Restructuring of the German Armed Forces

The German Defence Ministry has presented a paper outlining the restructuring of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr). The paper primarily aims at making the forces more flexible and increasing its readiness by cutting down on top-heavy structures.

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When presenting the key point paper (Eckpunktepapier), Germany’s Defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer emphasised that this did not constitute “a big Bundeswehr reform of the old style, as we know them: Restructuring with destructive cuts, downsizing, site closures are not going to happen.” Instead, the restructuring aims to “bring more to the troops by streamlining commandos and staffs.” Albeit that this will not be achieved “by increasing the number of personal. Because this is also a reality.” The Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) will have to make do with what they have but use it more efficiently.

Inspector General of the Bundeswehr Eberhard Zorn explained, that the paper is based on a 2019 study by the Command and Staff College (Führungsakademie), as well as reports from the defence commissioner (Wehrbeauftragte) and the inspectors of the Bundeswehr’s other branches. He pointed out that these findings confirmed that the Bundeswehr was “optimised for out-of-area operations, even in its domestic structures, and from these had fulfilled her obligations of national and alliance defence. This is by now different: national and alliance defence is our focus.” Cutting down on the top-heavy structures should “strengthen the readiness”. Instead of the six branches the Bundeswehr had until now, the restructuring aims to “establish for inspectors each responsible for one domain, who contribute their troops to two operational commands” One of these is the already established Joint Operations Command, responsible for out of area operations. The other one will be responsible for territorial command and will be formed from the Joint Support Service (Streitkräftebasis) command staff. The goal is to establish “powerful and cohesive units”. Zorn emphasizes that this is not merely done for the sake of Germany herself, but in parallel to a similar consideration of both NATO and the European Union.

The paper itself, entitled “Key points for the Bundeswehr of the Future” (“Eckpunkte für die Bundeswehr der Zukunft”), analyses Germany’s security environment and the requirements on her armed forces. It sees both more intense threats as well as a heightened demand to be able to act in security politics.

To respond to this, the Bundeswehr would have to be able to carry out “combined-Domain combat, in the entire spectrum up to high-intensity combat. This requires military capabilities for deterrence across the entire spectrum.” Further “The Bundeswehr must be able to react conflict-escalation without long lead times, i.e. to deploy "forces of the first hour", especially at the external borders of NATO.” To meet this demand, it needs “units that are as well-rehearsed as possible, consisting of combat units and support forces. Support forces that are structured, trained and equipped in such a way that they can be deployed quickly.” The restructuring proposal that follows aims largely at providing exactly these two capabilities, but also puts a special focus on better national territorial defence and acting as a reliable partner, especially for smaller nations.

The restructuring means that both the Joint Medical Service (Zentraler Sanitätsdienst) and the Joint Support Service, which have so far been independent branches, will be folded into the other existing branches, Army (Heer), Navy (Marine), Air Force (Luftwaffe) and Cyber- and Information-Space (Cyber- und Informationsraum, CIR), although many details on how exactly this is to be accomplished and what component will be folded into what is still to be worked out. The remaining branches are now thought of as domains and as such, are to be part of a push towards “large deployable units, as self-sufficient as possible, from which operational contingents can also be put together in a modular form.” To concentrate the capabilities and responsibilities in the domains, each branch will establish a “Systemhaus”. The air domain is to be strengthened by establishing a space-command within the Luftwaffe, in close cooperation with CIR, which itself is to be streamlined and will receive command of the Joint Intelligence Centre. The Navy will be “preparing to assume special regional responsibility for the Baltic Sea when the Baltic Maritime Coordination Function is transferred.”

The restructuring also aims to increase the Bundeswehr’s overall readiness. While more parliamentary oversight over this issue is specifically mentioned, the paper remains vague on how exactly more readiness is to be achieved, albeit that a new system for classing it is to be established.

The paper laments that in the organisation of procurement an “increase in tasks has led to an imbalance between tasks, staffing resources and competencies, which has not been resolved in recent years.” Therefore “the performance of the BAAINBw [Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support] must be secured and increased in the long term.” A ‘strategic planning board’ is to be implemented “to make decisions on the demands and the procurement-variant as a binding requirement at an early stage in the procurement process by means of level-appropriate decision-making bodies with all parties involved.“ Priority is also given to digitalisation and “the procurement organisation outside the BAAINBw will be strengthened and equipped with the necessary resources for the efficient performance of its tasks.”

The paper comes at a strange time, with German parliamentary elections are due in September. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s party, the CDU, is not guaranteed to be a major partner in a coalition government and perhaps might even be forced into the opposition. To this, the Defence minister explained that these plans were produced jointly by her and the General Inspectors administration and had been worked on for a while. She also explained that a portion of the plans aimed at a longer duration and that there are fears among the troops that a new government would once again waste time reassessing the situation for another reform.  She also cited demands from NATO as a factor in the timing of the proposal.

As to what parts of the proposal can be realised this year, Kramp-Karrenbauer said “In this year, we want to implement what is consensual and can be implemented. The Space Command has been mentioned, the new organisation of Cyber- and Information-space can be implemented this year and we want to begin the strategic planning board to implement these processes.” In the next year, the minister hopes to implement the restructuring of the medical services, as well as the two operational commands.

By Kevin Klemann

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