Whenever things get serious, the chief of defense, Germany’s senior-most military officer, calls a meeting of the Military Command Council, the most powerful body of Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr. The most important generals and admirals in the country then gather in a bug-proof room at the Defense Ministry in Berlin for a face-to-face.
Such a meeting was called for Monday afternoon, and this time, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), joined the group as a guest. It was a clear sign that she and her top generals had some difficult decisions to make.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has completely upended the fundamental constants of German security policy. German troops are being rapidly sent to Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. At the same time, six German warships have set off to strengthen the alliance’s northern flank.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht with Chancellor Olaf ScholzFoto: Hannibal Hanschke / AFP
And since Sunday, the country’s military leadership finds itself facing a problem that they didn’t expect at all. The country’s defense forces, which have struggled for years to make ends meet, suddenly has money. A lot of money.
In his speech on Sunday to a special session of German parliament, Scholz announced emergency funding of the German military to the tune of 100 billion euros while also pledging to boost defense spending to above 2 percent of gross national product.
The idea of dumping a significant quantity of money into Germany’s ailing armed forces has been around for some time. Several months ago, military planners and Defense Ministry bean counters developed a number of confidential briefs for distribution among political party leaders who were involved in negotiation Germany’s governing coalition at the time.
It was an almost desperate attempt to open the new coalition’s eyes to the deep problems facing the Bundeswehr. Not that anyone in the ministry thought the move would actually work. It seemed merely like something that needed to be done despite the almost certainty of failure.
But Russia’s aggression has now completely reversed years of German thinking about its military. In order to send a strong security policy message, the Chancellery pulled out all the old briefs. One of those was of particular importance: a confidential, six-page brief from Oct. 26 seems to have been particularly persuasive to Scholz and Finance Minister Christian Lindner, a member of the Free Democrats (FDP), the business-friendly party which is part of Scholz’s coalition government along with the Greens.
DER SPIEGEL has learned that the memo proposed a special fund for the Bundeswehr worth 102 billion euros. The memo argues that complex and expensive defense projects almost always require several years to complete, making it essential that military planners have long-term funding in place.
Because the German budget is renegotiated every year, however, such a planning horizon has been difficult to come by – especially because allotted money that hasn’t been spent by the end of the year is essentially withdrawn. Should a large defense project run into delays – which they almost always do – the money has to be spent on something else. Or it is lost.
A special fund would solve this problem and significantly extend the military planning horizon. Because the German military has been forced to be so parsimonious in recent years, there are a huge number of major investments that have been placed on the back burner. The new funding will get things moving forward.
According to the memo, the Defense Ministry hopes that once the Bundeswehr is brought up to speed with the sudden injection of the 100 billion euros, daily operations and the numerous smaller upgrades could then be financed with the normal defense budget. But even that budget would have to be significantly boosted in the coming years to over 2 percent of gross domestic product.
The memo also provides a list of projects into which the money is to be invested. Around 34 billion euros would have to be invested in the following multinational defense projects:
the TWISTER system, designed to improve defenses against supersonic weapons;
the development of a "combat cloud”;
the development of strategic air transport capabilities;
the German-French development of a new air-defense system, a new generation of battle tanks and the Eurodrone;
a new artillery and munitions system in cooperation with Britain;
the development of new frigates and landing platforms in cooperation with the Netherlands;
the development of new submarine technology in cooperation with Norway.
The memo, though, calls for the vast majority of the special defense fund (around 68 billion euros) to flow into large, national defense projects:
At the top of the priority list is a successor to the ancient Tornado fighters. In his speech on Sunday, Scholz indicated that the current strategy calls for a hybrid solution, essentially taking elements of the modernized Eurofighter and from the new American super-fighter F-35 from Lockheed Martin. This project alone is estimated to cost around 15 billion euros.
Around 5 billion euros are earmarked for the new heavy transport helicopter. The Bundeswehr’s old CH-53 helicopters from the 1970s have become prohibitively expensive to maintain. A new successor model is to be purchased from the U.S. as quickly as possible. There are two different models, both of which are already available, under consideration.
Some 20 billion euros must be invested in new munitions. Because the threat level has been low for so long, the Bundeswehr hasn’t been regularly refilling its weapons depots for decades. The result is that there is a severe lack of rockets and artillery shells for tanks, ships and helicopters. If the German military is serious about fulfilling its NATO pledges by 2030, the depots must be urgently restocked.
Another expensive project is the "Digitization of Land-Based Operations" (D-LBO), which essentially means a revamping of all communications systems. Even today, German troops don’t communicate digitally, with the PRC117 encrypted devices a rarity in the Bundeswehr, generally only issued to special forces like the KSK. The Bundeswehr believes the digitalization of military communications will cost around 3 billion euros.
Almost 2 billion euros are to be invested in new corvette warships.
Around 600 million is to be earmarked for the modernization of Patriot air-defense systems.
The above list is far from complete: The memo from Germany’s military planners goes on and on. And it’s not totally certain yet whether all of Germany’s political parties are on the same page. Reports have emerged that the Green Party, one of the SPD’s two junior coalition partners, was unaware of the size of the fund Scholz would propose ahead of his speech and some in the party have voiced concern.
Friedrich Merz, meanwhile, who is head of the opposition Christian Democratic Union, has indicated that he takes a skeptical view of taking on new debt, which such defense expenditures would almost certainly necessitate.
And then there are the widespread doubts about the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw). The office with the unwieldy name has not exactly proven in recent years to be reliable when it comes to spending money and has produced its share of scandals. Immediately after Scholz’s speech on Sunday, Fritz Fegentreu, a former SPD defense policy expert, tweeted out his skepticism. "Panic at BAAINBw," he tweeted.