None of the GTK Boxer armored combat vehicles Germany sent to a Norwegian exercise for NATO's new rapid reaction force had machine guns on their remotely-controlled turrets. Instead, they had broomsticks painted to resemble gun barrels.
Late last year, as the German Bundeswehr was considering rebooting its expensive, failed Euro Hawk drone program, the army of the country with the fourth largest economy in the world fielded its newest armored vehicles in a major military exercise in Norway with broomsticks painted black and lashed in place of missing machine gun barrels. That detail was part of a German Defense Ministry report leaked to Germany's public television network ARD that exposed widespread shortages of basic combat equipment.
According to the report, the Bundeswehr units deployed as part of a test of NATO's Rapid Response Force in September were far from combat-ready: they deployed with less than a quarter of the night vision gear required. The units were also missing 41 percent of the P8 pistols and 31 percent of the MG3 man-portable machine guns they were supposed to deploy with. And none of the GTK Boxer armored vehicles that deployed were equipped with their primary armament—the 12.7 mm M3M heavy machine gun.
The NATO Rapid Reaction Force is supposed to be made up of 4,000 troops and related equipment that can be deployed in times of crisis within 48 hours. The force was assembled as a response to the growing crisis in eastern Ukraine, where rebels alleged to be receiving material and perhaps even direct military support from Russia pushed back the Ukrainian military even as a cease fire was supposed to begin.
According to a Defense Ministry spokesperson, Germany's contingent for the reaction force was fully equipped two weeks ago, and the vehicles that the Bundeswehr deployed to Norway didn't need to be armed—they were serving only as mobile command center vehicles. The spokesman told the German English-language news site The Local, "Why the soldiers still simulated a weapons system is professionally incomprehensible."
But the German military as a whole suffers both from a shortage of equipment and general disrepair. Germany spends less than most European countries as a percentage of its gross domestic product on defense, and as the chairman of Germany's Green Party, Cem Özdemir, noted in September, most of the Bundeswehr's equipment "could come from the junkyard," according to an article in Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung—and that is more from poor management of spending, he insisted, than underfunding.
The Euro Hawk is perhaps the most high-technology manifestation of that failure of management. The drone system, developed by Northrop Grumman from an older version of the US military's Global Hawk unmanned aerial system (UAS), cost Germany nearly a billion dollars before its cancellation in 2013, after it was determined that Euro Hawk would not have the anti-collision capabilities required to get airworthiness certification from European Union aviation officials.
In an effort to get a benefit out of the sensor system that made up nearly a third of that cost, the Defense Ministry tried adapting it to other, manned aircraft, but the effort failed. Now that the Obama administration is moving for the sale of US drone systems overseas, Germany may instead buy a newer version of the Global Hawk to carry the system.