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Outdated equipment, woeful bureaucracy, demotivated soldiers: Germany has quite a task ahead to modernise its army, which it has vowed to do in the wake of Russia's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Outdated equipment, woeful bureaucracy, demotivated soldiers: Germany has quite a task ahead to modernise its army, which it has vowed to do in the wake of Russia’s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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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.