Austria's air defense is close to collapse, last call for new trainer/light fighter

Austria buy new trainer aircraft
Austrian Air Force Saab 105 trainer/light combat aircraft. Austria retired the type in late 2020.

Following the withdrawal of the Saab 105 trainer/light combat aircraft, the crisis that has long plagued the Austrian Air Force has worsened further. The small Linz-based jet offered a breath of fresh air to the Zeltweg Eurofighters to fulfill the national airspace defense service.

In addition to being left with a handful of Eurofighters, Austria also remains with only one air base in charge of the surveillance service. With the end of the "hundred-five", the Linz military airport also came out of active service.

Considering the low number of active aircraft and pilots, their splitting between the two bases can be excluded. This means that Zeltweg will be put under an additional workload. In recent years, local staff have often complained about the many overtime hours they had to work to ensure standard service.

Furthermore, five of the current 17 Eurofighter pilots are about to retire due to physical problems. According to the Austrian parliament, 23 pilots would be needed to ensure operational readiness of around 9 hours a day. The training of new pilots takes about five years, three of which take place in NATO countries due to the lack of a trainer aircraft.

The Austrian Air Force Typhoons belong to Tranche 1, which means that they include obsolete systems, spare parts are more difficult to obtain and that they cannot be upgraded to higher Tranche [Eurofighter today reached Tranche 4 and all its users are trying to get rid of T1]. In order to ensure regular maintenance, two of the 15 Eurofighters have been decommissioned and are used as spare parts suppliers.

Austrian Eurofighters are expected to fly a total of 1,500 flying hours per year, but this target has never been achieved due to high maintenance costs.

Considering the low probability of being able to sell the Eurofighters to "fickle Indonesia" and then procure a new type of front-line fighter, the only solution to get out of this operational deadlock is the acquisition of a new trainer/light combat aircraft that can help the Typhoons.

As Austrian Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner said recently, they made a big mistake in not choosing a replacement for the Saab 105 earlier, so now Austria needs a ready-to-use jet, equipped with modern systems, with low operating costs and able to cover the role of trainer and fighter.

The most suitable solution, considering the needs of the Austrian Air Force and the advantage in the supply chain, could be the Leonardo M-346FA. With the selection of the Italian-made aircraft, Austria could solve most of its problems. 

The M-346FA is one of the best trainers in the world, based on the proven M-346, as well as being the only light fighter already certified available in the West. It could become a front-line interceptor in Austria, capable of offloading much of the work done by Eurofighters, as well as training pilots for both types. The economic and operational advantages for Austria would be decisive, the nation could restore the alarm service also at Linz air base, have more fighter pilots available and why not, increase the number of hours for aerial surveillance.

© This article contains some unpublished details, please quote Blog Before Flight if you share them.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Austrian Air Force

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