GRAZ, Austria — Austria will purchase eight IRIS-T air defense launchers following its recent accession to the European Sky Shield Initiative earlier this year, the country’s defense minister said in a press conference on Tuesday.
The systems will be purchased jointly with Germany, Austrian media reported, a step that the ministry said would help keep costs lower for both countries. Training is set to take place in Germany.
In a joint press conference between the Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner and the head of the Austrian air force, Gerfried Promberger, the countries announced that a draft memorandum of understanding would be submitted by Germany for Austrian review “in the coming weeks.”
According to the Austrian defense minister, ESSI founding members Estonia and Latvia signed such a memorandum on Monday, Austrian paper Der Standard reported on Tuesday.
Austria is planning on purchasing four systems with a short range of up to 15 kilometers and four additional medium-range systems that can hit targets up to 50 kilometers away, Promberger said.
Austria, Sweden and Switzerland joined Germany’s European Sky Shield Initiative in 2023 along with Denmark. The project was first announced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in August of 2022, with an initial fifteen participants, all of whom are NATO members.
In light of the Ukraine war, this step was “absolutely necessary,” Tanner said.
The air-defense system built around the IRIS-T rocket, originally an air-to-air missile, is made by Diehl Defense and first tested in 2014, according to the company’s website.
No details were released on the proposed cost of Austria’s acquisition, with the ministry saying that this would depend on the outcome of negotiations. Formally, Germany will lead the negotiations and Austria will then purchase the eight systems from the German armed forces.
Tanner said money for the purchase would come from the buildup plan for ground-based air defense, which has a total volume of €2 billion, or $2.1 billion – though not all would be spent on the IRIS-T systems, she said. The ministry did not respond to Defense News’ request for comment by the end of the day Wednesday.
The Sky Shield initiative has in the past been the object of criticism, particularly by France and Italy, for relying too heavily on non-European parts and for ruling out the French-Italian SAMP-T system. While ESSI relies primarily on the German-made IRIS-T system for short and medium ranges, American and Israeli systems will be used for long-range air defense.
The Austrian defense ministry said they had no plans to purchase longer-range systems and said it expected the country would be covered by the air defense umbrella of fellow European states such as Germany.
In Austria, criticism has come particularly from the far-right Freedom Party, which criticizes becoming a member of ESSI as being incompatible with Austria’s legally enshrined “perpetual neutrality.”
Defense Minister Tanner said the criticism was “far-fetched,” noting that no legal experts had raised any such concerns now nor when a letter of intent was signed with Germany in July.
Additionally, “it’s not the first time that we are making joint procurements,” she said.
Linus Höller is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He covers international security and military developments across the continent. Linus holds a degree in journalism, political science and international studies, and is currently pursuing a master’s in nonproliferation and terrorism studies.