For a country seeking to address its operational readiness issues and enhance the service availability of existing hardware, Germany faces a high hurdle in the airpower domain.
Since NATO’s 2014 Wales summit, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has been pushing for improvements in Germany’s equipment and equipment support pipeline, with what might be described – at best – as uneven results. At present, Germany is confronted with issues such as new combat ships that are delivered to the Navy but not accepted, a submarine fleet entirely out of commission for now, tanks lacking in spare parts and with low readiness levels, and a lackluster recruiting push despite earnest appeals by the Defense Ministry.
Nothing appears to be working for the Bundeswehr – and now comes a report from Der Spiegel claiming that just 10 of the Air Force’s fleet of 128 Eurofighter Typhoons are mission-ready. Worse, only four have enough available missiles to be deemed combat-ready. This falls far short of Germany’s NATO obligation to have 82 fighters combat-ready and available to partake in crisis situations.
Last year the availability rate for the Eurofighter fleet was 39 of 128 fighters, or 31 percent overall. But this, according to the report, was due to the military counting any aircraft that was merely able to fly as “ready”; by this standard, they did not need to be armed and able to participate in real deployments such as NATO air patrols in order to be considered available.
Also of note for 2017, the fleet of Panavia Tornado strike fighters was at 28 percent availability, while the 15 Airbus A400M tactical transports were at just 20 percent and the CH-53G helicopter fleet at 22 percent.
The German military is, in short, unable to project power beyond its borders, much less contribute to security and peacekeeping missions under a shared European Union, NATO or United Nations aegis. This, in turn, limits Germany’s influence within both NATO and across the Atlantic in Washington. A Germany without hard power capability – even if it proves only willing to support allied operations from a logistical side – is one with a metaphorical arm tied behind its back.
Much of Europe (and the German public) may not be eager to see a re-militarized Germany, but being able to contribute militarily within a larger allied coalition is distinctly different from seeking to impose its will on its neighbors by force.
Angela Merkel and Germany’s government and politicians continue to justify poor defense investment and spending practices by arguing that Berlin’s generous foreign aid assistance provides more than ample compensation. But they can only kick the proverbial can down the road for so long before they find themselves permanently shunned from the Trans-Atlantic geopolitical decision-making table shared by the U.S., France and the U.K.