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Update September 2001

"Delay !"

Since almost a decade, the Austrian Air Forces are planning to replace its obsolet fleet of J-35OE "Draken" interceptors. With the current government upcoming, there where raising hopes that this target, not achieveable with former cabinets, might be realized as the governmental-declaration of Austria’s centre-right cabinet from February 2000 includes the passus of "...most cost-effective re-acquisition of air-surveillance planes after the Draken. The ministers for defence and finances will together develop the pre-conditions to allow a purchase within this legislative-period. The project will be handled under the possibilities of the overall budgetary-situation, but without further burdens for the defence-budget." Also the declaration includes raising the share for the chronically underfunded Austrian forces which represent the red tail-end light under the European nations with 0,79% GNP defence-budget.

But what was not in the governmental-declaration and what immediately became to the main goal of the whole governmental period was a strict "zero-deficit"-policy within the governmental household, according to the European stability criteria for the Euro-currency. This leads to a delay on the way to reaching the targeted goals in governmental declaration and - again what is most common for the Austrian forces - funds are beeing directed to areas where it is more popular or visible for the public. And so - the defence-budget is now at 0,75% GNP !

Minister of Finance Karl-Heinz Grasser (FPOE) is not a fan of new fighter aircrafts and until today remains unwilling to sign the tender-file.
Foto: Bundeskanzleramt
In the middle of 2000 a commission was introduced by the MoD to re-formulate down the criteria for the new supersonic fighter. By the end of 2000 a request for information (RFI) was sent to four companies including questions about price and availability of 30 aircrafts with delivery starting from 2004. This RFI was sent to Boeing for the F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet", Lockheed-Martin for the F-16C/D Block 50/52 "Fighting Falcon" , Saab for the JAS-39C/D "Gripen" and Dassault for the Mirage 2000-5. RAC-MiG, - altough unasked by the MoD - provided new informations about a MiG-29SMT/UBT package and the EADS for the Eurofighter Typhoon also asked after the RFI documents. All companies - except Dassault - answered this RFI within March 2001. By July 10th a meeting of the federal defence council recommended to the minister of defence that a request for proposal (RFP) should be sent-out as fast as possible to the manufacturers.

Although by the same party, Minister of Defence Herbert Scheibner (FPOE) and MoF Karl-Heinz Grasser in the meanwhile have nothing more substantial to communicate between each other. Frozen is not only the climate on Ministers level but also on the sub-level between negotiating officials of MoF and MoD.
Foto: Bundeskanzleramt
But since this date there is no RFP ! It is delayed because of an ongoing dispute between the ministries of Defence and Finances over details surrounding the tender. The Austrian public norms (in legal status) call for a signature of the Minister for Finance if procurements reach an assigned value and until now, Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser is not willing to sign this act. The budgetary section of the Ministry of Finance (BMF) rejected several tender preprations put forward by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), pointing to the fact that important papers needed to secure the ATS 25 billion ($1.6 billion) for the procurement were missing. It was reported that several meetings between ministry officials failed to bring a breakthrough during July. BMF officials have asked to be provided with further details on several areas: the expected personnel savings if the 23 Saab Draken interceptor aircraft and 27 Saab 105ÖE ground attack aircraft were retired; the additional costs of weapons and other stores; why the MiG-29SMT fighter was 'pre-expelled' from the competition in February and what detailed arguments the MoD had against it; and on complaints about missing general life-cycle cost analyses by the MoD.

Later the disagreement was reported to centre also on a BMF‘s request for the technical requirements documentation for the tender - the MoD considers that documents classified and believes the request to be outside the responsibility of the Finance Ministry. An MoD spokesman said on August 1st that "only administrative details were holding up the tender and that the MoD would deliver 'additional files' throughout August, but in return expects that the RfP should be issued by 1st September".

In early September it became known that the MoD might be forced to reduce the material-ammount asked within the papers down to a humiliating idea around 24 single-seaters and a handful of missiles, while the primordially RfP-attempt asked for material up to a level of ATS 40 billion ($2.6 billion) ! It looks like this process is still ongoing because official speakers within BMF not announced any date asked about when the needed signature might be given. After the ministerial-council on 4th September, the federal chancellor Dr. Wolfgang Schüssel pointed out that he insists on this purchase and "will not allow that Austria will become unprotected, if this might be popular or not" , but his Minister of Finance said no more than "everything like before.."

Update by September 15th, 2001:
On September 14th 2001 Minister of Finances Karl-Heinz Grasser finally signed the file for a tender to replace the highly ageing Draken-Jets. 90 mins. of hard discussions on the evening of September 13th brought the change ! Despite the coincidating datum, Matthias Winkler - speaker of Minister Grasser - first pointed out that the signature provided now has nothing to do with the fatal terror-attacks in the USA. He reported that the delay in the signment was neccessary to check further documents since July. Winkler again accentuated his ministers ongoing opinion that the GO for the RfP not automatically means an enshrined procure of fighters.
The companies have to answer the RfP until January 18th 2002.

1st Remark: In fact it is an earmarking of the funds and Minister Grasser has left behind his strongest point of resistance. Now he is no more able for rising up further obstacles against the procurement on it’s own, than he would need the majority within the ministerial-council to furhter prevent the process. But the majority of the ministers - especially along with Federal Chancellor Dr. Wolfgang Schuessel - supports the procure of new fighters for the Austrian Air Force.

2nd Remark: In the light of a tighter security status troughout Europe, the Minister of Defence has also ordered higher readiness for Austrias air-surveillance. A most recent inspection at the Zeltweg AB by him only brought 8 flyable Drakens on strength - of which four were armed. That figures are thus highlighting the desperate need of the described steps now taken...

The 1st Aviation-Regiment at Langenlebarn gets the 9 Black Hawk's.

In exchange the 3rd Aviation-Regiment at Linz/Hörsching get all 24 AB-212's.
Fotos: Martin Rosenkranz

Helicopters on schedule

Contrary, much better than the Fighter-procurement process is the acquisition process running for the nine Sikorsky S-70A-42 Black Hawk’s signed on December 29th 2000. Austria will see its first delivery in summer 2002 and Minister Scheibner has selected the 1st Squadron of the 1st Aviation-Regiment at Langenlebarn as the operator of the new helicopters.
This will lead to a relocation of all the AB-212’s now there to the 1st and 2nd Squadron of the 3rd Aviation-Regiment at Linz/Hörsching, where the last AB-204B was placed out of service by June 29th this year.

But this may only be the beginning of a major re-equipment within the helicopter fleet as Austria’s financial court pointed out a further urgent need of transport space within the fleet in May 2001. This could not only force the avionic upgrade of the AB-212 fleet to a realization better than the stumbling start, but also the acquisition of at least three additional S-70A-42 Black Hawk’s, noted as options within the contract of December 2000.

Main challenge on the way to a broadened helicopter fleet is the short numbers of available helicopter pilots within the forces. Currently the numbers of helicopters are greater then the numbers of qualified pilots in some Army's Sqns.

Transports required

As the authors have predicted in their piece upon "EU-Airpower" on this page, the EU starts to question around the details of the planned EU-Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), to which Austria has commited 1500 to 2000 soldiers. A paper circulated into Austria from the nations representant in the EU-comitee for security-policy is announcing upcoming European expectations that "Austria might either buy transport aircrafts or join funding the A400M !" It is evident that there is (or will be) inventory on transport space obviously missing within Europe, and that is even more true in Austria which only fields 2 obsolete Short 3M Skyvayns and a leased CASA 235-300. When the RRF will be reality, the Irish and the Austrians will be the only ones without substantial air-transport space, despite the paper mentioned points out "that the participants will have to use their own transports to lift their contingents." As several attempts were cancelled in the past, General-Troop Inspecteur Gen. Pleiner confirmed this upcoming quagmingle but anyway knows that the policy will have to handle this in the light of European burdening." The next upset is therefore granted...

Martin Rosenkranz
Comments welcome

See the piece by Georg Mader upon the way to a new Austrian defence-doctrine

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Letzte Aktualisierung: 28.10.2001