In a recent interview, Germany’s defence minister has outlined the challenges the army has to face in a wide variety of areas. However, an official investigation report released not long ago highlights much more serious problems.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius does not expect that German armed forces’ (Bundeswehr) equipment deficiencies will be a thing of the past soon. Moreover, the Social Democratic minister told a German newspaper: “We all know that it’s impossible to fully eliminate all the existing shortcomings by 2030. This is why we must set priorities.”
And one such priority is the defense of NATO’s eastern flank, he said. This, however, requires capabilities that must be supplied with ammunition, equipment and personnel. Germany has put itself in a difficult position by giving Ukraine a huge amount of weapons, equipment and ammunition for the war against Russia, almost completely depleting its own ammunition and weapons warehouses. Therefore, the minister suggested that the government accelerate its negotiations with actors of the military industry.
But it turns out that the lack of weapons and ammunition is just one part of the problem. Eva Hogl, the commissioner for the armed forces of Germany has published her annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr recently, with her document highlighting several deplorable facts.
Here is the 100-billion-euro special fund for the army, announced almost a year ago, of which not a single cent has reached the soldiers yet. Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered his landmark speech nearly a year ago, which appeared to signal a huge turning point for the army. But so far, nothing has come of the promises.
Besides the depleted weapons and ammunition warehouses, the clothing and spare parts warehouses are also almost entirely empty, writes the commissioner in her report, adding that the procurement system is still rather sluggish.
“We would need tens of billions of euros just to replenish our ammunition stocks and establish new ammunition warehouses,” suggests the document, which also underlines that the aforementioned €100bn military fund will not be sufficient to cover this, because no specific funds have been earmarked for this particular purpose. This means the amount should be extracted from the central budget.
Money, by the way, is not the only serious problem in Germany, as many military barracks are run down, in a deplorable state.
If we kept going at the current pace, the Bundeswehr’s infrastructure could only be fully modernised in half a century. But first and foremost, we must do all we can to accelerate the reform of Germany’s public procurement procedures, the report by SPD’s Ms Hogl highlights.
Eva Hogl has heard a number of shocking and weird stories during her visits to various military units. Soldiers serving in the 64th helicopter squadron, for example, told her that they have been waiting ten years to receive pilot helmets of a suitable standard. The problem here is primarily one of bureaucracy. First, we had to coordinate the helmet requirements of the army, air force, and navy, which is quite time-consuming. As Ms Hogl puts it:
“Bureaucracy is the natural enemy of the German pace.”
The army units are not just struggling with financial issues, but also with problems in terms of people. Although the federal defence ministry made an encouraging announcement a few days ago, stressing that the number of recruits increased significantly in 2022, Ms Hogl and her report view the situation more realistically. At the end of last year, the Bundeswehr’s headcount barely exceeded 183,000, which is lower than the 2021 level. This makes the target of 203,000 set for 2031 look like a really long and bumpy road.
In his 150-page report, the SPD politician avoids starting a new debate on the resumption of conscription. Instead, she is calling for the Bundeswehr to become a more attractive employer, especially for women. Ms Hogl sees “attracting the right women” as an important building block for achieving the headcount goal set for the beginning of the next decade.
“If self-evident things, such as toilets and showers designed for women are missing, besides the necessary staff equipment, then this raises the question of appreciation,” the commissioner says.
There is, however, one other fact that’s even more alarming, she adds. The number of sexual assaults within the unit, often committed under the influence of alcohol, rose again in 2022, and 80 per cent of the victims were women. With such numbers, it is difficult to compensate for chronic staff shortages.