The Bundeswehr and other European militaries are in disarray

As everyone knows, since 1989, all almost European countries have been dramatically cutting their defense budgets and military capabilities, choosing to depend on the US for their security instead. They are doing so even now, as Russia continues its aggression against Europe further and further west.

25 years of American pleas to Europe to stop its defense cuts and rebuild its military capabilities have fallen on deaf ears.

Even worse, some Europeans pretend that even with these deep cuts, European militaries are still highly capable. That is only partially true and only for the UK and France. The militaries of all other European countries are a joke, and none is a bigger (and sadder) joke than the Bundeswehr – the German military. As the National Interest reports:

As of October 2014, only 42 of 109 Eurofighters were in flying condition, the rest grounded by lack of spare parts. At the same time, Germany reportedly halved annual flying hours for air crews, fearing that the fuselage would become unstable.

And further:

Embarrassing news in recent months about repeated equipment failures, grounded helicopters and units scrounging for equipment in order to deploy seem to have provoked a somber reassessment of the importance of military readiness among the German political and media elites.

A seemingly endless string of bad news started in September 2014, when it became publicly known that none of the German navy’s twenty-two Sea Lynx anti-submarine warfare helicopters were operational. Only days later, a 1960s-vintage Luftwaffe Transall cargo aircraft broke down in Turkey during a mission to deliver German weapon shipments to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq. A similar incident stranded another German Transall en route to Senegal during a mission to support relief workers combating the Ebola virus in West Africa.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. An official Bundeswehr report on the “Material readiness of the Armed Services” revealed serious readiness challenges with almost every major weapon system in the German inventory. Out of the German army’s thirty-one Tiger attack helicopters, only ten were operational while only eight out of thirty-three NH-90 transport helicopters were ready for duty. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe could only deploy forty-two of its 109 Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighters and only twenty-four of the fifty-six remaining Transalls were available at any given time.

These problems were further compounded by the fact that desperately needed replacement systems were delivered years behind schedule, considerably over budget and with only limited capabilities. The Luftwaffe, for example, has only received one out of the fifty-three new A-400M transport planes it has on order to replace the ageing Transall fleet. But the A400 has only just reached initial operational capability (IOC). It’s not yet able to drop paratroopers nor can it be send on international deployments since it is lacking a missile defense system.

The German government has recently decided to increase its defense budget modestly, by 8 bn EUR, but this will barely begin, by a baby step, to restore some of the Bundeswehr’s lost capabilities. It’s too little, too late. It’s nowhere near what’s needed, as the Bundeswehr’s top military and civilian officials agree:

Outgoing German army chief of staff Gen. Bruno Kasdorf has remarked that the military needs an additional  €20 billion in funding until 2025 to complete its modernization efforts. Other voices in Berlin concur, the new parliamentary ombudsman for the armed forces, Hans-Peter Bartel, has demanded that the Bundeswehr move away from “hollow structures” and “restore the capability for collective defense.” This would cost additional “billions over the next years.”

The situation in most European militaries is the same. For example, Spain spends less than 1% of GDP. Sweden’s military has shrunk dramatically since 1989, has only bare-bones defenses along the Swedish coast, and when Russian nuclear-armed bombers intruded into Swedish airspace a few years ago, the Flygvapnet had NO fighters ready to intercept them!

Even France and Britain – Europe’s most capable military players – have significantly weakened their militaries. Britain will not recover her lost carrier capability until the 2020s, her fighter and warship fleets are woefully inadequate (and are set to shrink still further), and sometimes only one of its 7 attack submarines is ready for duty. Nor does Britain have military maritime patrol aircraft capable of detecting submarines.

France’s military uses, for the most part, aging, worn-out equipment which will be replaced with smaller quantities of modern gear. Her helicopter fleets have low rates of readiness. Her navy has only one aircraft carrier. Her army has only 200 heavy tanks (the British Army has just slightly more – 254). The French military is also suffering from inadequate tanker and airlift aircraft fleets.

The inadequacies of the French and British militaries were exposed brutally during the air campaign against Libya, in 2011, when both militaries quickly ran out of precision munitions (even though the US military was doing most of the fighting), forcing the US to make up for this shortage. In addition, the RAF had too few combat pilots and had to use instructors from its flight school.

This is utterly unacceptable. If Europe wants to be secure and does not want to be dependent on the US, European countries must start seriously investing in defense now. Not next year, not 6 months from now, but now. This goes especially for France and Britain.

This is all the more important because American taxpayers and the American political class are growing more and more impatient with Europe’s unwillingness to seriously invest in its defense. Eventually, the US will withdraw its security umbrella from Europe. And when that happens, European countries must have first-rate defenses of their own.


6 thoughts on “The Bundeswehr and other European militaries are in disarray”

  1. Problem is that this is a legacy of decisions made a long time ago. If I could decide on hardware used by European NATO members, it would go like this:
    Main Battle Tank: Leopard 2 (Germany)
    IFV: Puma (Germany)
    APC: Patria (Finland)
    Air Superiority Fighter: Gripen (Sweden)
    Close Air Support fighter: A-10 (United States)
    Assault Rifle: G36 (Germany) or VHS-2 (Croatia)
    Pistol: M1911 (United States), Glock 17/22 (Germany) or HS2000 (Croatia)
    Recoilless rifle: Carl Gustav (Sweden)
    ATGM: Javelin (United States)
    Nuclear Attack Sub: Astute (UK)
    AIP Submarine: Type 212 (Germany)

    That way I’d eliminate huge redundancy going on in European armed forces, and rationalize procurement.

    1. Agreed mostly, except that the ASF should be the Rafale, the pistol should be the Desert Eagle, the AIP sub should be the Scorpene class, and the SSBN should be the Le Triomphant class.

      1. Yeah, that might be better. But isn’t Desert Eagle overpowered (.50 cal)? OTOH, that kind of power may well be required against modern body armor.

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