“But if you want peace, talk about war.” The statement by the philosopher Walter Benjamin, which refers to an appeal by the Roman orator Cicero, is felt by many to be more up-to-date these days than ever. The Benjamin quote is emblazoned in orange letters on an outside wall of the German Tank Museum in Munster. The operator’s calculus is clear: he wants to counter the objections of peace activists against Germany’s largest collection of rolling war equipment with the striking slogan.
Very close to the museum, on a Bundeswehr training area in Munster, these weapons caused the commander of the 10th Panzer Division to be horrified. Because all 18 Puma infantry fighting vehicles deployed on this site failed within days in December. Since then, the search for the reasons for the total failure has been ongoing. Improper operation and maintenance by military personnel could be the explanation, as could defects caused by a technical overload of the most modern tanks in the German armed forces.
No matter what details the experts bring to light in their breakdown report – the Puma debacle has fueled the long-standing debate among the military and managers of the German armaments industry as to how the desolate level of equipment in the army, air force and navy can finally be ended.
Time is of the essence. With the turning point for the Bundeswehr, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the pressure on the military and outfitters to operate more efficiently has increased.
claim to leadership in NATO
With the approved special fund of around 100 billion euros, Scholz aims to transform the Bundeswehr into a leading military force among European NATO partners. This in turn requires reforms and restructuring within the armed forces and in the central procurement authority in Koblenz, which can at best be achieved in the medium term, as experts in the industry say.
A reform of the armed forces has the highest priority, which moves away from the previous goal of targeted foreign operations and – after the experience of the Ukraine war – instead relies on larger combat units in national defense. In order to accelerate the procurement of weapons, the thicket of bureaucratic requirements must be cleared and permits simplified. In the opinion of those in the know, in addition to the increased purchase of commercially available products, the waiver of Europe-wide tenders and the increase in value limits for the purchase of weapons and defense material (which require approval) simplify work processes.
Even if progress in politics and bureaucracy is still a long way off, the majority of German armaments manufacturers are expecting good business, as can be seen from the current industry survey by the Munich Ifo Institute for 2023. Their confidence is based above all on the incoming orders from the Bundeswehr to replace the stocks of obsolete weapons and to quickly close the largest gaps in the soldiers’ equipment.
2 percent promise still not achieved
Against this background, the three-digit billion amount from the debt-financed special fund is only the beginning. According to serious estimates in the armaments industry, billions more are needed to keep the government’s promise to invest 2 percent of gross domestic product in national defense in the long term. This year and next, the target that NATO partners have been demanding for years will be undercut.