Bundeswehr on the Brink: Defense Expert Warns Germany’s Armed Forces Can Barely Last Two Days in Battle

New Defense Directives, Old Problems - Germany's Strategic Shift Leaves Bundeswehr in Limbo.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

In light of the fact that weapons have been transferred to Ukraine, defence expert Johann Wadephul, who is the deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, stated that the primary units of the Bundeswehr (the armed forces of Germany) can withstand a maximum of two days of combat. He also called for accelerating procurements for the country’s own armed forces.

During an interview with the DPA news agency, the politician mentioned that delivering weapons to Kyiv, which he regarded as the appropriate and acceptable option,  resulted in a serious arms shortfall for the Bundeswehr. According to Wadephul, the most important military forces can only sustain a maximum of two days of armed conflict, which is typically catastrophic. He said those who advocate for war readiness but hold the Bundeswehr accountable for ensuring its own defence capabilities ought to be more concerned with averting such a dire situation, adding that, regrettably, the opposite holds about German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius.

Wadephul noted that the transformation of the Bundeswehr into a functional armed force has made minimal advancements. He stated that it has been stuck since the outset, and Boris Pistorius is now partially responsible for this. Wadephul stated that he observes emphatic declarations but few tangible actions that would support the minister’s purported enhancement of military capabilities. He believes the “changing point” for the Bundeswehr has not yet happened.

German Tornado nuclear bomber will retire by 2030
German Tornado nuclear bomber will retire by 2030

Although orders are being placed for equipment and armaments, the German army has yet to receive any, according to the deputy. He emphasised that the absence of compensation [for weapons and equipment transferred to Ukraine] is intolerable in the current security environment. He added that Germany requires many times more than it presently possesses. The parliamentarian voiced scepticism regarding Germany’s ability to furnish NATO with a completely equipped division within the stipulated two-year timeframe. Wadephul advised the implementation of military conscription in Germany. He argues that Germany cannot maintain an effective national defence without the required personnel.

After the United States, Germany is Ukraine’s second-largest supplier of armaments. The aggregate sum of humanitarian, financial, and military assistance provided by Germany to Ukraine has surpassed €25 billion.

Leopard 2 AV7
Leopard 2 AV7. Image: Bundeswehr

Bundeswehr’s Strength or the Lack of it

The German Armed Forces consists of the following:

  •  295 Leopard 2 tanks, 
  • 350 Puma armoured vehicles, 
  • 382 Marder armoured vehicles, 
  • roughly 400 Wiesel 1 and 2 armoured vehicles, 
  • 400 Boxer armoured transport vehicles, 
  • 134 self-propelled howitzers PzH 2000, 
  • 33 M270 MLRS rocket launchers, 
  • 86 self-propelled mortars, 
  • 143 multi-role/fighter aircraft (Eurofighter Typhoon), 
  • 75 multi-role/strike aircraft (Panavia Tornado), 
  • 51 attack helicopters (Tiger), 
  • and a variety of other weapons. 
  • 6 Submarines
  • 11 Frigates
  • 5 Corvettes
  • 12 Mine Counter Measures
  • and a variety of support ships.

At the end of the Cold War, the force composition differed considerably from what is depicted here. The arsenal of the Bundeswehr has undergone a substantial reduction, modernisation, and reorganisation. The official position is that the German army is more formidable due to its superior equipment and training despite its smaller size. Before 2022, substantial deficiencies in the material and technical apparatus of the Bundeswehr were the subject of debate in Germany.

Equipment obsolescence represents the most significant concern. A significant quantity of German arsenal objects require replacement or modernization. An additional persistent deficiency relates to the insufficient maintenance of existing equipment. There have been circumstances in which a substantial portion of the equipment became inoperable due to the unavailability of spare parts or insufficient maintenance. For example, on average, only eight of the fifty-three Tiger helicopters in 2018 remained operational as of January 2020. In April 2022, the German Minister of Defence issued a dire proclamation regarding the protracted maintenance shortcomings of German Tiger helicopters, stating that a mere nine of these aircraft were still operationally functional. Additionally, logistical and support issues hinder the Bundeswehr’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to crises. The logistical systems, spare parts, and supplies necessary to sustain military operations were in short supply within the German army.

Puma Infantry Fighting-Vehicle
Puma Infantry Fighting-Vehicle. KMW

New Defense Directives Lacks Clarity

In November, Berlin released the new Defence Policy Guideline (Die Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien). It represents a significant paradigm shift in the German defence strategy. Germany’s new strategic priorities are reinforcing the international rules-based order, fostering stability in European communities, and fortifying defence.

Germany complies with its obligations to NATO and the United Nations regarding crisis management. Per the directives, it is crucial to modernise the equipment and weaponry of the German army, as well as to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity capabilities and personnel. However, the document does not provide a precise numerical estimate for the forthcoming personnel complement of the Bundeswehr. It emphasises the essential nature of the personnel and material readiness for deployment of the German army, as well as the resources necessary to maintain such readiness. Minister of Defence Pistorius acknowledged that the insufficient development of requisite military infrastructure and capabilities in previous periods would prolong the period of this reversal.

Concurrently, for more than twenty years, the German security policy, including the recently issued directives, has seemed to be meticulously crafted by German strategists to appease the United States. Reducing the German military force and slashing defence expenditures was relatively straightforward, owing to its correlation with the peace dividend. Regaining the capacity to engage in high-intensity combat against an opponent of equivalent capability is significantly more complex. Consequently, it is prudent to predict that Germany will persist in its negative role in defence matters throughout the forthcoming decade, failing to offer authentic security guarantees to NATO allies.

Towards an Army Comprised of Volunteers

The combined military power of the Bundeswehr and the Nationale Volksarmee in Germany surpassed half a million soldiers. By 2023, the Bundeswehr had significantly diminished in size. Presently serving are approximately 180,000 personnel, of which 13% are female, supported by 82,000 civilian staff. Since its inception in 1955, mandatory military service has been a fundamental principle of the German armed forces. However, this practice was discontinued in 2011, marking the beginning of the professionalisation process within the Bundeswehr. This decision was reached as an element of a broader initiative to modernise and reorganise the Bundeswehr in anticipation of shifting global security trends and challenges. From a system of collective mobilisation on a large scale, the Bundeswehr evolved into a technologically advanced, specialised armed force. However, Germany was no longer capable of mobilising additional troops when required.


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