More safety and protection from above

The Austrian Air Force protect the airspace, and deliver safely air support even in the event of a disaster. Yours is all the more important, especially in times of crisis modernization and further development.

Whether it’s the maintenance of air sovereignty, airspace surveillance, the transport of important goods and emergency services, or air support in the event of natural disasters, for example – the Austrian Air Force’s programs are as diverse as they are important. “Without our air force, it would be difficult or even impossible to carry out the core tasks of the Armed Forces,” says Brigadier Jörg Freistätter, head of the aviation department at the Procurement Directorate.

Air Sovereignty: Alpha Priority

The most important task of aviation is and remains the preservation of Austrian air sovereignty. For example, if planes do not respond to Austro Control’s inquiries or suddenly change course, danger may be imminent. This is when Eurofighter interceptors are sought after. In order to be able to react quickly in such cases, a clear decision sequence is just as necessary as a quick alert. The aim and practice is that it will only take a few minutes for Eurofighter to launch during an alarm.

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Aviation’s most important mission: maintaining air sovereignty.(c) Harold MINICH

How well this works is shown by 30 to 50 so-called “priority” alpha allocations each year. The reasons for alpha priority may be different (inability to establish radio contact with civil aircraft, military planes of other countries crossing Austrian airspace without a permit to fly, falsifying the transponder identifier of the aircraft, …), the process is always the same from a certain point in time. If an unidentified and / or unrecordable aircraft and / or non-flyable aircraft approaches the Austrian border and an airspace breach is likely to be triggered, a first alarm is triggered. The observation squadron pilots go to their machines to wait in the cockpits for the final operational order. To ensure the safety of civil aviation, Austro Control is also informed that “alpha priority” interceptors will soon be launched. However, Austro Control has no decision-making power, its only task is to clear the airspace required for interceptors.

Airplanes that are not allowed to continue their flight are told unequivocally and under threat of firearms in two languages ​​to follow and force them to land. It is already the responsibility of the pilot to reinforce such a request with warning shots from the cannon. If the pilots of a given aircraft do not react as requested, further decisions are taken by the Minister of Defense or, in the event of a secondment, by the Chief of the General Staff.

Airspace surveillance

To push off incoming planes and force them to land, first locate and identify them. Airspace surveillance from the ground is carried out by stationary and mobile radar stations. The passive element of supervision is the “Goldhaube” airspace monitoring and command system. The observation squadron jets and the anti-aircraft squadron ground systems are used as active components. All necessary radar systems, weapons and communications as well as bunkered, stationary and mobile air force command facilities are subject to aviation supervision.

Units reporting to the Airspace Surveillance Command ensure 24-hour airspace surveillance as well as tactical and air traffic control of their own aircraft. Air defense ground forces are also used when needed, for example in airspace protection operations. In any event, through the surveillance of the airspace, the Armed Forces make a significant contribution to the maintenance of state sovereignty and the protection of the population. Especially for a neutral state, the ability to maintain air sovereignty is crucial.

air support

The second important task of the air force, in addition to maintaining air sovereignty, is air support – approximately this area covers the entire army’s air transport system. The air force transports people and materials for missions or rescues the injured – for example, in the event of an accident during a military high-altitude course and for rescue, a rescue helicopter is needed. Civilian users – typically nine federal state state alert centers – can request air support. Even during the detonation of avalanches, military knowledge and equipment from the air are used.

Career paths in the military: pilot training.

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Career paths in the military: pilot training.(c) HORSTA GROUP

Federal army helicopters are especially sought after during natural disasters such as mudslides and forest fires. The units are in constant basic readiness. Action is often taken ahead of time: if some regions are faced with extreme weather events, helicopters are moved in advance so that they can provide assistance and support as quickly as possible when the worst comes to the worst.

Complex interaction

The variety of possible application scenarios requires a complex interaction between people and technology. From the management and operation of the system to the radar surveillance service, the radar control service, the military air traffic control, but also the machinery and technology sourcing, as well as the fire department, many employees are constantly on duty to provide airspace surveillance and air support.
In total, the Air Force, including recruits, employs around 4,500 people across Austria. In addition to the aircraft itself, the Goldhaube airspace monitoring and command system is part of the Air Force’s technical equipment. The system networking radar equipment, airplanes, air defense and a command center, and allows the planning, operational management and alerting processes to interact with the aircraft management. The low altitude detection radar system was launched in the 1990s as a result of knowledge acquired during the Yugoslav crisis. It covers the range of low-flying aircraft that cannot be detected by stationary radar stations. Equipped with modern sensors, “Goldhaube” monitors the main approach routes to aircraft thanks to the reconnaissance and target setting radar. In this way, the system makes a decisive contribution to recording the aircraft and creating an air picture.

emphasis on modernization

Regular modernization and further development of all necessary systems and machines is of great importance for the Austrian armed forces. Technical modernization has already started on three permanent radar stations (Kolomansberg, Großer Speikkogel, Steinmandl) of the Goldhaube military airspace observation system. Last year, for example, a 20-year-old radar system with a height of around 20 meters on the Kolomansberg on the border between Salzburg’s Flachgau and Upper Austria was dismantled and rebuilt. The radar existing since 2002 will be replaced by a modern and already completed system. This year, the radar stations on the Großer Speikkogel in Carinthia and on Steinmandl in Lower Austria are also to be modernized. By the way, all three stations have a long-range radar system that is used in several countries around the world. The stations have a high degree of self-sufficiency. They can be reached all year round, even if very different modes of transport, such as ATVs, are required due to the weather in the exposed location.

Important changes have also taken place at Black Hawks. The existing nine helicopters will be equipped with new cockpits, and by 2025 the army will also receive three more S-70 Black Hawk helicopters. “So in three years all twelve Black Hawks will be available in Austria at the highest level,” says Brigadier Jörg Freistätter. Adjustments for Eurofighter are also planned: night identification capabilities, self-defense systems and radar-guided missiles will be added. The cautious army is already working on a successor to the Hercules transport aircraft, which will be operational by the end of the decade.

18 new helicopters

The Austrian Armed Forces set a milestone by acquiring 18 AW169 helicopters from Leonardo, the successor of the decades-old Alouette III liaison and transport helicopters – with the AW169 being more than just a successor, as Brigadier Freistätter points out: “The system is bigger, it offers much more. functions and thus opens up completely new application possibilities for the military ”. This applies, inter alia, to the contractually agreed additional equipment packages which are provided by Leonardo and which also allow the use of the 18 AW169 as a rescue helicopter or to enable special forces.

The procurement conditions in the context of a “government-government” (G2G) contract with Italy are also proving favorable. “This means that the Italian government buys the helicopters from the manufacturer Leonardo and then sells them to us, which simplifies the basic processes and allows very close cooperation between the federal army and the Italian aviation in many areas,” says Freistätter.

The schedule is scheduled for delivery of six machines for training purposes in Austria by the end of 2023. Twelve helicopters in the military variant (AW169M) will then be delivered to the army.

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