Switzerland signs membership bid for European Sky Shield project

Switzerland's national flag flies at the Swiss Federal Palace in Bern

ZURICH (Reuters) - Neutral Switzerland has applied to join the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) air defence scheme at a time of heightened anxiety over security due to Russia's war in Ukraine.

The scheme, launched by Germany in 2022, has been mostly, but not exclusively, backed by NATO members.

Swiss national armaments chief Urs Loher signed a membership application on Monday, the Swiss government said on Tuesday.

The initiative aims to cut costs for countries by coordinating their procurement of air and missile defence systems such as the Patriot missile system. It also aims to enable cooperation in training, maintenance and logistics.

The conflict in Ukraine has led to increased calls for Switzerland to modernize and spend more on its armed forces, as well as for frank condemnation of Russia's actions.

ESSI member states, which also include Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania, can now express their views on Switzerland's application.

Following the consultations, member states have two months to give their consent or express reservations about Switzerland joining the program, the government said.

Switzerland announced in April that it would join ESSI.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Rod Nickel)