Two weeks in Austrian Defence | Sept 24

In Blog, English by Chiara Libiseller

TWIAD is your bi-weekly, English-language briefing on national security and defence affairs in the alpine republic. The most relevant news reports, press releases, articles and announcements are recapped and, where necessary, put into context for greater accessibility. Feel free to get in touch and leave us your feedback and thoughts, ask questions in the comments or join the #TWIAD raucity on Twitter!

TWIAD is back after a brief summer hiatus – and the early autumn begins where the summer left off.

‘Unser Heer [our armed forces] 2030’ – MoD report on mid-term vision and requirements published

Upon assuming office, current minister of defence Thomas Starlinger tasked the General Staff with producing a report on the investments necessary until 2030 to reinstate the Bundesheer’s ability to keep Austria safe and secure; last week, the report was published. The German-language, 132-page report, including graphs and imagery, can be downloaded here.

Meant to provide decision-makers with the information necessary to shape (or save) the future of the Bundesheer, the report gives a rather basic overview of the Austrian Armed Forces, its branches and capabilities. It characterizes the current and likely future security environment and threats; based on that, it lists the tasks the Bundesheer needs to be able to perform and the capabilities it needs to have – and the respective necessary amount of funding.

Comparing the nominal condition to actuals, it finds a major delta both in capabilities and resources. Resulting from the decades of low defence spending, and now crippling the Bundesheer’s ability to carry out its constitutional role, this gap needs to be closed now before it’s too late, the generals argue. In this way, the report represents a continuation of the dire warnings about the state of Austrian defence and the calls for a budget increase that have been increasingly voiced for over a year.

At the same time, the report reinforces and makes more tangible these earlier statements by better linking anticipated threats with capabilities and resources, needed to counter them; this is to give decisionmakers a more detailed picture of what the increased budget that so often has been called for is actually supposed to fund and why.

At its heart is the assumption that ‘hybrid threats’, attacks through cyberspace, and ‘systematic terrorism’ are and will remain the main challenges in the coming decade (the latter two tend to be understood as parts of a hybrid attack rather than independent threats; in fact, the report uses the term ‘hybrid conflicts’ rather loosely to refer to a number of unconventional attacks and scenarios that remain below the threshold of war, legally defined). Operations against hybrid attacks – referred to as ‘protective operations’ [Schutzoperationen] – are estimated to require a budget of at least 1 percent of GDP. ‘Defence operations’ [Abwehroperationen], in contrast, aimed against attacks by conventional adversaries, can only be meaningfully conducted with a budget of 2 percent of GDP. Considering realities in Austrian defence politics, the General Staff, seems to be willing to settle for increasing the defence budget to 1 percent until 2030, which would mean maintaining only a ‘core capability’ for defence operations that can be built up when necessary.

Meanwhile, the report reaffirms MoD’s intention to stay involved in EU defence initiatives and in international peacekeeping operations (Starlinger recently threatened that unless the budget is increased, the Bundesheer might have to reduce or withdraw entirely from its international commitments).

Notably, climate change is mentioned ten times across the report, and features large in the threat matrix, mostly in the form of looming conflict, mass migration and more drastic weather events.

The report then goes on to outline the capabilities, equipment, and funding it considers necessary for being ready to engage in this broad spectrum of operations, providing a detailed list of necessary equipment and cost, together with a budget plan up to 2030 broken down into individual areas and sectors.

Increased funding, however, is not considered sufficient to secure the Bundesheer’s readiness; organisational and conceptual changes are required as well in light of new threats. In fact, the report culminates in a diverse set of ten ‘necessary measures for Austrian security’, most likely formulated for whatever government will be formed after the September 29 elections:

  1. Increase defence budget to EUR 3bn now and gradually increase to 1 percent of GDP by 2030.
  2. Gradual reduction of investment backlog.
  3. Immediate decision on future of air-traffic surveillance and control to guarantee sovereignty and neutrality.
  4. Restore the reserves’ readiness as mandated by the constitution.
  5. Extension of conscripts’ service from six to eight months, reversing the 2006 reform;  with this, reintroduction of mandatory reserve duty and regular exercises.
  6. Focus on protection against hybrid threats and cyber attacks.
  7. Continued engagement in international peace operations on a high level according to Austria’s interests.
  8. Guaranteeing to meet EU defence commitments.
  9. Increase in the number of personnel to 24,000 and adaption of employment laws to guarantee readiness.
  10. Further develop the concept of ‘comprehensive defence’ [Umfassende Landesverteidigung]

While one might not agree with the report on all accounts (whether the Bundesheer should develop offensive cyber capabilities, for example, is a question that would benefit from further debate, so would the rather sloppy use of the term ‘hybrid threats’). But in the end, the General Staff thinks it is not asking for much – the way they see it, they are simply pointing out what is necessary to secure the Bundesheer’s capacity to defend Austrian sovereignty. While the national audit office in 2016 came to the conclusion that the defence ministry should have reacted to shrinking budgets with reforms and spending cuts – especially regarding personnel and administration – to make the Bundesheer more efficient, the General Staff blames politics for underfunding defence capabilities.

 

Public reactions to the report

First reactions to the report were mostly positive, with an estimated 61% of the electorate expressing a desire for higher defence expenditures; 52% of the overall population are in favour of a longer service period for conscripts, whereby only 34% of youngsters share that opinion. With elections coming up on Sunday, former coalition partners OeVP (centre-right) and FPOe (far right) were quick to express varying degrees of support for such measures.

 


Header image: ‘Unser Heer 2030’, Austrian Armed Forces

Share this Post

About the Author

Bernhard Völkl

Twitter

Bernhard is a reserve officer in the Austrian Armed Forces and works in the technology industry.

About the Author
Chiara Libiseller

Chiara Libiseller

Twitter

Chiara Libiseller is a doctoral candidate and Teaching Assistant at the War Studies Department, King’s College London. Her research traces the evolution of contemporary military concepts to understand broader patterns and fashions in the ways Anglo-American scholars and military professionals study and understand war. Her broad interests include military strategy, military history as well as Austrian and European defence.