VIENNA --- Today, Monday, the defense spokesmen of all parliamentary parties, airspace surveillance experts from the army, the chief of staff, the president of the finance procurator and the Federal Minister of Defense met to discuss the future of airspace surveillance in Austria.
The focus was on the Eurofighter legal case and the successor to the Saab 105 OE.
Eurofighter legal case
At the beginning of the session, an overview of the current situation in the Eurofighter case was presented. In summary, it can be assumed that in the context of the Eurofighter procurement, Airbus / Eurofighter corruption and deception against the Republic has occurred since 2002 and in the 2007 comparison.
For this reason, the Republic of Austria, after unsuccessful proceedings in the past, again submitted a factual report to the Vienna public prosecutor's office in 2017 on suspicion of serious fraud (criminal code sections 146, 147). The Republic of Austria also participated in the criminal proceedings in order to assert civil rights claims.
At the beginning of 2019, the Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office transferred this procedure to the WKStA. In February 2020, it became known that Airbus had admitted for the first time in a court case in the United States that it had practiced unfair behavior in the initiation and execution of transactions worldwide. It was also admitted that there were at least 55 million euros in political grants in Austria.
On the basis of these new findings, the Federal Ministry of Defense in collaboration with the Finance Procurator introduced a new state of affairs in May.
"The Republic of Austria will continue to use all legal means to achieve the goal of withdrawing from the Eurofighter contract, and to be compensated by Eurofighter. Until the final decision of the judiciary, no decisions regarding airspace surveillance will be taken which could affect Austria's position on Eurofighter," said the Minister of Defense.
Next steps in airspace surveillance
In the past three years there have been three different commissions or expert reports commissioned by the respective ministers, in which the necessary next steps in relation to airspace surveillance in Austria have been analyzed. These were the special commission under Defense Minister Doskozil in 2017, the evaluation commission under Defense Minister Kunasek in 2018 and the report "Unser Heer 2030" under Defense Minister Starlinger in 2019.
Austria is currently operating a two-fleet system for active airspace surveillance. A combination of Eurofighter supersonic aircraft for airspace surveillance and Saab 105 subsonic planes for training that complement airspace surveillance, which can ensure around 10 hours of operational readiness per day for airspace surveillance, with 94% covered by Eurofighter and 6% by Saab 105.
It is clear that the Saab 105 can only be used until the end of 2020 - this has been known for several years.
If one looks at the neighboring countries, one can conclude that none of these countries has a two-fleet system for active airspace surveillance. Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Switzerland also have a single fleet system. Slovenia has Hungary and Italy to protect its airspace as part of NATO membership.
The recommendations from the three reports do not paint a clear picture. The Doskozil Special Commission recommends switching to a single fleet system for active airspace surveillance, as does the Kunasek Evaluation Commission. So, they spoke out against the Saab 105 OE replacement. The Starlinger report makes the recommendation to purchase a second fleet to support the Eurofighter and for training.
Klaudia Tanner: "We are grateful for the extensive reports and recommendations prepared by the three commission. These will form the basis for decisions about the future of our airspace surveillance."
It is clear that the Republic of Austria is continuing to vigorously pursue the Airbus case.
Regarding the necessary steps in relation to the Saab 105, it is stated that both the Doskozil Commission and the Kunasek Commission have not recommended any replacement, in our neighboring countries air surveillance is organized everywhere by a single fleet system and that - even if a procurement process is initiated now - the new aircraft would not be ready by early 2021. A transitional solution would therefore be necessary for both a single fleet system and a two-fleet system.
The following key points will be ensured until the legal dispute regarding the exit from the Eurofighter contract is resolved:
1. The Saab 105 will be "phased out" due to the end of its technical life and will not be replenished.
2. Measures are taken to continue to ensure airspace surveillance and pilot training.
3. A broad discussion process at parliamentary level is started to explore the options for the period after the Eurofighter procedure has been completed.
Chief of Staff Robert Brieger said: "In order to secure Austrian airspace for the next maximum of ten years, we have to train one or two pilots a year. It is neither militarily necessary, nor cost-effective, to purchase a second system. Pilots and employees deployed on the Saab 105 OE are urgently needed for other air fleets of the Armed Forces. In future, the training will also take place abroad, as it did before."
Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner said: "All of our decisions today are based on expert opinions, including those from the General Staff. It is our responsibility to protect airspace in a cost-effective and adequate manner. We will do that. It is clear that we not do anything that weakens our position towards Eurofighter / Airbus."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Airbus Defence and Space did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters quoted a company official as saying that "From Airbus' perspective, nothing has changed in this matter," adding that it viewed demands for reparation or reversal of the delivery contract as "not founded on any legal basis".)