By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) – Less than half Germany’s Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets and none of its six submarines were ready for combat in 2018, a report said on Tuesday, expressing frustration about gaps in urgently needed equipment and personnel.
Germany is the second largest provider of troops in NATO, but the United States and other NATO members have been pressing it to increase its military spending for the alliance.
The annual assessment by the parliamentary ombudsman for the armed forces painted a grim picture of problems facing the German military five years after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region galvanised NATO members to beef up their military readiness.
“Immediate action is needed. It is absolutely critical that procurement be accelerated,” said the ombudsman, Hans-Peter Bartels. “Soldiers need this equipment now to do their jobs.”
For instance, he said, the military had to scrounge for enough night vision goggles, body armour and other equipment to be able to lead NATO’s rapid response troop in 2019, just as it had in 2015.
“We have a need for 48,000 night vision goggles, but they’re only buying 4,000 a year. It will take way too long to get them all,” Bartels told reporters, adding that many soldiers saw the military as “a bureaucratic monster”.
A defiant Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said steps were under way to retool the German military after 25 years of decline following the end of the Cold War.
“This is a battle on many, many fronts that requires patience,” she said.
But General Eberhard Zorn, chief of staff of the Bundeswehr, told the RND German newspaper chain it was time to embrace quicker “80-percent solutions” instead of gold-plated programmes that took 15 years to deliver.
A new NATO target to have 30 land battalions, 30 air fighter squadrons and 30 ships ready to deploy within 30 days of being put on alert added urgency to the situation.
Personnel shortages persisted, the report said, noting that 21,500 jobs remained unfilled, while the number of new people entering the armed forces fell by 3,000 to 20,000, a record low.
“It’s very, very grim,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a top lawmaker with the pro-business Free Democrats.
Bartels urged adoption of leaner management techniques that fostered more accountability, and said a decision to make the overburdened procurement agency responsible for maintenance of all weapons should be reversed.
A more than 10-fold increase in the cost of repairing the German navy’s “Gorch Fock” tall sailing ship which has generated headlines was an example of the military’s “wasteful use of resources and time”, he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Reuters TV, editing by Ed Osmond)