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Can ‘Weapons-Hungry’ Ukraine Get Swiss Rapier SAMs That Were Once Tasked To Defend London From UAV Attacks?

The Swiss government has begun to get rid of 60 operational Rapier anti-aircraft missile systems, Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported on March 11. 

A spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Office for Defense Procurement named Kai-Gunnar Sievert informed the newspaper that the first of four Rapier batches had already been disassembled.

Sievert said, “It is planned that all systems will be dismantled and disposed of as part of these other tranches.” Switzerland procured the Rapier anti-aircraft missile system in the 1980s. 

The Swiss government modernized them in 2007, and the army bought 2,000 new guided missiles. The UK developed the Rapier missile system designed to destroy high-maneuverability targets. 

Bern decommissioned the Rapier at the end of 2022. These weapons systems will now be disposed of, even though they could be employed against drones and other low-flying targets. 

According to the publication, some Swiss politicians have raised objections to the disposal of weapons. The Swiss government forbids nations from re-exporting Swiss arms without approval.  

Furthermore, Swiss neutrality also forbids Switzerland from supplying any side in a conflict with weapons, either directly or indirectly.

For instance, the Swiss authorities rejected transferring Swiss-made anti-aircraft weapons from Spain to Ukraine in February 2023. Bern has also turned down proposals from Germany and Denmark to provide Ukraine with Swiss-made armored vehicles and ammunition.

Also, the nation restricts the export of weapons to Russia and Ukraine.

According to a February 7 article from Reuters, Switzerland may lift its embargo on transferring weapons to conflict areas as pressure mounts on the government to abandon its time-honored policy of maintaining neutrality. 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, there have been increasing calls for Switzerland to abandon its decades-old neutral position. But, the Swiss government stated on March 10 that it would not alter its long-standing tradition.

Why Is Switzerland Not Ready To Deliver The Rapier To Ukraine?

Security policymakers are upset over the disposal of the Rapier anti-aircraft weapon systems. Peter Schneider, former Editor-in-Chief of the Allgemeine Schweizerische Militaerzeitschrift (ASMZ), emphasized that although this armament was outdated, it was still effective.  

The United Kingdom employed this weapon system to defend the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He noted that Rapier’s anti-aircraft missile system works particularly effectively against low-flying threats like drones. 

François Pointe, a Green Liberal member of the National Council, also criticized the choice of dismantling this armament system. He is in favor of supplying weapons to Ukraine. 

As previously noted, Rapier is a British-made weapon system. It is underlined that since the system was developed in Britain, completely different export regulations have been applied, making transferring weapons to Ukraine legally permissible. 

The Swiss Federal Council ruled in 2006 that foreign firearms can be sold back to their nation of origin. 

Rapier air defense system. Photo from open sources

It is important to note that Bern didn’t get a request from London. The report said that the Swiss government decided to eliminate the systems in 2019 but neglected to inquire about UK interest in Rapier.

“It is not typical for Switzerland to actively offer decommissioned military systems for sale,” said Armasuisse press secretary Kaj-Gunner Sievert.

Meanwhile, the Rapier systems were also phased down in the UK in 2021. In answer to a question, the British Ministry of Defense stated that all the missiles were neutralized even before the conflict began. 

Afterward, London received criticism for disposing of these anti-aircraft weapon systems. The key argument behind the criticism was that Ukraine could benefit from this weaponry. 

The Rapier short-range anti-aircraft missiles are intended to protect troops in the advance zone from enemy air assault aircraft flying at low altitudes.

The prototypes of the SAM system were built in 1967. The complex was supplied to the British Army (Army) in 1972, and the Royal Air Force activated it in 1974 to provide air defense for airbases.

Yet, analysts have noted that this weapon system’s technology dates from the late 1970s. Even the British military in the Falklands reportedly struggled greatly with them. The other is that training would take longer than with modern systems due to the complexity of the system controls. 

Furthermore, the technology also needs exceedingly rigorous maintenance, which could have been too much for the UK to handle without Swiss assistance. 

The Rapier story draws attention to a significant issue: Switzerland will be decommissioning several foreign weapon systems over the coming years, but due to its policy, it won’t supply those weapons to Ukraine. 

For instance, more than 100 M109 artillery pieces and 248 M113 infantry fighting vehicles will be dismantled by Switzerland. Both systems were made in the US and are being used in Ukraine.

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