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German air force in catastrophic disrepair – report

Published time: August 27, 2014 19:58
Eurofighter Typhoon (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)

Eurofighter Typhoon (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)

The German Air Force is in a slump with terrible funding shortages and a lack of parts, as a pessimistic report by Der Spiegel blasts it ahead of a major NATO deployment in Eastern Europe. Defense officials, however, blasted the assessment as inaccurate.

The damning report comes on the eve of NATO making big plans for edging its combined military might closer to Russia. The analysis by Der Spiegel has already caused much concern among Germany’s defense community.

The confidential document was reported on in the magazine’s new issue. It calls into question further strategies by Germany to take part in NATO activities in 2015.

Proponents of the view feel that with the EU taking on one of the leading roles in providing the world with some stability in these difficult times, Germany’s predicament as a leading military player is a matter of great concern.

Official figures put the German Air Force at fourth in the alliance. Not true, Der Spiegel says, alluding to the country’s poor state of aircraft and the embarrassing fact of having to borrow spare parts from existing planes.

With NATO concentrating more forces in the Baltic, the Germans were supposed to send six planes there next week. But Germany, NATO’s second strongest member, remains uncommitted to the expansion plans (seen by some as resulting also from Berlin’s worsening ties with Washington).

Under the pretext of an “overt” Russian threat, the alliance is pushing for a “readiness action plan” that will bring the Cold War military bloc closer to Russian borders than ever – despite objections from a number of NATO members.

Also noteworthy is the fact that under the alliance’s agreement, each member is to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense. Germany, however, spends only 1.3 percent, and is planning to reduce that further.

The helicopter division is also in bad disrepair: only seven of the 67 CH-53 transport helicopters are in top condition – that includes those currently used in Afghanistan. A similar fate befell another model.

Cargo planes have also made it into the report’s statistics: under half of the 56 C-160s are functioning correctly.

Lashing out at Der Spiegel, the military claimed the magazine had misinterpreted the report on the state of the Air Force, which lists, among other things, aircraft requiring routine maintenance – a fact Der Spiegel apparently mistook as meaning they were inoperable.

Defense officials believe the report also doesn’t match the official logs and that certain parts of the classified document are an internal matter. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s spokesperson declined to comment further, but did say the troops were “well-equipped.”

Although Germany plans to make the aforementioned cuts to its defense budget, allies are actually calling for a more active engagement militarily. Von der Leyen agrees with the calls.

"Indifference is not an option for a country like Germany… it is almost doomed to take on more responsibility," she said. But although she and Chancellor Angela Merkel are seen as similar in many ways, the chancellor is not likely to back this push in the upcoming defense budget of 2015.

It remains to be seen also if the current strategy of Von der Leyen’s for boosting enrolment into the military services will work: the navy, Der Spiegel says, is still 1,400 short of personnel.