Ukraine crisis is a wake-up call for Austrian military spending
The crisis in Ukraine has alerted the Austrian Government to the insufficiency of its military spending, reports GlobalData.
The crisis in Ukraine has alerted the Austrian Government to the insufficiency of its military spending, with the chancellor saying there will be a ‘significant increase’ and that spending will reach 1% of GDP, up from the current 0.74%. Whilst this is a notable increase for the country, it still leaves it significantly behind its neighbours – including Germany, which has committed to increasing spending to 2% of GDP.
The reason this spending is insufficient is that it provides Austria with little capabilities to modernise its military and make new acquisitions. In comparison, Switzerland, which has a similar population, spent more than $8bn on defence in 2021 (or 1.14% of its GDP) while Austria spent $3bn in the same period. This increased spending provides Switzerland with the capability to purchase new fighter jets, mortars and Patriot missiles.
Austria is committed to several major procurement programmes including a replacement for its Saab 105 trainer aircraft, AW169 helicopters and Pandur 6x6 armoured vehicles. These procurement programmes will cost around $4.9bn over the next ten years, and leave Austria little manoeuvrability in terms of new purchases. Increasing the defence budget to 1% would alleviate some of this constraint.
Austria’s struggle to modernise its military
Austria has faced significant problems in recent years maintaining its military forces and is pursuing an infrastructure upgrade programme as well as various procurement projects. The budget increase will give the country scope to invest in European programmes as well as its own domestic security.
Austria is an officially neutral country and has been against the idea of a European army, but stated recently that communication and interoperability between EU military forces are critical. Austria is also committed to the EU treaty, which stipulates members must aid each other in case of an invasion, indicating that the country is prepared for military action if necessary.
Austria’s neutrality has been challenged in recent years, with commitment to the Permanent Structured Cooperation coming under scrutiny for potentially being incompatible with the state’s neutral stance, and strong opposition to Nato membership despite Austria increasingly committing to European defence cooperation.
Even if spending is increased to 1% of GDP, purchases such as a replacement for the Saab 105 jet trainer will still be hard to achieve.
The Austrian military lacks modern equipment and significant purchasing capabilities. Its domestic defence industry is established and includes companies such as Glock and Schiebel, but the Austrian military continues to be underfunded and struggles with purchasing new equipment.
Priority projects for modernisation, including aircraft, are hard to achieve because of the country’s constrained acquisition budget. Even if spending is increased to 1% of GDP, purchases such as a replacement for the Saab 105 jet trainer will still be difficult to achieve.
The country still practices conscription for all adult men, with a minimum term of six months – meaning it has a population that is relatively prepared in a military sense.
Austria’s relatively low levels of military spending have been a significant subject of debate in recent years, and comments by Austria’s Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner emphasising that the EU’s reaction speeds need to be increased signal increased commitment to EU defence operations.
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// Main image: Military version of the Austrian Steyr-Daimler-Puch "Pinzgauer" high-mobility all-terrain vehicle. Credit: OlliFoolish / Shutterstock.com