The Austrian Air Force was formed in May 1955 by the victorious Allied powers, subject to restrictions on its use of guided missiles. The Austrian State Treaty of 1955 committed Austria to permanent neutrality.
From 1970, Austria purchased a total of 40 Saab 105 lightweight multi-role aircraft with the intention to deploy them in trainer, reconnaissance, interception and ground attack roles. As it became clear in the 1980s that the sub-sonic aircraft were inadequate for air combat and airspace interdiction, Austria purchased 24 reconditioned J 35 Draken fighter aircraft to supersede the Saab 105 as the Austrian Air Force's main interceptor in 1988. The Saab 105 remained in service as a trainer/surveillance aircraft.
Shortly after, the Draken saw their first major use in airspace interdiction starting 1991 during the Yugoslav Wars, when Yugoslav MiG-21 fighters crossed the Austrian border without permission. In one incident on 28 June a MiG-21 penetrated as far as Graz, causing a widespread demands for action. Following repeated border crossings by armed aircraft of the Yugoslav People's Army, changes were suggested to the standing orders for aircraft armament.
Since 1955, Austria's armed forces had been forbidden to operate any guided missile system, including Air-to-air missiles and surface-to-air missiles. In the post-Cold War environment, and with gun-armed aircraft a relic of a past age, the Austrian Parliament voted to amend this section of its state treaty and in January 1993 modern AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles were ordered from Sweden to arm its fighter aircraft.
Until 1985, when the first of twenty-four Saab J-35Ö Drakens were delivered, the country had remained essentially without the capacity to contest violations of its airspace. The Drakens, reconditioned after having served the Swedish Air Force since the early 1960s, are armed only with a cannon, in accordance with the restrictions on missiles in the State Treaty of 1955. However, following Austria's revised interpretation of its obligations under the treaty, a decision was made in 1993 to procure Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The first of these missiles will be purchased used from the Swedish air force. A higher performance model of the Sidewinder were purchased directly from the United States; deliveries began in 1995. French Mistral surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) were purchased to add ground-based protection against air attack. The first of the French missiles arrived in Austria in 1993; final deliveries were concluded in 1996.
Phaseout of the Drakens is scheduled to begin about 1995, and studies were under way to select a replacement, probably one that can be configured for both air defense and ground support missions. Possible replacements for the Draken are the United States F-16 and F-18. In addition to the two squadrons of Drakens, the air force has thirty-one Saab 105Oe fighters available for reconnaissance and close air support of ground troops; however, eight Saabs, borrowed from the combat squadrons, are regularly employed as jet conversion trainers. Acquired in 1970–72 after service in the Swedish air force, the subsonic Saabs are of limited value in a combat role. The helicopter fleet includes Agusta-Bell (AB) 204s (mainly medical evacuation), AB206s (training and liaison), and AB-212s (used by air-mobile troops and for light transport). French Alouettes are available for search-and-rescue tasks, including high mountain operations. The Bell OH-58 Kiowa, a scout helicopter, is mounted with a rapid-firing machine gun, but the air force lacks a true attack helicopter. Most of the helicopters, except the AB-212s, are becoming obsolete (see table 16, Appendix).
After the avalanche in Galtür in 1999, it became apparent that the Austrian Air Force's helicopter complement were too few in numbers and too limited in design. Therefore, several US built Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters were purchased, to be used for transportation during disasters.
In 2003 Austria's transport capability was improved when it purchased three C-130 Hercules from the Royal Air Force. These aircraft were needed for the demanding UN peacekeeping missions in which Austria played a role.
In 2005, the Saab Draken fleet was retired (50 years after the type first saw service), to be replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon. Before the first delivery of Typhoons, F-5 Tiger II were leased from Switzerland as a stopgap measure. The Eurofighter purchase was subject to controversy in Austria, and became a political football for some time, but the 15th and final aircraft was delivered on 24 September 2009.
Austria's air force is divided into two brigade level formations: the Air Surveillance Command (Kommando Luftraumüberwachung) in Salzburg tasked with the defense of the Austrian airspace and the Air Support Command (Kommando Luftunterstützung) in Hörsching Air Base with helicopters and transport planes.
All personnel destined to enter service with the Air Force is trained by the Air and Air Defense Personnel School (Flieger- und Fliegerabwehrtruppenschule) based at Langenlebarn Air Base. The school is under direct command and control of the Ministry of Defense and controls two flying units:
Airplane Training Squadron, Zeltweg Air Base (12x PC-7 planes)
Helicopter Training Squadron, Langenlebarn Air Base (8x Alouette III helicopters)
Vogler Air Base, north of the town of Hörsching west of Linz, was built as a base for the German Luftwaffe 1938–1940. After the war the USAAF used the base, then named "Camp McCauley – Hörsching" and housing displaced persons, until 1955 when it was returned to the Austrian government.
Initially used exclusively by the ground forces, the first military aircraft, Yakovlev Yak-18 "Max-A", arrived in 1957. The base was named for First Lieutenant Walter Vogler in 1967.
The German-built base structures were used jointly by the military and civilian aviation until the 70s when construction of the new civilian area in the northern part of the base was finished.
Fliegerhorst Brumowski, south of the town of Langenlebarn northwest of Vienna, was built as a base for the Luftwaffe 1938–1940. After the war the base was briefly occupied by Soviet troops before it was taken over by the USAAF, becoming "Air Force Station Tulln – Vienna". In 1946 Pan Am added the base as destination, and for a short time there were regular flights New York/Langenlebarn.
Fliegerhorst Hinterstoisser, located north of Zeltweg in a region known as Aichfeld, was built as a base for the Air Force of the "Ständestaat" 1936–1938. The base was occupied by Soviet troops in the aftermath of the war, but then transferred to the RAF which used the base until 1947.
After the Second World War the RAF used the base before it was returned to Austria in 1951.
The first Austrian aircraft arrived in 1957, three De Havilland Vampire T.Mk 55 for the Fighter Bomber Training Squadron; since then Graz was the main base for fighter and fighter bomber aircraft of the Luftstreitkräfte. The base was named for First Lieutenant Eduard Nittner in 1967.
The base housed parts of "Fliegerwerft 2", responsible for maintenance of Northrop F-5E Tiger II. It is primarily a civilian airport, with the military enclave in its southern part; but the base itself is earmarked for closure in 2008 (with the end of Tiger operations) with its installations most likely taken over by the civilian airport operator.
Soviet troops occupied the base after the war, but after only a few weeks control switched to the [USA]. After a few more weeks, the base ended up in British hands. The RAF rebuilt the base and handed it over to Austria in 1947. It was used as a storage depot for the "B-Gendarmerie", a paramilitary police force in the western zones.
After some years of hiatus, the first helicopters, Bell H-13H Sioux arrived in late 1960. The base was named for Captain Benno Fiala von Fernbrugg in 1967.
The base houses "Fliegerwerft A", responsible for overhauls and maintenance of Aerospatiale AS-316B Alouette III. "Hochgebirgslandekurse" (Alpine landing courses) are conducted at least annually at the base, with officers of foreign air forces as regular attendants.
The large Liechtenstein Kaserne on the northern edge of the "Truppenübungsplatz Allentsteig" (Training Area, Gunnery and Bombing Range) is home to a detachment of Flight Regiment 1s Bell OH-58B Kiowa. Known as "Stützpunkt Nord" it is not only used by military aircraft, helicopters of the Ministry of the Interior using the base for operations too; the task of border surveillance is jointly conducted by the military and civilian authorities. Besides that, Flight Regiment 1s helicopters and Pilatus PC-6 B2H2 Turbo Porter are operating from the base or its adjacent meadows/roads on a regular base.
This radar site is located atop the Kolomannsberg (1,114 m) on the border between Salzburg and Upper Austria north of Thalgau in a region known as the Flachgau. The site is active since January 1968, and provides 24/7 air surveillance since August 1968. Initially a French CSF (now Thales Group) RV376 and a British Marconi (now BAE Systems) S244 heightfinder were used at the site but were replaced by an Italian Selenia (now Alenia) RAT-31S 3D-radar in 1983. The system was further enhanced with the installation of a Selenia (now Alenia) RAT-31DL 3-D radar in 2003.
The site is also called "Grossraumradarstation" (lit. large space radar station) since it has the necessary office and working areas for a complete air traffic/combat control center. It served in this role until 1987 when its tasks were taken over by the EZ/B and is still maintained to provide backup when needed.
This radar site is located atop the Speikkogel (2,140 m) on the border between Styria and Carinthia in the Koralpe mountains west of Wolfsberg. The site is active since 1986, with its construction and commission severely hampered by the bad weather in the region (partly due to the height above SL) and problems with the radom and the radar itself. A Selenia (now Alenia) RAT-31S 3-D radar is installed, scheduled to receive the RAT-31DL upgrade. The site features a downsized version of the ORS K's control center, but is normally not manned.
This radar site is located atop the Steinmandl (490 m) north of Ernstbrunn in the Leiser Berge region 40 km north of Vienna. The site is active since 1985; to the immediate west a secondary radar operated by AustroControl is located atop the Buschberg. The ORS uses a Selenia (now Alenia) RAT-31S 3-D radar, but is scheduled to receive the RAT-31DL upgrade. The site was a replacement for the unbuilt one atop the Schneeberg south of Vienna.
As a backup to the fixed sites and to create a better situation image in times of crisis two Selenia (now Alenia) MRCS-403 3-D radars – mobile versions of the RAT-31S – are operated by the Radarbataillon since 1979. Several sites (Irrsberg, Hochwechsel) are prepared to host the radar.
To provide detection of low-flying aircraft the Radarbataillon operates six Thomson-CSF (now Thales Group) RAC 3D medium-range 3-D radars – designated TER (Tieffliegererfassungsradar) – mounted on ÖAF 32.403 trucks beginning in 1998. A further 16 of these systems are operated by the Air Defense Bataillons in special target designation configuration to provide early warning and target tracking for the Mistral units.
A second batch of these guns consisting of a further 18 Z/FlAK 65, but this time with FLGer 69, a further improved Super Fledermaus, was purchased in 1973. The FLGer 69 were never issued to the units but returned to the manufacturer in 1973 for eventual replacement with the new FLGer 75 Skyguard beginning in 1976. Improved Skyguards, dubbed FLGer 79 were purchased in 1981.
The guns itself were upgraded to GDF-005 standard in 1987, designated Z/FlAK 85 since. The FLGer 75/79 have been upgraded to FLGer 98 in the late 90s. A total of 72 guns and 37 Skyguard systems have been acquired over the years.
The lFAL (leichte Fliegerabwehrlenkwaffe) Matra (now MBDA) Mistral is not only used with the Air Defense Regiments of the Air Force but also with the air defense batteries attached to the HQ units of the Army's Brigades.
72 of these systems – along with several hundred missiles, the exact number is unknown – have been purchased beginning in 1993. They are used in conjunction with the so-called ZZR (Zielzuweisungsradar), 16 Thomson-CSF (now Thales Group) RAC 3D medium range 3-D radars in target designation configuration, that have been purchased in 1998. Nine missile launchers and two radars normally operate in a battery.