By Jamie Arbuckle for Peacehawks



German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that Germany will increase defence spending by Euro 100 billion, raising the German defence budget from 1.5 to over 2% of GDP.  Canada, Sweden and Denmark have also announced similar increases to their defence budgets.

Unfortunately, throwing out numbers and then setting the fiefdoms to struggle for their shares  is precisely the wrong way to go about structuring a defence establishment, and its personnel and equipment programmes. This is how it is commonly done, numbers first, then programmes. But this usually results in the wrong equipment in the wrong numbers and there for all the wrong reasons. There will then follow a generation of complaints about equipment not needed or unaffordable or non-deployable – or all of the above.

For example: At the time of my retirement from the Canadian Forces in 1995, we had as many officers as we had corporals, we had more military policemen than infantrymen, and the army’s armoured personnel carriers and medium howitzers mostly dated from around 1965; the main battle tanks had come into service in the 1970s. Nevertheless, and despite the ageing-out of the Army’s major equipments, in that year the Army was awarded just 17% of the capital equipment budget for the Canadian Forces.  That was a reflection neither of any considered requirements nor of any logical structure, it simply showed how poorly the Canadian Army staff had fared in the competition for resources.

The present need is too great, and the stakes are too high, for this sort of misdirection to occur now in Germany. As a Canadian analyst for the (Toronto) Globe and Mail has put it, “That we need to spend more is self-evident, even more urgently, we need to spend better.”[1]


The first step in project management on this scale must be a comprehensive review of what are and should be the roles and tasks of a defence establishment. This will be primarily a result of a very high level political appreciation of the situation, and will in turn result in a listing of what are called capability requirements. To this point, no constraints will have been imposed, but the bottom line will never be far from anyone’s thoughts.

And now, given an approved capability requirement listing, the process will bifurcate into two streams; these are broadly the materiel and the personnel decision streams.


The capability requirements will drive the  equipment programme (this may include refurbishments and upgrades to existing equipment). Some very tough questions have to be asked here, and narrow service answers are seldom useful. All participants in this defence review must have a catholic approach to common challenges; the problems and the solutions must be given inter-service consideration. One early challenge will arise from the fact that today’s Bundeswehr, reduced to just over a fourth of its Cold War strength (see below), must have a great deal of stored equipment that has not in the interval been disposed of – how much of that is still usable, even if to be refurbished and/or upgraded?

Before the Bundeswehr scraps the 30-year old Tornados, which were Anglo-German-Italian developed and manufactured,  to replace them with American F35s[2], as is now being discussed, a very extensive review must show that this is or is not a desired course of action.

The German Luftwaffe has now 93 Tornados and 141 Eurofighters. If, as has been reported, Germany is to buy 35, F35s[3] @ USD85 million each, that will = USD 3 billion.  That probably does not include spare and replacement parts, nor air and ground crew training.  And 35 aircraft do not replace 234.


Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F35, promises very attractive local job benefits for participating nations – you can hear the rustling and stirring of regional interests in parliamentary lobbies in all of the 15 nations which have ordered, or are considering ordering, F35s.  Nor is it to be expected that those F35s which Germany might order will arrive overnight: Lockheed Martin predicts that of the 3000(+) aircraft which have been ordered, 400 will be in NATO service by 2030.[4]

Most air forces are pilots’ air forces, and their lobby naturally wants what is newest and best and – inevitably – most expensive.  The refurbishing and upgrading of older equipment is usually not foremost in their thinking. But the best is too often the enemy of the good, and the country deserves not necessarily the best machines, but the best decisions – and these aren’t always the same thing.


The manning of the equipment will be directly influenced by the readiness requirements: what must be available immediately, and thus must be manned by fully trained active duty units; what can be called up from reserves, and how much time can be allowed for this, thus what will reserve structures and responses need to be?

What training will be required by the new force, and how long will that take? Generally speaking, basic recruits may be trained in about six months, technicians may take up to another year, junior officers will need at least two years’ training, but  it may need up to a decade to produce NCOs.  This suggests that personnel increases will place heavy demands on current active duty personnel, and in Germany today there are not so many of them.

Rebuilding a neglected force takes time and money – and lots of both.

Force Structuring

The materiel and the personnel streams have been interacting throughout, but will eventually come together to consider how the force will be structured.  There might, for example, be a requirement to be ready to deploy a brigade group of all arms and services at short notice; this could be a force of about 5000 personnel fully manned and available immediately with all their equipment, and just one of these might not be enough. A sort of rapid reaction force of around 5000 soldiers is being touted in NATO circles now, and Poland has proposed an international peacekeeping force.  (The only sure thing is that it is for sure that no one has at this point any idea what that really means.) At the height of the First Cold War the Bundeswehr consisted in part of a corps organised into four divisions with a total of 12 brigades, all fully manned, in Baden Württemberg and Bavaria alone.


And now comes the crunch: A third stream, the financial, will have been tracking along with the materiel and personnel streams. Largely unseen, but you can hear their calculators clicking away just on the edges,  and now you will be told that you are over budget.  The whole process will be walked back, and constraints will be applied, but always with reference to that list of capability requirements.

Eventually the compromises will be sorted and reconciled, and a structure including materiel and personnel, the fulfilment of the required capabilities, will be submitted for cabinet approval, and a new force for the New Cold War will be born. But the capability requirements came first, and the numbers, as decisive as ever, still came very near the end of the process.

It is being widely stated that there will now ensue a very lengthy process before any money is spent, let alone any increased operational readiness or effectiveness. This might not necessarily be so.


The large question of German military industrial capacity and the ability to react to such increased demand may be an exaggerated concern. Current military production capacity in Germany is sufficient to enable them to be the number four ranked exporter of arms in the world, with 5.5% of the total of the international arms trade.[5]  Perhaps less of that might go to, for example, Egypt.  Perhaps the tank factory that Rheinmetall was, until 2019, planning to build in Turkey, might now be built at home.

The huge numbers which will catapult Germany to a defence budget of over 2% of GNP have not been unheard of in Germany: the German defence budget in 1980 was 3% of GNP; in 1992 it fell to below 2% and then fell further as the Cold War ended, and bottomed at 1.3%.  The German defence budget last year was 1.5% of GNP.[6]

The First Cold War Bundeswehr was organized into three army corps, each of four divisions, with 7000 armoured vehicles, 15 combat air squadrons with 1000 aircraft, and forty surface and sub-surface naval combat vessels. The personnel strength of the Bundeswehr in 1990 included 600,000 active duty personnel in regular units, with reserves of 1.3 million service men and women.  This was then nearly 50% of the total NATO personnel strength.[7] The active duty strength of the Bundeswehr today is 165,000; there are just over 100,000 reservists.


Germany is not alone in seeking a way forward in a world so abruptly and violently transformed. The process of achieving a structure for a new Cold War will not be so different from the previous one, nor will the structure itself be so different from the past.  What does need to be overcome will be the lingering effects of the too-hasty cashing in of the “peace dividend” of the previous century.  Sadly, we are not as far removed from those past threats as we had believed, the future has not yet ended, and it is once again regrettably true that the best way to keep the peace is to be prepared to defend it.


We are neither naïve nor inexperienced in these processes. We recognize that the finances often do come first, and the German government has certainly seized headlines at home and around the world with that 100-billion Euro tag line. But that is, we insist, not force structuring done properly.  We are already hearing of major equipment programmes, yet there has been no complete defense review in Germany since the end of the First Cold War, nearly 30 years ago. The conventional wisdom (that tired old oxymoron) notwithstanding, the progamme, not the financing, must come first.

The process must be an orderly one, a deliberate apportioning of resources to meet requirements, and not the reverse: a scramble for shares in an undefined pie.  That scramble, the all-too common way of getting it all wrong, is not the way ahead.


[1], by Andrew Coyne (accessed 19.03.2022)

[2] Nine nations have ordered, and six are “considering” placing orders for a total of over 3000 F35s, nearly two-thirds of which are for the U.S. Armed Forces.

[3],  16 March 2022, accessed 18.03,2022

[4] (accessed 20.03.2022)

[5], „Arms Exports – Country Rankings”(accessed 17.03.2022)

[6] See, „Deutsche Verteidigungs Ausgaben seit dem ende des kalten Krieges“; by Hubertus Bardt  (accessed 17.03.2022)

[7] (accessed 17.03.2022)

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