- Germany faces a difficult task in modernising its army, which it has promised to undertake in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
- In the early hours of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Alfons Mais, the head of Germany's ground army, shocked the public by announcing that "the options we can provide politicians to support (NATO) are extremely limited."
Germany faces a difficult task in modernising its army, which it has promised to undertake in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Outdated equipment, a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and disgruntled soldiers are just some of the challenges it faces.
Three days after the attack, Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a historic address in which he promised a special budget of 100 billion euros for the military, as well as annual defence spending of more than 2% of GDP.
Since then, the armaments business has been buzzing about the impending spending binge.
As Europe’s largest economy tries to re-arm itself in a historic policy about-turn, AFP analyses the state of the Bundeswehr and how it plans to deploy its financial bazooka.
Is Germany capable of defending itself?
In the early hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Alfons Mais, the head of Germany’s ground army, shocked the public by announcing that “the options we can provide politicians to support (NATO) are extremely limited.”
He commented on LinkedIn that the Bundeswehr was “more or less bare.”
In her last annual assessment on the Bundeswehr, Defence Commissioner Eva Hoegl deemed the army to be in “alarming” condition.
According to Marcus Faber, a defence expert and MP for the liberal FDP, it is currently incapable of performing its core job of protecting Germany in the case of an attack.
Since its inception in 1955, the army has been battered by austerity measures.
According to a December study on the state of the army, just about 30% of German naval ships are “fully operational.” A large number of the country’s fighter planes are unsuitable to fly.
In terms of ground equipment, just 40 Puma combat vehicles are regarded “fit for battle” out of 350.
Even if it had the equipment, the German army would be unable to operate it due to a lack of personnel: with 180,000 soldiers (down from 500,000 in 1990), it would be thousands short of the numbers required to repel an invasion.
What has to be fixed?
Rather than simply purchasing new equipment, Hoegl argues that “planning and procurement structures must be modernised” in order to achieve true change.
The army has a decentralised system that gives local governments control over building construction and upkeep, which means even the simplest projects might take years to complete.
Barracks without sanitary amenities, electrical outlets, hot water, or even drinking water exist. A renovation took 23 years in one case. This “not only causes irritation among the soldiers, but it can also lead to a loss of faith in the democratic process,” according to Hoegl’s assessment.
The central procurement office in Koblenz, which employs roughly 10,000 people, has also been chastised for being overly slow and bloated.
According to Faber, “complicated procedures have been built throughout the years, even for little purchases.”
The Bundeswehr has been waiting for new rifles to replace its outdated G36 versions for years. New weapons have being created by several manufacturers, but the process has come to a halt.
The elite mountain infantry group has been in desperate need of new skis for some time, and the army’s antiquated parachutes have also been in need of replacement.
To address the issue, the administration is considering raising the spending thresholds that necessitate tendering.
What’s on the shopping list?
Germany has previously stated that it will replace its ageing Tornado fighter jets with a new fleet of 100 million euro American F-35 stealth fighters and Eurofighters.
In the long run, it is betting on the projected SCAF European fighter jets and wants to buy armed drones from Israel, an option that the ruling coalition had previously rejected due to the Russian attack. Germany is also considering purchasing an anti-missile shield system from Israel, which might provide protection to EU neighbours.
The Israeli Arrow 3 system, which is being considered, is expected to cost roughly two billion euros ($2.2 billion) and might be operational as early as 2025.
Its corresponding radar system would be put in three locations across Germany, with monitoring data fed to a central location where soldiers would be on the lookout for threats 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If a rocket attack is detected, an Arrow 3 will be launched into space to intercept and destroy the missile.
Meanwhile, a new European battle tank, the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), is in the works, but not before 2035. Transport helicopters would also need to be replaced, most likely with American Chinooks.
According to Faber, bringing all of the army’s equipment up to current standards will take “up to eight years” in total, and not everyone in Germany wants that to happen.
Last week, over 600 public personalities, including politicians, religious leaders, and artists, signed an online petition condemning the “weapons race” and warned that the spending will lead to cuts in other areas.