TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -The Bundeswehr, one of NATO’s largest militaries, is now a steady source of news about planes that can’t fly, tanks that break down and troops that admire the Nazis. So what exactly has gone wrong in Germany’s army?
It emerged last week that the German military can’t find enough money to fund a long-awaited modernization of its newest Puma infantry fighting vehicles – which to many didn’t exactly come as a surprise.
Indeed, the news added to a steady stream of stories describing how poorly the Bundeswehr is performing, both in peacetime and during overseas deployments in conflict zones. Local newspapers are full of accounts about combat aircraft that lack vital parts or suffer technical failures, tanks and armored vehicles that can’t operate, or soldiers that sympathize with the Third Reich and its armed forces, the Wehrmacht.
This defies the stereotypes many people have about the Germans, who are known for being ultra-organized and notoriously pedantic. They excel in engineering and technology, and their arms manufacturers ThyssenKrupp, Kraus-Maffei and Rheinmetall are in the top 100 of the world’s defense contractors, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Moreover, the Germans are historically known for producing a fierce army during two world wars, and one which became a key NATO tool to protect Western Europe from the perceived threat of a Soviet offensive during the Cold War.
Recent events have thrown the nation’s military prowess into question, however, and beg the question: what exactly is wrong with the German military, and is it actually vanishing as a fighting force?
In September 2014, the Bundeswehr sent a mechanized battalion to take part in NATO’s wargames in Norway. It was later reported that the German unit, trained as part of NATO's Rapid Response Force, was short of small arms and night vision goggles, and its Boxer armored vehicles had no weapons at all. But the soldiers – in the best traditions of Teutonic genius – knew what to do. They took broomsticks, painted them black and mounted them on their Boxers’ turrets to simulate 12.7mm heavy machine guns.
German command tried to downplay the incident, insisting the soldiers didn’t need the weapons at all. However, the broomstick-wielding German battalion quickly made headlines and left a lasting impression on the public – who didn’t need to wait all that long until more revelations arrived suggesting that one of world’s economic giants was turning into a military dwarf.
In November of last year it became known that more than half of the Bundeswehr’s tank fleet is unfit for service. Only 95 out of 244 Leopard 2 main battle tanks were said to be combat-ready, while the remaining tanks were either disarmed or lacked critical spare parts. Putting boots on the ground in hostile zones was also a tough task for Germany, as soldiers deployed as part of a UN mission to Mali ran into trouble with their armored vehicles, which have been forced out of actionbecause of heat, dust and irregular terrain.
The state of the German Air Force doesn’t appear to be any better. In 2014, Spiegel magazine reported that a confidential defense paper described the Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr – the army's air arm – as being in catastrophic disrepair. Painting a grim picture, it said only seven of the 67 CH-53 transport helicopters were in top condition – including those used in Afghanistan at the time. Later, in 2016, the air force began to repeatedly ground its Cold War-era Tornado jets due to technical mishaps, including “loose screws” that threatened pilots’ safety and poor cockpit lighting.