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Ground Forces Of Germany

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Ground Forces Of Germany

Leopard II battle tank is pictured in action at the Oberlausitz training area in Weisskeissel. Source: Reuters

Written by Colonel V. Shestopalov, Doctor of Military Sciences, Associate Professor; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2021 #1, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

The Ground Forces (GF) of the Federal Republic of Germany play a crucial role in ensuring the military security of the country. According to the number of personnel (approximately 60 thousand people and about 16 thousand reservists of the assigned staff) they exceed the Air Force and Navy of the Bundeswehr by 2 and 3.5 times respectively, and in terms of their combat potential, they occupy a leading position among European member countries.

Ground Forces Of Germany

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Despite the reduction of the Bundeswehr’s GF combat formations since the end of the Cold War, it is believed that modern combined-arms formations are almost twice as capable as those of previous years.

According to the current doctrinal documents the GF of the country are designed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty, complete the tasks in the framework of collective defence alliance to address crises in the military contingents of NATO and the EU in various missions under the auspices of the UN, OSCE and other international organisations, as well as to assist national authorities and partners in the event of natural or technological disasters. They are capable of conducting ground, airmobile and airborne operations.

Organisationally, the GF include: the German headquarters components of the multinational Army Corps Rapid Deployment (ACRD) NATO – Dutch-German, German-Danish-Polish and the “Euro-Corps”; five operational groups (OG) in the headquarters of the other ACRD NATO (British, French, Spanish, Italian and Turkish); German components of the German-Dutch division of rapid response (RR) and the Franco-German brigade mechanised infantry, two armoured divisions; the agency for development of the land forces; command of the combat training of the GF.

The ground forces are armed with (taking into account the weapons and military equipment located in warehouses) about 800 combat tanks, more than 1,500 weapons and military equipment, up to 400 field artillery, MLRS and mortars, 200 army aviation helicopters including 160 attack helicopters.

The current structure of GF compounds is shaped by the views on their application. Thus, the main purpose of the 1st Armoured Division is to conduct combat operations on flat terrain, 10 tank divisions, mountain and RR divisions – to conduct mobile operations in cooperation with airborne and airmobile units. In this regard, the organisational structure of the same type of military formations may differ depending on which unit they are part of.

The main tactical units of the German ground forces are battalions, divisions companies of airborne regiments and the command of special forces (SF).

A tank battalion consists of three or four tank companies, heavy weapons, supplies and support. It is armed with 44 or 58 main battle tanks (MBT) of the Leopard-2 series. The heavy weapons company consists of five platoons: anti-tank (on the Wiesel-1 armoured personnel carrier), fire support, grenade launcher, reconnaissance and mortar. The mountain tank division is armed with 40 MBTs. Each division has a heavy weapons platoon, consisting of a command and three groups (two anti-tank and one grenade launcher).

The motorised infantry battalion consists of three motorised infantry companies of 14 infantry fighting vehicles each, a supply and support company. The motorised infantry company consists of three motorised infantry platoons, each with 4 Marder or Puma infantry fighting vehicles, three combat groups of 9 soldiers each, and a control group. The motorised infantry also has a separate sniper group.

An infantry battalion consists of three companies: two infantry and one reconnaissance. The artillery division consists of four fire batteries: two self-propelled guns, MLRS and towed artillery, artillery support, supply and maintenance batteries.

Airborne regiments include companies – five paratroopers, heavy weapons (six platoons each), as well as supply and support.

The SF Command is organisationally part of the RR division and is intended for conducting military intelligence and conducting special operations behind enemy lines. It consists of: headquarters and supply companies, four SF, deep reconnaissance and a communications company. SF and deep reconnaissance companies number up to 100 soldiers and consist of six platoons.

The general management of the land forces is carried out by the Inspector (commander) of the GF through the main command of the GF.

The Main Command of the Ground Forces (MC GF) is the main body of the military administration of the Inspector of the Ground Forces, the highest command structure over all combat units, as well as the direct link of this type of Armed Forces with the German Ministry of Defence.

The main tasks of the MC GF are:

  • preparation and coordination of plans for the development of formations in accordance with existing doctrinal documents and allied obligations within the framework of NATO and the EU;
  • planning and management of operational and combat training of GF formations (units, subunits);
  • assessment of the compliance of the organisational structure of the units (parts, divisions) of the GF with the tasks assigned to them, development of proposals for its improvements;
  • implementation of recruitment and personnel policy;
  • cooperation with the combined support forces and the central health service of the German Armed Forces in the organisation of logistics and repair weapons and military equipment, the medical and sanitary support of the Army’s formations;
  • organisation and control of the execution by subordinate management bodies and military units of directives, orders, orders and instructions of the Minister of Defence, the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, the Inspector of the GF.

Organisationally, the MC GF includes: the headquarters, the group of the legal adviser, the press and information centre, and two departments – general tasks and control.

The headquarters of the MC GF consists of five departments – Operational Application, Planning, Personnel, Quartering and Combat Training, Support and Logistics, as well as Reform.

The Directorate of Operational Application is responsible for determining the composition and training of troops for operations, developing the necessary policy documents for the organisation of management and the performance of combat tasks by units and subunits.

The Planning Office develops the conceptual basis of application, identifies needs in their vehicle of weapons and military equipment and material means for the short and medium term, prepares proposals in the draft military budget in respect of the GF, and engaged in the organisation of command and control (military formations) and implementation of international cooperation in the framework of its competence.

The Department of Personnel, Quartering and Combat Training is responsible for the implementation of personnel policy, recruitment, placement of units and divisions, taking into account the existing infrastructure, organisation and conduct of operational and combat training of troops.

The Support Management and Logistics develops basics for the application of types of support, organises and monitors the execution of support, logistics and military medical support tasks for army units (through interaction with the International Maritime Satellite Communications Centre), and manages tasks of a military-administrative nature.

The Reform Department develops recommendations and plans for improving the organisational structure, as well as supports and monitors the implementation of programmes for the modernisation of the military-industrial complex.

The departments of general tasks and control solve the tasks of ensuring the daily activities of the headquarters of the MC GF and its employees.

A group of legal advisers is responsible for compliance with the existing legislation of orders and instructions of the GF Inspector for the organisation of the troops and compliance with financial and material support personnel.

The Press and Information Centre interacts with the mass media, media organisations and the public of issues covering the activities of the GF, is responsible for conducting propaganda work to attract young people to the military service.

The total number of full-time staff of the MC GF is about 600 people (military and civilian personnel).

The Command of Combat Training (CCT) of the ground forces manages all military educational instructions and training centres for specialists of the army. The CCT consists of: officer and non-commissioned officer schools, centres for training for participation in UN operations, operational training, combat training, academic training, special operations training, seven – training branches of the armed forces (infantry, mountain infantry, engineering – sapper, artillery, army aviation, aviation support, technical), as well as two training battalions for training candidates for non-commissioned officers-field officers.

The CCT of the GF has the following tasks:

  • development and testing of concepts for the combat use of formations, units and subunits;
  • clarification of existing and development of new draft statutes, manuals, guidelines;
  • generalisation of the experience of the combat use of national and coalition military formations in modern conflicts, informing the leadership and command staff about the armed forces of foreign countries;
  • planning, development of training programmes for operational and combat training, assistance in the training of units, subunits, and military specialists;
  • planning and organisation of material-technical and medical-sanitary support of the GF in cooperation with the MC GF, the combined support forces and the International Maritime Satellite Communications Centre;
  • coordination of international military cooperation on the standardisation of the processes of preparation and conduct of operations by multinational interspecific groups of troops (forces).

The Department of Ground Forces Development is responsible for the practical implementation of the programmes and plans for the reform of the Armed Forces. In cooperation with the Commander-in-Chief and CCT, it solves the tasks of improving the organisational structure, equipping the GF formations with modern prototypes of weapons and military equipment.

The development of the land forces is carried out in accordance with the revised approaches to the construction and training of the Armed Forces of Germany, set out in the recent doctrinal documents “White Paper on Security Policy and the Prospects for the Development of the Bundeswehr” of 2016, the “Concept of the Bundeswehr” of 2018 and the “Directive on the Development Possibilities of the Bundeswehr” of the same year.

The White Paper, based on an assessment of the military and political situation, defines the goals of ensuring national security, the Concept considers the strategic goals and tasks to be solved for the renewal of the Bundeswehr, the Directive specifies the tasks and sets deadlines for their implementation, while the latter document is closed and its content is disclosed only in general terms.

A serious long-term modernisation of all branches of the German Armed Forces, including the Ground Forces, is expected. The Bundeswehr renewal plan provides for three target dates, 2023, 2027 and 2031, to assess the compliance of the ongoing reform with the goals and objectives of national security and, if necessary, timely adjustments to the planned measures.

In the long-term, the ground forces will remain the most numerous branch of the German Armed Forces, which is assigned the key tasks of fulfilling Germany’s obligations to its NATO and European Union allies. However, the military command of the Bundeswehr constantly speaks about their insufficient staffing.

In its opinion, with such a numerical composition, the German Army is capable of conducting both separate peacekeeping operations and localising low-intensity conflicts, but it can only counteract a well-armed enemy as part of a NATO coalition group.

In this regard, the objectives are to gradually increase the number of military personnel (expected to reach 66 thousand people), to restore the prestige of military service and to increase the level of combat training of military personnel.

Presently, almost 10 per cent of contract vacancies are open in the Army. Regular units, according to national legislation, do not participate in combat operations abroad and have almost no such experience, but are periodically involved in various missions under NATO’s auspices.

So, at the beginning of 2020, about 2 thousand soldiers of the Bundeswehr from units of the airborne brigade and helicopter regiments took part in the UN mission in Mali, the operations of the multinational forces in Kosovo “Joint Enterprise”, the NATO mission “Resolute Support” in Afghanistan, the international training coordination centre near the Bnaslawa (Erbil, Iraq) settlement in the framework of the operation of the international coalition led by the United States against ISIS (banned in Russia), as well as in the events of the enhanced forward presence in Poland and the Baltic states.

It is expected that in the near future the reform of the ground forces will be carried out taking into account the assessment of the combat potential of the likely enemy, which, unfortunately, is officially considered the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

In this regard, the military and political leadership of the Federal Republic of Germany has set the task of reviving the training of ground troops to conduct classical forms of ground operations and increasing the ability of combined-arms formations to perform tasks to prevent conflict, resolve crisis situations and stabilise the situation, including in remote areas.

Germany will retain the status of a “framework state” that ensures the creation of coalition groups of troops (forces). Berlin has committed itself to the periodic management of the training and recruitment of formations intended to be allocated to the NATO standby forces.

In particular, in 2019, the Bundeswehr allocated: consolidated – GF tank division of Germany, the motorised infantry of the Netherlands GF, the motorised infantry of Norway, the infantry of the GF of France, as well as multinational formations under German leadership: battalions – intelligence, engineering-sapper, logistics, medical-sanitary, artillery division, military police and nuclear, chemical and biological protection; missile battery of the Czech Armed Forces; separate companies from the Bundeswehr – communications, medical-sanitary, operational propaganda.

It is planned to increase the activities of operational and combat training of the GF of Germany, aimed at the development of the formation of the coalition military forces on the basis of or with the assistance of the German component of the multi-national headquarters ACRD NATO and German component of the German-Dutch RR division and the Franco-German motorised infantry brigade.

At the same time, the main efforts during the SSB of the headquarters of the German-Dutch ACRD will be focused on improving its functional capabilities as a command body for the Alliance’s priority engagement forces.

The plans for the reform of the German GF provide for the formation of a German-Dutch panzer division with a total number of 23 thousand people on the basis of the 1st Tank Division and equipping it with modern models of equipment and weapons. As conceived by the military authorities of Germany and the Netherlands, the new division will increase the effectiveness of combat operations as part of a coalition of groups of troops (forces) in the “collective defence”, as well as quickly solve problems in the interest of crisis management.

Based on the analysis of the possibilities of a potential enemy (defined according to the views of the Bundeswehr and NATO), as well as the Army’s GF’s future employment framework, a number of measures are outlined to address the identified “gaps” and build up the Army’s combat capabilities.

They provide for:

  • restoring the former ability of the GF to deliver massive rocket and artillery strikes, significantly increasing the depth of damage;
  • re-creation of military air defence as an independent branch of the Armed Forces to cover military facilities in the near and middle zone in the conditions of mass use by the enemy of reconnaissance and strike UAVs;
  • ensuring reliable security and survivability of the air defence system from enemy fire while simultaneously increasing the strike and firepower of motorised infantry and tank units;
  • improvement of the technical protection of troops in cyberspace, development of electronic warfare, as well as equipping the GF formations with new models of military equipment integrated into a single intelligence and information space;
  • improving the effectiveness of army aviation through the creation of an Army Aviation (AA) command, which will ensure the centralisation of the control and use of combat transport and auxiliary helicopters in military operations and in ensuring the action of SF units.

The German military leadership pays great attention to equipping the GF with new models of military equipment. According to Bundeswehr military experts, it is believed that there is currently no time or technical groundwork to develop a fundamentally new next-generation battle tank. Therefore, a large-scale modernisation is planned of the outdated modifications of the Leopard tanks to the 2A7V version. The Franco-German company KMW+Nexter Defence Systems (Krauss-Maffei Wegmann) has been assigned to carry out the work.

The project provides for the installation of a modern complex of electronic equipment on the MBT, including new thermal and optical sights, surveillance devices. The resource of the 120 mm L55 A1 smoothbore gun is planned to be increased to 150 rounds, while the ammunition will include new sub-caliber shells with increased power, and high-explosive fragmentation with a programmable fuse.

It is planned to increase the survivability of the tank by strengthening the mine protection of the bottom, installing an automatic fire extinguishing system, using a special multi-spectral “Saab Barracuda” camouflage coating (Switzerland).

Tanks that are in service with the Bundeswehr (including those stored in warehouses), as well as those previously sold (transferred) to partner countries, will undergo modernisation. KMW has already bought 68 Leopard 2A4 tanks from Sweden and received another 16 Leopard 2A7 NDL tanks free of charge from the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The arrival of the first updated Leopard 2A7V tanks in the German Army began at the end of 2018, and it is planned to deliver up to 160 upgraded tanks by 2030.

Work is underway to adjust the programmes within the framework of the European partnership and to select promising basic models of armoured combat vehicles. There are no plans to develop ground-breaking new vehicles, but rather to modernise the machines already in production – the Puma MBP (all Marder BMPs are planned to be withdrawn from combat service), the Boxer and Fuchs BTRs, the Fennek BRMs. Currently, work is being carried out to improve the characteristics of these AFV prototypes based on the experience of their combat use in Afghanistan.

The increase in the firepower of the ground forces is planned to be achieved by increasing the number (to about 100 units by 2025) and upgrading modern self-propelled PzH-2000 artillery. All of them will receive improved 155 mm L/52 guns manufactured by Rheinmetall, providing a firing range of up to 40 km.

The artillery units will receive new Mars-2 systems (up to 40 units), equipped with a new fire control system, an improved transport-loading mechanism, and other equipment that will increase the firing range from 75 to 85 km and reduce the maximum circular deviation to 10 m, instead of the first-issue Mars MLRS (planned for storage).

At the same time, a programme to procure reconnaissance UAVs for the GF to carry out tasks at a depth of 1 to 100 km. In addition, the possibility of adopting the PD-100 Black Hornet helicopter-type micro-drone produced by the Norwegian company Prox Dynamics AS used by the special forces is being studied. This device can fly for 25 minutes at a distance of up to 1,500 m from the control point and at an altitude of about 1,000 m.

Various options are being considered for creating a military air defence system to cover military formations and control bodies of the GF in the places of their concentration (deployment), on the march and during combat operations. The Bundeswehr command sees the solution to the problem in the extension of the service life of the Roland anti-aircraft missile systems and the Cheetah anti-aircraft artillery systems, the planned replacement of the outdated Asrad and Mantis air defence systems with new systems of their own or joint production with European countries.

The German Ministry of Defence believes that the ground forces already need to form at least three additional short- and medium-range air defence divisions, and by 2030 it may be necessary to complete another five to seven such divisions. To reduce material costs and accelerate the development and production of new air defence systems, the creation of a military air defence system, it is planned to use the cooperation established in this area with Norwegian companies and the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands.

The engineering units will receive new ones based on the Leopard 2A4 tank (weight 63 tons, maximum speed of up to 70 km/h) instead of the outdated Bieber tank bridge-laying machines. The capabilities of the new vehicle (the length of the Leguan retractable bridge in the single-lane version is 26 m, in the two-lane version, 14 m) allow it to be used for crossing small water obstacles with Leopard 2A7 tanks.

The plans provide for the supply of new armoured vehicles of various capacities for the needs of the ground forces. It is expected to purchase trucks up to 2-5 t (Unimog U 500 and Zetros), 15 t (Iveco in various versions, including container ships), and truck tractors with semi-truck and/or trailer towing and payload of up to 25 tons.

The financing of the planned activities for the reform of the GF remains one of the problematic issues. At the same time, in 2017-2019, the German defence budget increased by approximately 3.5-5.5 billion euros. The goal is to increase military spending from 1.5 to 2% of the GDP by 2030, and to allocate 130 billion euros for the purchase of weapons in the period from 2017 to 2030, with the possibility of additional allocation of funds under favourable conditions for economic development.

Thus, the measures envisaged in the German GF modernisation plans have been modified to take into account the current situation in the world. Their goal is to increase the effectiveness of conducting combined-arms formations and units of combat operations as part of the coalition groups of troops (forces) within the framework of “collective defence”, as well as to perform tasks in the interests of crisis settlement, including in remote territories.


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