Peace Researcher on Secretary of Defense: “An Ejection Seat”

Peace researcher Michael Brzoska knows the pitfalls of Boris Pistorius’ difficult office.

A Puma armored personnel carrier drives across the muddy training ground during a combat demonstration

Christine Lambrecht has stopped the procurement of further Pumas for the time being – what is Boris Pistorius doing Photo: Philipp Schulze/dpa

Wochentaz: Mr. Brzoska, do you envy Boris Pistorius for his new job?

Michael Brzoska: no That’s an ejection seat and Mr. Pistorius will faced with major problems just like its predecessors, which can quickly bring him personal criticism. The solutions to this are not immediately obvious.

One of his tasks: to efficiently spend the 100 billion euros from the Bundeswehr special fund. You did some calculations in a studythat over 30 billion could trickle away if old mistakes are repeated. What does Pistorius have to do differently?

Firstly, many complex weapon systems with high technological demands were ordered in the past, which then did not work. The second is the question of who to order from. The largest manufacturers, who are often based in the USA, can produce cheaply because of the large quantities. On the other hand, if you only procure nationally and insist on exclusive systems, it will be expensive. However, these are not the only criteria. Especially in the current situation, it is also about how we can strengthen the European defense industry and whether we can rely on the USA in the long term.

Michael Brzoska is former director and senior fellow of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg.

So how you do it, you do it wrong.

You have to think about which criteria you prioritize. In my view, operational readiness and cost reduction should be paramount.

One project to be paid for from the special fund is Boeing’s Chinook transport helicopter. It seemed exemplary in that respect: not the newest model, but established, reliable and affordable. This week, however, came the message that the price could double – because the Ministry of Defense has registered special requests again. Did that surprise you?

This is basically the same old problem again. I would have thought that things would be different now and that you would take what is on the market. That’s actually what it says in all the papers from the ministry and the coalition.

Are there positive examples?

With the F 35 fighter jets, which also come from the USA, relatively few mistakes have been made so far.

In a draft resolution for the Bundestag, the ministry itself spoke of cost risks for the aircraft. Doesn’t that worry you?

In the past, the problem was often that only positive reports came from the Ministry of Defence, although internally they were already aware of the considerable risks. As a lesson from the past, potential problems are now identified in advance. This is a precautionary measure and from my point of view the points listed are all still within reason.

The US Air Force has technical problems with their F35

These are probably mostly teething troubles that are slowly being eliminated. With the alternatives – F 18 or Eurofighter – the cost-benefit ratio would be even more problematic. But yes, the F 35 is an extremely advanced system and technical problems cannot be ruled out. These could then only be solved by the Americans because they keep the construction plans secret and we cannot set up our own maintenance infrastructure. If the USA decides at some point that we Germans should no longer fly the F 35, we really have a problem.

Last was the Puma infantry fighting vehicle in the headlines due to new breakdowns. Christine Lambrecht has stopped the procurement of further Pumas for the time being. How should Boris Pistorius continue here?

The Puma is again such a highly developed but vulnerable system. It is indeed debatable whether one should increase stocks. The recent problems have turned out to be less serious. In terms of operational readiness and costs, however, the Puma is fundamentally not optimal.

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What would be the alternative?

For example, the less complex CV 90 armored personnel carrier is manufactured in Sweden. It would also have the advantage that it is more widespread in Europe than the Puma, which is so expensive that it has not yet found any buyers apart from the German armed forces. And then, under the Finnish leadership, a new family of armored vehicles is being developed under the name Famous, in which many European countries are involved. The operational readiness of the Bundeswehr also depends to a large extent on how well it can work together with other NATO armed forces on maintenance and the supply of spare parts. Consistency might be more valuable than super super skills.

The Bundeswehr and industry often counter-argument that one could lose the technical connection if one does not develop high-tech systems.

Of course, it’s always nice for industry to build technologically very sophisticated systems. In practice, however, this is not absolutely necessary. The Puma predecessor Marder is 50 years old and now all of a sudden it’s good enough for NATO missions.

On Sunday Pistorius travels to Paris. It will also deal with FCAS, a combat aircraft developed jointly with France. Cost-sharing without dependence on the US: a prime example?

Generally, yes. European cooperation should be expanded. However, one problem with FCAS is that although they are officially working on a joint project, each side is reporting complicated special requests. In fact, you end up with two different weapon systems again, inflated costs and technical problems. I would advise Mr Pistorius to say to the French: For us, operational capability and costs are the key criteria. We don’t come with any special things and neither should you.

Is that the only problem of this project?

There is one more thing: The principle of “juste retour” applies to such projects. For example, if Germany pays 40 percent of the total costs, 40 percent of the orders must go to German companies in return. It would be easier if you chose a general contractor instead, who could then award partial orders to the cheapest manufacturer.

Guess what the German armaments industry thinks of it?

The federal government would have to be ready to withstand the pressure from industry and wring compromises from it. But of course I also see a problem: it wouldn’t be ideal if the large corporations took all the orders and the medium-sized industry got nothing. In the end, there might only be one manufacturer left who can dictate the prices. Competition is definitely also a goal that has to be balanced with the other, overarching goals.

So far we have only talked about individual procurement projects, but not about structural problems in the federal government’s procurement system. Are they secondary?

I actually see the setting of priorities and the relationship with industry as the basic problems. These are both political issues that are not decided by the procurement bureaucracy. But there is certainly still considerable potential there. The award procedures could be further accelerated and subsequent cost increases could be minimized through better contracts. A law has been in place since last year that aims to reduce bureaucracy and limit the rights of unsuccessful companies to sue. However, it is worded relatively vaguely and it remains to be seen how the courts will interpret it.

Is only Germany wasting so much of its military spending or are there similar problems in other countries?

Many have this problem, starting with the Americans, who rely a lot more on high-tech than we do. There are more companies and capacities for high-tech projects there. But it’s not as if there weren’t escalating costs and torn schedules. In general, countries that buy off the shelf have the fewest problems. These are often small countries that have less money, which is why they do not make any special demands and do without the fact that a lot has to be manufactured in their own country.

Many fear that 100 billion special assets not enough, the military commissioner Eva Högl even thinks three times as necessary. And you?

I don’t have the details to give a definitive answer. I hardly see any nonsensical projects in the special fund’s business plan – with some cutbacks perhaps in the case of the navy, which was given a great deal of consideration. That surprised me, since tanks and air defense were needed for national and alliance defense. Also the procurement of ammunition will not be cheap. Funds from the regular defense budget are added to the special fund. The bottom line is that it seems to me that one should now work with these means.

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