The Bundeswehr (Federal Defence Forces) is the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities. The states of Germany are not allowed to maintain armed forces of their own, since the German Constitution states that matters of defense fall into the sole responsibility of the federal government. In other words, Germany does not have state-by-state National Guard branches, as is the case in the United States of America.
The Bundeswehr is divided into a military part (armed forces or Streitkräfte) and a civil part with the armed forces administration (Wehrverwaltung). The military part of the federal defense force consists of the German Army, the German Navy, the German Air Force, the Joint Support Service, the Joint Medical Service, and the Cyber and Information Domain Service.
As of June 2020, the Bundeswehr has a strength of 183,466 active-duty military personnel and 80,166 civilians, placing it among the 30 largest military forces in the world and making it the second largest in the European Union behind France in terms of personnel. In addition the Bundeswehr has approximately 29,200 reserve personnel (2019). With German military expenditures at $49.3 billion, the Bundeswehr is the seventh or ninth best-funded military in the world, even if in terms of share of German GDP, military expenditures remain average at 1.3% and below the non-binding NATO target of 2%. Germany aims to expand the Bundeswehr to around 203,000 soldiers by 2025 to better cope with increasing responsibilities.
New white paper defines Germany’s security and defence agenda
On 13 July 2016, the German cabinet approved a new white paper on `German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr’ after a wide-ranging national and international consultation process that continued throughout 2015. As Germany does not have a national-security strategy, the Weissbuch provides high-level political guidance for security policy, as well as for the tasks and missions of the German armed forces. The document centres on the overall assessment that Germany has become a more significant actor in international security. It promises that Germany will accept greater responsibility for international peace and security and assume leadership roles, including in defence.
The 2016 white paper (which replaces the 2006 edition) points to an elevated risk of inter-state armed conflict – partly driven by the aggressive behaviour and ambitions of emerging powers – as well as a multitude of other transnational security challenges. Russia, in particular, is mentioned as being interested in strategic rivalry and as constituting a challenge for European security. Given this adjusted threat assessment, the white paper emphasises territorial and collective defence within NATO. While this is not explicitly prioritised above other Bundeswehr missions, the analysis in the white paper leads to the conclusion that a German contribution to deterrence has to include the ability to engage in high-intensity combined-arms combat. Given that future threats are likely to materialise in geographically contained areas and with little warning, the armed forces have to improve their readiness and rapid-response capability. Staying true to its character as a high-level strategy document, the white paper does not translate this assessment into a specific level of military ambition or detailed force goals. It is therefore likely that German force planners will require either new Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien (defence policy guidelines) or a new Konzeption der Bundeswehr (Bundeswehr concept) – lower-level strategy documents, whose current versions date back to 2011 and 2013 respectively.
To deal with the increasing demands being placed on it, the Bundeswehr will require increased funding and reliable access to high-quality personnel. The defence budget is showing a modest upward trajectory, which is likely to last until at least 2020 – the present horizon for cabinet-approved financial planning. Meanwhile, Germany is considering opening up its armed forces to non-German EU citizens to help address personnel challenges and competition for suitable talent from other sectors. In addition, the government decided to abandon a fixed upper ceiling for active personnel strength and replace it with a so-called `breathing’ body of personnel – in other words, a flexible personnel strength, dependent on demand.
The white paper states that multinational cooperation and integration with other European armed forces are core Bundeswehr principles. Within NATO, Germany will pursue these approaches through the `framework nations’ concept. Berlin was the principal sponsor of this concept and sees it as an important means for multinational capability development. The white paper also declared that improved harmonisation of force-planning processes among European NATO members was a policy goal. In the EU, Germany will seek to activate hitherto dormant features of the Lisbon Treaty, such as permanent structured cooperation on defence, which would enable a group of EU member states to pursue cooperation in this area. Furthermore, Germany has declared it will support the creation of a permanent civil-military operational headquarters within the Brussels-based security and defence structures. In the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, opposition to such moves is likely to be more muted. But the most far-reaching ideas concerning Europe relate to defence-industrial matters. The white paper promotes standardised capability requirements for multinational programmes, which would in practice require an early design freeze and production arrangements based on industrial excellence rather than percentages of off-take (dividing production shares on the basis of the proportion of overall production that a customer buys); it also argues for harmonised arms-export policies among EU members. The result would be a Europeanisation of regional defence industry, with the potential to improve efficiency and also trigger consolidation.
Current government budget planning foresees a modest annual growth in the defence budget from 2016 out to 2020. Budget parameters are reviewed annually by the cabinet and rolling five-year budget plans are agreed on that basis. Available additional funding is likely to mostly benefit the army. Once agreed goals are implemented, for example to increase equipment levels for operational units from 70% to 100%, additional modernisation steps would require yet more funding. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has also announced the objective of increasing active force numbers. Given that the Bundeswehr is already struggling with recruitment and retention after conscription was suspended in 2011, the ministry is due to recommend recruitment goals with a seven-year time horizon and a shift towards a more flexible approach to generating the authorised personnel strength. The German armed forces are struggling to improve their readiness levels in light of increasing demands on NATO’s eastern flank. As several reports to parliament have outlined, the budget cuts of previous years have led to a shortage of spare parts and maintenance problems.
After the end of the Cold War, significant changes took place in the European countries of NATO – they significantly reduced the number of army personnel. Thus, the British fell by about one third, the French – by almost half. But it turns out that this is not the limit.
The most significant reduction in ground forces occurred in Germany, where the army was reduced from 360 thousand in 1990 to 62 thousand by now.
Structurally, the Bundeswehr army consists of three varieties: ground forces, air force and naval forces. Separate components in 2000 were the combined support forces and the health care service.
German ground forces consist of four headquarters bases, which include multinational NATO corps from the so-called “rapid deployment forces”, five task forces with headquarters in other army corps (Greek, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, and French), five divisions and auxiliary parts and units in which there are:
Division of Special Operations Forces;
Two tank divisions;
Mechanized infantry division;
The modern military doctrine of the Bundeswehr attaches great importance to the contact form of an infantry battle.
Focus on peacekeeping
The general orientation of the German army is mainly focused on conducting peacekeeping missions as part of coalition forces, as well as on resolving local conflicts of low intensity. This is reflected in the founding document on German military construction. Thus, in the event of a military conflict near the borders of Germany or a declaration of martial law, the state is ready for war only with an virtually toothless adversary. Such a conclusion suggests itself, if we become familiar with the degree of combat, technical and rear support of the Bundeswehr.
German peacekeeping corps
The number of the German army in recent years is increasing, then significantly reduced. If we talk only about land units, then in 2017 there are almost eighty-five thousand military personnel, including those military personnel studying in military educational institutions. It should not be forgotten that back in 2011, the German government abolished compulsory military service. To date, it is only contract, it lasts from one year to twenty-three months.
German military operations abroad
Based on data in the open press, the German army military operations in the following regions:
Sudan (up to 10 servicemen);
Uzbekistan (up to 100 military personnel);
Bosnia and Herzegovina (up to 120 troops);
Lebanon (up to 128 soldiers);
Mali (up to 144 troops);
Somalia (up to 241 servicemen);
Kosovo (up to 763 servicemen);
Mediterranean region (up to 800 troops);
Afghanistan (up to 900 troops).
Sending soldiers abroad
In all these missions, the German armed forces are represented primarily by personnel from logistical support units. This state quite consciously does not take part in military missions abroad. This applies particularly to those regions where contact combat contact is not excluded, in which, according to Russian analysts, the German fighters look weaker.
Ground forces: weapons
In service with the land forces of the German state is:
The main battle tank – 1095;
Field artillery gun – 644;
MLRS and mortars;
Armored combat vehicle – 2563 (736 of them are armored personnel carriers);
Combat helicopter – 146.
Formally, this ground weaponry is all right, but in practice things are a little different. Military experts say that the overall state of affairs in the army is far from ideal. This also applies to the level of training of military personnel, and the provision of modern weapons. It seems that when declaring martial law in Germany, it is unlikely that its army, with its equipment and armaments, will be able to withstand more militarily powerful states. “Leopard” – the main tank
The main battle tank, adopted by the German army, was and remains the “Leopard”. By the beginning of 2015, armored units of the state had mastered the modification of the main battle tank Leopard 2, which numbers almost seven hundred units. The remaining old modifications of the Leopard-1 tank are gradually being written off as scrap metal, and are also used for training purposes at landfills. Tanks of the very first series, according to statistics from the state, there are less than two hundred, but they should have been written off in 2017.
The requirements of the modern battle can only meet the “Leopards-2A3”, which were produced in 1984-1985, as well as “Leopards-2A4”, produced from 1985-1987. However, as demonstrated by the test activities, these modifications of German tanks are distinguished by a low level of resilience. In this regard, back in the nineties, the German command adopted a program to improve these tanks.
The updated Leopards also received a new gun with a longer barrel. This significantly increased the firepower of the combat vehicle and significantly expanded the list of used ammunition. Significantly improved on-board electronics with a new information management system.
The German Army, which for a long time used morally and technically obsolete tanks, intended to upgrade to the seventh modification to one hundred and fifty cars, but so far these goals have not been achieved. True information about the exact number of advanced tanks received by the troops is not available.
Of all the types of light armored vehicles of the German state, the Marder infantry fighting vehicle, adopted for service as far back as 1961, stood out in particular. Over the long term of operation, this BMP did not actually change, and it was only in 1979 that they decided to improve it. Marder was equipped with the Milan anti-tank missile launcher, installing it on the right side of the turret. Later, modified versions of A2 and A3 began to appear.
Thus, motor vehicles and wheeled armored personnel carriers remained the main means of ensuring the mobility of infantry and its fire cover. In addition, not all light army armored vehicles proved to be suitable for use. Of the little over a thousand German armored personnel carriers, only about eight hundred are technically capable of conducting combat operations.
German Army Aviation
In service with the air forces of Germany are:
Up to forty attack helicopters “Tigr”;
More than a hundred attack helicopters In-105;
Less than one hundred heavy military transport helicopters CH-53G;
Less than one hundred multipurpose UH-1D, 39 EC-135, as well as 77 NH-90.
The Air Force is controlled by the Central Command and the Operational Command from Cologne. The operational command covers three air divisions. It should be noted that there are no own training aviation units in Germany. Students are trained in the United States on the American material and technical base.
The basis of the strike force of the German Air Force are Typhoon fighter-bombers. Currently, the Air Force has about one hundred units in service. In addition, Tornado bombers (one hundred forty-four units on German bases) can be used for percussion functions of the latest modification. Air defense ground forces are represented by eighteen Patriot batteries.
German military transport aircraft has several A-319 and A-340. However, military experts note that this number of aircraft is not enough to solve the tasks that the state may face. This number of aircraft is not enough even to drop a single airborne unit (for example, brigades). This is also not enough to ensure a reliable supply of troops in conditions of active hostilities.
German naval forces remain very small. The German Navy can be called a conventional flotilla with four submarines, thirteen different types of frigates (although two more boats are being built). In addition, the German Navy has corvettes, missile boats, minesweepers, and naval aviation has eight anti-submarine aircraft.
Based on this information, we can say that the German army does not have the opportunity to conduct independent military operations and can only participate in the composition of the combined forces of NATO. The main strike force of NATO is the US Army, which often uses its allies only for “moral” support, and also for the distribution of responsibility for their crimes among all the countries belonging to NATO.