MILITARY MESS

Minister on the Defensive

Ursula von der Leyen_cut_DPA
Germany's Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen under pressure.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany has such widespread problems with military equipment that it might have trouble meeting current NATO commitments.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The A400M military transport is supposed to replace Germany’s old Transall airplanes, many of which aren’t in full operation.
    • Germany’s armed forces have been plagued by equipment shortages and deficiencies.
    • The defense minister asserts that Germany can meet its obligations in 17 current NATO missions around the world, and in any quick response to emergencies.
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    Audio

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Troubles continue to mount for German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

First, she had to acknowledge that the country’s armed forces are ill-equipped with deficient military equipment. Now, new problems are besieging Germany’s long-awaited A400M military-transport plane: The first plane won’t be delivered until December at earliest – and it comes with limited capabilities.

Ms. von der Leyen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is unwilling to accept delivery unless manufacturer Airbus pays for fixing the plane’s “reduced performance.”

This was made clear by Markus Grübel, a senior defense ministry official and also a member of the CDU. Handelsblatt has obtained a copy of his response to questions from Tobias Lindner, a defense expert for the Green Party.

“The acceptance of aircraft with reduced performance … will only occur if compensation for a retrofitting program to attain full operational use is agreed to first at no cost to the German government ” Mr. Grübel wrote.

“We are below the goal we set a year ago with regard to the number of flying systems which, in an emergency, we intend to provide to NATO within 180 days.”

Ursula von der Leyen, German Defense Minister

Airbus has declined to comment on the specific details of the contract.

The A400M is supposed to replace Germany’s old Transall airplanes, many of which are no longer in full operation. That’s not the only issue: Germany has such widespread problems with military equipment that it might have trouble meeting current commitments to NATO, critics say.

Ms. van der Leyen admitted as much in an interview with Bild am Sonntag, a German Sunday newspaper. “We are below the goal we set a year ago with regard to the number of flying systems, which, in an emergency, we intend to provide to NATO within 180 days,” the defense minister said. She was referring to a shortage of replacement parts for aircraft and a shortage of naval helicopters.

Still, Germany could meet its obligations in 17 current NATO missions throughout the world and in any quick response to emergencies, the defense minister said.

A400M_DPA
The transporter is running behing schedule. Source: DPA

 

The issue is becoming a burden for Ms. Merkel’s governing right-left ruling coalition. Social Democrats are criticizing Ms. van der Leyen for her handling of the series of mishaps. Rainer Arnold, the SPD defense expert, reproached the defense minister for neglecting her responsibilities.

“In this difficult period for the armed forces, she should refrain from superficial spectacle and instead start getting down to details of … armament projects,” Mr. Arnold told the news magazine Focus.

The defense minister is receiving support from her own party. Henning Otte, defense expert from the CDU, told Handelsblatt that the SPD was “endangering the coalition agreement with its acts of sabotage.” He accused the SPD of wanting to back out of needed reforms for the country’s armed forces.

“Germany’s security is not well-served when the SPD falsely describes the armed forces as incapable of fulfilling their missions and defending the country,” said Mr. Otte. “That has to stop.”

Meanwhile, defense-minded politicians are calling for their own solution: an increase in the nation’s military budget.

 

016 Airbus Group

 

Dietmar Neuerer and Jan Hildebrand are political correspondents for Handelsblatt in Berlin. To contact the authors: neuerer@handelsblatt.com and hildebrand@handelsblatt.com.

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