Throughout Europe. East and West, there is a crisis in military preparedness. On the one hand the Russians claim a military might that is plagued by failures, delays and intrinsic problems which have been glossed over with frequent announcements of technological breakthroughs and advances in modernisation which are regularly shown to be ambitions rather than achievements. The supposed military might of the European NATO allies and their plans for a European Defence Force are lofty pipedreams and bluster. Their budgets don’t match their dreams and their maintenance of existing equipment is pitiful. Neither East nor West have the manpower sufficient for their ambitions and, despite the rhetoric, their equipment is ageing and increasingly decrepit. Fortunately for the politicians their publics believe the pretence and bluster and are largely unaware of their peril and the limits of their ability to protect themselves.
Russia: The Pale Shadow of the Soviet Union
The Russia which Putin took over as President had little money available for his defence plans. That which he did have was devoted primarily to his war in Chechnya. It wasn’t until 2014 that Putin opened the taps to the military to prepare to catch up in preparedness and reversing the years of stagnation. He found that there had been a serious decline in most of the Russian military shipyards, armament, satellite guidance, rocketry and analogous manufacturing plants. There was an aged workforce, largely unskilled in the specialised machine-tool skills vital to the industry; and whose key workers had migrated from rural Russia where the plants were located to the cities of the Russian West. There had been no money available for R&D for decades. Ironically, the beating heart of the Soviet military production was alive and well in the Ukraine; especially in the Donbas where the ‘little green men’ were busy with their war against the Ukraine.
The military-industrial complex of Ukraine was the most advanced and developed branch of the state's sector of economy. It included about 85 scientific organizations which are specialized in the development of armaments and military equipment for different usages. The air and space complex consists of 18 design bureaus and 64 enterprises. In order to design and build ships and armaments for the Ukrainian Navy, 15 research and development institutes, 40 design bureaus and 67 plants have been brought together. This complex was tasked to design heavy cruisers, build missile cruisers and big antisubmarine warfare (ASW) cruisers, and develop small ASW ships. Rocketry and missilery equipment, rockets, missiles, projectiles, and other munitions were designed and made at 6 design bureaus and 28 plants. Ukraine has renowned scientific, technical and industrial basis for indigenous research, development and production of small arms. A number of scientific-industrial corporations had started their own R&D and production of small arms. The armour equipment is designed and manufactured at 3 design bureaus and 27 plants. The scientific and industrial potential of Ukraine makes it possible to create and produce modern technical means of military communications and automated control systems at 2 scientific-research institutes and 13 plants. A total of 2 scientific-research institutes and 53 plants produce power supply batteries; 3 scientific-research institutes and 6 plants manufacture intelligence and radio-electronic warfare equipment; 4 design bureaus and 27 plants make engineer equipment and materiel.
Perhaps the best example is the company Motor Sich. It has been the sole producer of engines for the MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. It produced these engines for the Russian helicopter industry and a wide range of other military components. The air firm, Antonov, is based in the Ukraine and was one of the major suppliers of aircraft for the Russian Air Force and for Russian arms exports. The inability of the Russian industry to fill its own needs is compounded by the fact that it needs Ukrainian parts and subassemblies. Losing control of the Eastern Ukraine has jeopardised Moscow’s ability to fulfil its military needs.
Other Ukrainian exporters to Russia included Mykolayiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt, which is the sole supplier of several types of marine turbines to Russia, especially those installed on military ships. Another is Kharkiv-based Hartron, which supplies the control systems for Russian missiles. The Yuzhmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk was the only service provider for Satan missiles. The Ukrainians are also the main supplier of spare parts which Russian armed forces desperately need. Russia is scrambling to supply domestic factories with the technology needed to produce these components inside Russia. However, much of the higher inputs of technology, especially in the electromechanical area, are sourced in France, Germany, Britain and the U.S.; now effectively closed off to Russia by sanctions. While the Ukrainian Government issued a decree suspending all military sales to Russia, that ban was only the beginning of Russia’s problems. The U.S. has also banned all military sales to Russia, followed by the United Kingdom and others. The recent technical development of the Russian aviation industry has been to use Russian-produced air frames coupled with Western avionics and engines. Companies like GE, Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney (to name but a few) have provided the engines and avionics for the latest generation of Russian commercial planes’ including the new AN-148. Many technical subcomponents for Russian military aircraft are produced in the UK, the US, Canada and the EU. A sanction on their sale (or at least a licensing program) has been devastating to Russia’s military and civilian industries. In addition, despite efforts by the Russian troops in the Eastern Ukraine many of the existing plants were attacked and damaged by the rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk.
When Putin appointed Shoigu as Minister for Defence in 2014 he was shocked to find that the serviceability of the Russian equipment was unsatisfactory. In the “The Military Balance 2015”, the INSS reported that “Serviceability in the air force and the navy was assessed at less than 55% and in the land forces at less than 65%”[i] This has meant that, even with higher military expenditures by Russia, a great deal of the expense was needed to replace the production and innovation carried out formerly by Ukrainian companies. In some cases, the loss of supply was devastating. The clearest example is in the building of the new Russian frigates. The Admiral Grigorovich was the first of the Project 11356 frigates, displacing 3,850 tons. It was designed for anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare on the high seas, and for anti-aircraft operations, both independently and as an escort ship. The ship is armed with an eight-cell launcher for Kalibr and Klub (3M54E) anti-ship and surface-to-surface missiles, a 100-mm A190main gun, a Kashtan gun/missile close-in air defence systems, a Shtil vertical-launch air defense missile system, two torpedo tubes, an anti-submarine rocket system and a Ka-28 or Ka-31 helicopter.
The vessel was completed in 2015 and entered service in early 2016. It was constructed at the Kaliningrad-based Yantar Shipyard and uses a Ukrainian Zorya-Mashproyekt gas-turbine propulsion plant. It was to be a project which would produce six ships, but while Russia had received the propulsion systems for the first three vessel before the Russian attack on the Ukraine, Ukraine’s termination of defense exports to Russia left the final three ships without their turbines. The Russian firm Saturn in the city of Rybinsk was contracted to build alternative M90FP turbines for the class under Russia's import substitution program, but these have been severely delayed due to lack of detailed knowledge and by restrictions of some components due to sanctions. These three frigates lack propulsion plants.
The terms of delivery to the Russian Navy of the newest frigates are also under threat because of the backlog in the development of missile systems. This was reported on 24 March 2017 by Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov. "Due to the untimely performance by the Almaz-Antey concern of the development works Polymet-Redut and Shtil, the terms of delivery of the 22350 Admiral Gorshkov and 11356 Admiral Makarov ships are in jeopardy, Borisov said. According to him, the main reasons for late delivery were the low level of organization of their work, delays in the supply of components, insufficient production capacity and a lack of qualified personnel. In total, six ships were planned for this project, of which in 2017 the fleet received two - Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen. "Admiral Makarov" is on state tests. The fourth and fifth ships of the series will be transferred to India, the fate of the sixth was still unknown.[ii]
The Russian military shipyards were in such a state of disrepair that the Russians contracted with the French to build four Mistral class vessels from France, as well as agreeing to purchase the manufacturing technology from France so that more Mistrals could be built in Russia. These were never delivered to Russia and very little of the technology was transferred.
In late 2016 the Russians sent their only carrier from northern Russia to Syria. Russia’s two largest warships—the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and nuclear battle cruiser Pyotr Veliki made it to the coast of Syria. The Kuznetsov was in poor repair and was belching dark smoke on the way like a coal-driven World War I battleship. The Kuznetsov carrier group moved at a remarkably slow pace of less than ten nautical miles per hour, on average, from Severomorsk to Gibraltar (Vz.ru, October 26, 2016). This, together with the thick smoke bellowing from the lead ship was an indicator of serious engine trouble. A limited speed capability severely impedes the Kuznetsov’s operations. For successful jet takeoff with maximum payload, the carrier must be moving at maximum speed. The Kuznetsov was never really designed to play the role of a US-type carrier, which can rapidly send out jets to attack enemy land or sea targets. Furthermore, the Kuznetsov was not designed for long-distance voyages. The Kuznetsov lacks a catapult, and its standard Su-33 (also known as Su-27K) jet fighters take off the deck using a jump ramp and thrust without much ordinance or fuel, armed with only air-to-air missiles for aerial combat. The Su-33 is not equipped for precision ground or sea attacks and was of no use in bombing Aleppo or anything else in Syria. Russia built just over 20 Su-33s in the 1990s. Further production was long ago terminated, and the Kuznetsov today carries only about 10 Su-33 leftovers.
In April 2018, Russian media announced that the Admiral Kuznetsov, the country’s only aircraft carrier, will be out of service, undergoing repairs and modernization, until 2021. The Ministry of Defense signed a contract worth approximately $1 billion with the state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation for rather limited upgrades to the carrier, which will be performed at the 35th Ship Repair Plant, in Murmansk, a subsidiary facility of the Severodvinsk-based Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center (Kommersant, April 23). The Kuznetsov’s most serious and best-known problem is its faulty power plant. In 2010, the Russian Navy requested funds to replace the vessel’s eight troublesome turbo-pressurized boilers with gas turbines, or even nuclear propulsion (Sputnik News, April 6, 2010). Instead it was sent to Syria.
The current repair contract makes no mention of replacing the boilers with a more modern propulsion system. The problem for Russia is that it cannot domestically build the needed gas turbines, which it would need to purchase either from Ukraine or the United States. And neither Kyiv nor Washington are willing to authorize such a sale amidst heightened Western-Russian tensions and Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.
There seems to be little chance to deploy more advanced assault missiles onboard the Kuznetsov. It looks like the old P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship cruise missiles will not be replaced with new 3M-54 Kalibrs (SS-N-27 Sizzler). Nor will the Granit launchers be dismantled to expand the carrier’s hangar area for storing additional fixed-wing aircraft, as was originally conceived eight years ago. These project changes could prolong the repair period and increase costs (Sputnik News, April 6, 2010).
In 2013, Russia announced that it had an even better plan; the Shtorm supercarrier,” with a displacement about 100,000 tons and 90 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, designed for the Russian Navy by the Krylov State Research Centre (Todaysmilitary.ru, July 4, 2015). In 2015, the Shtorm was unveiled to the public (TASS, June 1, 2015. However, the Shtorm project was cancelled pretty much before it began; and in 2017, the Russian media announced a new “light carrier” project by the Krylov State Research Centre (Tvzvezda.ru, July 14, 2017).[iii]
In fact, the Russian shipbuilding program as a whole is woefully inadequate and delayed. There is a lack of shipbuilding capacity and a confused manufacturing process. The country’s largest shipbuilding complex is the more-than-300-hectare Sevmash Production Association, located in Severodvinsk, which features 100,000 square meters’ worth of covered slipways (Flotprom.ru, April 1,2017). Sevmash is presently undergoing reconstruction to modernize its obsolete facilities and address chronic personnel shortages as well as labor discipline violations (Izvestia, March 20, 2018; Flotprom.ru, November 18, 2015). There are four more shipbuilding complexes based in St. Petersburg; all of which have severe financial problems. Two more shipyards, Amur Shipyard (Komsomolsk-on-Amur) and Baltic Shipyard “Yantar” (Kaliningrad), appear to be less overburdened by orders and are working, albeit slowly.
“Moscow is also trying to build new naval vessels at shipyards in illegally annexed Crimea. Three Karakurt-class corvettes have already been laid down in the More shipyard (TASS, December 19, 2017). Several of these vessels are planned to be built at the Zaliv shipyard as well. But likely, those corvettes will not be commissioned before the end of 2020. Russia’s naval construction program continues to suffer from multiple problems, including the shortage or obsolesce of Russian shipbuilding facilities, financial and management problems, as well as technological flaws and lack of access to foreign components—notably Ukrainian-made engines. As a result, a serious gap exists between planned and expected warships.”[iv]
By 2030 Russia will need to retire 11-13 SSNs and SSGN submarines. These will be made up for by six or seven new Yasen-class SSGNs, but the Yasen is expensive, slow to build, and not meant for production in large quantities. This submarine is the single most costly item in the current modernization program, estimated at somewhere between $1.5 billion and $3 billion a piece. This may seem a bargain compared to the cost of U.S. submarines, but it is taxing the Russian procurement budget”.[v]
The announcement of the high priority assigned by the Russian military to building the new next-generation stealth fighter jets, the PAK-FA program, was called into question in March 2015 when Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Yuri Borisov, announced that the PAK-FA program must be halted or adjusted, due to the dire conditions of Russia’s economy. Initially, the Russian Air Force was expected to procure more than 150 PAK-FA next generation stealth fighter jets, with the first examples to be delivered to the active squadrons in 2016. In December 2014, the RuAF plan was to receive the first 55 fighters by 2020.
However, the production was slowed down and the initial order cut to 12 jets. Now even these are in question. The Russian Air Force decided to retain their large fleets of fourth-generation Sukhoi Su-27SM and Su-35S. Moreover, this delay in the PAK-FA programme has cast doubt on the 10.5 billion USD FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) that is based on the PAK-FA aircraft.[vi]
The Russian army in the field is composed primarily of conscripts from across Russia with insufficient training and aging equipment. One of the problems in relying on conscript soldiers is their term of service. At the beginning of 2014 the services were only 82% manned - a shortage of nearly 200,00 personnel. This was exacerbated by the reduction in 2013 of the term of conscription to one year of service as opposed to the previous three years. Since these terms of service are so short, military adventures have to be timed with the availability of soldiers in their cycle of enlistment. More importantly these conscripts are untrained which has meant that they do not have the experience or training to fill the important jobs of operating and maintaining the sophisticated weapons systems used by the special forces units like the Air Assault Troops(VDV) and other elite forces. There is a deep deficit in Russian Reserve units which are used to carry out the training of conscripts despite the establishment of a new Reserve Command in 2013. There has been a reduction in the numbers of conscripts successfully evading the draft; a frequent Russian problem, as well as corruption which has diverted needed sums to private pockets.
To a large extent the problems Russia is having with its military shipyards is repeated in the failures in its missile, satellite, tank and aircraft production. There is also a critical shortage of troops and officers, pilots, naval captains and maintenance specialists especially since the recent deployments to the Ukraine and Syria. Crippled by twenty years of neglect, an ageing workforce, the loss of the Ukrainian facilities and U.S. and international sanctions has meant that the frequent announcements by Putin of technological breakthroughs and rising military capabilities are largely bluster and bluff designed for internal consumption.
The European Union and Delusions of Adequacy
Fortunately for the Russians, the military might of the nations of continental Europe, primarily those in the European Union, pose no realistic threat to Russian interests. Although they are part of NATO, and operate under the umbrella of the U.S., Great Britain and Canada military capacity, their own military establishments are in a terrible state of disorganization and neglect. Despite the terms of Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union, which requires the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy as part of the common security and defence policy of the EU, and the various moves to create a European Defence Force to provide a common defence, the state of European militaries is a shambles. That same article provides for the creation of common defence institutions separate and apart from NATO, but ‘compatible with NATO aims’. Except for the creation of the European Defence Agency (EDA), none of the other missing elements of the EU common security and defence policy have so far been implemented.
The latest incarnation of a European Defense Force is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), designed to bring a quantum leap in the military capabilities of the EU Member States. There are two pillars of PESCO. The first is establishing the common commitments of EU states towards the financing, transformation and technical modernisation of their armed forces, as well as defence cooperation with their EU partners. In the EU Council decision that established PESCO (11 December 2017), these have been indicated only generally, like “regularly increase defence budgets in real terms.” For this reason, according to the “roadmap” for the implementation of PESCO, agreed by the Council on 6 March, the commitments will be developed in more detail and their implementation sequenced in two phases (2018–2020; 2021–2025).[vii]
The second pillar is collaborative capability-oriented projects by EU states. They came up with seventeen projects, “Six of them aim to facilitate and deepen cooperation in military education, training, logistics, and expeditionary missions, mainly through the standardisation of procedures, regulations, manuals, data exchange systems, etc. A further five projects focus on the development of new defence technologies: unmanned, maritime counter-mine vehicles, maritime surveillance systems, innovative energy sources for forward-deployed bases, harbour and littoral infrastructure-protection systems, and secure, digital military radios. The next two projects involve the development of new weapon platforms: armoured infantry vehicles and artillery, including ammunition. New multinational capabilities—medical support and a disaster-relief force package (2 projects)—and increased cooperation in cybersecurity by establishing a platform to exchange information on threats in cyberspace and rapid-response teams of cyber experts (2 projects) round out the list.”[viii]
Despite the calls for the creation of a pan-European Army by Juncker on several occasions and the machinations of Mogherini to get military unity, European defense has been largely impotent in the face of Russian aggression. With the end of the Cold War, Europe had deluded itself with the notion that it no longer had any credible military threat which challenged it. The NATO target of 2% of GDP for military preparedness agreed by Europe’s NATO affiliates was never met by any nation but Greece and occasionally the UK. Europe was shaken by the outbreak of the Bosnian War (1992-1995), Russia’s tanks entering Georgia (1991-1995), the war in Kosovo (1998-1999) and then the Russian invasion of Georgia (2008) and the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea (2014). They suddenly found that there was, indeed, a real military threat and they knew that they were not prepared to face the threat with their own neglected military forces. They needed the active support of the U.S. and the UK.
When the Europeans were left on their own to pursue a military strategy after the end of the Cold War they were incapable of doing so. Their first attempt was in the hostilities in the wake of the break-up of Yugoslavia. In the early days of the war in Croatia and later Bosnia it was the Europeans who insisted on excluding the US (except financially) from its military and political planning. Egged on by Genscher's insistence that Croatia and Slovenia should be free, the leadership of Croatia (Tudjman and his Ustash cronies) was emboldened to declare its independence from the Yugoslav Federation based on territory that included many ethnic Serbs. These Serbs had already had a long experience with ethnic cleansing conducted by the black-shirted SS battalions of Croatian Ustashi of Ante Pavelic. The Serbs needed no reminder of their welcome in an independent Croatia. They turned to Russia and asked for assistance. Russia and US politicians and military leaders discussed this amongst themselves and felt that a common resolution was possible. However, before anything could be undertaken, the Europeans in NATO vetoed this initiative. They reiterated that "Croatia is a European problem" and had to be dealt with by the Europeans if they were ever to maintain any credibility as a politico-military force. Lord Carrington and David Owen were dispatched to bring to the Balkans their skills in diplomacy developed in the debacles of Rhodesia and Portadown. They were able to achieve what everyone expected and feared and soon it was the responsibility of the US and the Russians to bring the parties to the table and establish the fragile Balkan peace despite the Europeans. This was repeated in Kosovo.
The Europeans again wanted to show they had some independent military capability in Kosovo. The number of bombs, missiles and other tactical devices used in the first two weeks of the Kosovo campaign exceeded the total arsenal storage of the totality of the European Community. The amount spent per day on the bombing of Kosovo, including indirect costs, amounted to over $12.5 million. It would have been far cheaper to buy Serbia than to bomb it. NATO could have offered each Serb $10,000 a head plus moving costs and still saved money. Under NATO rules the US was obliged to pay two-thirds of these costs.
This was just as true in Libya. The Europeans (calling themselves NATO) quickly ran out of ammunition, bombs and money. The US spent almost $1.5 billion in the first wave of attacks by the French and British. As Secretary of Defence Gates said in his speech, ““Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform – not counting the U.S. military – NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops -- not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters; transport aircraft; maintenance; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and much more.” He went on ““We have the spectacle of an air operations centre designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150. Furthermore, the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference.”
The notion of costs and contributions, highlighted by the European failure in Kosovo to match its budgets with its ambitions, is the root of the current problem. Europe, despite its elaborate plans for a European Defence Force, has refused or been unable to pay for the maintenance of their national militaries. Defence spending has dropped from an already low level by around 1.5% in the last ten years. This general statement masks the fact that the biggest cuts have been in the adequate provision of transport aircraft. Most of the transport of military personnel in Europe has had to be done by the US. Left on their own the Europeans would have to walk, paddle or catch cabs to the frontline. No provisions have, yet, been made for a long-term contract with Uber.
This is not to say that the Europeans, especially those in the Common Market/EU didn’t make arrangements for a European Force. In the early 1950s, France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries made an attempt to integrate the militaries of mainland Western Europe, through the treaty establishing the European Defence Community (EDC). This scheme was vetoed by the French Gaullists and the French Communist Party. The Europeans tried again in 1954 with an amendment to the Treaty of Brussels. They succeeded in replacing the failed EDC by establishing the political Western European Union (WEU) out of the earlier established military Western Union Defence Organization. Out of the 27 EU member states, 21 were also members of NATO. In 1996, the Western European Union (WEU) agreed to create and implement a European Security and Defence Identity within NATO. After the passage of the Lisbon Treaty these functions were passed to the EU.
On 20 February 2009 the European Parliament voted in favour of the creation of Synchronized Armed Forces Europe (SAFE), directed by an EU directorate, with its own training standards and operational doctrine. The EU has been pushing for a unified European Defence Force, notionally within NATO but separate in terms of action. That is a polite way of saying the Europeans want an autonomous defence force but that the US should contribute two-thirds of the cost. In fact, the US is now paying 74% of these costs. When NATO was formed in 1949 the position was stated most directly by Lord Ismay, the first NATO Secretary General, "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".
However, there was no need to keep the Germans down. They did by themselves. In a recent study (February 2016) “Alliance at Risk Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition” a detailed study of the European failings and shortfalls were highlighted[ix]. Europe’s leading armed forces are so hollowed out they are incapable of conducting major rapid-response operations. The US spends 3.6 per cent of its economic output on defence; Germany spends a pitiful 1.2 per cent. And what little Germany does have tends not to work. When Angela Merkel made the grand gesture of sending weapons to Kurdish rebels fighting ISIL, her cargo planes couldn’t get off the ground. At the time, the German military confessed that just half of its Transall transport aircraft were fit to fly. Of its 190 helicopters, just 41 were ready to be deployed. Of its 406 Marder tanks, 280 were out of use. Last year it emerged that fewer than half of Germany's 66 Tornado aircraft were airworthy
Not one of Germany’s six 212A-type submarines, for example, is able to leave port. The Luftwaffe’s fleet of A400M transport aircraft is so unreliable that soldiers are sometimes forced to wait days for a ride home. Only 95 of the German army’s 244 Leopard main battle tanks are currently operational because of maintenance issues. None of the German navy’s six submarines were operational at the end of last year, and only nine of a planned 15 frigates are in service.
None of the Luftwaffe’s 14 A400M transport aircraft were airworthy on several occasions last year, and replacement aircraft had to be chartered to bring serving troops home. There is also a serious shortage of personnel, and 21,000 junior officer and NCO positions are currently unfilled. Even battlefield food packs are running low. The Bundeswehr, its armed forces, has outsourced helicopter training to a private company because its own helicopters are in need of repair. In spring 2017, the Bundeswehr contingent deployed to a peacekeeping mission in Mali was left hamstrung when heat, dust, and rough terrain knocked half its vehicles out of commission. In early 2016, it was reported that German reconnaissance jets taking part in the fight against ISIS couldn't fly at night because their cockpit lighting was too bright for pilots. In early 2015, as Berlin was preparing to send fighter jets to Syria, a military report emerged saying that only 66 of the air force's 93 commissioned fighters were operational — and only 29 were combat-ready. In 2014, German troops tried to disguise a shortage of weapons by replacing machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise.
Germany is supposed to take command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a key unit tasked with deterring Russian aggression in Europe, at the start of next year. This tank battalion only has nine operational tanks out of a total of 48. Only six of the army’s 30 logistics battalions are fully equipped with vehicles, and only 30 per cent of planned equipment is actually operational. The report comes a day after it was leaked that German units do not have sufficient winter clothing, tents or protective gear to fulfil their commitments to the VJTF [x]
Not only is the budget below German’s security needs, it is being spent primarily on personnel, not equipment or repairs. This has resulted in an army that can only fight for 41 hours a week and not on the weekend. German soldiers taking part in a four-week NATO exercise in Norway in 2017 had to leave after just twelve days because they had gone over their overtime limits. However, the troops are comfortable. The German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has used the military budget to introduce creches for children on the bases, along with flat-screen TVs. Postings are limited to match school term dates. Although Angela Merkel has aske for an increase in the military budget, her partners in government, the Social Democrats, have balked at any major increase.
These problems of supply and maintenance are not the only problems. There are other, practical, logistics problems in moving troops and equipment where it is needed. The Deutsche Bundesbahn, the railway operator, for example, is no longer able to load and transport tanks. It cannot guarantee which of the German bridges is strong enough to support tanks or heavy artillery units.
The problems associated with a European Defense Force are not limited to the relative impotence of the Bundeswehr. The French forces are no better. The French military has overrun its military budget on numerous occasions, although it has many troops stationed in Africa maintaining African despots in power. It’s budget, too is well below the NATO limit of 2%. Even when it does make its investments in equipment the process has, at times, been an elaborate charade. The best example, perhaps, is the pride of the French Navy, the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles DeGaulle.
During its construction, the ship ran into huge cost overruns. Work on it was stopped four times. By the time it was completed the rules for radiation shielding had changed and it had to be refitted with radiation shielding to protect the crew. Moreover, the ship’s flight deck had to be extended by about fourteen feet to accommodate the Hawkeye as the type of plane the carrier would carry had changed over the long time of construction. The propulsion system was even worse. When it went to sea it vibrated so heavily that the propellers snapped.
When they went to repair the propellers, they found that the blueprints for the propellers had been lost in a fire, which meant that the ship had to be refitted with hand-me down screws from the Foch and the Clemenceau. That cut her speed down from twenty-seven knots to about twenty-four knots—which was unfortunate since she was already considerably slower than her predecessors which steamed at thirty-two knots. She went for a refit in 2007. In 2010 when she set out for the Mediterranean it took only one day out of port for there to be an electrical fault and tugboats had to put her in position. She is now mainly functional, although requiring tug boats occasionally and sailing at a reduced speed.[xi]
On the other hand, the inability of France to fulfill its military tasks was open for all to see in the recent participation of the French in attack on Syria after the Assad use of chemical weapons. Technical failures disrupted two-thirds of the French cruise missiles launches during the April 14 US-led coalition operation in Syria. French sources, as reported in L’Opinion journal and military blogs, claimed that two of three French Navy vessels deployed for the strike had failed to launch Missile de Croisière Naval (MdCN) cruise missiles. The French Navy had deployed three FREMM multi-purpose frigates – Aquitaine, Auvergne, Languedoc – in the East Mediterranean Sea. These vessels were equipped with MdCNs missiles. Each of the frigates has Sylver A70 vertical launching system. However, only Languedoc fired three missiles during the established interval, after the Aquitaine had failed.[xii]
According to the same source:
- 7 of the 10 SCALP missiles crashed into the sea because of technical failures;
- 2 SCALPs crashed because of engine failures a few minutes after their launch;
- 1 SCALP was not launched because of a technical problem and then was dropped because of security concerns.
French warplanes and helicopters are busy battling jihadists in the deserts of Africa and the Middle East, but the French Air Force on the whole is in a disastrous state, with 56 per cent of all its aircraft unfit to fly at any given moment, according to Florence Parly, the armed forces minister, during a visit to an air base in Evreux in Normandy in December 2017. She continued her speech by saying, “Eighty per cent of the French fleet is operational in the battle zones of west Africa, Iraq and the Middle East, according to official figures, but in bases in France the figure plummets to 30 per cent. The overall figure for aircraft ready to fly is now 44 per cent, down from 55 per cent in 2000. On average, just one Caracal - a long-range tactical transport helicopter - in four is ready for action, while just one or two A400M turboprop transport planes out of a total of twelve are ready to take to the air. The Rafale, which is seen as one of the best multi-purpose fighter jets in the world, scores a respectable 49 per cent availability. But the figures for a range of other aircraft are disastrous: 22 per cent for the C-130 transport plane, 25 per cent for the Tiger attack and reconnaissance helicopter, and 26 per cent for the Lynx helicopter.”[xiii]
Italy has had a much better record of preparedness and maintenance but the recent coalition of Liga del Norte and the Five Star political movements which are poised to take over the Italian Government, have pledged to reduce the budget for the Italian military and to eschew any conflict, especially with Russia. The UK is much better equipped, maintained and staffed and has been producing modern aircraft and ships. Alone among the Europeans, the British have a modern, functioning military. However, within a year, the British (which has always vetoed to notion of participation in a Euro Army), will be leaving the EU following Brexit. This will weaken even further the credibility of any EU pretense of military sufficiency. Although these nations are still in NATO, the Trump Administration has begun to question the concept of giving the Europeans a “free ride” in defense.
It will be interesting to see how far the Europeans are willing to continue their pretense of a military force for Europe, without the strength and depth of the military capabilities of the U.K. They are incredible as a military force with Britain in the EU and, with Britain out, they will be preposterous.
[i] INSS, “The Military Balance 2015” , p.159
[iii] Mykhailo Samus, "Russia Postpones Future Aircraft Carrier Program", EDM 7/5/18
[iv] Ihor Kabanenko,, "Russia’s Shipbuilding Program: Postponed Blue-Water Ambitions", EDM 18/4/18
[v] Michael Kofman, "Russia’s Fifth-Generation Sub Looms", RMA, October 9, 2017
[vi] “Russian Next Generation Stealth Fighter to Fall Victim to the Russian Financial Crisis?” Jacek Siminski, Aviationist Apr 07 2015
[vii] M. Terlikowski, “PESCO and Cohesion of European Defence Policy,” PISM Bulletin, no. 112 (1052), 17 November 2017
[ix] Dr. Jorge Benitez, Alliance at Risk Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition. Atlantic Council February 2016
[x] Christopher Woody, , "Germany's military is falling behind, and the US is putting it on notice", Business Insider, Feb. 3, 2018 and Justin Huggler, "German armed forces 'not equipped' to do the job, rules watchdog", Telegraph, 21/2/18
[xi] Dave Majumdar, France's Charles De Gaulle Aircraft Carrier: The Good, the Bad and the Nuclear, November 18, 2015
[xii] South Front , "Failures Of French Missiles During Syria Strikes: Details", 27/4/18
[xiii] Rory Mulholland, "Ground force: Half of France's military planes 'unfit to fly' , Telegraph 16/12/17