Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Germany: the Bundeswehr has never been so deprived

Almost a year after Olaf Scholz promised a change of era for the German army, it is in a more destitute state than ever. In addition to past investment shortfalls, there is the deficit caused by the defense equipment delivered to Ukraine because it could not be replaced. Of the 100 billion euros mobilized in a special fund to modernize the troops, “not a penny has yet arrived”, said Tuesday the Commissioner for Defense at the Bundestag Eva Högl, during the presentation of her annual report on the Bundeswehr.

According to the elected Social Democrat, the German army will not be operational before the start of the next decade. And military experts estimate that a “total sum of 300 billion euros is needed” to achieve this goal, the report says. The new Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, has asked for an increase of 10 billion per year in his budget, of which the 50 billion or so planned (1.6%) are far from the 2% of GDP promised to NATO by Olaf Scholz .

Orders that are too bureaucratic

Money will not be everything, however. “Being operational is not limited to special funds and equipment”, warns Eva Högl, it implies “clear structures and light processes that speed things up instead of slowing them down”. In other words, an in-depth reform of the supply system of the Bundeswehr is essential.

“Everything takes far too long,” grows impatient the Parliamentary Commissioner for Defence. His report mentions the example of parachute equipment, the acquisition of which lasted nearly nine years. This is not a rare case. It is linked to the fact that the German constitution separates active troops within the Bundeswehr from their administration, which is responsible for purchases. Located in Koblenz, it has turned into a bureaucratic and normative monster disconnected from the reality on the ground.

I need orders. Without orders, I will produce nothing.

Armin Papperger CEO of Rheinmetall

So far no one had the courage to tackle this complex subject, but the war in Ukraine gives it new urgency. Despite the ammunition shortage, “I need orders. Without orders, I will produce nothing,” Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger warned in an interview with Bloomberg. By dint of waiting, it will only produce shells at about two-thirds of its capacity this year.

A detrimental lack of attractiveness

The infrastructures of the Bundeswehr are also victims of these interminable delays. Leaking windows, unusable toilets, dilapidated housing, “too many barracks are in a terrible state”, writes Eva Högl. According to her, it would take 50 billion in total for an upgrade, but at the rate at which decisions are made, “it would also take 50 years for the current infrastructure of the Bundeswehr to be completely renovated”, she observes.

This slowness is all the more worrying as it complicates the recruitment of new soldiers: the dropout rate last year reached 21%. In the Army, one out of three soldiers interrupts his training during the first few months. However, more than 18,000 positions remain vacant, or nearly 16% of the workforce. In some areas, such as IT or cybersecurity, one in five positions is unfilled. Unless the attractiveness of the Bundeswehr is boosted, there is still a particularly long way to go between the 183,051 current soldiers and the 203,000 desired in 2031.


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