PARIS --- Austria has agreed to discuss the sale of its fleet of 15 Eurofighter combat aircraft to Indonesia, whose defense minister made an informal, unsolicited offer for the aircraft earlier this summer.
"The Austrian Armed Forces are facing major challenges in air surveillance in the coming years. We are, therefore, happy to accept your interest in purchasing the 15 Austrian Eurofighters to modernize your air fleet and will now evaluate and examine this in detail,” Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner said in a Sept. 4 letter to her Indonesian colleague, Prabowo Subianto. A photograph of the letter was published on Sunday by the Vienna newspaper Krone Zeitung, which first reported its existence.
“My experts will contact your offices to clarify further detailed questions. We will be happy to inform you of the result after our assessments have been completed,” Tanner concluded.
Col. Michael Bauer, the Austrian defense minister’s spokesman, confirmed the Krone Zeitung report, the letter's authenticity and that Austria is ready to open negotiations on the sale. No statement is planned now, but “We will issue one when the negotiations are completed,” he told Defense-Aerospace.com in a telephone interview this morning.
Tanner’s letter is a belated reply to a July 10 letter in which the Indonesian minister proposed to buy Austria’s 15 Eurofighters, which successive defense ministers have said they want to retire and replace with fighters better suited to the country’s needs.
The Eurofighter issue is controversial in Austria, whose government has sued Airbus, from which it bought the aircraft in 2004, to recover illicit payments it said were paid by the company to secure the sale.
After Airbus signed Deferred Prosecution Agreements with the British and American governments on January 31, and agreed to pay €3.6 billion in fines for what Britain’s Serious Fraud Office described as “part the world’s largest global resolution for bribery,” Klaudia Tanner issued a strongly worded statement in which she reaffirmed Austria’s intention of suing Airbus to recover at least €183.4 million in illicit payments and to withdraw the Eurofighters from service.
Krone Zeitung on Sunday quoted Tanner as saying that “Now, we are informing Indonesia that we will examine legal aspects of the sale legally and hold talks with everyone involved. That is our responsibility to all taxpayers - and the exit from the Eurofighter system is our declared goal.”
The sale of Austria’s Eurofighters to Indonesia would at the same time satisfy Austria’s stated desire to get rid of its Eurofighters, while also allowing Indonesia to acquire upgraded combat aircraft at an attractive price, as its plans to buy Russian Su-35s and additional US-made F-16s have not yet materialized.
Such a sale, however, would require clearing two major obstacles. First of all, Austria must obtain a re-export agreement from the four Eurofighter partner countries – Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom – as well as the United States, as the aircraft also include US-made equipment. This is probably unrealistic, given German reluctance to export weapons, and British and Italian intentions to sell their early production Tranche 1 Eurofighters.
A separate obstacle exists in Indonesia, where the Jakarta Post reported today that “Law No. 16/2012 on the defense industry mandates foreign weapon purchase to come with some kind of countertrade, local content and offset schemes.”