More austerity-induced cuts are being made to Austria's active air surveillance capabilities.
The head of the combat section in the Austrian Ministry of Defence (MoD), Major General Karl Schmidseder, told a press conference on 20 August that the Bundesheer's 15 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters will be held on active quick-reaction alert (QRA) for an hour less per day. Due to a combination of continuing and fresh budgetary cuts, "we have to accept gaps, also in the air", he said.
From 1 September onwards an average of 11 daytime QRA hours will be operated flexibly, as "there will be days with 14 hours on readiness while on other days it will cease in the afternoon", said Maj Gen Schmidseder, who claimed there would be "no repercussions for Austria's peacetime security".
Referring to previous measures that cut the number of Austrian supersonic-capable operational pilots down to 11 and one trainee (detached to Lecce/Italy), Maj Gen Schmidseder said: "It's like car sharing; all 15 [Typhoons] will remain active, but will be flown by different pilots in rotation."
Given that this means just four to six Typhoons will be operational on any given day for a maximum of 1,070 hours per year for the whole fleet, the MoD confirmed that 12 of the surviving 22 44-year-old Saab 105ÖE jet trainers will have to soldier on as active air-surveillance assets to supplement the Eurofighters, flying a total of about 1,200 hours per year.
Although an upgrade plan for Austria's Saab 105ÖEs has been discussed for several years, the aforementioned 12 aircraft are now to receive a modest avionics upgrade to remain usable in modern controlled airspace up to 2020. No replacement process for the aircraft has yet been identified.
The MoD expects that all the cuts to Austrian Air Force operations will save about EUR4.5 million (USD5.9 million) a year. According to Maj Gen Schmidseder, this will bring down the running costs for all military air assets in Austria to about EUR65 million a year.
However, the 'flexible office hours' manning from next month of what used to be 24/7 QRA cover over neutral Austria has provoked harsh criticism. "It is reasonable for the second-richest society in the EU that Austria's airspace is secured around the clock," said Colonel Gerhard Schweiger, of the Austrian Officers' Association. "It is a shame; only Luxembourg has a smaller defence budget than we have.
"This should provoke an outcry, but the Austrian military has no lobby in politics and society."