EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to rebuild its military

Outdated equipment, woeful bureaucracy, demotivated soldiers: Germany has quite a task ahead to modernise its army, which it has vowed to do in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to rebuild its military
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier talks to two Bundeswehr soldiers on the way to Altenburg, Thuringia, on March 18th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kristin Schmidt

Outdated equipment, woeful bureaucracy, demotivated soldiers: Germany has quite a task ahead to modernise its army, which it has vowed to do in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Three days after the attack began, Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a landmark speech pledged a special budget of 100 billion euros for the military, as well
as annual spending of more than two percent of output on defence.

The armaments industry has since been buzzing about the looming spending spree.

So what’s the current state of the Bundeswehr and how is it going to deploy its financial bazooka as Europe’s biggest economy looks to re-arm itself in a historical policy about-turn?

READ ALSO: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

Can Germany defend itself?

In the first hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the chief of Germany’s land army Alfons Mais sent shockwaves across the country by declaring that “the options we can offer to politicians to support (NATO) are extremely limited”.

The Bundeswehr was “more or less bare”, he wrote on social network LinkedIn.

Defence commissioner Eva Hoegl declared the army was in an “alarming” state in her latest annual report on the Bundeswehr.

Right now, it would not even be capable of fulfilling its basic function of defending Germany in the event of an attack, according to Marcus Faber, a defence specialist and MP for the liberal FDP.

The army, founded in 1955, has been worn down by austerity measures over the years.

Fewer than 30 percent of German naval ships are “fully operational” according to a report published December on the state of the army. Many of the
country’s fighter aircraft are unfit to fly.

And as for ground equipments, out of 350 Puma combat vehicles, only 40 are considered “fit for war”.

Even if it had the equipment, the German army would not have enough people to operate them: with 180,000 soldiers (compared with 500,000 in 1990), it would be thousands short of the numbers needed to repel an invasion.

Germany army crews during an exercise at a military training area in Munster.

Germany army crews during an exercise at a military training area in Munster. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp Schulze

What needs fixing?

Rather than just throwing money at new gear, Hoegl believes that “planning and procurement structures must be modernised” too in order to bring real change.

The army has a decentralised structure that leaves local authorities in control of the construction and maintenance of buildings — meaning the simplest of projects can take several years.

Examples abound of barracks lacking sanitary facilities, electrical outlets, hot water or even drinking water. In one case, a refurbishment took 23 years.

This “not only leads to frustration among the soldiers, but sometimes also to a loss of confidence in the political process”, Hoegl said in her report.

The central procurement office, which is based in Koblenz and employs around 10,000 people, has also come under fire for being too slow and bloated.

“Even for small purchases, cumbersome procedures have been established over the years,” according to Faber.

The Bundeswehr has been waiting for years for new rifles to replace its  ageing G36 models. Several manufacturers have developed new weapons, but the process has stalled.

The elite mountain infantry force is in dire need of new skis, and the army’s outdated parachutes have also needed replacing for some time.

To improve the situation, the government is looking at increasing the spending limits above which tendering is required.

READ ALSO: Germany has been forced to learn the lessons of its post-war pacifism 

What’s on the shopping list?

Germany has already announced it will replace its ageing Tornado fighter jets with a new fleet of American F-35 stealth fighters and Eurofighters, costing around 100 million euros each.

It is also betting on the planned SCAF European fighter jets in the longer term, and wants to buy armed drones from Israel — an option that until the Russian offensive had been rejected by the ruling coalition.

From Israel, Germany is also looking at acquiring an anti-missile shield system that could offer protective cover as well for neighbouring EU states.

The Israeli Arrow 3 system under consideration costs around two billion euros ($2.2 billion) and could be operational from 2025.

Its corresponding radar system would be installed in three sites in Germany, their monitoring data transmitted to a central site where soldiers would be watching for threats 24/7.

If a rocket attack was detected, an Arrow 3 would be sent up to intercept the missile in space, destroying it there.

Meanwhile, the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), a new European battle tank, is also in the pipeline, but not before 2035.

Transport helicopters would need replacing as well, probably with American Chinooks.

In total, it will take “up to eight years” to bring all of the army’s equipment up to modern standards, according to Faber – and not everyone in Germany even wants that to happen.

Some 600 public figures including politicians, religious figures and artists signed an online appeal last week slamming what they called an “arms race” and warning that the spending would lead to cuts in other sectors.

By Mathieu FOULKES

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Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.


The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.