two aircraft will be on Quick Reaction Alert 24/7. The first step to this expansion was made in January 2016. Since then, two armed F/A-18s can take off within a maximum of fifteen minutes for five days a week from 8 am to 6 pm. The project Luftpolizeidienst 24 (LP24) was started by a political motion from 2009, in which a higher readiness was demanded outside normal working hours.

With LP24, a permanent operational stand-by of two armed jet fighters is now reached in four steps within a maximum of 15 minutes. The first step was taken in 2016, when for 50 weeks the aircraft were available on weekdays from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. In 2017 this presence was extended to 365 days. From 2019, the aircraft will be on QRA daily from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm and by the end of 2020 the service will be upgraded to 24/7 stand-by for 365 days. The two planes are used for "Hot Missions" and "Live Missions". The "Hot Missions" is an operation where aircraft are intercepted that seriously violate Swiss sovereignty or aviation rules. The "Live Missions" are checks on state aircraft that require diplomatic permission to fly over Switzerland. The main location for the LP24 project is the military airfield of Payerne. During the days that Payerne is closed, flights are flown from Emmen or Meiringen. For the full QRA expansion, approximately 100 troops will be needed by the Swiss Air Force by the end of 2020. The additional amount of costs is approximately 30 million Swiss francs a year. This amount consists mainly of personnel costs and costs for air traffic control. In the future, the LP24 program will also be able to make supersonic flights with jet fighters outside the usual military flight times. This is necessary to ensure a permanent safety in aviation and to maintain the sovereign rights and protection of Switzerland throughout the day.

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