Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Austrian Upgrades

The Austrian Air Force will soon receive their first upgraded Eurofighter. Austria bought second hand Tranche 1 Eurofighters from Germany. It was a big surprise for Saab who thought the deal was almost signed with Austria to buy the Swedish Gripen.

Maybe Saab was too confident to get the deal? Austria has a long tradition of buying Swedish Aircraft. Both countries were neutral after WW2. Saab B-17A, Saab J-29F "Flying Barrel", Saab J-35O "Dragon", Saab 105Oe (still in service) and Saab 91D Safir has been part of the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte inventory. Maybe not always the most powerful aircraft, but the Austrian Air Force was not allowed to have any other weapons on their aircraft but guns according to a treaty with the Soviet Union signed at the end of WWII. But after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 there was new possibilities. When the war in former Yugoslavia started in 1991, the Austrian government felt threatened and decided to upgrade their J 35 with Sidewinder missiles and more modern avionics.

In order to prepare for the planned Gripen, Austrian pilots flew the Saab JA 37 "Thunderbolt" at F21 in Luleå for a number of years between 1999 and 2002. Since all Austrian pilots have been trained at F10 Wing in Ängelholm in Sweden, some of them were still speaking basic Swedish. Then in 2003 the Austrians choose the Eurofighter because it was cheaper than the competitors.

The eventually negotiated price for 18 EADS Typhoons is EUR 1,959 billion, including all system- and support costs, and the financing of 18 half-year payments from 2007 onwards. The offer for Gripen was only between 3 and 4% cheaper in cash and 5-year payment, and not much more even in the targeted 9-year payment. This is nothing near being acceptable for an aircraft with 30-40% less capability in climb-rate (important for small airspaces), radar, processing-reserves etc.

Most aircraft deals have rumors about bribes and this one is no exception. But there has been no proofs. Clearly the price/performance was a decisive factor, but they also got the oldest Eurofighters that Germany did not want to operate (compare Tranche 1 with the problems Germany had with their newer Eurofighters in the Baltic QRA). Most probably they got a costly deal regarding maintenance. As I understood the 2003 deal was with Germany, not directly with EADS. This new deal is with EADS and will probably lower the maintenance costs.

The Eurofighter has not been very successful in Austria. The Tranche 1 is a very basic aircraft with mainly air-to-air capability. This might not be a big problem for Austria since they mainly use their Air Force for defensive homeland protection with focus on QRA - Quick Reaction Alert. What is worse however is that the flight hour production is very expensive and the MTBF is also too low. The result is that their pilots are not flying very much and they have also few trained pilots. If some of the pilots would leave for civilian airlines it could result in that the Air Force is almost wiped out of existence.

Budget constraints mean the fleet is restricted to 1,200-1,300h annually, although Stadlhofer said this is to rise to 1,500h by 2015. Each of Austria's 14 Typhoon pilots flies an average of 70-80h per year, while another two are being trained.

Did the Austrians get a good deal in the end? Well, compare the introduction of Eurofighter in Austria with Gripen in the Czech Republic:

- Austria: Contract signed 2003, first delivery in 2006, final delivery (out of 15 a/c) in 2009. Flight time production up until 2011 is 3200 fh.

- Czech Republic. Contract signed in 2003, first delivery in 2005, final delivery (out of 14 a/c) in 2005. Flight time production up until 2010 was more than 10.000 fh.

In Sweden there is a saying, "What you don´t get as income from the swing you will get from the carousel". Austria got their Eurofighter at a bargain price, but they are now paying more to get full tactical functionality and they are also paying a lot in operating cost. The total cost of an aircraft is always = acquisition price + upgrades during life time + yearly cost * life length.


  1. Well, rumor has it that the Eurofighter was chosen at the last moment when the Germans played hardball with a factory of cars in Austria.

    As you write, buying Eurofighter because it was "cheaper" makes no sense at all, but a lot of sense for individual politicians when considering the preservation of votes and jobs at home.

    This is of course deemed more important than the capability of an airforce that you will probably never really use, and is very unlikely to deploy abroad...

    The result:

  2. The Austrians have always been very good at painting their aircraft.