Increases in German Defence Spending
EUGENE GERDEN
© 2016 FrontLine Defence (Vol 13, No 6)

After two decades of military cuts and reductions, the so-called peace-dividend of the early 1990s is depleted in Germany. In the light of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the on-going intervention in Eastern Ukraine, as well as of new security challenges in Africa and the Middle East, the government of Germany decided that a remarkable rebound in defence spending was in order. And so, the cabinet agreed on an 8% increase – up to €36,6 Billion for the 2017 budget, with major allocations to the purchase of new combat equipment and a restocking of the ammunition depots. 

This decision includes a plan to increase the numbers of military personnel (from the current 185,000 to 192,000 in 2023). This is the first increase in personnel since 1990 (when West-Germany had 495,000 soldiers) and is urgently needed with the Bundeswehr being engaged in missions abroad and enhanced exercises within NATO like never before since German unification. By the end of November 2016 approximately 14,900 soldiers have been engaged in missions such as Afghanistan (including quick reaction forces), Iraq, Mali and elsewhere; in NATO assurance measures (air policing in Estonia, exercises in Poland); for the European Union Battlegroup (2,000 PAX); enhanced NATO Response Force (5,300 PAX); or as stand-by operational reserve forces for Kosovo. 

As the “Framework Nation” of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence in 2017, Germany will be providing the bulk of personnel and capabilities for the multinational NATO Battlegroup in Latvia. Germany will also fill the helicopter gap for MINUSMA in Mali when the Dutch helicopter detachment departs. These will be in addition to the hundreds of soldiers who are still supporting Germany’s own local and regional authorities as they continue to manage the aftermath of more than 1 million refugees still to be sheltered and taken care of.

Defence  Minister Ursula von der Leyen
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (2016 Bundeswehr Photo: Sebastian Wilke)

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a long-standing advisor of Chancellor Merkel and one of the senior ministers in cabinet (since 2005), took over the Defence portfolio in December 2013 and since then been working, not only to reshape the procurement sector, but also to bring about the overdue rebound with the aim to strengthen the Bundeswehr and to reshape the German Armed Forces for the post-Afghanistan challenges that call for enduring fighting capabilities and brigade-size manœuver elements. “Dialogue and Deterrence” are Berlin’s answer to Moscow’s policy in Eastern Europe, and it is von der Leyen’s responsibility to make sure that the deterrence part works.  

These latest plans of the German government have been criticized, as usual, by some of the Russia-friendly newspapers and politicians. In particular, Heike Henzel of the opposition Left Party, has warned that by participating in NATO military exercises, Germany risks increasing tensions with Russia and “endangers the foundation of peaceful coexistence” in Europe.

Lieutenant-General Jörg Vollmer, Chief of the German Army
Lieutenant-General Jörg Vollmer, Chief of the German Army. (Photo: Edwin Tromp)

The government sees it differently. The new plans are highly welcomed by Lieutenant General Jörg Vollmer, Chief of the German Army, who noted that weapons in some of the military units of the German land forces had dropped to 30% of the required levels. The situation was aggravated further when inefficiencies in weapons and combat equipment were found during recent inspections that were initiated by the German national Parliament. 

According to the German Ministry of Defence, implementation of these plans has been deemed an acute need after years of insufficient government attention to the requirements of the national army. This is reflected by the official state statistics, which noted that, since the end of the Cold War, the number of combat vehicles and weapons in the German army has dropped by 75 percent. The numbers of troops and combat equipment have also significantly declined since 1990s.

Leopard 2A6 vehicles in military training exercises.
Leopard 2A6 vehicles in military training exercises. (2016 Bundeswehr Photo: Marco Dorow)

To counteract this decline in capability and capacity, the German government has begun to plan for the massive purchases and upgrades of army weapons and combat equipment in the coming years.

For instance, the German army had at least 100 Leopard 2A4 tanks in storage and planned for destruction, however, these new plans suggest they will be upgraded to the 2A7 variant, beginning in 2017 or early 2018. This will bring the overall tank fleet up to nearly 400 units. This figure, however, is significantly lower than the Cold War inventory, which exceeded 3500 Leopard 1 and Leopard 2, but still higher than the 225 units that had been decided before Putin annexed the Crimea. 

Recruits using G36 rifle during training.
Recruits using G36 rifle during training. (2016 Bundeswehr Photo: Jane Schmidt)

A year ago, the Ministry announced plans to purchase up to 131 Boxer armoured personnel carriers of the new A2 configuration at an estimated cost of €654 million (including weapons stations), with delivery between 2017-2020. These are in addition to the 272 Boxer already in use (the last of which arrived in March 2016). The German Armed Forces have utilized the Boxer extensively during missions in Afghanistan. The new vehicles will replace the wheeled APCs Fuchs (Fox) of the Army’s infantry battalions and are tailored to fit in with the advanced Future Soldier project (IdZ-ES) used by infantry squads and platoons. 

There are also plans to pay more attention for the design of a new type of small arms, which should replace the currently used G36 assault rifle. The G36 has been the subject of criticism from some leading German military analysts, as well as representatives of the country’s military command in recent years. 

Soldiers jump into a Marder during training exercise.
Soldiers jump into a Marder during training exercise. (2016 Bundeswehr Photo: Marco Dorow)

Bundeswehr-internal tests of these weapons showed that it overheats too quickly in intensive fighting situations resulting in a rapid loss of shooting accuracy. As the German Armed Forces have to cover the full spectrum of fighting, and the G36 has been in use for more than 20 years, the Defence Ministry has begun the procurement process for a new standard rifle.

Supplies of G36 rifles to the German armed forces have continued in accordance with the 2012 contract between the Ministry of Defence and the manufacturer, Heckler & Koch, however, no extension of the contract is planned. The army currently has about 167,000 G36 rifles, but the Bundeswehr has steadily been replacing their old “workhorse” MG3s with the newer the MG4 (light) and MG5 (heavy) machine guns.

As for vehicles, the German Army is replacing its aging Marder infantry vehicle fleet in favour of 350 Pumas. The replacement is expected to be completed by 2020. At a cost of €8.85 million per unit, these new Pumas are quite expensive for the German taxpayer due to the high R&D costs, but it is one of the most advanced infantry fighting vehicles of the world and together with the Boxer one of the new figureheads of Germany’s proud tank manufacturers. 

These are only some of the more high-profile plans for the Army, and LtGen Vollmer’s colleagues from the Airforce and the Navy are also anticipating that new equipment and capabilities will be approved in the near future. 

FrontLine will continue to follow the German Armed Forces as one thing is for sure: Despite all positive political will by the German government and Defence Minister, the wounds of more than 20 years of reduction and cuts in defence spending cannot be healed within a short time. 

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Eugene Gerden is a defence writer based in Russia.

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Comments

Germany will be engaged in the framework of NATO eFP in Lithuania, not in Latvia.
Apart from that, interesting article!