Europe & Cold War Database
During the 1990s the Austrian airspace was - despite the country's neutrality - frequently (mis)used by foreign powers. Even the very modern and capable radar net, "Goldhaube", established in the 1980s, could not prevent all the incursions, penetrations, and different other viollations of the Austrian airspace. With several radar stations built high on the mountain-peaks, the Goldhaube system is usually capable of detecting objects flying at high or medium levels far outside Austria. Nevertheless, the interception of these is frequently extremely problematic, foremost because of the obsolescence of Austrian fighter aircraft.
Most of the 1970s and 1980s, for example, the main "fighter" of the Austrian Bundesheer's Fliegerdivision (Flying Division) was the sub-sonic - and unarmed - Saab 105 trainer. In the late 1980s 24 refurbished J-35Oe Drakens were purchased from Sweden, but these were armed with 30mm guns only. When, in the summer of 1991, the aircraft of the then Yugoslav Air Force (JRViPVO) started penetrating the Austrian airspace - like a MiG-21R that passed the City of Graz before turning away - Drakens were frequently too late to react, no matter how swiftly scrambled. Besides, the Austrian interceptors could not do much: their order was to force the intruders to land, not to shot them down. And, the Draken could be easily outmaneuvered by slower G-4 Super Galebs, outrun by MiG-21, or outgunned by MiG-29.
One of the consequences was the re-armament of the Drakens by AIM-9P Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, as well as the purchase of Mistral SAMs - both of which required a change of the national constitution!
Despite their "new" missile-armament Drakens are meanwhile obsolete when compared to most modern fighters that entered or are entering service with numerous other air forces in the Europe. Even more so, the incursions into the Austrian airspace did not case because of the end of the war in Yugoslavia. Quite on the contrary, the number of penetrations decreased but their type changed. In the recent years it regularly happens that the USAF and different NATO air forces are announcing overflights but when these happen there are irregularities. For example, many of the flight-plans faxed to Vienna are unclear regarding to the type or the number of the aircraft announced, their route, flight level, intentions, load etc. In other cases, aircraft not announced in the flight-plans faxed to Vienna are flying over Austria; AWACS aircraft pass the Austrian airspace with their radars powered-up (which is forbidden), or aircraft are armed, although it was announced that they would not be. Many times instead of one announced aircraft there are "suddenly" whole convoys flying into the Austrian airspace. Each such case needs to be inspected and reported by the Austrian Bundesheer, and in order to be able to inspect such overflights, and enable the government to at least protest against them, the Bundesheer needs interceptors, especially the new and improved ones. This was the background for the final order for 18 EF-2000 Typhoons, issued earlier this year - even if under fierce protests from the political oposition inside the country.
Meanwhile, the Goldhaube system remains in function, and - together with Saab 105 and J-35 Draken fighters - is continuing to intercept and control un-announced overflights. The following series of diagrams illustrates some of such cases, but also shows the actual power of the Goldhaube, the radars of which can definitely reach far out of the Austrian airspace...
On 7 January 1992, two MiG-21bis of the 117 Air Brigade JRViPVO intercepted two helicopters of the EU Control Mission in Croatia and attacked them firing R-60 (AA-8) missiles. At the time, the JRViPVO was still claiming control of the Croatian airspace, despite the Croats declaring independence from Yugoslavia more six months earlier. The flight of the EU helicopters from Hungary to Croatia was also announced to the Serbs: nevertheless, they have sent the MiGs to intercept and down the helicopters.
From the vantage point of the Austrian radar stations in Styria (south-eastern Austrian federal state), the Bundesheer had an excellent view into the airspace over northern Croatia, where the incident happened.
One of the two EU helicopters (both of which were painted white, for easier identification) was shot down, killing all aboard, and the other damaged and forced to land. The plot of the EU helicopters is marked blue on this diagram; the plot of the MiGs is marked with red arrows, and clearly shows that they also violated the Slovenian and Hungarian airspace during this engagement.
This was a typical interception of an USAF or NATO E-3A Sentry AWACS aircraft, by two Saab 105s. The flight-plan of the Sentry that was underway from Germany to the Italian airspace was regularly announced - but the aircraft entered the Austrian airspace with its radar on, which is forbidden.
On this day two USAF F-16s were intercepted by two J-35Oe Drakens in a very brisant case: the plot of the USAF F-16s is marked red, and that of the Drakens in black.
The F-16s were first detected while still deep inside the Italian airspace. Noticing their maneuvers, and not having any overflights announced, the Austrian controller anticipated what is going to happen, and positioned a pair of Drakens on the other side of the border. The F-16s waited for the Drakens to run out of fuel, and then took a course over Tyrol towards Germany, expecting no further "disruptions" inside the Austrian airspace.
However, the Austrian controller had a surprise waiting for them: as the F-16s were making the dash over Austria - only some 45-50km wide on this place - another pair of Drakens, flying very low between the high Austrian mountains so to remain undetected by the US radars so far - was brought into action. Hardly that the F-16s entered the Austrian airspace they were suddenly encountered by these two Drakens. Guided from the ground the Austrian pilots did a perfect interception, and brought back excellent photographs of the two F-16s, confirming their violation beyond any doubt.
The USAF took the notice of this lesson, as well as of Austrian diplomatic protests. Nothing similar happened ever again, and from what can be heard this case is ever since being presented as an example of a "perfectly set-up interception" on the part of the Austrian Bundesheer in the briefing rooms of the 31st FW, in Aviano.
In this case a RAF Hercules transport motored its way from Italy via the Austrian airspace to Germany - saving the crew several hours of flight around Austria or Switzerland.
This case illustrates several aspects of the whole situation: on the north-south axis the Austrian airspace is relatively shallow, so that the aircraft moving from southern to northern Europe (or the other way around) - especially between Germany and Italy shorten their trip by several hours by overflying Austria.
That RAF Hercules was not intercepted, but this is also a perfect illustration for what would happen if the Austrian Bundesheer would not operate any interceptors any more - a situation many Austrians cannot - or refuse to - understand, instead preferring to make jokes about their own military.
This is the first of the three probably most interesting diagrams. It shows the basic shema of the radar tracks from the night of 24 to 25 March, 1999, as recorded by the Goldhaube system during the first wave of NATO strikes against Serbia and Montenegro, the Operation "Allied Force".
Clearly to be seen on this diagram is the following:
- 12 "Pakete" (packages) of NATO aircraft came out of Italy, overflew Slovenia and entered the Hungarian airspace, where two tanker-tracks and two CAP-stations (one partially inside northern Serbia) were established;
- 17 "Pakete" (packages) of NATO aircraft came out of Italy and flew over the Adriatic Sea, only to distribute into AWACS-, tanker-, and CAP-tracks, over the central Adria (lowest AWACS orbit, marked red) and central Bosnia (three orbits marked black);
- an additional AWACS-station was established over central Croatia and is marked red: this was the AWACS that enabled the USAF F-15Cs from the "Tuzla CAP-station" (the northern orbit inside the Bosnian airspace) to intercept two JRViPVO MiG-29s, two evenings later!
A diagram showing all the plots from the evening of 24 March, 1999.
Note the heavy activity over Slovenia and Hungary (marked black, and with obvious heavy activity on the two tanker-tracks) as well as over the Adriatic Sea (marked green) - all originating from Italy, and the "figure 8" AWACS-orbit over central Croatia.
Of interest are also penetrations of the Serbian airspace, several of which are converging on the Belgrade area.
Aside from tracking these movements, during the Kosovo War, in 1999, the Austrian Bundesheer recorded 32 violations of the Austrian airspace by a total of no less but 60 NATO and US aircraft. Most of these were on the east-west axis, and in the Radkersburg area, near the Slovenian border: apparently, quite a few of the NATO aircraft underway from Italy to Hungary - or the other way around - could not keep their course properly.
Probably the most spectacular plot is showing the track of an USAF F-117A, as recorded on 18 May 1999. Sadly, the photograph of the diagram in question is not very good, but it is nevertheless interesting. Namely, the F-117A was tracked while underway at ranges between 200 and 400km outside the Austrian airspace... (it is likely that it was underway with radar-reflectors or the IFF-transponder "on" while being tracked and underway over the Adriatic Sea, then the Croatian and Bosnian airspace).
(Note from the editor: I was in Caorle, Italy, for hollydays, on that evening, and can very well remember seeing position lights of at least two F-117s passing by high over the town: they were relatively easy to distinguish because of their position respective the shape of the aircraft, as well as because the F-117s are the only USAF tactical fighters that operate alone).
The violations of the Austrian airspace did not cease even after the Operation Allied Force. The following happened on 18 October, 2002.
The flight-plan of a single USAF transporter - a KC-10 tanker - was announced, but the plane entered the Austrian airspace "escorted" by two F-117as, which were not announced. The trio was intercepted while underway from Germany to Italy by two Drakens, and attempted even an evasion maneuver while inside the Austrian airspace! Nevertheless, the aircraft were successfully cached by the Drakens and then photographed - as required by the Austrian regulations (albeit, the photographs on this diagram are archiv photos: the originals are considered as "streng geheim" ("top secret" by the Austrian authorities!).
A similar case is known to have happened in June 1992 too: instead of the announced aircraft, there were at least two, of which one was flying in the "shade" of the announced one.
Another very serious violation happened on 7 June 2001. There was a Boeing 737 that flew regularly between Italy and Poland but without any flight-plans being supplied to the Austrians. When the aircraft entered the Austrian airspace once again it was swiftly intercepted by two Drakens: as the Austrian interceptors closed, the plane "escaped" into the Hungarian airspace, only to return back over Austria a minute later. Anticipating this move, the Drakens cut the corner flying at a supersonic speed while at less than 10.000m: their booms could be heard in Eisenstadt, Wiener Neustadt, and Mattersburg areas. After this intercept the Boeing never appeared again - at least not without being announced...
On this day two Drakens from Linz/Hörsching AB intercepted this Lockheed Hercules transporter with the US civilian registration N8183J, suspected of being underway on a non-military but also non-civilian mission. The Hercules took-off from the Rhein Main AFB, in Germany, and was operated by the Tepper Aviation Inc.
Tepper Aviation Inc. is registered in Florida since 1989, and became known for a number of obscure incidents, which indicate the possibility of this being a CIA-set front company (in fact, Tepper Aviation Inc. was mentioned as "owned" by the CIA in several different reports). Already on 27 November 1989 a Hercules registered on the name of this company crashed at Jamba airfield, in Angola, while underway from Kamina, in Papua/New Guinea - carrying a load of weapons for UNITA!
In February 1998, a wife of one of Tepper Aviation Inc. pilot testified in front of a jurry on a court in Alabama, USA, about her knowledge regarding the drug-smuggling activities of the local businessmen; slightly later, she found a Sidewinder snake in her mailbox...
The latest press-reports regarding the Tepper Aviation Inc. put the company in connection with the misterious disappearance of no less but 22 C-130 Hercules and six P-3 Orion aircraft, supposedly used for smuggling drugs...
The investigations of Austrian reporters about the destination of the Hercules intercepted on 21 January 2003 revealed that the aircraft was underway to Baku, in Azerbaijan. The local Warlords are known for drug-smuggling: no less but 3.699kg of drugs were "exported" from Nagorny Karabach in the year 2002 alone, and it is likely that the aircraft was underway to pick up the next "shipment"...
It is not yet entirely clear why was this Hercules not forced to land in Austria, but "only" intercepted: officially, the Austrian Foreign Ministry considered the aircraft as civilian, and saw no reason to authorise the Ministry of Defence to force the aircraft to land.
Additional violations of the Austrian airspace occure almost on a daily basis....
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