Two Weeks in Austrian Defence | Feb 2

In Blog, English, Uncategorized by Bernhard Völkl

New faces in the MoD >>> Bundesheer advocates prolonging border deployment >>> Cyber attack on foreign ministry >>> Air cover for Davos >>> Service fitness criteria overhaul

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!

You get a car job

Minister for Defence Klaudia Tanner (OeVP)was sworn in on January 7. In her maiden speech, she expressed a need for ‘future-proof resources, structures and modern equipment’ for the Bundesheer.
The minister’s leadership team was presented shortly thereafter:
The post of general secretary – in effect the second most powerful function in the MoD, outranking the Chief of Defence – was resurrected and is now occupied by Dieter Kandlhofer, formerly occupying the same position in the federal chancellery.
The former head of the Bundesheer’s counterintelligence, Brigadier General Rudolf Striedinger was named as the minister’s chief of staff. He was the subject of controversy after attending an OeVP rally in uniform, violating standing regulations. (His replacement at the head of the equally controversial intelligence service is Brigadier General Reinhard Ruckenstuhl.)
The post of head of the minister’s cabinet remains with Arnold Kammel. His new deputy is Katharina Nehammer, the wife of Minister for the interior Karl Nehammer (OeVP).

Bundesheer advocates prolonging border deployment

The military commandant of the state of Burgenland on Jan 10 advocated for an extension of the current border deployment of Bundesheer forces. He pointed at a supposed increase in would-be migrants picked up at the border, from 534 in 2018 to 1,350 in 2019.
These figures are not backed up by the MoD’s own report to MPs from September 2019; it stated that 124 persons were apprehended at the Burgenland border in 2018, and 135 between January and June 2019.
According to MoD figures, the total cost per person apprehended in that same timeframe amounted to EUR 77,284.

Cyber attack on foreign ministry

Bundesheer specialists supported defensive efforts following a prolonged cyber attack on the foreign ministry. The attack lasted for at least three weeks in January, with its origins unknown, but Russian authorities repeatedly cited as a likely perpetrator.

Air cover for the World Economic Forum

The Bundesheer’s remaining airworthy planes took to the skies in January to secure the World Economic Forum in Davos. Moreover, ground-based radar and other assets were deployed to Austria’s western regions to assist in the aerial surveillance. At least one unauthorized aircraft was intercepted and escorted out of the restricted airspace
Meanwhile, Minister Tanner promised a swift decision on the future of the Bundesheer’s air arm and related, critical procurements.

Partially (un-)fit for service

OeVP ministers Tanner and Koestinger (Agriculture, Regions and Tourism) announced that they would pursue a loosening of the criteria for fitness for compulsory military service.
With only about 70% of males clearing the current requirements and demographically weak cohorts ahead, conservative politicians have publicly lamented a dire supply of personnel for the Bundesheer and the civilian institutions conscientious objectors can choose to join instead.
Meanwhile, insiders estimate that the projected changes are not worth the hype and would affect a few hundred young adults per year at most.
In our 2020 outlook, we argue that ‘the Bundesheer in its current form is hardly able to accommodate the needs of service members with impairments (e.g. severe allergies), be it in training curricula, infrastructure or other areas. To determine where an individual could best be placed, a nine-stage scale of fitness is already in effect – it need only be adhered.’

In other news

  • Jan 8: The new government pledged that from 2027 on, public institutions would cease buying vehicles with internal combustion engines – with only the police and the Bundesheer exempt from that policy. (With most of the Bundesheer’s rolling stock more than twice the age of its recruits, do not expect EVs before mid-century.)
  • Jan 24: The Wiener Zeitung published a rare op-ed written by a military insider, tackling the question of the Bundesheer’s purpose and lack of a wider public debate. Not unlike we argued in our 2018 article on Austrian national security, the author implies that neutrality is not a security strategy; on the contrary, it runs counter recent trends to reduce the Bundesheer’s range of capabilities to a select, cheap few.
  • Feb 2: Seven Austrian citizens were evacuated from China to a French air base near Marseille amidst the spread of the coronavirus. They were then picked up by one of the Bundesheer’s C-130 transport aircraft for the final leg of their journey home, with the aircraft then undergoing decontamination.
    In this 2016 article, we argue that the Hercules is a rather pricey way of passenger transport when compared to charter aircraft (13k vs 3.2k EUR per head on a 3,000km journey).

Header image: Bundesheer/Pusch

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About the Author

Bernhard Völkl

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Bernhard is a reserve officer in the Austrian Armed Forces and works in e-commerce.