Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 7, Issue 2  /  

From Strategy to Military Capability: the Austrian Example

From Strategy to Military Capability: the Austrian Example From Strategy to Military Capability: the Austrian Example
7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command from Grafenwoehr, Germany / CC BY (
To cite this article: Wasinger, Matthias, “From Strategy to Military Capability: the Austrian Example,” Military Strategy Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 2, summer 2020, pages 40-45.

1. Introduction

More and more, Western-oriented armed forces, especially in Europe, get confronted by the public, asking why the military funds should be raised after years of decreasing budgets, triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union? Military equipment is, in general terms, far more expensive than off-the-shelf civilian goods due to characteristics like survivability, sustainability, and assertiveness. Usually the taxpayer does not consider the fact that there is a logical link between their nations’ National Security Strategy and required military assets.

The following article will illustrate elements of this process on a level generic enough to create an understanding for simple processes but sufficiently specific to recognize its essentials. Choosing the Republic of Austria as an example ensures recognition of force management from an actor, which is not driven by an alliance or the need to possess all thinkable capabilities due to its worldwide ambition. In consequence, it grants a sterile environment to describe the process of deducing the need for an asset out of a capability based on an ambition outlined in a strategy. However, where appropriate parallels or discrepancies to other neutral European nations will be outlined.

Two concepts drive Austria’s security policy – On the one hand, its neutrality, and on the other its embedding in the European Union’s common security policy. Besides Austria, Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden are neutral states in Europe. In all of them, the concept of neutrality was heavily discussed after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Whereas Switzerland kept its entirely genuine neutral status, Austria and Sweden joined the European Union. Although none of these states joint an alliance as a full member, Austria, Sweden, and Finland are members of NATO’s partnership for peace.

2. The Strategic Setting

“The objective of Austria’s security policy is to make Austria the safest country with the highest quality of life.”[i]

Like other nations, the Republic of Austria links its Armed Forces’ capability building process to strategic threat assessments, political as well as strategic ambitions and national policy. The Austrian Security Strategy outlines threats such as global terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, domestic and regional conflicts, failing states in its surrounding and cyber-attacks. Besides those threats, conventional conflicts can never be excluded. The Austrian Armed Forces, as one of the national Instruments of Power, have to fill a specific role in contributing to the Republics’ strategic goal mentioned above. Based on the constitutional tasks and embedded in a whole-of-nation approach, the Armed Forces are intended to defend Austrian sovereignty, protect constitutional institutions, assist in ensuring internal peace in case of public riot and contribute to enforcing as well as maintaining of peace in hot spots of interest.[ii] Being a neutral state, these tasks will be fulfilled either purely nationally or in close cooperation with partners in the European Union, the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).[iii]

The National Defense Strategy narrows the strategic environment for the Armed Forces by stating that national defense as a core competence is to be ensured against conventional as well as non-conventional attacks, and military contributions have to be prepared to back joint European military operations.[iv] It explicitly outlines the relevance of partnerships to realize Austrian interests abroad[v], whereas, due to neutrality, the defense of Austrian sovereignty remains a purely national task of the Armed Forces.

The Republic of Austria shares this challenge with the other neutral European states. Both the threat analysis, as well as the tasks, are comparable. Only the way to fulfill these tasks differ based on the understanding of neutrality. Sweden and Austria are, technically speaking, embedded in the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy. Finland and the two before mentioned are troop-contributing nations to a broad spectrum of UN, EU, or NATO missions, whereas Switzerland maintains its genuine neutral status. Peace support operations are supported occasionally, but with restrictive national caveats. However, the respective defense budgets outline less the nations’ strategic ambition or embedding, but far more their vicinity to the Russian Federation. Switzerland and Austria spend less than 1% of their GDP on defense, Sweden, and Finland more than double this. These figures are often misleading since they are related to the scale of GDP, and the question of what in detail has to be financed out of the respective defense budget. Additionally, Sweden and Finland have to maintain naval forces, a cost-driver in acquisition and maintenance, at least to the extent that allows the surveillance of territorial waters. Nevertheless, it is an indicator of political interest, value, and perceived necessity.

It is an interesting detail in this regard that these national defense schematics are at least theoretically comparable. All to follow the conscription concept, but to a different degree. Austria, Switzerland, and Finland adhere to general conscription, allowing females to serve voluntarily in the Armed Forces. Sweden, having suspended the same concept in 2010, reintroduced it in 2017 during the Crimea crisis, but as a requirement based general draft concept, including both male and female citizens. Consequently, there are several similarities between these neutral European states. The Austrian example is representative when it comes to the framework of requirements.

Within this framework, the Military Strategic Concept expects the Austrian Armed Forces to be able to ensure initial defensive operations against a conventional invader. Sustaining a long-term war, as well as re-establishing sovereignty and territorial integrity, has to be ensured after the intervention of the international community. The risk of standing a frozen conflict on Austrian territory is accepted.[vi]

Based on these strategic documents as well as the political and constitutional framework, the Armed Forces are to be capable of initial defensive operations without partners. Geography, landscape, and environment of Austria make two areas appear of particular interest, both for Austrian neighbors or minor/medium powers, but also in the case of major conventional warfare between east and west:

  1. The Brenner, a transversal over the Alps from Italy to Germany, attractive due to the possibly required movement of forces and
  2. the river Danube valley as an axis of advance to avoid otherwise required frontal offensive operations through Poland and Germany.

(1) has been assessed as minor problem due to the Austrian Armed Forces’ unique mountain warfare capabilities as well as geography and landscape, favorizing defensive operations. (2) will most likely be objected by a land-heavy penetration, covered by wide-ranging maritime support to land operations, timely and locally limited Air Superiority, and dominance in the Cyber and Information Domain. In an initial phase[vii], land operations will most likely be conducted by a Corps-sized force, consisting of three Divisions. Mobile defense operations will defeat the first attacking Division. It can be assessed that the attiring effect, combined with lacking air coverage after the (to be assumed) disruption of the Austrian Air Force, will push the Austrian Land Forces back to the depth of its territory when operating against the aggressors second and third echelon. The Austrian border will turn to the own “Deep Area”. To be able to engage in these areas, a long-ranging force element for “Deep Operations – Interdiction” will be required.[viii]

The Austrian State Treaty signed 1955, limited Austrian military capabilities concerning nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, fire-and-forget weapons, torpedoes, submarines, and artillery, ranging wider than 30km.[ix] It can be assumed that Long-Range Strike Bombers are out of the military-strategic ambition. Therefore, Air Assault Forces, respectively Air Maneuver Troops, could be the required force element to cover this capability gap.

Currently, there is one Airborne Battalion within the Austrian Armed Forces. Both Air Assaults and Air Maneuver are satisfactorily incorporated in the doctrine, setting the frame for leadership education and training. These efforts seem to be fruitful. Austrian force elements regularly get NATO evaluated and pass accordingly. The problem is, however, Austrian Airborne Troops are reliant on selected equipment for these evaluations, such as Attack Helicopters.

Although running the conscription for the entire Armed Forces, this battalion consists purely of professional soldiers with a high personnel combat effectiveness organized in an Airborne Battalions’ order of battle. When it comes to materiel, it is equipped equivalent to a Light Infantry Battalion. The facilities are assessed as satisfactory. The barracks are huge, modernized, and possess helicopter landing zones. Additionally, the international airport nearby in Klagenfurt has a separate restricted area, maintained by the Armed Forces, applicable for staging fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft up to the size of strategic airlifters.

3. The Approaches

The above said described the political and strategic frame of action for the Austrian Armed Forces. This environment, as well as standard tactical procedures, make Air Maneuver and Air Assault Troops a valuable asset. Besides the fact that they can cover the capability “Deep Operations – Interdiction”, they might be engaged as well for tactical flank coverage. Hence, one force element could fill several capability gaps when synchronized in operations. This multiple-capability asset is also in line with the Austrian Armed Forces’ ambition of covering flanks, shifting main efforts, and keeping designated Airborne Forces highly mobile by air assets.[x]

The current force status of the Airborne Battalion let doctrine, leadership, personnel, and facilities appear appropriate. By contrast, organization, training, and materiel are currently shortfalls, required to fill the outlined capability gap. The following will elaborate on covering a materiel solution.

It is an interesting detail that both Sweden and Finland maintain this capability, too. Either has at least an Airborne Company structured in their respective standing Army’s. It is legitimate to assess these company-sized elements to serve to maintain the capability to conduct Airborne Operations. The employment of a single Company in Deep-Operations appears unlikely. Switzerland, on the contrary, is lacking this capability. The geography, as well as the unique landscape in the middle of the Alps, and the lack of any robust expeditionary ambition might be an explanation for this fact.

4. Materiel solution

a. Current Status:

Currently, the Austrian Armed Forces have a brigade-sized Army Aviation Element.[xi] To be able to conduct ground operations after air movement, the Austrian Armed Forces possess the previously mentioned Airborne Battalion. This battalion consists of two Light Infantry Companies, one Combat Service Support Company, and one Heavy Combat Support Company, comprised of a Mortar Platoon, an Anti-Tank Guided Missile Platoon, a Sniper Platoon and an Anti-Material Rifle Squad. The entire battalion has no specific airborne materiel, vehicle, or equipment.

b. Deduction:

The ambition of engaging one battalion-sized element after air movement in several Company-lifts[xii] can be assessed as feasible with the given assets. Even the mentioned tactical shift of main effort, as well as tactical/operational mobility, would be achievable with the current posture. On the contrary, tactical flank coverage and especially Deep Operations require assets with higher survivability and assertive force. By characteristics, landing zones will not always be permissive from the very beginning. Opposing forces might, at least, be bypassed, and landed forces might need direct fire support while re-organizing. It is assessed as being doubtable that a type OH-58, equipped with a Minigun, will provide sufficient fire coverage and support for such an operation.

The Eurocopter Tiger, the AH-64 Apache, an AH-1 Supercobra as well as the Mil Mi-24 would contribute to filling this capability gap. The Mil Mi-24 seems to be especially attractive on the first view because this weapon system allows transportation of troops during the engagement as a Combat Helicopter. Since available ground facilities are currently directed to support and maintain equipment of western origin, the acquisition of Russian equipment would imply a total shift on the Austrian Armed Forces’ acquisition philosophy and can, therefore, be excluded. This restriction is, by the way, valid as well for Sweden and Switzerland. Whereas Sweden relies, wherever possible, on domestic products and Switzerland focuses on western products, Finland maintains its traditional mixture of western and eastern materiel.

Considering the current fleet, ground facilities are already shaped for maintaining Bell-Products like the Supercobra, which would exclude the AH-64 and the Eurocopter Tiger. Nevertheless, the latter remains attractive due to European partnerships, a solid industrial base nearby, and the strategic national interest of facilitating independent European industries. A solution based on unmanned aerial vehicles might be attractive considering future trends. However, it is excluded as Austrian philosophy will not change concerning a human pilot being the precondition for any combat engagement.

However, aviation assets are just one part of these tactical maneuvers. Airborne troops are to conduct operations after having occupied the landing zone. Therefore, tactical mobility and firepower seem to be crucial as well as sustainability in terms of airmobile combat service support elements, e.g., a ROLE1E medical installation to ensure the required 24 hours self-sustainability. Without these assets, any Airborne Operation contains the risk of deliberately sacrificing its forces without any benefit.

Typical solutions could be the Russian, airdroppable BMD-4, or the German-produced Mungo and Wiesel. Excluding Russian solutions again due to policy, the Wiesel might be the required because one type of vehicle could cover several roles, such as direct support, indirect support, reconnaissance, or Command Post Vehicle. In contrast, the Mungo would host a higher number of soldiers, but without fire support capability.

c. Conclusion:

Within the given framework, the weapon systems Eurocopter Tiger and Wiesel would be recommended for an acquisition program. Asset-wise, this would be the nucleus for a light Air Maneuver Task Force. To enhance sustainment, container-solutions seem to be appropriate. So far, the Austrian Armed Forces possess container-based ROLE1E equipment but fitted for the C-130. It is to be ensured that these solutions can be fixed-wing airlifted, too.

d. Side-Effects:

To ensure equal velocity within this task force, the AB212 is to be replaced by at least 12 additional UH-60. Due to the decision to opt for the Tiger instead of the Supercobra, the “Bell”-infrastructure would not be required anymore.

The introduction of a new class of ground vehicles like the Wiesel would require a limited amount of additional necessary maintenance facilities. The already available maintenance basis for the current armored fleet is assessed as being an excellent baseline for this acquisition, especially in connection with the existing strategic partnership with the German Bundeswehr.

All assets are in a mature status when it comes to the technological readiness level, but still not outdated. It can be assumed that a Combat Element like this could cover the requirements for the next 15-20 years.

5. Conclusion

Although not always recognized by the vast majority of a nations’ population, there is a direct link between the National Security Strategy and the required materiel. A strategy never explains a requirement in detail. It defines an end state, outlines objectives, describes ways, and sometimes even means. It sets the frame for further planning of the nation’s instruments of power. In combination with the strategic environment, threat assessments, and the legal framework, the way ahead narrows during the planning process. Doctrine and tactical requirements finally outline the need for equipment.

Nevertheless, it is still in connection with the National Security Strategy. The above-mentioned sterile example of a neutral state depicted this process along a logical line. A nations’ security is ensured amongst others by military capabilities. A whole-of-nation approach demands an effective and efficient armed force as a prerequisite. Nevertheless, this process needs a broad public, and in consequence, political support. Political interest and respect are measurable in financing. However, armed forces are targets of daily political discussions and populism, linked to the severity of the perceived threat, urgency, and necessity. Whereas invests in the armed forces in Sweden and Finland are mostly kept out of public discussions, Austria and Switzerland are suffering from the perception of eternal peace in Europe, not even affected by the Crimea crisis.

Nevertheless, that should not affect the military planning process when it comes to capability building. The security situation has become volatile in Europe. Consequently, plans need to be developed before acquisitions are granted. Requirement-based contingency planning is the motto instead of just-in-time planning. The military is to be prepared in case of emergency, no matter how popular in times of peace. A precondition for success is to explain the requirements in time and financing for the military capability building process, to emphasize the link between strategy, ambition, strategic environment, and armed forces. Understanding might create support for the military. Designated to fight a nation’s wars, it contributes to a nations’ strategy price-tag.


[i] Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria, Austrian Security Strategy; Security in a new decade - shaping security (2013), 10.
[ii] [2] National Council of the Republic of Austria, Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz der Republik Oesterreich: B-VG (1930), Art. 79 (1).
[iii] [3] Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria, Austrian Security Strategy; Security in a new decade - shaping security, 7-11.
[iv] [4] Federal Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Austria, Teilstrategie Verteidigungspolitik - National Defence Strategy: TV (2014), 11.
[v] [5] ibid., 13-15.
[vi] [6] Federal Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Austria, Militaerstrategisches Konzept 2017 - Military Strategic Concept 2017 (2017), 17.
[vii] [7] The limiting factor will be the available axis of advance, narrowed by the landscape. Bypassing the Danube valley will nevertheless be inevitable since NATO members like Slovenia or the Czech Republic are not able to provide the required infrastructure for force movement. Both states were, even during the Cold War, reluctant to improve this infrastructure in order to keep it "unattractive" as an objective in a significant conflict scenario.
[viii] [8] When referencing "Deep Operations – Interdiction" the author is primarily referring to Multiple Rocket Launch Systems (MLRS), High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), or Long-Range Strike Bombers.
[ix] [9] The National Council of the Republic of Austria and Allied Powers in World War II, State Treaty of the Republic of Austria: Staatsvertrag (1955), Art. 13 (1). Although the Austrian government unilaterally proclaimed this regulation ineffective in 1990, the signing countries never revoked this restraint, based on the assessment that these restrictions do not interfere with the neutrality. (Sigmar Stadlmeier, Dynamische Interpretation der dauernden Neutralität, Schriften zum Völkerrecht Bd.95 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1991), 180.)
[x] [10] Federal Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Austria, Militaerstrategisches Konzept 2017 - Military Strategic Concept 2017, 15.
[xi] [11] It consists, excluding the relevant land-based maintenance facilities and Command Elements, of 3 C-130 Tactical Airlifters, 8 PC-6 fixed-wing utility aircraft, and a rotary-wing fleet of 9 S-70 "Blackhawk" transport helicopters, 21 Alouette III liaison helicopters, 23 AB212 transport helicopters and 10 OH-58 scout helicopters. The C-130 and the S-70 were just recently updated with self-protection measures, whereas the PC-6, the Alouette III, and the AB212 possess neither active nor passive weapon systems or protection measures. Only the OH-58 are equipped with an M-134 Minigun. (Kommando Luftunterstuetzung, “Austrian Army Aviation: Assets,” last modified August 28, 2019,
[xii] [12] Federal Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Austria, Militaerstrategisches Konzept 2017 - Military Strategic Concept 2017, 18.

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