Congress 2009This year the European Military Press Associaton, the largest European organization of military journalists held its annual congress in Austria. The hosts presented the most interesting aspects of their armed forces to the 100 or so guests at the event.
EMPA’s mission statement includes bringing together military journalists, editors and contributors on security policy topics and building strong relationships in Europe. Following the traditions, the host nation is supposed to introduce its armed forces, military capabilities and equipment. This year, the invited guests could visit the units and training centers of the Austrian Armed Forces (Bundesheer).
The importance of fostering close relations between the armed forces and the citizens of the country was emphasized throughout the displays and introductions to the Austrian Armed Forces. The system of conscription goes a long way towards achieving this aim, just like the assistance the AAF provide in case of disasters and major accidents.
The first highlight on the trip of the participants of the conference was the troops of the Alpine Training Center, as the service personnel specialized in alpine operations arrived with their Pandur-1 APCs to receive the journalists. The scenario of the demonstration was based on a fictitious raid, countered by an action to drive off and eliminate enemy forces. It was interesting to see these sinewy, slender soldiers having a tanned face who do not have any unnecessarily grown big muscles to carry them up to the mountain. Indeed, the requirement level is high, because each year 150 troops are trained at the basic course, but only five or six of them can qualify as military alpine guides, which is a honorable master title and requires eight years of training in general, provided that they pass the intermediate aptitude tests.
In what followed, the participants visited the Lagenlebarn Air Base, a facility with a substantial role in education and training where a number of helicopter types are stationed as well. Here we could see some high angle maneuvers of the new pride of the air base, the Austrian Eurofighter Typhoon.
The main attractions were the Sikorsky S-70A-42 Black Hawk helicopters, these being the special variants of the UH-60L type, meeting Austrian requirements. The airmen of the Austrian AF told us the nine aircraft are not enough so they want to see more of them entering service, but currently they cannot afford further development. The hosts inserted a cruise above the abbey of Melk in the program.
The cooperation between Lower Austria and the Raiffeisen Holding was perhaps what impressed us the most. The idea is quite simple. Avalanches and floods occur often in the region, so large-scale disaster relief operations must be mounted each year. On the one hand, the AAF have the necessary manpower for this task, but they lack the adequate plant. On the other, the Raiffeisen-owned STRABAG consortium has a big supply of construction vehicles. According to the terms of an agreement concluded in 2001, in case of emergency these pieces of construction machinery can be deployed to assist with the disaster relief efforts. The soldiers bring the construction vehicles from their stations and steer them to save the population and property.
The AAF updates the databases containing the construction vehicle stations on a continuous basis, monitors the weather forecasts and of course there is a hot line connecting the designated specialists of the consortium and the armed forces.
On the last day the guests were invited to watch a complex counter-terrorist and SAR operation conducted at Tritolwerk where the rain was pouring all day long. We saw the soldiers seizing a factory compound by helicopters, snipers who ‘neutralized’ terrorists who were subsequently arrested with the help of dogs, and we learned how firefighting and saving lives is done in case there was a gas explosion in a building. This rescue operation had an interesting ending. The exercise was going according to schedule when a ‘real-life’ call-out came in the middle as two juggernauts collided in the rescue team’s area of responsibility, so the firefighters of the static display got into their vehicles and rushed to the scene with the sirens screaming.
Photo: László Vastagh