Swiss air force lands fighter planes on motorway in training exercise

PAYERNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -Switzerland's armed forces landed fighter jets on a stretch of motorway in the west of the country on Wednesday, testing the ability of combat aircraft to operate from improvised locations amid heightened national security concerns in Europe.

Broadcast live on Swiss television, the F/A-18 fighter jets were scheduled to both land and take off on a rural section of the A1 motorway between the towns of Avenches and Payerne in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

A handful of onlookers and emergency services watched the twin-engine supersonic jets touch down as a heat haze shimmered over the closed-off stretch of the A1 motorway.

"It went really well," Alain von Bueren, the first pilot to land on the motorway, said after exiting the U.S.-made jet, designed for use on aircraft carriers.

The government said last week the test was necessary because all of the Swiss air force's assets were concentrated on three airfields in Payerne, Meiringen and Emmen, making them vulnerable to long-range enemy weapons systems.

To mitigate the risk of attack by long-range weapons, the Swiss armed forces were relying on being able to scramble its assets and to deploy them from decentralized, possibly temporary locations, the government said.

The motorway landing was the first since 1991 in neutral Switzerland, which later this month will host a major summit aimed at paving the way to peace in Ukraine, more than two years after Russia invaded the country.

(Reporting by Denis Balibouse and Cecile Mantovani; Writing by Dave Graham;Editing by Bernadette Baum)