Darabos defends fighter jets

Defence Minister Norbert Darabos has hit back after a fellow Social Democrat (SPÖ) suggested to sell Austria’s Eurofighter jet fleet.

SPÖ General Secretary Günther Kräuter said on Sunday Austria could get rid of its 15 fighter aircraft due to non-existent war concerns. Kräuter argued the alpine country was under higher financial and economic risk these days. He said selling the “expensive” 15 jets might help the SPÖ-People’s Party (ÖVP) coalition to lower the state debt.

Darabos announced yesterday (Mon) he was strictly against selling the fighter jets. The defence and sports minister said guarding Austria’s airspace was an “essential” aspect of Austria’s neutral state. Darabos added he was certain that Kräuter had nothing but good intentions by expressing the idea to sell the whole fleet. The defence minister added his party colleague’s proposal was “not elaborate”.

Darabos confirmed that the planned sale of two thirds of the Austrian army’s tanks was on track. The minister explained the deal should help the ministry to 17 million Euros. Darabos added that the sale would also mean a reduction of the army’s operative costs by 15 million Euros a year. Reports that Darabos wanted to get rid of the military’s older tanks emerged last month. High-ranking army officials welcomed the intention to sell the tanks. They argued that older models were of no use in contemporary crisis scenarios.

The ÖVP criticised Darabos due to the envisaged sale of hundreds of tanks. A spokesman for the right-wing Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) said the defence minister lacked a concept. Darabos defended the decision by making aware of Austria’s changed position in the world of today. He said a “conventional” attack at Austria was “unlikely”. The upcoming sale of the tanks is part of an extensive reform of the army. Austria’s military will focus on fighting cyber crimes and espionage in the coming years. Departments responsible for these protective activities will soon be increased.

Darabos became one of the current coalition’s most controversial personalities in October 2010 by campaigning in favour of a fully professional army. The minister claimed reducing the military’s workforce level and giving up its conscription system would be a good idea due to global developments and financial concerns. His statement came after he said several times that the mandatory military service was “set in stone” and would not be scrapped as long as he was in charge.

Darabos revealed his dramatic change of mind shortly after Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl – one of the most powerful Social Democrats – suggested an army reform. Häupl said young men’s time was wasted in the current system forcing them to serve in the Austrian army for six months. Häupl reportedly hoped to save his party from losing the Viennese city parliament election by telling the market-leading Kronen Zeitung about his vision for this federal political concern. The mayor’s attempt to avoid immense losses failed. The Viennese Social Democrats claimed 44.3 per cent in the ballot, down sharply compared to their performance in the city hall vote of 2005 (49.1 per cent).