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Germany Plans Major Military Overhaul, Cuts

December 7, 2002

German Defense Minister Peter Struck plans to update the Army on a shoestring budget. Military experts say his proposal is right on the mark.

Preparing to do more with lessImage: AP

Germany's chronically underfunded and overstretched Bundeswehr looks set to get a new lease on life if Defense Minister Peter Struck's proposal for a radical shake-up of the army is anything to go by.

Struck announced on Thursday sweeping changes to Germany's armed forces, in terms of finances as well as its future role, at a press conference.

Belt-tightening and structural changes

Struck's plan, parts of which were made public earlier this week, envisions billion euro "adjustments" to the 1999 reform of the German military. It calls for downsizing, reorganizing and modernizing the army while saving €6 billion ($5.9 billion) by 2006.

Bound by a €24.4 billion ($24.4 billion) annual budget, Struck plans to save money by cutting quantity while retaining quality. His proposals call for getting rid of old and obsolete equipment and only buying what is absolutely necessary to maintain and modernize the forces.

Struck also expects greater cooperation both with European and NATO allies as well as the country's own armed forces divisions -- the army, air force and navy. In the future, the once strictly divided German forces will have to learn to share more equipment, like helicopters.

Peter Struck
A photo dated Jan. 9, 2002 of German Social Democratic Party (SPD) faction leader Peter Struck in Berlin. Following the sacking of German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping over revelations that he accepted royalties from a public relations adviser, Chancellor Schroeder said Thursday, July 18, 2002 that Peter Struck would replace Scharping. (AP PHOTO/Fritz Reiss, Pool)Image: AP

The minister will introduce structural changes too, putting more emphasis on transport, logistics and leadership. Though the number of civilian jobs will be reduced, Struck wants to expand the number of soldiers from the current 282,000 to 300,000. Germany's nine-month mandatory conscription won't be affected.

Germany slashes European projects

The German defense cuts aimed at limiting military spending have also affected a number of European flagship projects.

The Bundeswehr will reduce its order for Airbus A400M military transport aircraft from 73 to 60, an issue Struck was forced to negotiate with Britain and France. The two countries had balked at reports that the Germans only intended to buy 40 of the planes last summer, insisting that the smaller acquisition would compromise overall European military capabilities.

Development of the Airbus A400M is seen as central to Europe's efforts to develop a military rapid reaction force.

Contrary to expectations, Struck said that Germany still planned to buy 180 Eurofighter Typhoon Combat aircraft, though it wouldn't acquire as many armaments as earlier planned.

Struck also announced similar deep cuts in the shorter range Iris-T missile, the Eurofighter's other main future air-to-air weapon. Germany will now purchase 1,250 units instead of 1,812.

Putting quality over quantity

Struck said the current slashes in military spending reflect broader changes in Germany's defense priorities.

Answering a question on the Bundeswehr's future defense responsibilities, Struck said, "Germany's safety will be defended in the Hindu Kush too," referring to the Central Asian mountain system that forms the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a perfect example of the kinds of new challenges the military needs to be able to adapt to. That also means switching the emphasis from territorial defense to operations abroad.

Struck said that the Bundeswehr's highest priority was now upholding Germany's pivotal role in the fight against international terrorism.

Germany's parliament recently extended the Army's peacekeeping mandates in Macedonia and Afghanistan into 2003.

The final plans for the Armed Forces new orientation will be announced in spring Struck said on Thursday.