Daedalus 2013, Eurofighters protecting the WEF
Like every year, between 22 and 27 January the World Economic Forum (WEF) brought together a large number of heads of state, chief executive officers, political and religious leaders as well as the media. The World Economic Forum is a purely Swiss event, but since it is being held in the town of Davos, close to the Austrian border, the 25 mile (46km) Temporary Restricted Area applies to the Austrian airspace over Tyrol and Vorarlberg as well.
Austrian armed forces make use of the situation by organizing a large exercise every year during the World Economic Forum. This year, 25 aircraft and helicopters as well as 1100 soldiers have been deployed for the combined operation/exercise called Daedalus 2013. As all Austrian Air Force bases are located in the eastern half of the country, the assets used to intercept slow traffic had to be forward deployed closer to Switzerland. This comprised OH-58 Kiowas and PC-7 Turbo Trainers, both of which equipped with gun pods. Two UH-60 Black Hawks with a 24-person strong ‘Emergency Response Team Air’ (ERTA) were put on alert as well.
The homebase of the Eurofighter, Zeltweg in Styria, is located as far away as 230 miles (370km) from Davos, so assuming the Eurofighters don’t break the sound barrier (which they will only do in case of an ‘Alpha scramble’) it takes them at least 20 minutes to transit to the Swiss border. A pair of Eurofighters continuously patrolled the skies during daytime. Their configuration comprised the internal cannon, a single AIM2000 IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile –of which Austria ordered twenty-five in 2005– and two external fuel tanks, increasing mission duration to well over two hours. Aircraft entering the no fly zone, are being intercepted, identified and sent away or forced to land. In the unlikely event that an aircraft commander does not cooperate (such as during a terrorist attack) it can be shot down.
With the release of the airspace over Tirol and Vorarlberg on January 27, 08.00hr the exercise Daedalus came to an end. In the days before the no-fly zone was violated 9 times of which 6 occurred on Saturday 26th. No serious threats occurred however as all were caused by carelessness of the pilots. Among the intercepted were three small general aviation aircraft and multiple paragliders (a popular ‘sport’ in Austria).They were all escorted out of the area were they faced a rather high fine by the authorities after landing.
Eurofighters in Austrian service
In 2003, the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon was selected to replace the Saab 35 Draken. An initial order for eighteen 4thgeneration fighters was placed but with a changing political climate this amount was reduced to fifteen tranche 1 aircraft in 2007. Shortly after signing this new agreement the first aircraft was handed over and delivery continued until 2009.
The Eurofighters rarely leave their country. Austria is not part of NATO as it prefers to remain neutral. Its Air Force main objectives are to maintain air space sovereignty, providing Air support/transport for the ground forces and acting in an emergency relief capacity both home and abroad. The Eurofighter jets therefore are only used to secure and defend the country’s own air space together with the Saab 105Ö and in continuous conjunction with Austria’s air defense system ‘Goldhaube’. This system, introduced in 1988, has become far more effective when the Eurofighters entered service in 2008 as the Eurofighter is faster and capable of carrying more advanced air-to-air missiles in contrast to the Saab Draken. The Eurofighter’s advanced CAPTOR radar enables the Eurofighter not only to provide armed surveillance but to assist ground-based radar units as well. The radar looks into the deepest alpine valleys and transmits information to ground based radar systems that would otherwise not have this complete image of what is going on.
The Austrian government has tight relations with its neutral neighbor in the west. This year’s operation marked the tenth time Austria had contributed to securing the World Economic Forum. In 2008 the two countries organized the European Football Championship and both air forces provided a similar air surveillance operation. This marked the first time Eurofighters had been patrolling Austrian skies.
Austria’s Eurofighters have recently been upgraded to the latest standard for Tranche 1 aircraft. This included a number of software updates as well as improved communication/navigation equipment and IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). Due to the ongoing budget cuts, Austria’s Eurofighters are only making 1200 flying hours per year instead of 1500 to 1800 originally planned. Nearly 100 hours have been assigned to protecting the World Economic Forum over the course of a week. Pilots are said to get so few flying hours, they need to compensate by flying 30 hours per year on the aging Saab 105 training jet and spending more hours in the simulator.