Austria - Fliegerdivision - Austrian Air Force - Modernization
Phaseout of the Drakens was scheduled to begin about 1995, and studies were under way to select a replacement, one that can be configured for both air defense and ground support missions. Possible replacements for the Draken were the United States F-16 and F/A-18. In addition to the two squadrons of Drakens, the air force had thirty-one Saab 105Oe fighters available for reconnaissance and close air support of ground troops; however, eight Saabs, borrowed from the combat squadrons, were regularly employed as jet conversion trainers. Acquired in 1970-72 after service in the Swedish air force, the subsonic Saabs were of limited value in a combat role. The Central Flying School at Zeltweg was equipped with Saab 91D Safirs and Saab 105Oes, while transport pilots train on PC7s. Austrian pilots are sent to northern Sweden for training in operation of the Drakens.
On 25 November 2005, after more than 17 years of flawless service, 500 alerted take-offs and 23,545 hours of logged flight on behalf of the Austrian Air Force's pilots on Saab's Draken 35OE, the prominent delta wings take their leave and thus round off a major chapter of aviation in the Austrian Armed Forces. The Air Force organized a festivity in honor of the Draken in Zeltweg, Upper Styria, which was the second air base apart from Graz having Drakens stationed. Günther Platter, Minister of Defence, cordially welcomed his predecessors in office, Friedhelm Frischenschlager, Helmut Krünes, Robert Lichal and Herbert Scheibner. Officially, all Draken aircraft were grounded permanently starting from 31 December. The Drakens' fiftieth anniversary marked the fighters' end of service - coincidentally, the Army is of the same age.
In July 2002 the Austrian government selected the European-built Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its aging fleet of jet fighters. The government’s murky 2002 decision – one never properly explained to the public – that had all the earmarks of a devious deal and has raised more questions than answers over the next five years. The contract could be worth up to $1.76 billion if Austria opted for the full order of 24 planes. The order was the first confirmed export for the Eurofighter, which had 620 orders from the countries that are building it. In order to secure the contract, EADS agreed to initiate counter deals worth €4 billion for Austrian companies. Agreeing to offset business worth twice the original contract is quite unusual - Airbus, then EADS, really wanted to make this first sale.
Cutting costs after the destructive August 2002 floods in Europe, Austria lowered its Typhoon order to 18 planes instead of 24. Greece had put off till after 2004 an announced plan to buy at least 60 Typhoons.
The purchase of 18 Eurofighter jets, approved by the conservative-far right coalition government, was linked to bribery accusations from the outset. A parliamentary inquiry, set up under a Social Democratic-led government in 2006, explicitly sought reasons to cancel the contract. The new Austrian parliament met for the first time on 30 October 2006. The Social Democratic Party (SPO), the Greens and (somewhat surprisingy) the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) voted for a parliamentary commission of enquiry into the Schuessel government's 2002 decision to purchase Eurofighters. The SPO, Greens and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) agreed to support the formation of a parliamentary committee of enquiry into the GoA's 2002 decision to purchase the Eurofighter as Austria's next-generation supersonic fighter aircraft. The SPO and Greens have long complained that the government had paid too much for too little. They also charged that a large percentage of the offsets in the deal (economic benefits for Austrian companies, which were supposed to amount to 200 percent of the purchase price of over two billion Euros) existed on paper only, and did not really constitute new investment. Having called for so long for an investigation into the deal, many SPO and Green parliamentarians considered it natural that this be one of the first orders of business in the new parliament.
On 12 July 2007 the first Eurofighter aircraft was delivered to Austria. The aircraft AS001 successfully deployed to its new home base at Zeltweg, Styria, where it formally entered service in the Air Force. With the Eurofighter the Armed Forces will operate one of the most advanced multi-role fighters available. In Austria, however, they would be used as interceptors only. Following old traditions, the plane was greeted by a brass band and with an arch of water from the airbase's firefighters. Lieutenant General Günter Höfler, Commander of the Joint Forces Command, stated in his speech, that the Forces welcomed the new aircraft with pride and joy. Höfler: "In the future, we will be ready to professionally and efficiently secure our airspace." In total, the Air Force would receive 15 aircraft. The first flight of the second jet, AS002, took place at Manching, Germany, on 9 July, while aircraft AS003 through AS006 were in the final assembly process. AS001 was the 125th Eurofighter to be delivered to the now five customer Air Forces in Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Austria.
On 30 June 2008 Austria handed back its twelve F-5 "Tiger" interceptor planes to the Swiss Air Force. Since July 2004, the Austrian Armed Forces had been leasing the planes to bridge the gap between the retirement of the ageing Saab Drakens and the new Eurofighter jets that Austria was receiving. Before the flyout, the Austrian Minister of Defence Norbert Darabos emphasised the special relationship between Austria and Switzerland. Among other things, he mentioned the seamless co-operation during the operation to protect the European Football Championships held in the two countries in June 2008.
During the four years of service in Austria, the F-5 "Tigers" totaled over 5,000 flying hours, providing air patrols to protect numerous events, including visits by U.S. President George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI. The jets were maintained and operated by personnel of the Austrian Armed Forces. Air policing and air defence operations are now performed by the new Eurofighters. The jets are stationed at the military airbase in Zeltweg/Styria and they are operated by the Überwachungsgeschwader (surveillance squadron).
The image of the Austrian military and bureaucracy was severely tarnished in face of the central ethical question that remains unanswered: How was it possible that a public servant like Air Chief Erich Wolf could run a private business for years with close ties to an EADS lobbyist and that every Minister of Defense since 2002 tolerated it? To investigate the bribery and corruption accusations, Airbus asked Clifford Chance, the international law firm, to conduct an independent review in 2012. “Their results have been made available to the authorities,” an Airbus spokesman said. “There is no evidence of corruption.”
Austria's defence ministry will sue European giant Airbus over alleged corruption and bribery linked to a controversial $2 billion sale of Eurofighter Typhoon jets, an official said 04 May 2017. "We will file a lawsuit against Airbus," defence ministry spokesman Michael Bauer told AFP. He said the findings of a government investigation into the 2003 deal for purchase of 15 fighter jets worth around 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion) will be presented later that day. According to the Austrian Press Agency, the probe found that Airbus had falsely inflated the purchase price. Austria initially ordered 18 jets but then dropped the number to 15.
A second parliamentary inquiry in 2017 examined the settlement and found no indications of bribery or that Airbus and its partners illegally influenced Austrian politicians. But the committee’s final report assessed that Darabos did not liaise sufficiently with other ministries and agencies while negotiating the settlement and was not transparent enough to allow a court audit of the deal.
By January 2018 investigators were still trying to determine the whereabouts of €100 million ($124 million) tied to the sale of Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets to Austria. At the heart of the investigation are so-called “offset” deals in which a supplier helps drum up business for others to offset the costs of a contract. The prosecution is convinced that shell companies with dubiously vague names such as Centro Consult, Comco International Business Development, Columbus Trade Services and Euro Business Development were “deliberately created to have money available for bribe payments.” The money trail spanned the globe and led to tax havens based in Cyprus, and two others on the British Isle of Man. Hidden behind these structures were foundations in Liechtenstein or arms lobbyists from Austria.
On 09 February 2018 the investigation of Airbus Defence and Space GmbH by the Munich Public Prosecutor (Staatsanwaltschaft München I) related to the sale of Eurofighter aircraft to the Republic of Austria in 2003 was terminated. The result of the investigation by the Munich Public Prosecutor, which had been ongoing since 2012, did not confirm the allegations of bribery.
In order to conclude the investigation, the Munich Public Prosecutor has issued an administrative penalty notice against Airbus Defence and Space GmbH under the German Act on Administrative Misdemeanours (“Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz”) amounting to € 81.25 million. The total amount comprises an administrative fine of € 250,000 and a disgorgement of € 81 million. Airbus Defence and Space GmbH accepted this notice. The notice is based on the allegation of a negligent breach of supervisory duties of non-identified members of Airbus Defence and Space GmbH’s former management. The notice alleges that certain former management negligently failed to ensure proper internal controls that would have prevented employees from making payments to business partners without proven documented services in exchange. The notice explicitly recognized the major efforts undertaken by Airbus and its management since 2012, which have resulted in a new Compliance culture and a serious Compliance program.
Austria planned to end its Eurofighter jet program early and replace it with a cheaper alternative fleet of aircraft. Austria’s new government will re-assess the previous government’s decision to end a $2 billion (£1.4 billion) Eurofighter jet program early, the defence minister said 15 February 2018. Vienna prosecutors broadened their probe into a $2 billion Eurofighter jet purchase by Austria and were investigating former defense minister Norbert Darabos for breach of trust, a spokeswoman said 27 February 2018.
Austria's Eurofighter must be shut down by the end of 2021. Thus, these 2.5 billion euros expensive jets flew only 173 months, each day cost the taxpayer thus 481.695 euros. Because even the old Saab 105OE is ready for scrap in 2020, the government had to make a decision. From the landing of the first Eurofighter in Zeltweg in July 2007 until the end of 2021, the jets ordered by the German government would burden the Austrians month after month with 14.45 million euros. This expensive system, the Eurofighter, does not fare well in the evaluation commission's report - Defense Minister Mario Kunasek (FPÖ) and the Air Force leadership announced a comprehensive comparison of all possibilities for future airspace surveillance, with 30 experts working on it.
There were four realistic variants:
- Variant 1a: Retrofitting of Eurofighters (costs up to 200 million euros) for a "life extension" beyond the year 2021, plus purchase of ten jet trainers for training. Cost: 2.4 billion euros by 2029.
- Variant 1b: Retrofitting the Eurofighter, plus three new double-seaters and ten "high efficiency jet trainers". Cost: 2.3 billion. Euro.
- Option II: Purchase of 18 new Saab Gripen interceptors, plus another ten jet trainers. Cost: 2.7 billion euros.
- Variant III: 18 latest-generation F-16 fighter jets plus ten training jets. Cost: 3 billion euros.
Calculated over 20 years, all variants cost around 200 million euros a year, but the Gripen system will be cheaper.
The Blues want to sell the Eurofighter and instead switch to Saab Gripen interceptors. By December 2018 the decision was top priority: not Defense Minister Mario Kunasek (FPÖ), but the top government must set the course for the domestic airspace surveillance. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice President Heinz-Christian Strache have two packages on the table, according to the press release: The FPÖ side should therefore prefer the new acquisition of Swedish Saab Gripen, while the ÖVP wanted to stay with the Eurofighter.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|