In 2003, Austria signed a EUR 2 billion contract to receive 18 EADS Eurofighters plus required support (just over $2.5 billion, or about $140 million per plane). The aircraft were already under construction in Germany when the 2006 election results forced the leftist SPO party, whose campaign promises included canceling the fighter deal, into the Austrian government coalition.
That shift led to a fraught series of negotiations within Austria, and then with EADS. The 2 sides played a game of billion-dollar chicken, leading to a settlement in 2007. The Eurofighter’s rough ride in Austria seemed to be over with delivery of the 15th and final aircraft in 2009, but controversies continue.
Contracts and Key Events
Grandiose statements from the SPO immediately after the 2006 election were followed by a quick crash back to reality, as the mathematics of the electoral results asserted themselves. Eventually, a grand coalition government was formed that pledged to resume negotiations with EADS, after a response from Eurofighter GmbH set Austria’s cost of cancellation at EUR 1.2 billion in return for zero aircraft.
While those negotiations continued, the first Austrian Eurofighter flew, #2 was rolled out, #3-6 were in final assembly, and the rest kept advancing into partial assembly.
Eventually, a EUR 1.63 billion compromise was set for 15 Tranche 1, Block 5 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters and support services. Germany is a key source of support and training, allowing the Austrians to use their infrastructure and facilities.
January 8/21: Interim Replacement? Austrian defense minister Klaudia Tanner wants to sell the country’s Eurofighters as soon as possible. It is still unclear, which fighter will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon. However, in an interview with the daily newspaper „Der Standard“ Tanner has voiced plans to procure an interim aircraft from a neutral country until parliament decides to buy a new fighter aircraft. Before Austria procured the Typhoons in 2003 leading to many years of bribe an fraught investigations, the country’s Air Force was flying the Saab J35 Draken. As an interim solution between the Draken and the Typhoon, the service operated Swiss F-5 Tiger aircraft.
November 13/20: Fraud Investigation Done For Good Austrian prosecutors upheld a decision to end a criminal probe into alleged fraud by aviation and defense group Airbus and Eurofighter in connection with a 2 billion-dollar (€1.7 billion) fighter jet purchase in 2003, the counsel for Austria said Wednesday evening. A criminal complaint brought by Austria’s Defense Ministry in 2017 prompted the investigation. A lower court ordered an end to the investigation in April, which the Vienna appeals court upheld on the grounds that Austria had not provided enough of its own evidence, the office of Austria’s chief legal counsel Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement on Wednesday evening. “With that, all criminal investigations in Austria that were initiated as a result of the criminal complaint in 2017 on suspicion of fraud in connection with the Eurofighter purchase have now been brought to an end,” Peschorn’s office said of the appeals court ruling dated November 4 and transmitted a week later.
October 15/20: Meeting With Indonesia Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto will be in Austria on October 20 and he has requested to meet his European counterpart Klaudia Tanner to discuss the sale of 15 Eurofighters. The Jakarta Post had seen a letter dated Oct. 8 which was said to be from Prabowo to Tanner, thanking her for her reply to his first letter that he had sent in July. Tanner had said publicly last month that she had directed the General Staff to prepare for negotiations with Jakarta to sell the Eurofighters.
September 8/20: Discussions With Indonesia Austria’s Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner has officially responded to Indonesia’s request to buy 15 Eurofighters from her country. Tanner said she had directed the General Staff to prepare for negotiations with Jakarta. She said the “exit from the Eurofighter system” is the declared goal and the sale is in the best interest of taxpayers. Two options are available for the sale to proceed. First, the Eurofighter consortium will have to issue a end user certificate to Indonesia and Austria will sell the jets directly to Indonesia. Alternatively, Airbus will buy back the planes, upgrade them and sell them to the South East Asian nation instead.
July 21/20: Indonesia Wants Them Local media in Austria says Indonesia has written an official letter to buy 15 Eurofighters from Austria. The letter was from Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto to his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner. The Austria Defense Ministry has confirmed that the letter was received. The letter was dated July 10. Subianto has also stated in his letter that he understands the issue of the Eurofighter in Austria is sensitive due to a corruption probe into the purchase of the 15 aircraft. He added that the sale offers opportunities for both sides. Austria had previously said it wanted to retire those fighters starting from this year and replace them with another type of aircraft such as the Gripen or F-16. Back in 2017, Austria launched a probe into the purchase of the fighters, alleging that Airbus had paid brides during the competition. Indonesia is looking to replacing its F-5 with new fighters and had signaled that it intends to buy the Su-35. However, the deal to buy the Russian fighters has never been signed. The South East Asian nation had also indicated last year that it intends to buy two squadrons of F-16s this year.
May 26/20: Supersonic Flight Exercise Starting May 25, the Austrian army is conducting a large-scale flight exercise. Eurofighter jets will complete daily supersonic test flights for almost two weeks. From May 25th to June 5th, the Eurofighter pilots of the Austrian Armed Forces will train supersonic intercept maneuvers. Two supersonic flights per day are scheduled between 8am and 4pm, Monday through Friday. According to the army, the purpose of the training is „the close and time-critical coordination between military pilots, radar control officers and military and civil air traffic control. Furthermore, the pilots train under real physical stress, which cannot be simulated. The training is indispensable for a working Austrian airspace surveillance. It serves to continue to ensure safe flight operations in all cases.”
April 29/20: Investigation Stopped A court in Vienna has stopped an Austrian investigation into alleged fraud by Airbus and Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH in connection with a $2 billion Eurofighter jet purchase in 2003, it said on April 27. The investigation was linked to accusations brought by Austria’s defense ministry in 2017, and its closure does not affect a broader criminal investigation of suspected bribery in the same deal that has been going on since 2011, a court spokeswoman said. The ministry triggered a new probe into Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium – which also includes Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo in February 2017, alleging that they had misled the state about the price, deliverability and equipment of the planes. Among other things, the ministry accused Airbus and the consortium of illegally charging nearly 10% of the purchase price for so-called offset deals, which involve work being given to local companies.
May 22/19: Investigation halted again? The investigations into Austria’s Eurofighter purchase may come to an abrupt end once more as the coalition between the conservatives and the right-wing FPÖ collapsed on the weekend. The 2002 purchase of Austria’s Eurofighter Typhoons has been investigated due to a possible corruption scandal involving bribes in the amount of around $111.6 million. The current investigation committee is already the third on this matter. Investigation committees have to cease interrogations when the date of new elections is announced. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced a snap election on Saturday, after a video-scandal surrounding vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache forced him to end the coalition. However, a specific date for the new elections has not yet been declared. In 2017, the second investigation into the Eurofighter scandal has ended the same way, when snap elections were announced following the collapse of the coalition between the social-democratic SPÖ and the conservatives.
December 10/18: What will it be? The Austrian government is currently debating the future of the country’s air force. Austrian newspaper Die Presse reports that the coalition government is split over whether to keep its fleet of Eurofighter Tranche 1 Block 5 fighter aircraft or replace them with new Saab Gripen jets. Austria is currently in a legal battle with the Eurofighter consortium, accusing them of fraud and wilful deception in connection with the $2 billion, 12 unit plane order signed in 2003. The conservatives prefer to keep the Eurofighters, whereas the Freedom Party prefers to replace the planes. Die Presse notes that both options would cost about the same, and adds that keeping the jets will also require various upgrades and new weapon systems. Austria’s MoD is currently plagued by a declining budget but needs to replace its ageing aircraft fleet, upcoming purchases may include new helicopters and Leonardo’s M-345.
June 20/14: Going to broke. Austria continues to cut their defense budget, with planned reductions to 0.5% of GDP that may leave them with almost no air force. Austria’s Kurier pegs flight-hour costs for Austria’s Eurofighters at an astonishing EUR 70,000, and says that the budget will force the jets to cancel quick-reaction exercises, and operate the planes only from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm.
In addition, agreements would be required with Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, in order to coordinate air policing by allowing other nations’ aircraft to overfly Austria. The question is whether they will be interested, given their own tight budgets. Hungary already has an agreement with Slovenia, but they only have 14 jets. The Czech air force isn’t any bigger, and Slovakia can’t help. Switzerland’s own air force can’t operate around the clock, and recently had to depend on the French and Italians to deal with a highjacked jet that landed in their country. The failure of their recent fighter referendum leaves them in a position where they need to conserve remaining flight hours in their F/A-18C/D Hornets.
If the de facto result of this policy is to partially cede Austrian air sovereignty to Germany, is that really a politically wise move? A second-loop question might also ask whether picking a fighter known to have high operating expenses was a good idea for Austria in the first place. Sources: Austria Kurier, “Ungarische Gripen sollen Wien sichern”.
May 15/14: Going to broke. SPO Party Defence Minister Gerald Klug admits that the army “is no longer financially viable” at a total budget of EUR 1.948 billion, which includes EUR 1.3 billion in personnel costs. Vehicles are being impounded, helicopters are running into trouble, and even deployments to flooded areas are being delayed as the Army looks to rent civilian vehicles.
Meanwhile, the air force has only 12 pilots for its 15 Eurofighters. The problem is that they have to maintain flying qualifications, and there are only enough flight hours to keep 12 pilots qualified. Others have reportedly been redeployed into the Army as simulator instructors. sources: Austria’s The Local, “Austrian army ‘going broke'” and “Only 12 pilots for 15 Eurofighter jets”.
2009 – 2013
Oct 23/13: Upgrades. Eurofighter GmbH announces that Austria’s Eurofighter Typhoons “now have the latest capability standard for Tranche 1 aircraft,” but it isn’t clear what that means.
The Typhoon’s Phase 1 Enhancements include full integration of the LITENING III surveillance & targeting pod, the ability to use dual-mode GPS/laser guided smart bombs, IFF mode 5, and the ability to use the HMSS helmet-mounted display for ground attack. On the other hand, it won’t be ready for customers before the end of 2013, and and requires Tranche 2 fighters. Austria is already done with their upgrade. Eurofighter gave meaningless details, which amount to “some new hardware and software were installed.” Sources: Eurofighter GmbH, “Austrian Eurofighters equipped with latest capability standard for Tranche 1 aircraft” and “Increased operational capabilities for Eurofighter Typhoon”.
Sept 19/13: Investigation. Format magazine reports that in July 2013, Austrian police searched the Voelklermarkt offices of US-based automotive supplier Dana Holding Corp, as part of Austria’s investigation of EADS over the Eurofighter sale. German prosecutors say EADS paid at least EUR 50 million (around $67 million) in bribes to Austrian officials, but they’re going to have to prove that. Sources: Reuters, “Austrian police search Dana offices in Eurofighter investigation: report”.
Nov 12/12: Corruption scandal. Austrian police have raided the home of Frank Walter P., whose companies were involved in the Eurofighter deal under the aegis of industrial offsets. Many are in fact just shell companies, and there is now suspicion that the firms were a vector for bribes to Austrian politicians. The allegation on the warrant translates as “collective bribery in coincidence with aggravated breach of trust,” in connection with up to EUR 113.5 million in funds placed with a variety of firms.
The arrangement began to unravel when Italian police arrested Gianfranco Lande for a Ponzi scheme that scammed the Calabrian mafia. He wouldn’t discuss the mafia, but he needed protection, so he told investigators that he had created a complex web of companies for a large corporation in Germany, with (now defunct) London-based Vector Aerospace LLP at its center. Lande also named individuals at EADS. One question involves how far the scandal will reach into EADS, and whether it will trigger the resignation of CEO Tom Enders.
Appendix A-8 of the classified agreement reportedly contains the terms that revolve around Article 304 of the Austrian Criminal Code, which prohibits bribes paid directly or by 3rd parties. Would proven bribes invalidate the contract? If so, the planes could be returned to EADS, and Austria’s payment could be refunded. It’s very likely that the government would prefer some sort of re-negotiation, anyway, instead of removing all of Austria’s fighters and being forced to start deal negotiations again. Der Spiegel.
Feb 17/10: The Austrian Bundesheer responds to a range of allegations, including allegations that its Eurofighter force suffers from low availability. The key question appears to revolve around the meaning of “einsatzbereit,” which could translate as “mission ready”, but seems here to mean “ready for launch.”
What the Bundesheer says is that it doesn’t make military or economic sense to keep all 15 Eurofighters “einsatzarbeit”, as air policing duties require just 2 planes plus a replacement fighter at the ready. The release cites the World Economic Forum in Davos, which had 2 aircraft in the air at all times, and involved 10 Eurofighters “ständig einsatzbereit.” OK, fine. But what’s the readiness rate if the others are called upon? Austrian Bundesheer [in German].
Feb 16/10: Fender bender. An Austrian Eurofighter has a minor mishap on landing, which is expected to cost EUR 15,000. The plane was coming in for an emergency landing, when its landing gear finally deployed. That was the good news. The bad news is that the rear arrester hook was extended as part of the emergency landing process, and slammed back into the fuselage after it hit the runway. Krone | Aviation Week.
Sept 24/09: Eurofighter delivers the 15th and final aircraft ordered by the Austrian Armed Forces, as the aircraft is rolled out from the EADS Defence & Security Manching assembly line, located close to Munich, Germany.
Logistics and training support under the 2003 contract helped the Austrian Air Force begin operational air policing missions by June 2008 – just 11 months after delivery of the first Eurofighter. Since the first Typhoon entered service, Eurofighter GmbH says that the aircraft have flown more than 1,100 flying hours from the Air Surveillance Wing’s home base in Zeltweg, Austria. Eurofighter GmbH.
All 15 delivered
July 21/09: Eurofighter Typhoons in service with the Air Surveillance Wing of Osterreichische Luftstreitkrafte, Austria’s Joint Armed Forces Command, have reached the 1,000 flying hours milestone. The Uberwachungsgeschwader (overwatch squadron) has received 12 aircraft to date, and delivery of the remaining 3 is planned during the coming months. Eurofighter GmbH.
2007 – 2008
July 1/08: Austrian Eurofighter Typhoons formally take over the protection of Austrian airspace under the leadership of the Joint Armed Forces Command, Graz, and the Air Surveillance Command, Wals, of the Austrian military. The fighters have been active before this date, most notably patrolling the skies over the Austrian host stadiums during the Euro 2008 soccer championships. Eurofighter GmbH.
Sept 13/07: The 2nd Austrian Eurofighter is delivered and arrives at Zeltweg Air Base. Eurofighter GmbH.
July 12/07: The first Eurofighter Typhoon is delivered to the Osterreichische Luftstreitkrafte at its new home base at Zeltweg air base, Austria. AS001 is the 125th Eurofighter Typhoon to be delivered to all customers.
Meanwhile, the first flight of Typhoon AS002 took place at EADS Military Air Systems at Manching on 09 July 2007, while aircraft AS003 – AS006 are in final assembly at EADS in Manching, Germany. Eurofighter GmbH.
June 26/07: The Eurofighter consortium of of Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, EADS CASA and EADS Deutschland reaches agreement with the Government of Austria. Instead of 18 aircraft, Austria will receive 15 Eurofighters with latest capability standard of Tranche 1. There will also be “a price reduction on the negotiated in-service Support Contract that has not been signed yet,” probably coupled with training cutbacks to reduce the need for service.
The price reduction on the contract is EUR 370 million, leaving the contract at about EUR 1.63 billion. Eurofighter GmbH announcement.
Note that most recent Eurofighter version is Tranche 2, scheduled for delivery beginning in 2008. Tranche 1 jets are mostly air superiority fighters, unless additional equipment is added or retrofitted. Eurofighter GmbH’s reference to “equipment standard strictly meeting the requirement for air surveillance” seems to imply that these upgrades will not be present, thus restricting Austria’s Eurofighters to combat air patrol until/unless the political dynamic changes and modifications are made in a future contract.
May 6/07: Austria’s Defence Minister says that Eurofighter GmbH has broken off talks, and threatens unilateral cancellation. EADS says it merely canceled the next negotiating session, after a parliamentary inquiry panel indicated it wanted to complete its investigation before further talks were held. Lots of sturm und drang. Not a lot of substance. See translated and annotated release at defence-aerospace.
March 21/07: Eurofighter GmbH announces a successful flight for the first production Austrian Eurofighter. AS001, Austrian Air Force designation 7L+WA, is a Block 5 standard aircraft, representing the last build standard of Tranche 1 (Block 5). Austria is supported in the acceptance process by the German Ministry of Defence, which flies the Eurofighter and is handling all acceptance testing and related process. Eurofighter adds this update re: program status, which bears directly on contract cancellation expenses:
“The second aircraft for Austria, AS002, was rolled out only a few days earlier and is now undergoing final checks before engine runs and the addition of Air Force colour scheme to the aircraft. First flight is scheduled for April 2007. AS003 through to AS006 are in Final assembly, while the major components for AS007 through to AS018 are in production. The training simulator has been installed at Zeltweg, the Main Operating Base (MOB) of the Austrian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons, and first flights in the simulator have been achieved. This training device is currently undergoing an upgrade to the software, allowing for a greater capability in aircrew training.”
Under the terms of the contract, Austria will receive 18 aircraft, and deliveries are scheduled to be completed in 2009. Eurofighter GmbH CEO, Aloysius Rauen, adds:
“The flight of AS001 as the first Austrian Eurofighter Typhoon and the first export Eurofighter Typhoon [DID: beyond the 4 partner countries], is a major milestone in the programme.”
Jan 24/07: Eurofighter GmbH launches a German language web site promoting the Austrian Eurofighter purchase.
Jan 8/07: The socialist SPO and the center-right OVP agree to form a grand coalition. Together with the OVP a “very comprehensive working programme” of about 180 pages had been developed for the next four years, said SPO leader Alfred Gusenbauer. The announcement adds that “The negotiations on the Eurofighter military jets are to be resumed to reach a more cost-favourable solution.”
Given that there is a contract in place, and EADS has made its position on cancellation clear, it will be interesting to see if that phrase ends up meaning much beyond “we tried.”
Nov 6/06: Defense Aerospace translates a Ministry of Defence release issued in German-Austrian. In response to an Austrian request for an analysis of options relating to a possible cancellation of the contract, Eurofighter GmbH quoted a figure of EUR 1.2 billion (about $1.53 billion), in return for which Austria would receive no aircraft.
“In the letter, Eurofighter GmbH stated that, to large extent, it has already attained the major production milestones. In addition, approximately 400 subcontractors would be affected by a termination of contract.”
This looks like an opening negotiation bid to us, but the fact that it’s backed by a signed contract makes it a fairly strong one.
Oct 30/06: The socialist SPO party has assembled a majority for a committee of inquiry on the Eurofighter deal, by adding the Green + FPO parties. In response, the conservative OVP party has suspended talks to form a coalition.
Austrian reader Robert Toegel adds that: “Our last committee of inquiry on jets was working over a 4-year-period and the second batch of Saab 105Oe jets is still flying.”
Earlier in October 2006, Austria’s SPO had this to say:
“A committee of inquiry should clarify the political responsibility for the senseless procurement of this unbelievably expensive war machine,” Josef Cap, the Social Democrats’ floor leader, told Vienna’s Der Standard newspaper. “We don’t need the Eurofighter. It is not an ideological, but a financial issue. I’ve got nothing against these planes as such. But they cost an awful lot of money. I always believed that there were much better things to be done with that money.”
Odds are, those things don’t involve alternative fighter choices; Austria’s Luftabteilung recently retired its 1960s-era Draken fighters, and now flies rented 1970s-era Swiss F-5Es. At any rate, the translated Deutsche Welle article has a couple of errors (South Korea and Singapore made firm decisions and bought F-15s instead, and Greece canceled its 60-plane order), but is reasonably good at explaining the Austrian situation.
DID Local Reader Commentary
Austrian reader Robert Toegel writes from Vienna:
“The Socialist Party SPO [DID: O = Oesterreich, or Austria], which won the last election has promised to stop the Eurofighter deal. Now, the only potential partner for a coalition is the conservative party OVP, which signed the contract. The socialist party is on the way to “modify” their position to form a new government. Mr. Caps statement is a preparation for this negotiations. The conservative party will probably not even start negotiations when the socialists really insist on a committee of inquiry.
In Austria fighter deals are very unpopular – we had the same problems when we introduced the Drakens. The socialists have no alternative for air policing tasks and would fight against any plane. As long the conservatives will be part of the government, as long the contract will not be canceled.
Both parties will start negotiations shortly. The SPO got the official note to start with negotiations from the President. I predict many Eurofighter press statements in the next months with many personal opinions without relevance.”
An accurate description, it seems, of any statement or analysis that doesn’t include the political coalition dynamics involved. The politics of the situation make cancellation very unlikely, and would be the same even if both party’s political positions were reversed. Toegel later adds:
“I forgot to note, that the Austrian Air Force has just started the first ground crew training course in Kaufbeuren (GER). From 10.09.06 to 05.04.07 there will be 6 courses for 6 to 14 crewmembers. 72 crewmembers will be trained in Germany (Source: Luftwaffe.de).”
* DID (Aug 4/09) – Eurofighter’s EUR 9B Multinational Tranche 3A Contract. Austria is not a Tranche 3 buyer, but the article has the type’s full production history and details.