COLOGNE, Germany — Austria is set to replace the small fleet of fighter jets to patrol its airspace following an announcement today that the collection of Eurofighter Typhoons and Saab 105 OE aircraft would be phased out.
Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil's decision follows the advice of an expert commission that had studied options for securing the country's skies after 2020. At that time, the subsonic Saab planes would reach the end of their economic lives and would be retired anyway. And because the fleet of 15 Eurofighter Typhoons are of the early Tranche-1 generation, those aircraft also are considered militarily sub par in their current configuration and economically unsustainable.
"Those who say yes to Austrian neutrality and sovereignty must also say yes to modern, high-performance supersonic aircraft capable of round-the-clock operations," Doskozil told reporters in Vienna. "At the same time, we need to get the escalating costs of the Eurofighter under control and minimize the enormous cost risks associated with it — in the interest of the taxpayer and also in relation to the other branches of the armed forces."
Continued operation of the 15 Eurofighter Typhoon jets would cost between €4.4 billion (U.S. $5 billion) and €5.1 billion (U.S. $5.8 billion) over 30 years, according to the expert commission. And that's without taking into account "the specific cost risks" associate with Tranche 1 or the costs for continued deployment of the Saab 105s, the panel said.
While there was no announcement on what other aircraft could fit Austria's needs, officials said they had spoken with Airbus — which makes the Eurofighter Typhoon — potential alternative suppliers as well as governments. Those talks led to 19 different options for monitoring Austria's airspace.
Eventually, the decision was made to go looking for a single-type fleet of supersonic planes — 15 single-seaters and three double-seaters — that would begin operations in 2020.
Austrian press reports the Swedish Gripen E/F or the American F-16 as jets that could be considered by Vienna.
There is a long-standing suspicion of the Eurofighter Typhoon in Austria, as the current government believes the country was duped into the acquisition in 2003.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News.