Germany’s military is overstretched and underfunded as its troops are engaged in anti-militant missions from Syria and Afghanistan to Mali while also aiding refugees at home, the defense commissioner said Tuesday.
Plagued by a series of defense equipment failures, the military is “at a crossroads” and has reached “the limit of its capacity for interventions,” said Hans-Peter Bartels.
Founded in 1955, the Bundeswehr had a peak force of 600,000 at the end of the Cold War when West Germany conscripted young men, and has since shrunk to a 177,000-strong volunteer force.
“The force is tired. Too much is lacking,” said Bartels, a center-left Social Democrat lawmaker, demanding a significant budget increase in his annual report.
Systemic budget shortages now endanger training, military exercises and missions, while many barracks are crumbling, said Bartels, known in Berlin as “the soldiers’ attorney.”
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has pledged a greater role for Germany in international crisis fighting, marking a shift for post-World War II Germany, which has long been reluctant to send troops abroad for combat missions.
German forces are currently engaged in the international alliance against Daesh (ISIS), including by arming and training Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and flying reconnaissance missions over Syria with Tornado jets.
German lawmakers in December authorized the deployment of up to 1,200 personnel for the operation, which also includes an A310 aerial refueling plane and a frigate to help guard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Mediterranean. Berlin also plans to send an additional 500 troops to Mali to relieve French forces in the West African country, where Germany is already part of an EU military training mission.
In November, Germany also decided to increase to 980 its troop strength in Afghanistan to train and support national forces.
The engagements come as the German army has been plagued by a series of equipment failures. It is phasing out the G36 assault rifle after reports it has failed to shoot straight at high temperatures.
Its Tornado surveillance aircraft cannot fly night missions because of a glare problem involving cockpit displays and pilots’ goggles.
And across its fleet of fighter jets, helicopters and Transall C-160 transport aircraft, it is falling short of its target of 70 percent operational readiness, said the report.
Meanwhile, thousands of troops have been mobilized at home to house and support asylum-seekers, of whom a record 1.1 million arrived last year. To help the military cope, parliament has approved raising its budget from 33 billion euros ($36 billion) in 2015 to 35 billion euros annually over four years. However, Bartels argued this would equal only 1.07 percent of gross domestic product, far below the NATO-member goal of 2 percent of GDP.