Is things really as bad for the Bundeswehr as is repeatedly claimed? Scientists from Bonn have compared the armed forces with those from Great Britain and France.
Conflict researchers see the Bundeswehr as being on a par with the armed forces of the two most important NATO allies in Europe in terms of equipment and operational readiness. “Contrary to all claims, the Federal Republic is not incapable of defending itself and, compared to the armed forces of France and Great Britain, which are generally considered to be more operational and more powerful, maintains comparable armed forces in terms of armament, personnel strength (and expenditure of resources) and operational readiness,” says a study by the Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies (BICC). This was available to the German Press Agency in Berlin on Tuesday.
The scientists evaluated publicly available data from the past three decades on behalf of Greenpeace. They state: “The Bundeswehr’s main weapon systems are overall significantly more modern than those of the two NATO partners.” Their core thesis: “The Bundeswehr has not been cut corners, nor is Germany in a position to make a comparable contribution to alliance defense as the two permanent members of the UN Security Council.”
Overall, France has the most large weapons systems ahead of Germany and Great Britain, but above all has more smaller armored vehicles. With an average age of under 20 years, German land systems are on average seven years younger than those in France and almost ten years younger than those in the United Kingdom. With the Leopard 2, Germany not only has the most, but also the most modern battle tank.
When it comes to air forces, France has the largest armed forces in terms of numbers (664 combat aircraft, attack helicopters, tankers, transport aircraft and transport helicopters). Germany is well behind with 477 units, but clearly ahead of Great Britain (346).
Conclusion: “In the overall picture, we therefore assume that the efficiency of Germany and France when it comes to armament is similar, while the United Kingdom – with its very outdated land weapon systems – performs somewhat worse.”
According to current data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS/2023) yearbook “Military Balance”, France will rank first in 2022 with 203,250 active soldiers. Germany is in second place with 183,150 soldiers. Great Britain had the fewest soldiers, with 150,350 men and women.
Interesting: Between 2015 and 2022, a soldier cost the United Kingdom the most at around $141,764. Germany was in second place with around $128,974, ahead of France with spending of around $121,836 per soldier. The reasons given include foreign assignments and different wage costs. Another factor is the different proportion of higher-earning officers in the force (Great Britain 25 percent, Germany 22 percent and France 20 percent).
Significant differences in spending on research, development and procurement are noticeable. The researchers added up the three countries’ total procurement expenditure between 1993 and 2022. Great Britain is clearly ahead with a 43 percent share (US$483.5 billion). France accounts for 37 percent or $369.3 billion. But Germany spent the least on this, accounting for $200.4 billion or 20 percent of the calculated total expenditure.
“Significant additional costs, delays, defects – such problems are the rule in the development and procurement of large and complex weapon systems in all three countries,” the researchers note. The problems with the German Puma infantry fighting vehicle are “rather minor compared to the significant deficiencies of the British Ajax infantry fighting vehicle,” which disrupted financial planning and timelines even more significantly.
Readiness for action
Great Britain and France, the two permanent members of the UN Security Council, have been willing and able to send almost 10,000 more soldiers on international missions per year than Germany over the past ten years, the researchers note. But in recent decades all three armed forces have been focused on asymmetrical missions “out of area” such as in Afghanistan, Mali or Niger and less on alliance defense and wars against similarly strong opponents.
There are insufficient ammunition stocks in all three states. They could also make only a small part of their units ready for combat at short notice.
Between 1993 and 2022, Germany spent $1,408.8 billion on its armed forces. Excluding spending on nuclear weapons – then it is more comparable – France spent $401.39 billion, but Great Britain spent $1,780 billion. The budget for the Bundeswehr grew from around 32 billion euros to 50.3 billion euros from 2014 to 2022, an increase of over 50 percent. The Swedish peace research institute Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) lists the Federal Republic as the country with the seventh largest military expenditure for 2022 – between Great Britain (6th place) and France (8th place).
The scientists’ conclusion: From a global perspective, the three countries are easily comparable.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.