Terras: Underfunding and lack of maintenance behind German weapons issues

German Panzerhaubitze 2000 armored personnel carriers.
German Panzerhaubitze 2000 armored personnel carriers. Source: SCANPIX / IMAGO / Sven Eckelkamp

Recent revelations regarding the poor state of the German Armed Forces' equipment are a result of long periods of underfunding, as well as the inherent difficulties in maintaining highly sophisticated weapons systems, says MEP and former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Riho Terras.

"A lot of the problems in Germany are still being caused by the fact that, for decades the Bundeswehr (German armed forces – ed.) has been underfunded and that life cycle maintenance, including the supplies of spare parts, has been very poor, or almost non-existent," Terras said on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" program on Wednesday.

"The Panzerhaubitze 2000 (self-propelled howitzer - ed.) has not been in very intensive use, and now, as a result, when suddenly the intensity of use has increased very significantly, most of them have broken down," he said.

According to the latest assessment by the German Federal Ministry of Defense, which was leaked to the media, two-thirds of Germany's most modern artillery equipment is unusable. The report highlights the German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers as being particularly problematic. Six out of the 14 sent to Ukraine had to first go to Lithuania for repairs, due to a lack of available spare parts.

In addition, due to issues with its Puma infantry fighting vehicles, the Bundeswehr has often been forced to instead rely its predecessor, the Marder, which was produced in the 1970s.

"There is nothing surprising about that. I'm not saying that the Panzerhaubitze 2000 is a bad weapon system, just that a complex weapon system requires more expensive and more regular maintenance. At the moment, I think that is the reason (for this)," Terras said.

"All these weapon systems issues are very much related to the fact that the German military industry has always excelled, that they try to be the most modern and most technologically sophisticated, the most cutting edge," Terras explained.

"If you compare the Panzerhaubitze 2000 with the K-9 (South Korean 155 mm self-propelled howitzer -ed.), it's just that one is a state-of-the-art, very sophisticated, weapon system full of electronics, and the other is built to be used by regular soldiers. It would perhaps be like comparing a Mercedes S-Class or even a Maybach to, say, a Hyundai or a Kia. Both do the job perfectly well. The driver understands that (in the case of the latter) the door may rattle a little more for example, but it still performs the same function. I think that's the kind of difference here," he said.

According to Terras, the situation is similar when it comes to the new Puma infantry fighting vehicle. "This is a €17 million state-of-the-art weapon system, which breaks down very easily," he said.

"Now, the situation is, that almost all the Pumas are out of service and serious thought is being given as to whether it is even possible to continue with this weapons system. 350 have been ordered, but only 150 are in operation. In fact, the Bundeswehr units are not currently combat-ready, because these weapons are not operational and do not work," Terras said.

Terras then compared the Puma to the CV90 combat vehicle, which is three times cheaper to produce. "Certainly, the difference in capability is much smaller, and most importantly, CV90s are relatively reliable and more than 1,200 of them have already been made," Terras said.

He also highlighted the drastic reduction in the size of the German Armed Forces over recent decades. "If you think about the size of the Bundeswehr, which, in 1995 comprised of thirty brigades, well, the commander of the German ground forces told me that today that his armored forces could all fit inside the Allianz Arena in Munich (football stadium - ed.) and there would still be room left over. So that's the reality of the situation," Terras said, pointing out the Bundeswehr now has just three brigades.

"Today, Germany has 100 tanks, which is still very few, and 300 Pumas, of which, as I said, only 150 are actually operational. Most of the heavy lifting in the German Bundeswehr today is done by the Marder infantry fighting vehicle, which first entered into service in 1971," he added.

"And when you consider, that there is a shortfall of around €20 billion in ammunition for the weapons, which are currently in service, we can only imagine what kind of a difficult state the Bundeswehr is in at the moment," Terras said.

Terras fears European split

Terras also pointed out, that Germany and France were starting to put pressure on Ukraine to negotiate with Russia, and that this could lead to a major divide in Europe.

"I don't think there is a clear understanding in Germany of what this war means for Europe. I think that if Germany and France were to force Ukraine to negotiate in a way that means Ukraine does not get its land back and Russia clearly does not lose this war, that could also lead to the disintegration of European unity," the MEP said.

"Very clearly, Estonia cannot support this kind of policy, and  certainly Poland and other countries cannot either. It will lead to a situation where maybe Germany will solve some of its economic problems for a while, but the whole European Union could also fall apart," he said.

"So, unfortunately, I'm not optimistic. I don't see countries like France and Germany significantly increasing their military capabilities in order to win this war," Terras said.

Terras also expressed fears, that during his visit to Washington in the coming days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may also be pressured by the US leadership to agree to open talks with Russia.

"I think he was invited to Washington precisely for this purpose, to make it clear to him that we will give you weapons, but now, let's start negotiating - we have to reach a common agreement with Putin. I suspect that's the way it is, and, if so, then it's very, very bad news. I think that we will hear about these developments over the coming weeks," Terras added.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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