According to the Wall Street Journal report and an online feature by Austrian defense journalists, MP Peter Pilz spoke at the National Security Council meeting on Oct. 24 accusing the government of authorizing illegal overflights. However, the Austrian Ministry of Defense presented the imagery to prove that such incidents were being taken very seriously.
Austria was highly alert to airspace incursions, which were of particular significance during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. It increased its quick reaction alert to include primary and standby pairs of Drakens. Due to the country’s geography, incursions often only occur for a few fleeting minutes, especially where the flight time between German and Italian airspace is very short.
According to reporting at the time, the U.S. Embassy said the flights had been properly planned and after the story broke, the Austrian Defense Ministry said there had been confusion, but stopped short of accusing the U.S. of breaking the rules. It remains unknown if the F-117s were equipped with radar reflectors or not during their transit close to the KC-10, but either way, it would have likely appeared as one target.
Austria’s air policing remains a thorny subject to this day. The acquisition of 15 Eurofighter Typhoons has been a contentious issue since it was announced in 2002. Austria recently announced that it is planning to retire its aging Saab 105ÖE jet trainers that have been used for air surveillance and that the Eurofighters would be retained for the foreseeable future. As if to add more confusion, a report from Jane’s has subsequently revealed a move by Indonesia to purchase Austria’s Eurofighters.
At a time when air policing in the European Union is under the spotlight, the Austrian F-117 overflight fiasco has not only reemerged, but it has been held up as an example of why a credible air defense force is so important. It also serves as a useful reminder of a tactic that remains in use to this day when air forces want to move fighter aircraft without drawing unwanted attention.
Contact the author: Jamie@thedrive.com