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Austrian government split over scrapping Eurofighter jets -report

VIENNA, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Austria’s coalition government is split over whether to keep its fleet of Eurofighter jets, with the far-right Freedom Party preferring to replace the planes with Saab aircraft, the newspaper Die Presse reported on Friday.

Defence Minister Mario Kunasek of the Freedom Party has ordered a review of the previous government’s decision to scrap the jets made by the Eurofighter consortium, which includes Airbus, BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo .

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives prefer to keep the aircraft, even though Austria is locked in a legal battle with Airbus and the consortium. It accuses them of fraud and wilful deception in connection with a $2 billion Eurofighter order in 2003. They deny the Austrian allegations.

Neutral Austria currently operates decades-old Saab aircraft alongside its Eurofighter jets. The government has yet to decide whether to continue using two families of jets or switch to one, Die Presse reported, without identifying or describing its sources.

Spokesmen for the government and the Defence Ministry were not immediately available for comment.

A decision is unlikely to be reached this year, as originally expected given the disagreements between the two coalition parties, the newspaper said.

The two preferred options - keeping the Eurofighter and buying Saab Gripen jets for roughly 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion) - would cost about the same, Die Presse reported. Any acquisitions would be from another country’s armed forces, it added.

Keeping the Eurofighter would still require various upgrades to the existing jets, and it’s likely they would be fitted with extra weapons systems. A second type of aircraft would also probably be purchased to operate alongside them, with Leonardo’s M-345 currently the preferred option, Die Presse said.

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