The military of Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Armed Forces, is a unique institution somewhere between a militia and a regular army. It is equipped with mostly modern, sophisticated, and well-maintained weapons systems and equipment.
In contrast to most other comparable Armies, officer candidates are not necessarily career regulars. Instead, until 2004 officers were traditionally selected from the pool of NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and then underwent OCS (officer candidate school, which was and is open to both militia - i.e. officers who also have a civilian job - and future professional officers), five months of intensive training that emphasised small-unit and platoon-sized unit tactics. This system ensured that all officers knew the trade skills of a non-commissioned soldier and mitigated resentment towards officers from NCOs.
This was abolished with the Army XXI reform as a concession to the Swiss economy which was increasingly unhappy about having its future leaders away for two years at a time (the time it took to become an officer until 2004). In the new system, officers-to-be are selected early based on criteria such as leadership potential and education and are sent directly to officer training. This system, which is similar to that employed in most countries of the world, reduces the time needed to train an officer but means that new entries are sometimes seen to lack credibility in the eyes of traditionalists. The new system is under review but remains in force.
To assure a generally high level of military leadership above the rank of first lieutenant, the Army maintains the HKA (Hoehere Kaderschule der Armee) which is responsible for an array of professionally run schools such as BUSA (Berufsunteroffiziersschule der Armee) which runs a program for professional non-commissioned officers, the MILAK (Militaerakademie) which runs a bachelor degree program for professional officers, programs for company and battalion commanders, a number of staff courses, and the General Staff and Command College (Gst S), an elite training program whose graduates leave their former branches and are inducted into the so-called General Staff Corps.
Future general staff officers are selected from the best company commanders and undergo battalion commander training before starting general staff training. Only 30 new trainees are selected per year and even fewer complete the demanding training. Being a general staff officer is a prerequisite for a range of important jobs on Brigade and higher level, such as G2 (chief of intelligence) or G3 (chief of operations).
The ratio of professional versus militia officers is about 1:1. As a rule of thumb, a significant number of senior civil servants and business leaders in Switzerland are general staff officers, and aspiring managers used to be required to become officers by their company, which would give them personnel management skills amongst other things.
Rank designations in German, French, Italian and English with abbreviations and corresponding Ranks and insignia of NATO armies officers:
- Rekrut (Rekr) / recrue (recr) / recluta (recl)
- Soldat (Sdt) / soldat (sdt) / soldato (sdt) / Private OR-1
- Gefreiter (Gfr) / appointé (app) / appuntato (app) / Private OR-2
- Obergefreiter (Obgfr) / appointé-chef (app chef) / appuntato capo / Private First Class OR-3
- Non-commissioned officers
- Korporal (Kpl) / caporal (cpl) / caporale (cpl) / Corporal 'OR-4
- Wachtmeister (Wm) / sergent (sgt) / sergente (sgt) / Sergeant OR-5
- Oberwachtmeister (Obwm) / sergent-chef (sgt chef) / sergente capo / Sergeant First Class OR-6
- Feldwebel (Fw) / sergent-major (sgtm) / sergente maggiore / Sergeant Major OR-7
- Fourier (Four) / fourrier (four) / furiere / Quartermaster Sergeant OR-8
- Hauptfeldweibel (Hptfw) / sergent-major chef (sgtm chef) / sergente maggiore capo / Chief Sergeant Major OR-9
- Adjutant Unteroffizier (Adj Uof) / adjudant sous-officier (adj sof) / aiutante sottoufficiale / Warrant Officer
- Stabsadjutant (Stabsadj) / adjudant d’état-major (adj EM) / aiutante di stato maggiore / Staff Warrant Officer (bn)
- Hauptadjutant (Hptadj) / adjudant-major (adj maj) / aiutante maggiore / Master Warrant Officer (bde)
- Chefadjutant (Chefadj) / adjudant-chef (adj chef) / aiutante capo / Chief Warrant Officer (div)
- Subaltern officers
- Leutnant (Lt) / lieutenant (lt) / tenente (ten) / Second Lieutenant OF-1
- Oberleutnant (Oblt) / premier-lieutenant (plt) / primo tenente (Iten) / First Lieutenant OF-1
- Hauptmann (Hptm) / capitaine (cap) / capitano (cap) / Captain OF-2
- Staff officers
- Major (Maj) / major (maj) / maggiore (magg) / Major OF-3
- Oberstleutnant (Oberstlt) / lieutenant-colonel (lt col) / tenente colonnello / Lieutenant Colonel OF-4
- Oberst / colonel (col) / colonnello / Colonel OF-5
- Higher staff officers
- Brigadier (Br) / brigadier / brigadiere / Brigadier General OF-6
- Divisionär (Div) / divisionnaire / divisionario / Major General OF-7
- Korpskommandant (KKdt) / commandant de corps / comandante di corpo / Lieutenant General OF-8
- General / général / generale / General OF-9