July 11, 2018 / 8:49 AM / 7 days ago

Austria to decide about future air defense jets by year-end

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria plans to decide by year-end which fighter jets to use for its air defense in the future, the defense minister said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO - Austria's Defence Minister Mario Kunasek addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Mario Kunasek, a member of the far-right Freedom Party which entered government with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives in December, decided in February to re-assess the previous government’s decision to end a $2 billion Eurofighter jet program early.

A commission, tasked with examining options for Austria’s air defense, has delivered its report and on that basis a decision will be taken, Kunasek said on ORF radio.

“It will still take some time to discuss details,” Kunasek said. He said this included the financing of the purchase.

“My inhouse experts tell me that we need a decision by the end of the year,” he said when asked when to expect a decision.

Kunasek’s Social Democratic predecessor Hans Peter Doskozil

launched an unprecedented legal battle against Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium in 2017, accusing them of fraud and wilful deception in connection with a 2003 Eurofighter order.

He then announced that Austria would end its Eurofighter jet program early and replace the aircraft with a cheaper alternative fleet of aircraft.

The consortium, which includes Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo, have denied the accusations.

But Kunasek said in February that he did not feel bound by his predecessor’s decision, and on Wednesday did not give a preference for a manufacturer in a possible signal that Airbus still stood a chance.

The commission has previously said it has received new price information for Swedish and American jets, which will be taken into account.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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