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Current Concerns  >  2011  >  No 30, 27 December 2011  >  Army general Blattmann explains current problems [printversion]

Army general Blattmann explains current problems

Interview with army general André Blattmann (Switzerland) by Nico Menzato and Marcel Odermatt

cc. Army general André Blattmann (55) has started entering into the dialogue with the population on current military and security issues. He is capable of doing that; not many are talented to explain such complex facts in a nutshell so that everyone can follow. Democracy needs this dialogue – citizens must be included into thinking about the key questions. The “gradated quality” of our television news does not permit such thinking by oneself.

Such explanatory and trustworthy voices may be required in the area of the educational system, public health, civil protection, economy and banking, as well.

“Blick”: Commander Blattmann, in the next weeks the Swiss Federal Council will decide which fighter plane is to be bought. Eurofighter, Gripen or Rafale are at choice. Which one is your dream-jet?

André Blattmann: We did an extensive assessment. All three planes are suitable. Each of them has pros and cons. But all meet our needs. I do not have a dream plane.

But the military insists on the Eurofighter nevertheless. It was used most in war missions, has the highest speed, can be best equipped with weapons.

All three planes have been in action in Libya. All stood the test. High quality is needed to be able to win an air war.

The three vendors have adjusted their offers. (Swedish) Gripen cost is at 3 billion according to Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer, the other two planes are at about 4 billion Swiss francs. There is a large discrepancy in price. But they aren’t equal in quality, are they?

The Gripen has only one engine. That has an impact on the price. Crucial is however the full package. It’s the same when buying a car: If you buy a more expensive model, it may need less fuel. A free-of-charge service may be included. And a towing service, if something is broken. All this must be taken into account. An important component in the offer of a fighter plane are the training possibilities, as well, i.e. simulation for the pilots.

Is everything included in these 3 to 4 billion? Also potential technical upgrades for other troops?

Switzerland will not have to bear any additional costs.

If all planes are suitable, then Switzerland should connect the deal to counter-sales. That would be in favor of the Eurofighter. The EADS-group is partly German, partly Italian – both countries are our most important trading partners.

All three vendors must compensate the purchase price to one hundred per cent. Say: Swiss companies, above all small and medium sized businesses (KMU) in the high-tech area, must get export possibilities up to the financial extent of the fighter plane price. That is part of the deal. These conditions are valid for all three vendors. In addition Swiss companies will also benefit at longer term – if they do a good job. That turned out as well in the F/A-18-deal. Because of the economy crisis now, the deal makes sense at this moment, because also the countertrades would be initiated now.

How is this ensured?

In the procurement contract for the airplanes the obligation for compensation purchases is legally anchored. The compliance to this obligation is supervised by a joined office of Armasuisse, of Swissmem and the group of entrepreneurs GRPM in Western Switzerland. This office examines each trade-business, announced by Swiss companies, whether it corresponds to the objectives and rules of the compensation. All three aircraft manufacturers have already issued compensation deals of roughly 500 million francs in total.

Can you exclude bribe payments, as they happened in the neighboring country of Austria, when the Eurofighter was bought?

By international comparison Switzerland is very unsusceptible to corruption (bribery). On top our procurement agency Armasuisse is an institution separated from the army.

Perhaps the politicians in the federal capital Berne have been bribed. Quite suddenly all of them voted for buying (new) fighter planes. Out of nowhere the parliament’s attitude towards the military suddenly became friendlier.

Two thirds of the Swiss Parliament voted in favor of the jets. The decision was not taken bei a narrow majority. And if someone wanted to bribe two thirds of the parliament, a newspaper like “SonntagsBlick” would certainly dig it up. (laughs).

And you have not been promised a little house in the Toskana?

No. I have only one in Switzerland. But I’m still paying it off (laughs).

The purchasing of the Eurofighter might be traded against cooperation of

Germany in the aircraft noise controversy (concerning the Zürich airport).
That could be part of the package negotiated by politicians. I do not interfere with that.

In its report, the Federal Council will also point out whether the “Tiger” airplanes built in the 60s, 70s could be upgraded. Wouldn’t that be a cheap and good option nevertheless?

Of course we will clarify all options. It is possible. Brazil for instance did upgrade its “Tiger”1 fleet. If we see, however that the “Tigers” cannot be on service as long as the F/A 18 and nevertheless the upgrading costs many hundred millions, other possibilities must be considered as well and the pros and cons must be weighed.

The Green Party announced the referendum against the jet-deal. They have good chances. How do you want to win the vote?

If we do not succeed in convincing the people, we have to blame ourselves! A plebiscite provides authentication – and therefore it is good and important if the people can express their opinion. Then it is official.

Apropos official: It is now as well an official statement that underemployment prevails in the refresher training courses after military service. The Federal Council wrote in addition high-officially: “It cannot be excluded that there are times of small working intensity.”

I demand from those responsible for the trainings, that the days are meaningfully filled. But it is correct, we do not have enough intensity everywhere. That does annoy me. It throws a bad light on the whole army. Even if the great majority of the soldiers is working at full capacity.

If one asks around, it does however not sound like this. Many say, that these military trainings are “cool”, just like holidays – sleeping a lot, playing cards like “jassen”, looking movies, drinking beer. And this at public expense.

Of course that won’t do! We are pulling the people away from the economy or their studies. Company commanders, in whose units such type of operation prevails, are out of place.

How do you tackle the problem?

In the next year we will start a survey asking the soldiers via SMS. Soldiers of all units, anonymously. Thus we want to see the particular conditions, how the soldiers experience their trainings. We expect an objective picture on the differences in individual training courses – and certainly, where we must intervene. A pilot project conducted this year has worked satisfactorily.

Isn’t there a risk, that the answers won’t be honest?

I am convinced, the answers will be honest. Predominantly, our soldiers want a busy program – under the slogan: If I have to come anyway, I want to work.

The army has to reduce the headcount from at present about 180,000 to 100,000 men. How can that be done?

The number of service days must be reduced per year from 6,5 to 5 million, which could mean in concrete terms the following: only 5 instead of 6 refresher trainings, only 18 instead of 21 weeks of basic training. Around 2016 there will be an additional step, that some soldiers will be released from service immediately (without repeated training?). It is however important, that we do not reward those, which have shifted their refresher trainings as often as possible.

And what about the cadre?

For sure: Those, who continue (service), will have to complete a complete basic training (R-S) in the future again. One must have gone through that, in order to be able to become the chief.

Recently, the army provided headlines once more with cases of deaths. A 23-year-old from Swiss canton Valais shot his 21 year old girl friend – with a storm rifle. What is it that provokes such tragedies?

It makes me very concerned and sad. It is terrible enough, if one loses someone. But if someone is killed in the bloom of his life – completely without any sense – the mourning for the family is nearly not to master. I met the parents of the girl, who was shot in Zurich Höngg. That troubled me a lot.

Must the army be blamed for such murder?

One can clearly deny this. Humans are responsible for their actions. One could blame the society, as well. Or the media, which constantly report on murder and homicide. We must be very careful here. To believe that one can prevent everything with an austere legislation, is an illusion.

You are suggesting, to preventatively withdraw the service weapon from soldiers, against whom a criminal investigation is running. How is that to work concretely?

If one knows that someone expressed a threat against life and limb or that a criminal procedure runs because of an act of violence, the canton administration is authorized to withdraw the army weapon from that person – and inform the army. Today the cantons are already entitled to it, but it is not known to all. – It is positive that some cantons consistently enforce that. Answering a related remark at the conference of the cantonal directors of justice and police we decided to rapidly distribute an instruction on the appropriate procedures.

The army has automatic access to the federal criminal record also concerning pending investigations. Does the army become now more active also on its own accord?

We could hardly do that. The army is missing human resources, in order to examine these registers on entries of our 180,000 members. And: In which frequency would we have to repeat that – monthly, annually? No, we are dependent on the information of the cantons concerning the cases of risk.

Deadly accidents with army weapons happen again and again. Last weekend a woman shot a man in the town of Neuenburg. She probably assumed, the weapon was not loaded. Does Switzerland have to live with such tragedies, as long as (army) weapons are kept at home?

In one of the next army newspapers handed to the soldiers, we will bring up the issue of the correct storage of the weapon. The rule is clear: The weapon is to be stored uncharged and without the gunlock. We must remind the soldiers of the fact that this is absolutely crucial. Also in cadre meetings I am bringing this topic up.

In next January there will be a great challenge for the army. Switzerland takes on the Kfor command in North Kosovo. Is Switzerland prepared for its biggest assignment abroad in history?

Certainly! Otherwise we would not do it. I am responsible for (such) employments in the long run. I will not send anybody to an employment if I do not know whether he is sufficiently prepared. Note however: Switzerland provides liaison- and observation troops. Their main task is to relate to the local people and observe eventual changes.

Switzerland has a good reputation in Kosovo.

We have an advantage that we do not belong to a military alliance. Switzerland is endowed with the right not to take anybody’s side – and therefore we are an accepted partner, more accepted than others.

Again and again it came to excesses and road blockades at the border to Serbia. There have been casualties. Are Swiss soldiers in danger?

No. Switzerland does not carry so-called peace-forcing employments. Swiss soldier clear road blockades by removing material, but no humans.

In other areas of the world it is burning far more. Is the present geopolitical security situation a danger for Switzerland?

I am pessimistic. We do not know, what will happen to us. One year ago nobody would have thought that the regimes in North Africa would fall, that the nuclear power plant Fukushima would explode or the euro would be in danger of breaking apart. The fortuneteller Elizabeth Teissier predicted in December 2010, that the year 2012 would be “peut être une année présidentielle” for Dominique Strauss-Kahn and 2011 would be an “année géniale”. Today we know: reality turned out to be quite different.

But you do not build your future scenarios on fortune-telling?

Of course not! However, this episode shows quite well: People, not even those people, who make their money by telling future scenarios, do not know, what the future will bring. Nobody knows it – and if one does not know, one must be ready for all alternatives. The calm and self-evidence, with which people maintain that nothing will ever happen, annoys me very much.

What does the situation look like for Europe?

In many states, in particular in the South of Europe, a lack of perspectives prevails. Many people just want to get away. The situation equals a powder barrel.

Syria stands on the edge of a civil war. What does it mean for us if the situation in the Middle East becomes ever more insecure?

Human suffering in the Middle East to this extent can have effects on the security in all of Western Europe.

A UN report shows: Iran is building the atomic bomb.

This is a disaster. But what happens? One recognizes it and gets back to business as usual. In Libya approximately 5000 ground-to-air missiles are missing. I shot with such ammunition. If you do that properly, the airplane crashes. These weapons getting into wrong hands threat the civil aviation.

Therefore Switzerland needs fighter planes?

It can happen very fast – and one has all the sudden to rely on a strong army. If it doesn’t happen, so much the better.     •

Source: Blick of 22.11.2011 (Translation Current Concerns)