Modernizing the German Army | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 10.06.2002
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Modernizing the German Army

When Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping put together a shopping list for reforming the German army, he gave computers and modern communication systems high priority.


The German army of the future has to be ready for any combat situation

Back in 1914, Germany’s foot soldiers engaged the enemy on the front with little more than a rifle, a backpack, a metal spade and a water bottle. By 1939, little had changed. The infantry was still characterized by their physical vulnerability. The uniforms had improved, the firearms were more powerful, and there was better communication through radios. But otherwise, the ordinary soldier was left on his own to battle the enemy with limited equipment and protection.

Throughout the years, uniforms and battle gear changed ever so slightly to meet the times. Equipment, transportation and weapons evolved as new technology was developed to improve fighting power and accuracy, communication and logistics. But the outfitting of the infantry, the ordinary ground troops, hardly progressed beyond the decades-old image.

At the end of the twentieth century, Germany lagged behind the United States and other NATO members such as Great Britain, who had been quicker to adapt their armies to contemporary technological developments. Whereas these countries invested in the future of a modern army, Germany refrained from big spending and modernization. As a result, Germany is currently faced with a shortage both in manpower and equipment and cannot participate effectively in international military operations. Just a few months ago Germany was unable to transport its own troops and equipment for deployment in Afghanistan.

Long-awaited reform

But if Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping and his team of military advisors have their way, the image of the out-dated, inefficient German army will change shortly. The defense ministry has placed the country’s armed forces on a strict new path to reform and modernization. The army of the future will be streamlined and adapted to incorporate advanced technology, computers and telecommunications. At the center of the reform is the "infantry of the future".

In its proposal for the "Modernization of the Equipment and Material of the Armed Forces", the German army says the modern soldier will be a high-tech fighting machine, a "system programmed to adapt to any battlefield situation and take on several different functions." Mobility, adaptability, communication, battle effectiveness and survival are all keys to outfitting and equipping the "infantryman of the future".

Head-to-toe modernization

The soldier of the future carries a gun in one hand and a laptop in the other. To be more precise, it’s a G36 assault rifle with an extra 40 millimeter exchangeable caliber and a folding postcard-size electronic map for navigating hostile terrain and sending signals back to headquarters. Both are recent acquisitions for the German army, and both are designed to modernize the fighting capabilities of the infantry and improve the soldiers’ protection.

Because contemporary warfare has become so complex, simple firearms and weapons are not enough. Today’s soldiers need computer technology and high-speed satellite connections, says the German defense ministry. Each soldier needs to function self-sufficiently, carrying his or her own communication, navigation, and surveillance systems.

From head to toe, the modern soldier will be equipped to enter any combat situation. A full bullet-proof vest protects him from life-threatening gun shots and grenade shrapnel. Special infrared glasses attached to his helmet provide him with clear night vision. Another set of protective glasses shield his eyes from blinding laser rays. His rifle is outfitted with a laser sighting device and heat detectors for near-perfect aim during low visibility. Around his waist he wears a combination belt with pockets for various types of ammunition and a 1.8 liter drinking system with attachable straw. His boots, gloves and clothing are designed to protect him from all types of weather conditions.

On his back, he carries a complex system of cables, linking him up to a microphone, an antenna for a global positioning system on the right-hand shoulder and another antenna for radio connection on the left-hand shoulder. The two types of communication devices ensure constant contact with headquarters or operation management and other soldiers. Through the mini electronic map in his chest pocket, each ground soldier can conduct surveillance of a terrain and send and receive detailed navigational information on targets via satellite.

Expensive undertaking

To completely outfit the infantryman of the future, the German army will need to spend approximately 22,000 euro ($20,755) per soldier. So far, two groups of ten soldiers have been fully equipped with the new gear and uniforms. They are the test group selected to try out the high-tech equipment for durability and effectiveness while deployed in Kosovo. If their test feedback turns out positive, the German army wants to proceed rapidly in modernizing 10,000 soldiers by 2004.

In 2001 the defense ministry spent 300 million euro for new equipment, but in order to continue pushing through with the wide-scale modernization and reform of the armed forces, the ministry will have to come up with considerably more money. The defense budget is already short as it is, and continued participation in international military operations such as "Enduring Freedom" puts a further drain on resources.

The only hope for achieving the expensive modernization is that the defense ministry’s proposed reforms actually take hold. In their proposal for making the armed forces more future-oriented, the ministry says the army will not only undergo a technological change, but also an organizational one. It will be turned into a "corporation-like structure" with a "flexible and dynamic management which can quickly and efficiently respond to defense needs with the production of new material and equipment."

In its paper on the "Modernization of the Equipment and Material of the Armed Forces", the defense ministry says the army of the future must become a "competitive and market-oriented undertaking". And like all corporations that want to survive over a long period of time, the German army has to begin by cutting costs and trimming personnel.

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