In October, German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg gave his backing to a radical restructuring of the Bundeswehr, including significant budget cuts and the reduction of the current 250,000 strong conscription army into a much smaller professional force.
Ending conscription, reducing the number of troops by around 70,000, trimming the military command structure, and cutting the Defence Department itself by more than half were three suggestions from a 112-page report, called “Thinking From The Mission. Concentration, Flexibility, Efficiency”. The paper was delivered to Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on 26 October by an expert commission, which was set up in April to examine the future Bundeswehr’s structure.
Alongside the goal of developing a future structure, this reform is also supposed to help meet a number of savings objectives the ministry is currently facing. Back in June the German government had decided to slash a total of 8.3bn Euros from the current defence budget, which stands at around 31bn Euros as part of an overall effort to reduce its global expenditure by around 80bn Euros.
4bn Euros are to be saved in the course of the reform and 4.3bn Euros in the department’s administrative sector.
The head of the federal employment agency Frank-Jürgen Weise suggested the military become a force of 180,000 professionals, temporary-career volunteers and volunteers, who would serve 15 to 23 months.
The 75,000 Bundeswehr’s civilian employees should be cut to 50,000 and posts at the ministry of defence be reduced below 1,500.
At the same time the number of troops that could be deployed on a sustainable basis should rise from today’s 7,000 to 14,000.
As part of these overall changes, the future Bundeswehr’s command structure must also become more streamlined. The Generalinspekteur, Germany’s highest-ranking military offiical, should be transformed into a Chief of Defence, which would give him command authority over all services and missions. At the same time, the chiefs of the services would be downgraded and placed outside of the Ministry of Defence.
The Bundeswehr Operations Command should also become more powerful while other military and civil command levels and institutions should be disbanded. For future Bundeswehr missions the commission suggested a four-level command structure: Defence Minister, Chief of Defence, Chief of Bundeswehr Operations Command followed by troops on the ground.
By the middle of 2011, after 55 years, Germany is set to witness the end of conscription. This was not only one of the suggestions in the commission’s report, but has also been finally agreed upon by the last reluctant factions in Germany’s parliament.
On 29 September the executive committees of both conservative parties cast an accordant vote, which will be officially affirmed at the party conferences.
The commission also criticised the Germany’s military procurement system in its findings. It pointed to the two-decade-old NH90 helicopter program as an example, which is still not ready for service.
A report submitted by General Volker Wieker in September was especially scathing, stating that almost all major projects could be characterised by being too expensive, delayed and often not as capable as intended.
The general also criticised fragmented responsibilities as well as the existing procedures and processes, outside influence and inadequate funding.
Both the commission and the Generalinspekteur therefore called for a fundamental change of the procurement process.
The commission’s report suggested creating a procurement agency that would issue tenders and procurements alongside common commercial conduct, observing international anti-corruption rules, speeding up procurement, and generally buying arms and gear off-the-shelf.
In his September analysis Wieker also confirmed the need for massive cuts in ongoing arms projects. Already, in June, a 23 corresponding internal working paper titled “Prioritization Material Investments – Recommended Actions” was leaked, which suggested putting a large number of planes, helicopters and ships out of service as well as to cut down procurement, to save up to 9.3bn Euros over the long run.
The paper included instantly grounding 15 of Germany’s current 86 Transall transport planes and reducing the number of its successor A400M aircraft. Also included is putting 100 of 185 Tornado fighter jets out of service as soon as possible and cancelling the last 37 Eurofighters currently on order.
The Navy cuts are just as sweeping, the report recommended placing eight frigates and ten fast attack boats from the current fleet out of service over the medium and long term, while reducing the number of new F125 expeditionary frigates from four to three. Mentioned in the paper as an urgent measure, the navy must also place all of its six older U206A diesel submarines out of service.
Recruiting the future
Like other German experts, the commission around Weise has also pointed out that as a complete voluntary service the German military will have to become a more attractive workplace.
For instance the work-life balance would have to be improved. To gain more personnel it should also made easier for people from other professions to enter the military at a later stage of their life and officials should even look at ways to allow for the enlistment of citizens of other EU or NATO countries.
A major part of all these considerations is Germany’s ability to act within its alliances like EU and NATO. To help maintain current action levels and reliability the commission therefore suggested an intensified division of tasks and a deepening of military cooperation within these alliances as well as the European defence industry.
Looking forwards, at the handover of the commission’s report Defence Minister zu Guttenberg said, that it would be the basis for a five-to eight-year effort.
A task force in the ministry of defence, headed by Permanent Secretary Walther Otremba, has been established to evaluate the report until January. In the first half of next year, the detailed planning of personnel, equipment and modernisation will begin. At the end, the basing concept will be established in the middle of 2011.
From the outset it’s clear that changes are going to be sweeping, what isn’t entirely clear as yet is how these changes will affect Germany’s role as a militarised nation. Based on the commission reports, however, it is evident that Germany is a rusty war-machine and that only a serious overhaul will prepare it for the demands of 21st century conflict.