Why US Navys Jet Fighters Need WSO

Here is a scenario that Swiss fighter jets could be used for

War in Europe is so unlikely that there is no need to replace the F / A-18 fleet, say the fighter jet opponents in the referendum. Today, however, military force is mostly used in a gray area between tension and open conflict.

It is pure illusion, but one of x different scenarios from the here and now: The American President Trump loses the elections in November and refuses to vacate the White House. Armed unrest breaks out across the country. The US armed forces are no longer able to act anywhere in the world. Russia takes the opportunity to challenge NATO and occupies several border towns in the Baltic states. Actually, this would be an alliance case according to «chapter 5» of the North Atlantic Treaty: If a NATO country is attacked, it receives the military support of the alliance. But the most important partner is missing.

At the same time, tensions are increasing in the eastern Mediterranean. Russia rushes to the aid of the NATO state Greece with warships to protect Rhodes from an allegedly imminent attack by the Turkish Navy. Ankara immediately denies such intentions, and Athens also speaks cautiously of an exercise. In view of the confrontation in the Baltic States, however, the other NATO partners are irritated by the Greco-Russian rapprochement - France in particular. The alliance is in an ordeal. Turkey maintains the second largest NATO army after the USA, but is now pursuing its own interests of all times.

Conflicts don't follow a scheme

Geographically, Switzerland and the Alpine region still seem to be far removed from such a scenario. Nevertheless, two to four F / A-18s would now be in the air at all times in order to be able to react immediately to a violation of the airspace. Turkish fighter planes have already flown twice over the Italian island of Lampedusa off the North African coast - always according to this illusionary thought game. Rome is still reacting to the demonstration of power in the air in a de-escalating manner.

But the NATO headquarters in Brussels is alarmed. In Bern, too, the Operations Command works in shifts and, on the basis of the information available, works out options for an appropriate response in the event that Swiss airspace should also be violated. The Turkish Air Force could venture further west. She is able to refuel her F-16 in the air. The same goes for Russia. Switzerland could suddenly be directly affected by the tensions on the periphery of Europe.

Back to reality: Pälvi Pulli, the head of security policy in the Defense Department, is fundamentally skeptical of such scenarios. They are stories to aid the imagination, but they say little about the effective probability of occurrence.

In the basic document on “Air Defense of the Future”, the army describes the “spectrum of possible use of force and power in and out of the airspace” depending on the escalation of the conflict. The scheme shows possible threats, but is not specific for political reasons. The authors rightly point out that there is no standardized course of conflict, just as there are no clear dividing lines. Ambiguity is the rule, clear relationships the exception. In most cases, the actors involved want to avoid overt violence.

Provocations in the information war

So it is mostly not war, but also no longer peace, but some gray area in between - as in the scenario described. Switzerland would still be a sideline. The better the information about the air situation, the greater the willingness of the Air Force and the lower the probability that one of the actors will penetrate Swiss airspace. Even so, Turkish or Russian warplanes could attempt to fly over the Alps to provoke a response. Even if this is very moderate, i.e. without being shot down or threatening scenes, the opposing side would be able to use their action for information warfare. Such a situation could easily escalate.

Ten years ago, such a mind game would have seemed absurd and made people shake their heads. Reality is already tough today. A Russian flirt with Greece that feels oppressed by Turkey? The Russian embassy in Athens recently tweeted a picture of the training ship “Smolny” of its own navy, which is leaving the port of Piraeus. The ship will return to Greece in October. Provocations with fighter planes over the Baltic Sea and in Scandinavia are no longer uncommon.

Training Ship SMOLNY of the Russian Navy @mod_russia (Baltic Fleet) leaving the Port of Piraeus #Greece.

In October SMOLNY will be back to Greece with a call to Thessaloniki. pic.twitter.com/U2ZLTB4qhS

- Rus Embassy, ​​Greece (@RFEmbassyGr) September 2, 2020

A particularly dangerous incident occurred in 2015 when two Russian Tu-160 bombers accompanied by Sukhoi-30 fighter jets flew around northern Europe across the Mediterranean for a mission to Syria. According to British media reports, they were intercepted and identified by Royal Air Force Eurofighters near Scotland. It was clearly a show of force - and an escalation in the information war. The operation was filmed and posted on the Internet by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Uncontrolled escalation

For the sake of completeness it must be noted that Russia also perceives the NATO fighter jets over the Baltic Sea as a threat and disseminates reports of violations of Russian airspace.

Europe is already in a state of heightened tension on its fringes. The uncertainties about developments in the USA will cause additional nervousness in the coming months. The reality of the present becomes the basis for gloomy thought games that ultimately lead to possible, abstractly formulated conflict models.

When replacing the F / A-18, the Federal Council assumes that Switzerland will not be affected by an armed conflict in the foreseeable future. This would require around three times more new combat aircraft than the slightly more than 30 aircraft that are to be procured on September 27 after a yes to the planning decision. But with the new fighter jets, the air force should be able to train dangerous scenarios. If there is enough advance warning, politicians would have to order more jets - or enter into an alliance with neighbors.

How quickly a situation could escalate further is shown in the next level of our black-and-white mind game. Two Turkish F-16s are said to fly to France via the Balkans and Austria, i.e. countries with weak air defense, in order to demonstrate strength after an incident with a French warship off the Libyan coast. They make it until shortly before the Swiss airspace, although they should have been visible on the radars of the NATO countries together with a tanker. Only the use of the Swiss F / A-18 can end the ghost and force the aircraft to land. After the incident, it was possible to bring the actors in Montreux to one table. So this fictional scenario has a slightly less gloomy ending - and preserves the neutrality of the view.