The list of problems affecting the Bundeswehr’s readiness levels includes even basic necessities, such as footwear for its soldiers, Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel newspaper has reported, citing a Defence Ministry response to a parliamentary inquiry on the matter.
According to the outlet, the shortages, caused by “limited production capacity in industry,” have had an impact on troops’ foot health, and their wallets, with soldiers often buying their own footwear as their army issue boots cause blisters or detached soles. Soldiers’ commanding officers, meanwhile, reportedly often look the other way due to a lack of alternatives.
The defence ministry initially promised to equip troops with two pairs of new heavy combat boots and one pair of light combat boots to replace the existing all-season boots three years ago, but these plans have since been rolled back repeatedly, first to late 2020, and currently to mid-2022.
According to a defence ministry spokeswoman, “currently only a few” troops among the 183,000 servicemen and women eligible to receive the new footwear have got it, with about 160,000 getting one pair of the new heavy combat boots, while only 31,000, or just under 17 percent, have received the light combat boots.
‘Imagine Firefighters Extinguishing Fires in Slippers’
Opposition FDP politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the lawmaker who made the request for more information about the slow deliveries of footwear to the defence ministry, slammed the military for the slow pace.
“It seems grotesque that it takes eight years to equip the military with new footwear. After all, this is not a question of fashion, but of safety. Imagine firefighters extinguishing fires in slippers,” Strack-Zimmermann said.
“Boots are the key to everything. You don’t go skiing with a pair of trainers and you don’t go hiking in high heels,” the lawmaker later told CNN. “It is important that soldiers are equipped with the right pair of [footwear] – in Mali you need different footwear than in other places,” she said. Strack-Zimmermann called the situation surrounding footwear deliveries extremely embarrassing.
Earlier this week, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told personnel at a military medical base that in order for them to serve well, they must be equipped with “modern and proven equipment,” including “personal equipment.” Earlier this year, Armed Forces Commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels reported that the wait time for new combat boots has had an impact on morale, with veteran troops feeling like ‘second-class citizens’ when receiving the old boot model instead of the new one.
Since her appointment to the defence ministry post last month, Kramp-Karrenbauer has promised to raise Germany’s defence spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024, still well below the outlays expected by Berlin’s NATO allies, including US President Donald Trump. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute figures, Germany ranks 8th in the world in total defence spending, paying out the equivalent of about $49.5 billion on the military in 2018.
The two countries are facing an escalating conflict regarding the US military presence in the country. Earlier this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel listed what she said were some “good reasons” for US troops to stay in Germany amid the Trump administration’s threats to pull out some of the 35,000+ personnel stationed in Germany and relocate them to Poland. Last week, the Deutsche Presse-Agenture reported that Berlin had spent some $270 million to support US troops based in Germany in the last seven years, with another $530 million+ earmarked for mostly US-related NATO construction costs.
The Bundeswehr has expressed concerns about a wide range of its equipment in recent weeks, citing expected cost hikes in the Puma infantry combat vehicle, problems related to the grounding of the Luftwaffe’s Tiger attack helicopters due to technical faults, and issues with new ships for the German navy.