It was with some amusement that I learned that the new head of the EU was going to be the German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen. To say that her terms as Defence Minister was anything other than a continuous disaster would be very kind. Despite questions about her plagiarism in getting her doctorate there have been many questions about her ability.
I wrote about this earlier in some articles on the pretext of European toy soldiers. I thought I’d share a few paragraphs to illustrate her level of competence.
Until very recently. there has been only a decline in European self-defence capabilities. 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. Europe’s leading armed forces are so hollowed out they are incapable of conducting major rapid-response operations.
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 that themselves. 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 the 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
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 asked 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.