E-Soldat: A military service booklet from the near future

Experience the Swiss militia system in light of potential technological changes and inevitable ecological crises

In collaboration with armasuisse Science and Technology, the Near Future Laboratory brought back from the future a military service booklet that stages the story of a Swiss soldier recruited to defend natural resources with a specialization in “local community management”. Using a Design Fiction approach, this object gathers weak signals to speculate on Switzerland security response to potential future scenarios and develop future-oriented strategies.

What is a Swiss army service booklet?

The Swiss military system is organised as a militia army, which means that most soldiers are not professionals. Each soldier is required to have a service booklet (Livret de service in French, Dienstbüchlein in German) which traces his or her career from the first day of recruitment to the many specialisations and promotions they acquire along the way. The booklet also describes the functioning of the armed forces at a given time, with detailed instructions on military tasks and the use of various items of military equipment.

The service booklet is a common object that is part of the culture of the Swiss militia armed forces. Its composite and eclectic format makes it relevant to introduce the various prospective issues that the armed forces might face in the near future. In particular, the possibility of describing new practices: handwritten personalisation with pencil/pen inscriptions, the use of stickers and stamps, and storage space with a small envelope for the identity card or other documents.

What is Design Fiction?

As American author Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote, “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in, a means of thinking about reality, a method.” Design Fiction is a practice that provides that “safe space” to explore alternative future scenarios for an organizations. Its objective is to create tangible and evocative objects from possible near futures, to help represent the implications, outcomes, and consequences of decision making.

The booklet

Brought back from a trip to the near future, the service booklet depicts an evolution of the relationship between the Swiss armed forces, the militia and the civilian population. This document makes it possible to discover the types of competences acquired by a new kind of specialist called a “natural resources soldier”. It also highlights the soldier career in “mixed mode” which combines face-to-face service with remote contributions and training.

E-Soldat is a service booklet and an object used to encourage the debate and reflection on technological and societal issues that are often seen as abstract, complex and remote from everyday life. Based on a foresight study on “dual-use”, it addresses the potential evolutions of technologies and equipment designed for both civilian and military purposes.

Themes: Setting the stage for possible futures

Imagine the near future of the Swiss militia system in light of potential technological changes and inevitable ecological crises. What would a “Livret de service/Dienstbüchlein” tell us? You would probably see references to technologies used for both civilian and military applications. You might discover the most recent instructions on how to connect remotely to an “hybrid” military service. Or you could read how the armed forces integrate civilian hardware and knowledge into their missions.

Without necessarily giving a precise date, the time horizon of the foresight work presented in the booklet is situated around the decade 2030-2040. Our analysis of foresight material addresses the general evolution of the military domains that ‘invite themselves at home’, and the potential contributions of civilians/individuals through the following themes:

The following paragraphs detail how these issues are addressed in different sections of the booklet.

Theme 1: The risks of the Anthropocene

While global warming is the most commonly cited dimension of the systemic environmental crisis, it also concerns the multiple degradation of soil and air (plastic pollution, heavy metals, etc.), the massive loss of biodiversity, or the problematic long-term situation of energy supply or critical metals.

The DDPS (Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport) is now called the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Quality of Life. It includes new tasks to prevent environmental degradation affecting the daily life of citizens.

For example, the Service Instructions of the armed forces are updated with a reference to the new fundamental duty to “not harm the environment and to preserve our living environments” in the oath or pledge that each new recruit is now required to sign in the booklet.

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The quality of water in the Alps has changed significantly in recent years, with finer and more problematic types of pollution than in the past. Thanks to the latest chemical techniques, it is possible to detect thousands of substances in water, even at very low concentrations.

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The manual colorimetric kit WT-012 (Wasserqualität Testfahrten) is a low-tech and participatory solution that is carried by every soldier and distributed to volunteer citizens for emergency or repeated diagnosis.

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One modality of adaptation concerns the participation of the population, in direct contact with the various signs of environmental degradation, and able to carry out a precise follow-up over time. This active mobilisation of volunteer citizens requires an adequate framework from the armed forces. For example, the booklet describes the guiding principles of community organisation by the military hierarchy, thus revealing the desired behavior that civilians should follow to facilitate their contributions.

Theme 2: The Great Slowdown

It is not only the environmental situation that is deteriorating, but also the infrastructure itself, which is subject to other forms of deterioration due to wear and tear caused by the passage of time, the obsolescence of technologies and the consequences of various crises.

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For this reason, new specialisations are emerging, e.g. in micro-hydro, solar energy, ad-hoc networks, etc. As the training command can only partially cover the explosion of demand, part of the training of the troops now takes place remotely; with the participation of public accreditation bodies (e.g. EPFL, Swisstopo), associations (e.g. Swiss Alpine Club) as well as private actors (e.g. National Security Policy Network).

What are the reactions when the internet, electricity or water network stops working for a few days?

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The service booklet addresses this type of issue with sections that describe the requisitioning of older technologies present in the inhabitants’ homes. For instance, in order to rebuild an ad hoc telecommunications network in the event of a crisis. In the event of a large-scale (national) technical or environmental disaster, the traditional telecommunications networks often become unusable. It is then necessary to restore their operation as soon as possible. This involves a requisition procedure for the population. In order to carry out this task, the soldier must commit to a precise code of conduct.

Theme 3: The cyber world

What are the forms of belonging to the armed forces, to the defense of the territory, to national solidarity?

The medical situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic gave a foretaste of remote service. This was generalised with the introduction of new instructions on the duties and obligations of the soldier. As an unexpected consequence, the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) lobbied the Federal Council and Parliament to establish a participatory mode for Swiss nationals living abroad in army missions that do not require the physical presence of the soldier. Cross-border commuters are the first to benefit from such an opportunity.

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In the pages tracing the soldier’s career, the booklet reflects the hybrid nature of the commitment, mixing face-to-face service with remote contributions and training.

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In addition to involving citizens in the collection of information, training courses have been developed to familiarise militiamen with the practice of bellingcater (voir Soldat du Futur) which allows them to work together to check the reliability of information. For example, Swisstopo’s training in remote sensing includes the mastery of the “dégoupillar” (verification of information having an impact on military strategies) and the use of “defaker” type algorithms which allow the identification of false data.

Theme 4: The Information World

What are the behaviors for hiding in a digital world, or one in which civilians themselves may participate in surveillance?

According to the latest update of the Military Penal Code (MPC), any intentional act aimed at provoking the traceability of the troops is punishable. Digital equipment is naturally the focus of attention to reduce the observability of troops. Gone are the days of setting smartphones in ‘airplane mode’.

The booklet gives instructions on the responsibility of the soldier and how to avoid his equipment being detectable on the networks used. A “camouflage” mode is also available by default on the devices.

Other modes are available to assist in network smuggling activities.

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What are the new opportunities for open-source intelligence, when civilians have access to open information layers and when civilians participate in the creation of military intelligence?

Water is a fundamental resource, and its shortage or absence significantly impairs the need for hydration, hygiene or use for activities such as agriculture. In disaster situations, the mobilisation of civilians allows for massive information gathering.

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Soldiers acquire skills as “local community builders”, training in participatory science with new duties and a specific code of conduct.

Workshop: Possible uses of the service booklet

After reading its content, we encourage the use of this service booklet in the context of a workshop with a concrete object to debate about “dual use”, hybrid military service, and the integration of civilian material and knowledge in a defense context. It could also be used as an object to interrogate imaginary futures, and to suggest further contributions of civilians to the army’s missions in terms of material and know-how.

Activity 1: Complete the booklet.

Annotation and addition of civil contribution procedures with limits, issues, threats.

Description of training courses or changes in current training courses to meet these contributions (Download the stickers in French)

Activity 2: Challenge the assumptions in the booklet

Describe the disagreements and differences of opinion with the staged future in the different sections of the booklet.

Activity 3: Extend the contents of the booklet

Development of other areas of civilian contributions (potential opportunities for the military)

Description of the instructions taking into account the participation of various communities (e.g. small group in a village, online community, Swiss living abroad, cross-border commuters working in Switzerland).

Description of the technological objects, the constraints and the modalities of animation of these civilian communities (e.g. writing a code of conduct or a list of principles)


Conceptualisation, research and design by the Near Future Laboratory (Fabien Girardin, Nicolas Nova and Israel Viadest) in collaboration with Deftech.ch, the technology foresight research programme of armasuisse Science and Technology (Quentin Ladetto).

Photos courtesy of Nicolas Nova


Dr. Quentin Ladetto
Head of Technology Foresight
Science and Technology

What is the Near Future Laboratory?

Based in Switzerland and California, the Near Future Laboratory is a distributed network of accomplished practitioners who come together through creative projects inspired by their curiosities, experiences, and expertise in design, engineering, anthropology and futures.

We are best known as pioneers of Design Fiction. Since 2009, we have worked with over 100 clients – from multinational companies and governments to NGOs and start-ups — to bring focus to their visions, and clarity to their execution.