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Austria - Bundesheer Equipment Modernization

On 15 May 1955 the United States, the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, and Austria concluded the Austrian State Treaty, ending the ten-year occupation, and on 26 October Vienna deciared its permanent neutrality. While the treaty restored full sovereignty to Austria, it also included restrictions which would iater impede modernization of the Bundcsheer. Specifically, Article 13 of the treaty prohibited a number of weapon systems. Most of the prohibitions, to be sure, were irrelevant to Austrian defense needs-e.g. submarines and sea minesm - but Article 13 also contains significant limitations prohibiting Austria from possessing, constructing, or experimenting with any self-propelled or guided missiie or torpedoes or apparatus connected with their discharge or control . . . {and} guns with arange of more than 30 kilometers."

The new Bundesheer created in 1955 quickly recognized the dilemma posed by the obligation to defend neutrality on the one hand and by the limitations imposed by Article 13 of the Austrian State Treaty, limiting Austrian arms, on the other. In 1959, therefore, the Bundesheer purchased a battalion of Czechoslovakian RM-130 multiple rocket launchers, and a year later it tested the Swiss wire-guided antitank missile Mosquito. Since that time, the Btmdesheer acquired Bofors M57 air-to-air rockets, the American M72 66mm light antitank weapon (LAW), and the 7.40m PAR 70 antitank rocket.

During the first years after its formation in 1955, the Austrian army depended heavily on the United States for light weapons, trucks, uniforms, and even helmets, with some additional equipment transferred from the former British occupation forces as well. The first aircraft were older Soviet models. The army was initially supplied with American M-24 light tanks, which were replaced by the M-47. Since the 1970s, the main battle tank has been the M-60, which Steyr modernized to A3 standard beginning in 1986, using engines and other equipment from the United States. Austria also made a major purchase of self-propelled howitzers from the United States. Nevertheless, the importance of the United States as an arms supplier declined in the 1980s.

During the 1985-89 period, estimates suggested that Austria imported military equipment valued at US$240 million. The United States was the source of US$70 million worth of equipment, and Western Europe accounted for US$160 million worth of equipment. Very little came from France and Britain, and restrictions in the State Treaty precluded arms imports from Germany. Sweden -- the primary source of aircraft and missiles -- was believed to be the predominant supplier. Austria's purchases of Saab and Draken fighters from Sweden were largely offset by Swedish orders for Austrian munitions.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Social Democratic Party leading the coalition government was convinced that there would be no war in Europe soon, and that conclusion, along with the fact that Austria was a neutral country, resulted in her army getting the smallest military budget (less than 1 percent of the GNP) in Europe. One result was that the military could not buy much in the way of heavy weapons. Austria relied heavily on fixed artillery installations for defense of key points. The small-unit defense concept was developed. Key zones were identified, avenues of approach that any aggressor would have to pass through, and these zones were fortified. In addition to twenty-four SFK 155mm guns in "fortress" configuration, Austria purchased obsolete Centurion tanks and converted their turrets into fixed-gun emplacements. Old Centurion tanks were bought from the Netherlands at scrap prices and the turrets, with their excellent 105mm guns, were mounted in concrete bunkers. In this way, the nation obtained a large number of antitank bunkers, well displaced in the terrain, for the scrap price of some worn-out MBTs.

The principal armored weapons at the end of the Cold War were about 170 M-60 main battle tanks of United States manufacture in service with the tank battalions of the three readiness brigades. The inventory of the tank battalions (three, part of mechanized infantry brigades) consiste of American M60A1 (120) and M60A3 (50) tanks. Beginning in 1986, the M-60s were upgraded to A3 standard by the installation of new engines, fire-control systems with laser-range finders, and a stabilization system. The modernization was carried out by the Austrian firm of Steyr-Daimler-Puch, often referred to as Steyr.

Antitank subunits in particular were outfitted with SK-105 Krassier light tanks (250). The Krassier SK-105 was developed by Steyr in the late 1960s. It carries a French-made 105mm gun that has been modified to fire more powerful fin-stabilized ammunition. The SK105 served in effect as an armored tank destroyer. The army's armored personnel carrier (APC) is the Saurer 4K-4E/F, an early version of a Steyr design that has been exported to a number of countries.

In addition, the Army had some 460 4K 4FA tracked APC's as of 1988. A modernized version of this APC, the 4K 7FA, was being produced at that time. Considered obsolete in the early 1990s, the Saurer was expected at that time to be replaced by a newly developed Steyr APC in the late 1990s, but in fact, as of 2012, considerable numbes remained in service. Steyr-Daimler-Puch was prepared for series production of the Pandur wheeled (6x6) APC. Austrian specialists also had created a prototype of the OAF wheeled combat reconnaissance vehicle

The most modern artillery weapons were fifty-four 155mm self-propelled howitzers purchased from the United States in 1988. The army was planning as of 1993 to upgrade all fifty-four to A5 standards, and it placed an order to purchase twenty-four additional howitzers. The remaining guns in the artillery inventory were forty-year-old towed 105mm and 155mm howitzers, considered to be obsolete in terms of range and accuracy. A 130mm truck-mounted rocket launcher of Czechoslovakian manufacture, in the inventory since the 1960s, was of limited range and rate of fire.

The army's most serious shortcomings in the 1990s were in air defense and antitank weaponry. Without improved protection against enemy tactical aircraft and attack helicopters, Austrian armored units were highly vulnerable. The primary air defense weapon was the 40mm self-propelled antiaircraft gun. A radar-directed 35mm system, with limited mobility and range, was used principally for static defense. Optically sighted 20mm guns, some mounted on all-terrain vehicles, were the only form of air defense for infantry forces but gave little protection against modern combat aircraft. Austria was evaluating various low-level air defense missile systems with the intention of purchasing one battery of twelve launchers for each brigade beginning about 1994.

The announcement in 1989 that Austria considered the State Treaty limitation on short-range defensive missiles outdated and void has cleared the way for the army to acquire its first antitank missile system to replace obsolete guns, recoilless rifles, and rocket launchers. After trials of several weapons, Austria purchased the Bofors RBS-56 BILL, a man-portable system, from Sweden. The army is reportedly also considering purchase of either the United States TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) or the French HOT (high-subsonic, optically guided, tube-launched) system as longer-range antitank missiles to be mounted on a wheeled armored vehicle. As many as 200 systems were expected to be purchased initially, enough for twelve launchers for each mechanized or infantry brigade.

In 1991 the Austrian General Staff developed a reorganization plan for the armed forces. On the one hand, it focused on antitank and antiaircraft defense. It also shifted the Armys focus toward defense of Austrian territory closer to the nations borders. It was designed to allow the Army to be in a position to react faster, which also meant that troops would need greater flexibility and mobility. Given this new defense concept, the chronic lack of modern heavy weapons had to be addressed, and the purchase of such arms became an urgent priority in the 1990s.

Fortunately, Austria was in the market for heavy weapons at the same time many of the Cold War combatants were greatly reducing the size of their armies, so surplus arms were available at very low prices. The decision was made to purchase these surplus weapon systems and upgrade them, partially with modifications manufactured in Austria. This would allow a great improvement in capability at a low cost, and also help to lower the rate of unemployment.

A total of 112 M109A2 and A3 self-propelled howitzers were purchased from a downsizing British Army of the Rhine. These, together with M109s which were already in the Austrian artillery arsenal, weree brought to the Austrian M109A5 E standard. These refits include new Austrian hydraulic rams and primer magazines, which allow the rate of fire to be doubled, new barrels that extend the firing range to about 30 km, and navigation upgrades that will allow the howitzer crews to set up in their firing positions autonomously. As a result of the purchase of the various models of the M109 howitzers and their modernization, it was possible to take all towed artillery pieces, most of them World War II models, out of service.

An armored vehicle acquisition package consisted of 585 vehicles. It includes new armored vehicles of Austrian design and refits, in Austria, of second-hand foreign tanks, again to create employment opportunities. The cheaply-purchased surplus vehicles were brought up to the latest standard, a great step forward for the Austrian Army.

The armored vehicle acquisitions included about 90 Jaguar missile-armed tank destroyers that will be purchased from the German Army to replace Austrias Krassier cannon-armed tank destroyers used by the antitank defense companies in the armored infantry battalions. The Jaguars were equipped with launchers for the HOT/K3S, a 4000mrange missile which has a tandem warhead able to penetrate 1300mm of RHA, even if the target is equipped with additional reactive armor. With these systems, the Austrian Federal Army had, for the first time, antitank weapons of the most modern type and long range.

To strengthen and modernize its armored forces, Austria is acquired 114 Leopard IIs from the Dutch Army. These MBTs, which are one of the most modern, replace M60A3s. With their 120mm gun, low silhouette, and powerful engine, the Leopard IIs have a fighting capacity three times higher than that of the M60A3s with which the Austrian army had been equipped until now. The Austrian Leopard IIs also underwent a refit.

As a first installment for hardening the rifle brigades, an order was placed for 68 wheeled armored personnel carriers. These Pandur APCs, which will be used by Austrias UN peacekeeping forces, are being built by the Austrian Steyr company. When the delivery of this Pandur lot was completed, production began on the 269 Pandurs of the Armys armored vehicle upgrade package.

The last item in the armor acquisition package was the Ascod tracked armored infantry fighting vehicle, which was designed and built by the Austrian Steyr company in cooperation with the Spanish Empresa Nacional Santa Barbara, with the predominant share of the components being manufactured in Austria. The Spanish Army had already ordered a number of these vehicles. The Ascod is equipped with the same two-man turret, mounting a Mauser 30mm machine cannon as well as a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, as the Pandur. Because of the seven track rollers, the pressure on the ground is only 64.9 kPa. The road speed of the IFV Ascod is 70 km/h.

In the future, the Austrian Armed Forces intent to rely on light, protected, highly mobile and air transportable equipment. Examples are the new "Dingo", new road and off-road trucks, air-transportable medical containers, the update of the AB-212 helicopter fleet and the new protected multi-purpose vehicles IVECO LMV. In September 2004, Austria placed an order for 20 Dingo vehicles, to be delivered in late 2004 and 2005 for armored personnel transport missions. The Dingo All Protected Vehicle (APV) was originally developed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) as a private venture.

With the procurement of 150 protected multipurpose vehicles announced 13 January 2009, and the modernization of the aviation radio system, the Austrian Armed Forces plan to increase the protection of its troops at home and abroad, as well as the security of the domestic air traffic. The "Light Multirole Vehicles" of IVECO Defence Vehicles will be used for transportation, patrol, scout and command missions. The vehicles will increase the mobility of troops and at the same time guarantee their protection. The "Light Multirole Vehicles" are suited for the transport of four people with their equipment, and it is also possible to mount a weapon turret on the roof. The first IVECO vehicles were expected to arrive in 2009, with the distribution to the troops to begin in 2010.

On 12 December 2010 Minister of Defence and Sports Norbert Darabos announced a reduction of the Austrian Armed Forces' fleet of armored vehicles by more than 50 percent. More than 500 armored vehicles will be decommissioned, including all "Krassier" light tanks, all "Saurer" armoured personnel carriers, parts of the "Leopard" 2A4 fleet [48 "Leopard" 2A4 main battle tanks are to be sold] and M-109 self-propelled howitzers. Additionally, the forces also reduce their inventory of 20mm and 35mm anti-aircraft guns, "Mistral" anti-aircraft missiles, "Panzerabwehrlenkwaffe 2000" anti-tank missiles, and mortars. In total, about 1,000 items of equipment will be sold or scrapped.

"We will continue to operate heavy protected equipment for foreign missions to protect our soldiers. And in case of a long-term change in the security situation we must sustain our capabilities in the field of tanks. However, the current security situation and the missions of the armed forces allow a drastic reduction in the size of the armoured fleet," Minister Darabos said. Threat analysis had shown that a tank war has become extremely unlikely. Due to the changed situation, an autonomous, territorial defence is no longer necessary. "We can therefore reduce our heavy equipment, some of which are relicts of the Cold War that are not needed or are no longer required in their current numbers for present and future missions," Darabos explained. "Thus, the army will be able to concentrate on current challenges and future missions at home and abroad."

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 18:34:21 ZULU