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Bundeswehr soldier
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Gollnow

Bundeswehr calls for 'Ikea' approach to army's woes

Elizabeth Schumacher
January 28, 2020

The parliamentary commissioner for Germany's army wants to mimic the furniture giant's "choose, pay, and take away" model when buying gear. The Bundeswehr has long suffered "massive" equipment and personnel shortages.


The German army could solve its manifest equipment issues by adopting the "Ikea principle," the commissioner for the Bundeswehr in Germany's parliament, Hans-Peter Bartels, said in the annual report on the state of the military, published on Tuesday.

Bartels clarified that this meant "choose, pay, and take away" from what was already available rather than wait a decade for new equipment based on loosely defined "functional capability requirements" to be "reinvented, awarded, tested, certified and then introduced in slow increments over 15 years."

The Bundeswehr has long been suffering a shortage of gear, ranging from combat boots and body armor to tanks and helicopters, and has to contend with outdated aircraft that regularly encounter a multitude of issues.

Bundeswehr suffers while arms industry produces for export

Unfortunately, the report noted, "the Bundeswehr is still far away" from having 100 percent of the weapons, ammunition and personal equipment it needs to fulfil its duties for defense in Europe as well as through its alliances like NATO. To Bartels, it was unconscionable that at the same time, Germany's arms industry was pumping out new technology for export.

"Why does it take seven years to refurbish 100 old tanks to the most modern level, when in just two years, the same industry can make 50 brand new tanks for another nation?"

The report provided the example of much-needed new helicopters, saying that "only a few" of the 53 Tiger aircraft the Bundeswehr ordered had been delivered, and pointing out that "the project already has a delay of 134 months and is 1.3 billion euros over budget."

As for the navy, the report said, "of the 15 large battleships that we should have on paper ... only nine currently exist, and there are no reliable plans for the arrival of new ships."

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'Massive' personnel shortages

The annual overview also highlighted another long-standing issue faced by the Bundeswehr, a dearth of personnel. A lack of prestige surrounding military careers, combined with a 2011 decision to nix a period of mandatory military service for young men after they leave school, are just two of the factors that have made it difficult for the army to recruit.

Some 21,000 jobs remain unfilled, the report said. For instance, the air force only has 53% of the staff needed in its technical department, while the artillery force only has 70% of both the noncommissioned and commissioned officers it needs to be fully operational.

The "most massive" problems remain with the Germany navy, the review notes, blaming "long absences from home combined with high professional and physical demands," as well as a lack of clarity about proposed bonuses for those who change career paths to join the navy.

Another key area lacking personnel was cyberwarfare defense, where a high level of specialization is needed, but those qualified are usually drawn to more prestigious, better-paid, or more comfortable jobs outside of the military. Only about 75% of these positions are currently filled.

Bartels also wrote in his foreword that while he believed progress had been made in terms of ending sexual harassment, providing PTSD therapy to veterans, and tackling right-wing extremism in the ranks, "further awareness and action seems necessary."

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