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This article has been co-authored by Chiara Libiseller and Bernhard Völkl.
Federal President and reserve associations bemoan unconstitutional state of the Bundesheer
In his order of the day at the turn of the year, Federal President Alexander van der Bellen declared 2019 to be a critical year for the Bundesheer’s future state of readiness. He pledged to ‘keep a sharp eye’ on budget negotiations to make sure that the constitutional state of the Bundesheer – a funded and functioning reserve system – will be reinstated. Support came from both the officer in charge of reserves within the Bundesheer, MAJGEN Erwin Hameseder, and the president of the reserve associations, Michael Schaffer. Hameseder argued that the reserves were lacking any meaningful mobility, protected or otherwise, and demanded a significantly higher defence budget (currently 0.57% of GDP) that would prioritise equipment for the reserves. Schaffer, too, pronounced dead the reserves system as a consequence of then-minister of defence Günther Platter’s (ÖVP) decision to cut the two months of training with the reserves.
In its programme, the Austrian government proclaimed its intention to provide ‘sufficient financial cover’ for reinstating the constitutional state of the Bundesheer and covering necessary investments that have amassed over the last years of insufficient funding. After a year in office, concrete actions have yet to follow, as indicated by a growing number of pleas for a budget increase.
Kunasek supports deeper EU cooperation in security and defence
Even though defence minister Mario Kunasek (FPÖ) has reiterated his dismissal of Austria’s participation in a possible future European army, he has called for a further deepening of the common European defence and security policy. According to Kunasek, a joint European army with a common command and uniform would neither be compatible with Austrian neutrality, nor would other EU defence ministers strive towards realisation of this idea. When it comes to common structures, missions and exercises as well as funding through the common defence fund, however, Kunasek supports closer cooperation.
Bundesheer to acquire 3 new Black Hawks until 2020
The government has released more than 300 million Euros for the enlargement of the Bundesheer’s fleet of rotorcraft. Three new Black Hawk helicopters are to be acquired, expanding the Bundesheer’s stock of this type to 12 in total. Twelve aircraft of a smaller type are also on the list; the government has released a public tender to find an appropriate model. The acquisition process that has stretched over the last few decades is well documented in this newspaper article [German].
Meanwhile, a decision on the future of the Eurofighter Typhoons is still awaiting.
Bundesheer supports civilian rescue services after heavy snowfalls
At the beginning of this month, large parts of Austria have been hit by unusually heavy snowfalls. The Bundesheer has been called upon to assist civilian rescue forces with disaster relief. Among other efforts, the Bundesheer is carrying out reconnaissance flights, provisioning cut-off villages with food and medication and has evacuated a group of pupils who were stuck in a ski hut by helicopter. Disaster relief is where the Bundesheer can score highest with the population, who likes to see in this the key task of the armed forces.
Proposed changes to military law include wider access to telecom data
A draft bill introduced by the Ministry of Defence on January 15 proposes an easier and wider access to telecommunication data for the military. As the law currently stands, public telecommunication services have to provide users’ names, addresses and telephone numbers immediately and for free, if requested by the military organs. In addition to the above, but only “if these data are essential for the military to fulfil its duties”, the suggested revision of the law would allow the military access to IP addresses and other metadata connected to specific messages; the name and address of users connected to specific IP addresses at specific points in time; and, in urgent and important situations, such as during a mission that concerns national security, telecom services would have to provide traffic data, login details and location data of individual users.
In addition to telecom data, the proposed bill would also grant the military wider authority regarding observation, such as the right to use technology to locate people if observation was unsuccessful otherwise.
The proposed changes will be discussed in parliament after February 26, when the deadline for statements from other governmental organs and interest groups ends. The exact proposed changes can be tracked here [German].
Header image: Bundesheer/Fiedler
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