Bundesheer in financial distress >>> Desaster relief
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Extinguishing Fires Pt.1: Public display secured, financial distress continues
Minister of Defence Starlinger’s announcement to slash the Armed Forces’ traditional public display on Oct 26, Austria’s national holiday, finally gave some impetus to the long overdue debate on the financial state of defence. Warnings about the tight budget have become more frequent in the last few months, but Starlinger is the first minister to back his words with visible action – first by thinking aloud about cancelling the aerial display AirPower19* and scrapping the military high school, now by tackling the rather popular public display over a lack of resources. It was his last decision that finally urged parliament to take (temporary) actions, if unsuccessfully so.
Starlinger’s announcement first created the same effect as his decision to scrap the planned military high school: a majority of members of parliament were opposed and took action. In the case of the high school, parliament voted in favour of going ahead with the project and Starlinger, while opposed, duly put that vote into practice – which meant draining resources intended for training (for details see our last TWIAD). In the case of the €2m public display parliament was again surprisingly quick to vote in favour of granting the Bundesheer an additional €2.6bn in special grants for 2020 and €3bn for 2021, intended mainly for equipment and infrastructure. The final decision, however, lay with the government, who has, due to its interim status, refused to make budgetary changes in any department (besides Defence, the Ministry of Justice too declared a large shortfall in funds).
While Starlinger and finance minister Eduard Müller in the end agreed to carry out the display in a smaller setup, mid- to long-term solutions to the Bundesheer’s financial troubles will have to be found by the new government after the elections on September 29. What is new, however, is that the current spotlight on defence expenditure encouraged other military officers to speak up. BGEN Anton Waldner, Salzburg’s military commandant states that over the past ten years, 50% of vehicles had to be retired, and two thirds of barracks and other installations are in urgent need of repair. Of the forces stationed in Wals-Siezenheim outside Salzburg, only one fifth can move at any given time; for the rest, busses would have to be rented. With many of the remaining vehicles between 30 and 40 years old, readiness is under 50% and spare parts hard to come by. Salzburg is certainly not alone; in Tyrol, busses recently had to be rented from a private company to transport soldiers to a medium-sized field exercise, and part of the equipment – even radio sets – had to be brought in from across Austria. Reports of barracks that need refurbishing abound across Austria.
Federal President van der Bellen has already announced to put an increase in the defence budget on the agenda of the post-election coalition talks. Until then, the €2m special grant for the Oct 26 public display remains a drop in the ocean.
* It should be noted that AirPower19, at a cost of €4.5m, was never seriously questioned; contractual obligations with third parties were cited, but many observers suspect strong political pressure from the Styrian governor behind the unwavering commitment to the air show.
For background info on the Austrian defence budget, see our last TWIAD.
Extinguishing Fires Pt.2: Disaster relief operations in Salzburg, Styria
Bundesheer forces were engaged in disaster relief operations in late June and early July. Rotorcraft helped reconnoiter and fight forest fires in Salzburg as well as mud slides in Styria; soldiers from Salzburg state were also called up for recovery efforts.
Header image: Austrian Armed Forces/Michael Gliber
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