Project on Defense Alternatives

German Defense Planning: In a Crucial Phase

Lutz Unterseher, Study Group on Alternative Security Policy
Berlin, October 2001

1. On Germany's international position

Germany's relative position may decline, as some experts project, but it still has the world's third largest GDP. In Europe this country's economic strength is dominant. In population it ranks second only behind Russia. Germany has no nuclear weapons and is not a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations (although there are certain aspirations to get into this body). France and Britain, who consider themselves competitors of their prime European partner despite being economically weaker, are trying to compensate for deficits in industrial power by making extensive use of their elevated foreign-policy status. 1 And this status has been underlined by relatively heavy investments in nuclear arms (especially in the case of France) and in conventional forces for power projection.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall Germany has - so far - refrained from this game -- that is, efforts to support its foreign policy by developing a high military profile. Regarding defense spending, Germany currently spends, as a proportion of GDP, about half of what France and Britain believe to be able to afford. 2 As of now, it does not seem likely that Germany is going to reverse this pattern. One reason is that the comprehensive program of fiscal "consolidation" (austerity), which the current coalition of Social Democrats and Greens has embarked on, does not have much flexibility for substantial increases in defense spending. On the contrary, established planning envisages further (real-term) spending cuts. In other words, in modern Germany domestic-policy concerns have won a clear priority over the demands of the military. 3 This does not seem to be such a bad development when judged in light of Germany's problematic past, when things were the other way round.

Focusing on domestic policy does not imply, however, that Germany has not been able to contribute to international stability with non-military means. This country has consistently assumed a pioneering and fiscally relevant role in developing the OSCE, the EU and NATO. 4 In the latter two cases German politicians have spearheaded initiatives for an enlargement. Germany's assistance to Central and East European states amounted to some US$ 36 billion over 1990-98. Germany has also contributed, by far, the largest share of all bilateral Western assistance to the former Soviet Union (70 % of G-7 bilateral assistance over 1990-95, as against 20 % for the United States, for instance). Germany has excelled in hosting - for limited periods of time - war refugees from the Balkans: accepting far more than any other European nation in absolute terms, and more than most in relative terms.

This development has been called the emergence of a "civil power". But it has been regarded with skepticism by the military's top brass and relevant members of the (conservative) political elite, who continue to insist that Germany's specific weight (in terms of economic potential, population etc.) should be reflected in "adequate" military means. Otherwise, they argue, Germany will lose influence in important international bodies -- especially NATO and the EU -- due to reduced military participation.

But we might ask, what would happen if Germany moved to translate its basic potential into military power by adding, for instance, at least 30 % to its defense expenditure (and thus matching France's efforts)? The answer might be that Germany would once again alienate its neighbors, inducing them to wonder what purpose such force could possibly have on a continent that is said to have become increasingly peaceful (mainly due to the spreading economic influence of the EU).

2. Defense policy: guidelines and aspirations

The German Federal Minister of Defense, Herr Scharping, recently gave a statement on the principles guiding Germany's security and defense policy. There is nothing revolutionary in these principles. Instead, they evince a policy formulation not much different than that espoused by Scharping's conservative predecessors. Summing it up, the statement suggests priorities as follows:

  1. Further development of the Euro-Atlantic community: This means continuation and intensification of Germany's linkage with the United States.
  2. Strengthening of the Europeans' capability to act: This is to be achieved within the frameworks of the EU and of NATO's Eurogroup.
  3. Expansion of co-operation and partnership: This implies above all acting constructively within the links and the network ("Partnership for Peace") devised by NATO for Central Eastern & Eastern European countries.
  4. Support of regional co-operation: This suggests helping potential crisis regions (in Europe, but also in Central Asia or elsewhere) to "re-stabilize themselves".
  5. Continuation of the arms control process: This especially means encouraging the USA. and Russia to stick to START and seeking a modernization of the CFE treaty.
  6. Strengthening of international security arrangements: This particularly refers to the OSCE and the United Nations (the latter of which are said to have received - under the "Standby Arrangements System" - a very valuable military contribution from Germany).
  7. Inviting Russia to share European responsibilities: This means cooperating to meet challenges such as:
    • limiting the crisis potential in the Balkans, the Caucasus and in the Caspian Region as well as the Near and Middle East;
    • increasing nuclear security in the military and in the civil sector; and
    • arms control.

As already alluded to, the German military, basically accepting this frame of reference, are trying to maximize their influence (which they believe is Germany's) on international organizations, especially on NATO as well as the EU and its emerging expeditionary force ("Euro Army"), by mustering and contributing as much strength as possible.

All combat elements are now supposed to be suitable for crisis reaction. This goal flows from the proposition that the defense of home territory ("Landesverteidigung"), which next to Alliance defense ("Bündnisverteidigung") has been the main constitutional justification for the Federal Republic's military efforts, must be "re-interpreted". Good, old-fashioned home defense is supposed to be something of the past; crisis intervention is to be redefined as "home defense at a distance" ("Landesverteidigung auf Distanz"). This reflects a faith that military intervention can deal with evil at its source, removing dangers that otherwise might someday reach the homeland proper.

3. Germany's defense: fiscal and overall force development

In 1985, at the peak of the cold war, the overall defense expenditures of the Federal Republic of Germany amounted to 3.2 % of the GDP. By 1998, when the present government of Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens took office, the respective figure was only 1.5 %. Thus, there had been a tremendous decline in the relevance of the defense sector -- and this decline occurred during a period of time when the Christian Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) were coalition partners.

Looking forward, the course of current fiscal planning suggests that the defense sector's share of the GDP is likely to have fallen to less than 1.4 % by the year 2003. This means that the overall German expenditures (NATO criteria) would be about .6 percentage points below the average figure for the whole of the Atlantic Alliance.

The reduction of German military efforts appears even more steep when we look at the development of the defense budget proper -- federal budget plan No 14, which excludes some costs (pensions, civil protection, etc) included in overall defense spending. The official government plan for a mid-term perspective looks as follows:

Development of the German Defense Budget
(DM Billion)

Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Money Term 47.3 46.9 46.2 46.2 46.2 46.2 46.2
Real Term * 47.3 45.7 43.9 42.8 41.8 40.7 39.7
* Assuming an average GDP-deflator of 2.5 %.

What we see here is a money-term trend that translates into a real-term reduction of about 16 % for the period from 2000 to 2006. But it could have been worse. The figure for the year 2000 includes DM 2 billion above original planning, which the Federal Forces got for their out-of-area missions (especially in Kosovo). And the forces managed to get this fiscal transfer prolonged. So, their yearly resource allocations after 2000 also include DM 2 billion for out-of-area activity.

Parallel to the fiscal development we see a long-term process of manpower reduction. In 1985, at the peak of the cold war, the Bundeswehr had an active strength of 478,000 military personnel (including reserve training posts). Almost 48 % of the total were conscripts. The Federal Forces' mobilization strength amounted to 1,250,000 soldiers. And there were nearly 170,000 civilian personnel forming the administrative back-up of the military organization.

By 1998, when Herr Scharping came to office, the Bundeswehr's active strength already had fallen to less than 335,000 military personnel. The proportion of conscripts had shrunk to about 42 %. The estimated mobilization strength was 600,000 (+). And there were only 125,000 civilian in the military's administrative back-up.

Current planning aims for further manpower cuts. Recent leaks from the Ministry of Defense suggest that within this decade the Bundeswehr shall be reduced to an active strength of 285,000 soldiers (with a mobilization volume of 500,000). The conscript element has been planned to be reduced to about 29 % of the active total (the majority of the conscripts serving 9 months whereas a sizeable part would voluntarily stay longer). And the number of civilian administrators is supposed to go down below 90,000.

Even the planned further reductions in military manpower may not be sufficient, however. There are indications, blue prints and analyses, leaked from key political circles, that suggest that the fiscal austerity program might be continued beyond 2006, and that the armed forces would, at best, get budget increases of no more than 1.5 % per annum (in money terms). Of course, this implies a reduction in real terms.

Today spending on manpower accounts for about 52 % of the defense budget - leaving insufficient resources for investment (modernization) and operations. Model projections show that Herr Scharping's plan may result in increasing the share of personnel spending to between 55 and 59 % of the defense budget. Planners in the German MoD do have the same impression. This is why the Ministry of Defense has embarked on two major programs supposed to lead out of the fiscal trap. One has to do with rationalization (which is supposed to include radical measures of "out-sourcing"). The other aims at "making money" by selling valuable real estate and weaponry (which has been made redundant by force reductions). Critics in the expert community have expressed grave doubts about the amount of money the MoD claims to be able to save or earn. At any rate, even if the most optimistic estimates prove achievable, this would not bring about a long-term stabilization of current MoD planning.

4. German defense planning: a never-ending nightmare?

In October 1998, when the Social Democrats and the Greens formed the Federal Government, and when Herr Scharping became Minister of Defense, there were - in this political camp - virtually no ideas what to do with the armed forces. From the conservative-liberal government they had inherited an ambitious concept for modernizing the Bundeswehr, but insufficient resources. This situation had to be changed, but how? The new government followed a typical path: If you don't have any idea, form a committee! But the road to a new reform concept proved to be rocky. To summarize developments chronologically:

    October 1998 - April 1999: The new government marks time; some would say wastes time: nothing happens.

    May 3, 1999: formation of the "Committee ("Kommission") on Common Security and the Future of the Bundeswehr": Headed by Richard von Weizsäcker, a former Federal President of high standing, this group consists of notables typically not very familiar with the military. They are supported by military staff from the MoD. Work starts, in earnest, after the summer break of 1999.

    January 2000: the defense minister instructs General von Kirchbach, the Inspector General of the forces, to develop an alternative to proposals that have leaked out of the Weizsäcker committee. The general and his staff are requested to plan for an active strength of 290,000.

    Sometime between January and March 2000: behind closed doors the defense minister instructs Lieutenant General Kujat, chief of the small ministerial "planning staff" 5 to come up with an alternative to von Kirchbach's work. Thus, three reviews are now underway.

    May 23, 2000: presentation of the report of the Weizsäcker committee. The report ventilates two options for force development: (a) a future active Bundeswehr numbering 220,000 volunteers/career soldiers, and (b) a Bundeswehr with 210,000 career soldiers and 30,000 conscripts (with either 6 to 10 months or voluntarily extended service). The committee declares it prefers option (b), but there is strong minority sentiment favoring option (a). The interested public perceives this result (very selective or no conscription) as a blow against the idea of the draft.

    On the same day -- May 23, 2000: General von Kirchbach presents the result of his staff's work: as given in his instructions, the active strength has been set at 290,000 soldiers - consisting of 202,000 career/voluntary personnel, 84,500 conscripts and 3,500 undergoing refresher training at any given time. Details of this model have leaked out from the MoD during the weeks before the presentation. On balance the reaction of the press is negative. The general is criticized for being "not bold enough". Neither the minister nor his immediate entourage rise to the defense of von Kirchbach. When von Kirchbach submits his report to the minister, the atmosphere is icy.

    May 24, 2000: General von Kirchbach, an old-school army officer and religious man, resigns - deeply hurt.

    June 14, 2000: the Minister of Defense proposes to the Federal Cabinet a concept for an allegedly thorough reform of the Bundeswehr ("renewal from the roots") and gets approval. 6 This concept is Kujat's work. Journalists are induced to believe that the proposed active strength of the future Bundeswehr is 255,000 soldiers: much less than von Kirchbach's target figure. Attentive observers soon learn, however, that this relatively low figure excludes 22,000 soldiers who - at any given time - are undergoing additional (professional) training: a personnel category normally counted under "active strength". It takes about nine months until it becomes clear that the MoD is actually planning for an active strength of 285,000: a figure nearly identical with von Kirchbach's force goal.

    June 27, 2000: General Kujat (now 4-star), an air-force technocrat, becomes Inspector General of the Bundeswehr.

    June 29, 2000: the Inspector General receives the defense minister's order to commence comprehensive, detailed planning.

    July 21, 2000: the Inspector General issues guidelines to "systematize" the planning process ahead.

    August 14 and August 17/18, 2000: under the chairmanship of Herr Stützle (head of the MoD's arms procurement department) representatives of the forces try to "prioritize" procurement programs. 7 Some programs are cut, others stretched or delayed. All in all, the results are not satisfactory, largely because detailed conceptual and organizational planning has only just begun. Thus, the proposed "prioritization" lacks a sound basis.

    October 9, 2000: presentation of the MoD's "Grobausplanung" (general features of organizational and personnel structure). This document foresees having detailed plans concerning equipment requirements and military organization (TOE style) by the end of 2000. 8

    November 13, 2000: an arms procurement council ("Rüstungsrat") is set up in the MoD. This body comprises the heads of the services and of the departments of budgeting and arms procurement. It is chaired by the Inspector General -- an indication that he is assuming control over arms procurement (much to the disadvantage of Herr Stützle, head of the arms procurement department).

    January 2001: presentation of the MoD's "Feinausplanung" (detailed planning results): Contrary to expectations this document does not contain any information about future TOEs, but concentrates solely on the problem of base closures made necessary by force reduction. About 40 bases (out of 500) are proposed to be shut down. This provokes vested interests in the German States ("Länder"), but - in the end - Scharping, who shows willingness to compromise, basically prevails. And he benefits from the fact that the heated debates about the base closures make some politicians forget that there still is not any official information concerning detailed military structure and equipment requirements.

    March 16, 2001: the Inspector General officially issues the "Material- und Ausrüstungskonzept für die Streitkräfte der Zukunft" (long-term, comprehensive procurement concept). This document contains another attempt at "prioritization". Its authors appear to be fascinated by strategic reconnaissance and power projection. Small wonder that the Luftwaffe and the Navy are the winners, whereas the Army - with its primarily tactical and operational concerns - is less successful.

    April 5, 2001: the new "Rüstungsrat" (arms procurement council) has its first session, chaired by General Kujat. It generates a list of short-term priorities. Again, the Luftwaffe and Navy are the winners.

    Beginning of May, 2001: members of the Budget Committee of the Bundestag (Parliament) learn about the short-term list from the press. They are still looking forward to being officially informed by the MoD.

    Early June 2001: the short-term list of priorities is revised, authorized by the Defense Minister and then presented by Herr Stützle to select members (government factions) of the Budget Committee. This covers those programs with a minimum cost per program of 50 Million DM to be started in 2001.

    June 11, 2001: the same select members of the Budget Committee are provided by the MoD with detailed, but incomplete information concerning the future "operational" hardware needs of the German Army. In this context it is stated that the "final result" of structural and hardware planning will not be available before 2003. 9

    July 4, 2001: the short-term list (of procurement priorities) is published: not by the MoD, but by a - usually well-informed - news service of the arms industry.

5. Future German forces: a tentative blueprint

Despite the long process of review it is not yet possible to give a detailed profile of future Federal German Forces as currently planned. Relevant information is still incomplete, although some has leaked out of MoD circles and some selected details are available in the military press. At any rate, the process of specifying the current concept may have to be discontinued in the near future. This is because General Kujat's priority list does not fit mid-term fiscal planning - as an increasing number of observers have come to believe. So there may soon have to be a "reform of the reform" with the aim of trying to free resources for procurement through a further reduction in manpower.

With these limits in mind, the following sections summarize the force model that the German MoD hopes to get implemented within this decade.

5.1 Manpower: categories and numbers 10

5.1.1 Active strength:
          Career element:
          Conscript element:
          Reserve training posts:
5.1.2 On mobilization: 500,000 (600,000?)
5.1.3 Civilian personnel: 90,000 (120,000?)

5.2 Overall structure: active force (rough estimate)

          Central medical services:
          Central general services ("Force basis"):

It is noteworthy that in Kujat's model the Army has been given less numerical weight than in the current (established) structure. Among the three "combat services" it is supposed to get about 65 % of the manpower, whereas the traditional figure was around 70 %.

5.3 The Services
5.3.1 Profile of the Army Organization

  • "Heeresführungskommando" (Army main headquarters) commanding German staff components of international corps (U.S., Dutch, multinational, Danish/Polish partners), 5 mechanized divisions, 1 division for special and 1 division for airmobile operations.
  • 13 mechanized brigades (3 with reserve status), plus the German component of the Franco-German brigade. Most of these brigades are heavy, a minority has "Jäger" 11 elements.
  • 2 brigades with parachute and very light mechanized (air-transportable) elements.
  • 1/2 brigade of special operations forces.
  • 1 (small) "air-mechanized" brigade with attack and supporting utility helicopters.
  • 1 army aviation brigade with liaison, utility and heavy-lift helicopters.
  • 1 (central) artillery brigade.
  • 1 (central) air-defense brigade.

All in all, we see 16 1/2 combat brigades (not counting support formations: namely the artillery, air-defense and army aviation brigades). This compares to 26 combat brigades in the present structure (which has relatively more reserve formations). Major equipment (including material reserves)
The new army structure is supposed to comprise (among other items):

  • 1500 main battle tanks (Leopard 2),
  • 1550 MICVs, tracked (Marder, upgraded; a successor model to be introduced in small numbers before 2010),
  • 240 (+) MICVs, wheeled (GTK/KIT, 28 metric tons, as carriers of "Jäger" elements),
  • 310 "midget tanks, tracked/air-transportable (Wiesel),
  • 530mechanized howitzers (185 Panzerhaubitze 2000, 345 M 109),
  • 140 MLRS,
  • 110 attack helicopters (the Franco-German Tiger),
  • 100 utility helicopters (mainly NH 90),
  • 80 heavy-lift helicopters (CH 53),
  • 145 observation/liaison helicopters (Bo 105).

5.3.2 Profile of the Luftwaffe: organization and major equipment

  • 3 fighter wings (instead of 4): with a total of 100 EF 2000 (Typhoon),
  • 3 fighter-bomber wings (instead of 4): with 77 EF 2000 and 35(+) Tornados,
  • 1 reconnaissance wing (as today): with 35(+) Tornados,
  • 1 ECR/SEAD wing (as today): with 35 Tornados.

As a rule, wings have only 2 squadrons. Also note: 60 or more EF 2000 cannot be procured before 2010 (implying that an equivalent number of Tornados - otherwise to be phased out - would have to serve longer).

With respect to air transport the long-term goal is to give up the current "mixed" wing structure and have 2 wings with FTA (Future Transport Aircraft) and one wing with medium utility helicopters (NH 90). Current planning envisages a fleet of 73 FTA, but the MoD's fiscal situation does not make it likely that many more than 35 machines can be procured between 2010 and 2020.

The air-defense missile organization is supposed to shrink from 6 to 4 wings, with the long-term goal of phasing out the Hawk system and replacing it with MEADS. Reduced numbers of Patriot (area defense) and Roland (point defense) are planned to remain in service: well into the period after 2010.

5.3.3 Profile of the Navy: organization and major equipment
          Frigate force: 15 units type 122, 123, 124 and possibly already type 125 vessels,
          Corvette force: 5 or 6 new corvettes (type 130) plus 10(?) fast missile craft (attack),
          Submarine force: 6(?) of the advanced type 212 (extended underwater operations) plus an uncertain number (6?) of older-vintage coastal submarines (206 A),
          Minesweeping: 20(+) very modern units,
          Strike aircraft: 1 wing with Tornados (with 45+ machines),
          Maritime patrol aircraft SIGINT:      1 (small) squadron with a modern successor to Bréguét Atlantique (up to 10 machines).

Compared with the present situation there would be sizeable reductions in the number of fast missile craft and minesweepers. But in both cases, and also with respect to most other force categories, we see major modernization programs underway.

5.4 Intervention capabilities
It has been common practice among the German Bundeswehr's leaders to commit force elements to international bodies, especially to NATO and - now - to the new Euro Army, and then sell these voluntary commitments as NATO or Euro "obligations". In other words there have been continuous - sometimes quite successful - attempts to translate one's own status aspirations into military capabilities.

Seen against this background, the Federal German Forces want to be capable of conducting one large expeditionary operation (40-50,000 soldiers, all Services, for a limited period of time) or - alternatively - two medium-sized operations (8,000 soldiers each, mostly Army personnel, for an indefinite period of time). The pool of forces from which these troops shall be taken, on a rotational basis, has been named "Einsatzkräfte" (or action forces). Their total number shall be 150,000, constituting the Bundeswehr's peacetime combat and combat support forces -- all of which are planned to be, in principle, intervention-capable. There are serious concerns, however, that this may be a blueprint for producing a paper tiger because there will not be enough money to adequately equip and support combat forces of the envisaged size.

6. Conclusion

A sober glance at Germany's defense planning leads to three basic conclusions:

First, the planning process represents a case of utter chaos. Fundamental structural and procedural changes along with a replacement of top personnel appear to be imperative.
Second, military personnel costs are still too high. As a consequence, a thorough modernization of the Bundeswehr's equipment lacks a sound fiscal basis. A further reduction in active strength - by 10-15 % - possibly along with very modest (money-term) budget increases of 1-1.5 % per annum could secure and stabilize the forces' modernization effort well beyond 2010. 12 And,
Third, the Federal German Army Forces appear to be fascinated by the idea of global power projection which has led to giving special (procurement) privileges to the Luftwaffe and the Navy. This orientation contrasts sharply with Germany's recent experience regarding out-of-area-missions. There were, or are, three expeditions that placed heavy demands on the Army - Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. But only one contingency (the air campaign against Serbia) requiring Luftwaffe participation. 13 Changing the priorities in current planning to reflect this reality would not only make Germany's intervention forces more relevant to typical crisis situations, it would also help save money.


1. France has a GDP per-capita relation slightly better than that of Germany (whose respective rate has been negatively affected by the integration of the former GDR).

2. France's and Britain's defense expenditures are considerably larger in absolute terms too.

3. For example: Between 1990 and 2000 Western Germany transferred some US$ 540 billion to Eastern Germany, more than double the 2000 federal budget.

4. Think, for instance, of the German drive for "EU constitutionalization".

5. In the past not really used for planning, but for controlling the MoD.

6. On condition that defense planning does not get into conflict with mid-term fiscal planning.

7. General Kujat among them.

8. TOE: Table of Organization and Equipment.

9. There will be federal (Bundestag) elections in September 2002. Maybe the Army leaders are hoping for a policy change to their advantage.

10. Current figures in brackets.

11. Jäger: light infantry of high tactical "fluidity".

12. The envisaged force reduction does not necessarily imply that the draft would have to be given up which - indeed - would invoke cost problems of a higher order. A Bundeswehr of, say, 250,000 active personnel could still make use of a relatively large number of conscripts, thus avoiding criticism resulting from a draft too selective or "unfair". The trick is to let relatively many conscripts serve short terms - at home in security, support, and logistical functions - while only a minority would stay longer on a voluntary basis and be available for out-of-area contingencies. This approach reconciling conscription with the perceived need to share international responsibilities has already been established in Germany. But it needs to be radicalized.

13. No more than 14 Luftwaffe Tornados were considered sufficient by NATO.


To a considerable extent this report is based on personal on-location research in Berlin and Bonn. Publicly available, relevant sources are:

    Bundesministerium der Verteidigung (ed.), Die Bundeswehr der Zukunft, Feinausplanung und Stationierung, Bonn/Berlin, January 2001.

    Der Bundesminister der Verteidigung, Eckpfeiler für eine Erneuerung von Grund auf, Bonn/Berlin, Summer 2000.

    - -, Neuausrichtung der Bundeswehr, Grobausplanung: Ergebnisse und Entscheidungen, Bonn/Berlin, Fall 2000.

    Gemeinsame Sicherheit und Zukunft der Bundeswehr, Bericht der Kommission an die Bundesregierung, Berlin, May 23, 2000.

    Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr, Material- und Ausrüstungskonzept für die Streitkräfte der Zukunft (Mat Konz), Bonn/Berlin, March 6, 2001.

    V. Kröning, "Deutsche Verteidigungsplanung: Perspektiven, Stolpersteine, Lösungen", Soldat und Technik, 5/2001, pp. 13-15.

    R. Scharping, "Die sicherheitspolitischen Ziele Deutschlands", Soldat und Technik, 1/2001, pp. 7-9.

    "Vorhabenliste", Wehrdienst/Griephan-Brief, July 4, 2001, p. 1.

Citation: Lutz Unterseher, German Defense Planning: In a Crucial Phase, Study Group on Alternative Security Policy. Berlin, Germany, October 2001.

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