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Military Disaster Relief

Swiss Armed Forces and civil affairs support

One of the three basic missions of the Swiss Armed Forces is to support the civilian authorities, when their resources are no longer sufficient:

a) in warding off severe threats;
b) in mastering other exceptional situations, in particular in the event of disasters in Switzerland or abroad.

The «subsidiary operations to prevent and master existential dangers» form the framework for military disaster relief at home and abroad; the framework for humanitarian relief operations of the armed forces is provided by the «contributions to international peace support and crisis management» (abroad).

Operations (principally as assisting service) are carried out according to the principle of subsidiarity in favour and upon request of:
– Military disaster relief: civilian authorities (cantonal management staffs)
– Humanitarian relief operations of the Armed Forces: Civilian organisations (national DFA, SDC and/or international) and foreign governments, when their personnel, material or temporal resources are exhausted after disasters or in crisis situations.

Here, the armed forces are expected to be able to intervene immediately (within hours or days, depending on size and type of the operation).

Military disaster relief (at home and in the immediate vicinity of the border)

Military disaster relief is primarily provided within Switzerland. Operations in areas abroad close to the border are carried out within the context of existing agreements with neighbouring states and after respective authorisation by the Federal Council.

Civilian authorities are given support to in the event of natural, technological or violence related disasters in Switzerland according to a three-step concept in order to mitigate excessive demands:

  1. Preventive support: In the normal situation, civilian partners are permanently given military disaster relief equipment for use (e.g. swap body containers of the disaster relief battalions) outside the normal troop courses.
  2. Spontaneous assistance: All troops located within the vicinity of an event provide rapid assistance which is limited in both time (approx. 48 hours at the most) and space.
  3. Military disaster relief: military disaster relief within the context of national security cooperation primarily comprises rescue operations in severe and extensive damage situations or major fires. in addition, the following services can be provided:
    – assistance to cut off world or otherwise threatened inhabitants
    – containment of the disaster area as well as aversion of consecutive damages
    – supporting provisional restoration of vital infrastructures
    – reinforcement or relief of already deployed civilian and/or military resources.

With specialised units, the rescue corps is the main pillar of military disaster relief. Its units comprise:

  • the disaster relief standby company, which can intervene within hours
  • the disaster relief battalions which can be called up and deployed within days to ensure sustainability, concentration of forces and reinforcement.

The specialised units of the rescue corps can be augmented with elements from other service branches – to form requirement specific operational modules. Candidates for that are primarily resources and services of the air force, engineer, logistic and medical forces, Military Security and NBC defence forces.

The Swiss Armed Forces' assistance in humanitarian aid abroad

The armed forces have the capacity to provide humanitarian aid support from a standing start. Accordingly, the requirements for personnel selection, equipment, organisation and training are high, and mission-oriented training must be provided in advance.

The armed forces humanitarian aid support is always provided at a subsidiary level. It is provided to:

  • the FDFA (SDC/Humanitarian Aid and SHA)
  • local organisations and authorities.

The FDFA bears overall responsibility and ensures compliance with humanitarian principles and standards.


Support for humanitarian aid operations, under Article 69 paragraph 1 letter b of the Armed Forces Act, is provided as an extended form of disaster relief abroad (civil affairs support operations abroad). The objective of humanitarian aid support is primarily to save lives and to ensure the survival of people at risk, and may include rebuilding vital infrastructure. Military assistance is provided according to the requirements of the civilian partner to be supported, the needs of the victims and the armed forces' capabilities.


The high standards of humanitarian aid support require that only specifically defined, practised and ready-to-use mission modules are provided.

Currently, the armed forces contribute to the following missions:

- rescue
- air mobility
- logistics
- communications (command support)
- coordination / consulting 

Armed Forces Joint Staff (AFJS) Operations (J3/5)
Papiermühlestrasse 20
CH-3003 Berne
+41 31 324 55 35
+41 58 465 60 73


Armed Forces Joint Staff (AFJS)

Operations (J3/5)
Papiermühlestrasse 20
CH-3003 Berne