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The bi-weekly TWIAD series will start again next week – catch up here on the main events in Austrian defence this summer.
This article has been co-authored by Chiara Libiseller, doctoral student at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, and Bernhard Völkl.
New Chief of Defence appointed
On 16 July, minister of defence Mario Kunasek appointed GEN Robert Brieger (61) as new Chief of Defence. Formerly the minister’s chief of cabinet staff, Brieger succeeds GEN Othmar Commenda who retired in June. Brieger has held several leading positions in the ministry of defence, commanded Austrian forces in Kosovo in 2001/02 and the EUFOR mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011/2012.
In September, GEN Brieger gave an interview that was widely noticed for its unusual straightforwardness; expressing a desire to emphasise the military as an armed force rather than a disaster relief force, he deviated from a longstanding practice of justifying the Bundesheer’s existence with non-military functions.
Repeated Calls for an Increased Defence Budget
In early October, Minister of Defence Mario Kunasek (FPÖ) warned that, after years of low defence budgets, €3bn of additional funds were required to maintain the Bundesheer’s state of readiness. This call for more funds for the Austrian Armed Forces is the latest of an increasing amount of pleas that have been voiced over the summer. The most prominent advocate for an increased budget was federal president Alexander van der Bellen who, too, warned that the capacities of the Bundesheer were exhausted. The Austrian defence budget, always modest in comparison to other rich countries, has been especially low since the end of the Cold War and currently amounts to 0.6% of GDP.
→ Continue reading here for our take on the low defence budget’s cultural context.
Kunasek suggests to extend the duration of conscription
At the beginning of summer, minister of defence Mario Kunasek (FPÖ) rearticulated his support for extending the duration of conscription from six to eight months by reintroducing the 60 days of training with the reserves that were scrapped in 2006. The FPÖ’s senior coalition partner ÖVP, however, immediately rejected the idea, putting a stop to the debate for now.
→ Continue reading here for a more detailed analysis of this discussion and its connection to broader debates on the Bundesheer.
Continuous decrease in the number of men fit for service
The pool of young men that the Bundesheer can draw its conscripts from is continuously shrinking. Two trends lie at the heart of this issue: a decline in birth rate over the last decades and an increase in the number of those who are unfit for military service. Especially worrying is the increase of those who are diagnosed with psychopathological symptoms.
Austria and partner countries propose ‘Surveillance as a Service’ project to EU
Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary, with Slovakia and the Czech Republic as observer states, have developed the CBRNSaaS (“Surveillance as a Service) project and submitted it to the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) for funding. The project aims to build on the existing expertise in these countries on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents and combine manned and unmanned vehicles to provide reconnaissance in conflict theatres, but also in non-military arenas, such as after incidents at chemical or nuclear plants. In late November, the EU decides which projects to fund within PESCO. If CNRNSaaS is realised, other EU countries will be able to use this reconnaissance service.
Third parliamentary inquiry into Eurofighter deal
On September 9, the third parliamentary inquiry into the 2002 acquisition of 18 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from EADS, now Airbus, started. It continues where the second inquiry of 2017 left off, after it had come to a premature end due to that year’s snap elections.
2006/7 saw the first inquiry into the Eurofighter deal, which was convened to assess possible grounds for stepping back from the deal based on suspected bribery on behalf of EADS. The evidence gained from the inquiry did, in fact, support these suspicions, but failed to provide a legal basis for withdrawing from the deal; instead, then minister of minister Norbert Darabos (SPÖ) renegotiated, reducing the number of planes to 15, all Tranche 1, six of which from German Luftwaffe inventory with up to 322 flight hours.
In 2017, a ‘Task Force Eurofighter’ report, established by Darabos in 2012, again provided evidence of bribery and recommended filing a lawsuit against Airbus – a step minister of defence Hans Peter Doskozil took in February 2017. Meanwhile, the third parliamentary inquiry will continue to investigate influences on political decision-making before the deal and will also review aspects of how the affair has been dealt with since then.
→ Continue reading here for an account of Austrian air power from 1950-2007, and an introduction to the ill-fated procurement of EF-200 Typhoons.
Future of air-traffic control to be determined
In light of the dubious circumstances of the Eurofighter deal, its future as main interceptor aircraft is to date undecided. An expert commission, set up by the ministry of defence at the beginning of this year, has finished an internal report on the future of air-traffic control in June that has not yet been released to the public, however. According to news reports, current considerations include an update of the Eurofighter as well as the acquisition or leasing of another model.
In addition, the 12 Saab 105 that, together with the Eurofighter Typhoon, are used to secure Austrian airspace will have to be replaced in 2020. A decision on their replacement is yet to be made, but according to media reports, the Czech company Aero has placed an offer.
New helicopters to bolster an ailing fleet
In other procurement news, 15 new rotorcraft will be acquired by the Bundesheer: three Black Hawks will be added to the existing nine, and 12 light helicopters – type to date unknown – will replace the 22 Alouette-III which will have to retire in 2023. The bad news: the Bundesheer currently suffers from a lack of pilots due low numbers of applicants.
Tank fleet overhaul needed
In late July, it was reported that the small fleet of Austrian main battle tanks, Leopard 2A4s sourced from the Netherlands in the mid-1990s, require a technical overhaul. Hydraulic and electrical systems were cited as due for deep maintenance in order to keep the vehicles at readiness. This is critical given that the fleet’s size means it is but a nucleus to retain knowledge around the use of armour. This endeavour is successful so far: Austrian tankers boast a high training standard, having taken home 1st and 3rd places in the Strong European Tank Challenge iterations of 2017 and 2018.
Two women in critical condition after accident with Bundesheer boat
At the beginning of September, two women (18 and 22) were severely injured over the course of the Bundesheer’s ‘Girls’ Camp’ – a recruitment event specifically aimed at women. Caught by a wave on the river Danube, a boat capsized, with several attendees trapped underneath. It remains unclear whether the accident could have been avoided and why the two women were not among those recovered right away. Both the Bundesheer and public prosecutors are currently conducting investigations.
Featured image (top): Austrian Armed Forces Photograph/PUSCH
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