Sky Shield: 21 countries participate in the air defense system

Sky Shield: 21 countries participate in the air defense system
Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner (ÖVP) will sign a declaration of intent on Austria’s accession to the “European Sky Shield Initiative” (ESSI) at the EU Defense Ministers’ meeting on Tuesday.

The air defense project initiated by Germany “follows the same logic” as the Israeli air defense system, which proved effective against a major Iranian attack with hundreds of drones, cruise missiles and rockets in mid-April, explains the chief planner of the Austrian Armed Forces and deputy chief of the general staff, Lieutenant General Bruno Hofbauer.

Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner (ÖVP) will sign a memorandum of understanding on Austria’s accession to the “European Sky Shield Initiative” (ESSI) at the EU defense ministers’ meeting on Tuesday. 15 countries are among the founding members of the initiative: In addition to Germany, these are NATO members Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Great Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Greece and Turkey later declared their participation. The Polish government has also announced that it will take part. France, on the other hand, has refused to take part. Paris criticizes the fact that non-European technology from Israel and the USA is also being purchased for this purpose.

  • Read also: Tanner sees Sky Shield as “spearhead for a neutral Austria” (OÖNplus)

ESSI is intended to provide a protective shield for the participating countries that can detect and repel drones and missiles – including ballistic and nuclear-armed ones – at an early stage. In 2023, Austria stated in an additional declaration that it would only participate in procurement, training and exercise measures. It was also made clear that participation in Sky Shield could not be considered participation in a military alliance. The government emphasizes that this does not pose a threat to neutrality.

“Fully compatible with neutrality”

Experts also confirm this. “As it stands, Austria’s participation in the Sky Shield initiative is completely compatible with permanent neutrality,” explains European and international law expert Walter Obwexer in an interview with APA. Joint procurement, use and training do not stand in the way of neutrality. If an aircraft enters Austrian airspace, Austria must issue the order to shoot it down. According to Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP), the responsibility for which aircraft is attacked and when remains with the nation state.

Sky Shield follows a “layer” approach with different ranges, like the Israeli air defense system, emphasizes Hofbauer. For Austria, cooperation in the procurement area is a priority in order to develop new capabilities that the Austrian army did not have before. “Then we too (…) would not only have a range of a few thousand meters, but would be able to build a protective layer around an object in the medium range of 40 to 50 kilometers and reach over 100 kilometers in the long range.”

Austria has been using a cannon system for short-range operations for years. “It is currently being upgraded to make it more effective.” Specifically, these are 35-millimeter twin machine guns, of which Austria has 24. In addition, the Austrian army has ordered 36 Skyranger anti-aircraft turrets for short-range operations. The Skyrangers are mounted on “Pandur” tanks and can therefore be used on a mobile basis.

Medium range system under discussion

Austria wants to build a medium-range system as part of the Sky Shield Initiative. This is already included in the financial resources of the development plan for the Federal Army. Discussions and assessments are underway. The General Staff will be able to make a recommendation by the summer, says the Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The German medium-range air defense system Iris-T is “a very good option”. Availability is conceivable from 2027 or 2028 at the earliest.

Longer-range air defense systems such as the US Patriot system are also “under assessment”. “But this requires its own funding,” Hofbauer stresses. The planning phase for this would take the whole of this year. Germany has already agreed to purchase the Israeli Arrow 3 system as part of Sky Shield. Arrow 3 is capable of intercepting missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere, Hofbauer explains.

The Israeli defense system consists of the Iron Dome to defend against short-range rockets and artillery shells. It has a range of 15 to 20 kilometers. For larger rockets and cruise missiles with a range of up to 250 kilometers, Israel uses the David’s Sling system. For longer-range ballistic missiles, Israel also has the Arrow defense system. According to the manufacturer, Arrow 3 can shoot down interceptor missiles at an altitude of 100 kilometers and has a range of up to 2,400 kilometers.

“Iron Dome”: 90 percent success rate

The Israeli air defense system has a success rate of 90 percent. Hofbauer considered this a “very high goal.” Usually, one assumes a 50 percent probability of a hit because evasive maneuvers and technical difficulties must also be taken into account, explained Hofbauer.

When asked about the cost of such systems, Hofbauer replied that Austria, which is neutral and not part of an alliance, “must do everything to protect the population.” Threats from the air cannot be ruled out and it is not known how the situation will develop in the coming years. “Missile technology is advancing.” It will take eight to ten years until the various systems are ready for use, the personnel trained and the logistics functioning. That is why systems that have proven themselves in use are “a factor.” According to estimates, the defense against the Iranian attack cost Israel around one billion euros. According to Israeli figures, “99 percent” of the hundreds of missiles fired were intercepted.

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