Army considers plan to field more tanks

The crisis in Ukraine is prompting a rethink of equipment plans at the Defence Ministry, with officials considering outfitting troops with more battle tanks.

Army considers plan to field more tanks
Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel examines a tank at the Rheinmetall firing range in Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Germany has been reducing its number of Leopard 2 battle tanks from its Cold War height of 3,500, projected to fall to 225 under current plans.

But the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Thursday that that number may be revised upwards, along with numbers of other weapons systems.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen confirmed to the paper that “modernization and supplementary steps are being considered”.

Enlarging existing armoured capacity would entail taking Cold War-era tanks out of storage, rather than buying new ones.

The Bundeswehr (German army) is currently only 75 percent equipped with tanks and other heavy weapons, with equipment shared between different units as and when they need it under a so-called “Dynamic availability management” system.

A Defence Ministry spokesman admitted this week that the process was “in practice just as bad as it sounds” after it led last week to soldiers using broom handles as mock machine guns during a Nato exercise.

There are no plans to increase the actual size of the army, but rather to fill these supply gaps – fulfilling a long-held demand of soldiers and political defence specialists.

But von der Leyen's spokesman said that the changes were “not about a process for the coming months, but for the coming decade” and would not be included in the 2016 budget.

Bundeswehr Chief of Staff Volker Wieker reportedly confirmed the equipment gaps to the Bundestag (German parliament) defence committee.

Wieker promised to report on the impact of the current “availability management” system on the Bundeswehr's ability to fulfil its Nato obligations.

“If we want to present a credible allied defence for Europe, the troops have to be fully equipped,” defence committee chairman Hans-Peter Bartels said.

“A tank battalion without tanks is not a tank battalion”.

Bartels suggested that the country should aim to field around 300 battle tanks in future – something that could be achieved at little cost, as many of the vehicles are still in storage.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) defence spokesman Hennig Otte told Reuters that “given the background of the security situation”, Germany would have to aim for “full equipment with heavy weapons” – and the financial means to achieve it.

SEE ALSO: Troops tote broomsticks at Nato war games 

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German army suspends soldiers over far-right suspicions

The German army has suspended soldiers in its ceremonial guard over suspicion of sexual aggression and sympathy with the far-right, a recurring problem within the Bundeswehr.

Members of the German Armed Forces at a ceremony in Brandenburg.
Members of the German Armed Forces at a ceremony in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The company, part of a prestigious battalion tasked with welcoming foreign heads of state, was “withdrawn” from active service in relation to incidents which occurred “in a far right context”, a spokesman for the German defence ministry said Friday.

The group is said to have participated in “perverse initiation and drinking rituals” and submitted new recruits to “sexualised violence”, according to the spokesman.

A witness told the German weekly Der Spiegel, which uncovered the affair, that within the battalion’s second company, at least six soldiers had formed a far-right group, calling themselves the “wolf pack”.

The head of the group is said to have aimed racial insults at other soldiers from minority backgrounds. A soldier at a rank equivalent to corporal is said to have worn a t-shirt with the slogan “Sonnenstudio 88”, a number which represents “Heil Hitler” in the neo-Nazi movement.

The alleged incidents “bring shame on us all”, the defence ministry spokesman said.

The German army, the Bundeswehr, will “pursue all legal means” to “remove” the culprits identified by other soldiers.

The German government has been worried for years about some soldiers, including those in the special forces, adhering to far-right groups.

The elite KSK commando force was partially dissolved in 2020 after munitions were stolen and members were seen performing a Hitler salute at a party.

In June, a platoon stationed in Lithuania was recalled after accusations of racist and anti-Semitic behaviour.

READ ALSO: Germany shakes up elite army force right links