What the heck happened to Germany's military?

One of the more controversial platform items in Donald Trump’s foreign policy stance on the campaign trail had been an insistence that our Europen allies start investing more in their own military forces and carrying a bit more of the defense load. One country in particular was called out on this and that was Germany. Many in the media scoffed at the idea and even termed it insulting to our German allies.

But how real was the need for improvement? Recently it’s been revealed that Germany’s military isn’t just behind the curve on investment and improvements. It’s practically dysfunctional. German Newspaper Die Welt reported on the dismal state of the Bundeswehr (the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration) last week and the numbers are staggering. (Translated from German – may be imprecise.)

Thus, the total stock of Leopard 2 main battle tanks is 244th In 2017, an average of 176 were available, the remainder was in the repair or was stored in depots. Of these 176 tanks, 105 were actually ready for use, which makes a quota of on average 60 percent – and yet nothing is said about the extent to which maintenance and spare parts supply are actually sustainable…

In the Panzerhaubitze 2000 it is already close again: In the inventory of the Bundeswehr, there is this artillery gun 121 times. But only 75 are available, 42 operational (56 percent).

Even more dramatic looks at the army aviators. The total stock of the NH90 transport helicopter is 58. In 2017, 37 of these were available on average, while only 13 were available (35 percent). Four of them are in action in Mali – which incidentally means that hardly any staff is available for training at home. Failure to withdraw the NH90 from Mali in the middle of the year will stall the ability for years to come.

So the Germans have 95 operable tanks at any given time and less than 200 working Armored Personnel Carriers. Their Air Force is in serious trouble. They have roughly forty operable fighter jets, a good portion of which are already committed to operations around Turkey and Syria.

And then there’s the Navy. Shall we talk about the German submarine force? It’s going to be a short discussion. Coming into this winter they had one (!) operable submarine. Sadly, that one grounded on the rocks a few months ago so their total fleet of subs currently stands at… zero.

How did things get to this point? A recent interview with the German Defense Minister included some choice quotes. One of them was the explanation that Germany hasn’t paid as much attention to the military because “we are surrounded by friends.” The alternate and somewhat more dismal explanation is, “because we just don’t care.”

Germany’s Parliamentary Armed Forces Commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels, gave a blistering interview to DW this month, citing numerous shortcomings, and they go beyond a lack of heavy machinery. He said that the Army lacked sufficient protective vests, winter clothing and tents to be able to take part in a major NATO training mission. The soldiers are “under stress” and lacking discipline or leadership in too many cases because the German Army has 21,000 vacant officer posts.

So will that be changing? Hey… Germany has politics just like we do. Spending two percent of their GDP on the military is a big ask and will require a lot of votes. Don’t hold your breath. And in the meantime, if something serious flares up in that region you may be waiting a while for the German cavalry to arrive.