The lack of ammunition endangers the reorganization of the army. But the government seems haphazard and overwhelmed.

In the end, things turned out well: Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht made it to the Bundeswehr material warehouse in Simmern. Because of thick fog over the Hunsrück, she almost couldn’t land. But now she is on time. The warehouse looks like Ikea. The minister and her entourage look like dwarfs between the ceiling-high high shelves. Protective vests, winter jackets and combat helmets are inspected during the tour – they have just been delivered fresh.

As early as April, Lambrecht promised the troops better personal equipment. “Is it better than before?” the supreme commander wants to know from a soldier who is showing off the new gear. Answer: “One hundred percent.” The minister seems satisfied. “Great, then it just has to be quickly in the troops,” she says and knocks on a table. But now she is very “optimistic”.

Yes, the minister could use some optimism right now. She has an amazingly long-lasting anti-run. A year after taking office, the list of mishaps and gross mistakes is long. Ammunition procurement, the F-35 stealth bomber, the Patriot anti-aircraft systems, the supplies for Ukraine – there are problems everywhere. Even in the ranks of the traffic light coalition, doubts are growing as to whether the lawyer is even up to the job.

How chaotic things are in her shop was recently revealed when it came to ammunition. Experts suspect that the existing stocks will last a maximum of two days in an emergency. NATO states are supposed to keep ammunition for 30 days. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the Bundeswehr is handing over ammunition to Ukraine.

In the next defense budget, a little more than 1.1 billion euros are earmarked for the purchase. But that’s nowhere near enough to meet demand. In the Bendlerblock, it is estimated that the Bundeswehr lacks ammunition worth 20 billion euros. There are far more dramatic calculations. How could that happen?

Just last week, Lambrecht sent a letter to Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) asking for more funds to procure urgently needed ammunition. But instead of more money, a slap came. “I have to say that you did not express the need to procure ammunition mentioned here, either during the negotiation of the special fund and its economic plan or in the course of the parliamentary procedure,” replied Lindner’s State Secretary Steffen Saebisch. In plain language: the minister overslept the repeat order.

The Ministry of Defense does not want to let this accusation stand. It was “blatant nonsense,” said a spokesman that one had remained inactive. He pointed out that the budget for ammunition had already increased significantly. In addition, the ministry concluded 72 contracts with ammunition companies this year.

Nevertheless, it will probably take years to close the gaps in the stocks. In the SPD, the blame lies mainly with Lambrecht’s Union predecessors, but also with the armaments industry. You have not built up the necessary production capacities, criticized SPD leader Lars Klingbeil. Armaments representatives counter that the government has hardly ordered any ammunition and equipment, although the industry has made advance payments.

Above all, companies want planning security. This requires long-term framework agreements that go beyond the annual budget planning. Eva Högl sees it similarly. The military commissioner with party membership of the SPD believes that a multi-year plan coordinated with industry is necessary. Why isn’t this already available?

In Simmern there is no press office between unpleasant questions and the minister. Lambrecht stands alone in the middle of the shelves and says: “I can assure you that I would like to have more ammunition available, which I would also give to Ukraine in particular.” But there are budgetary constraints and their duty, the defense of the alliance and the country to guarantee.

At the end of February, three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fourth largest economy in the world reported for duty. At least that’s how international observers perceived the chancellor’s speech at the time, the 100 billion euro special fund, the promise to comply with NATO’s two percent target with immediate effect. But little has remained of the professed enthusiasm. The defense minister is happy to present warm socks. The hardware, on the other hand, looks bleak. It is also clear that the two percent target will not be reached for a long time.

One of the quieter members of the Bundestag is Roderich Kiesewetter from the CDU. Brutal criticism is not his thing, and so the former Bundeswehr officer, in an interview with FOCUS, first of all acknowledges the Union’s mistakes in relation to the desolate state of the troops: “My party has also contributed to this in the past.” But now “Minister Lambrecht is that Face of a very cumbersome system that has grown over a long time”. He accuses the ministry of “organizational fault”. Nobody feels responsible, nobody coordinates the eleven departments. This is probably one of the reasons why the Chancellery felt compelled to hold an armaments summit at the end of November.

For a long time, the ailing army was a reliably existing annoyance. If that’s the case, unfortunately there’s nothing you can do. Nobody thought about national defense. War in Europe? That was very far away. And nobody cared that American governments were putting pressure on them to comply with the armaments targets agreed upon in NATO. But this German apathy will no longer exist. Europe and NATO are looking at Berlin. Is the largest EU country revamping its armed forces? And does it support Ukraine in full force?

For a long time, Germany has tried to maintain close relations with Russia, even after the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. That is why the distrust in Eastern Europe is enormous. For a long time, Berlin resisted supporting Ukraine with heavy weapons. Finally, cheetahs and self-propelled howitzers were delivered, but they quickly ran out of ammunition. The Ukrainians fire around 6,000 shells a day – a tenth of the Russian firepower. But only 13,500 rounds of ammunition came from Germany. Somehow, the Ukrainian defenders used whatever material could fit through the howitzer’s barrel, even non-certified ammunition. The wear and tear of the device is therefore enormous.

“That was foreseeable,” says Kiesewetter and criticizes: “Instead of ordering 100 or 150 replacement pipes with the first delivery, it was obviously far too late and far too few were ordered.” And that with delivery times of more than a year. The whole ministry seems overwhelmed.

Kiesewetter sees the reluctance to place orders and modernize as a sabotage of the “Zeitwende” traffic light beacon project: “The fact that our strategic culture had to change was not recognized,” says Kiesewetter. The Chancellery is working on “Minsk 3”, i.e. on a negotiated peace and ceasefire with Russia, “without thinking about the consequences for Ukraine and Russia’s intentions”. But that’s exactly what Putin wants, the CDU politician suspects, in order to give his military a break and attack again later.

When Olaf Scholz announced the turning point, almost all observers assumed that Ukraine would fall quickly. It turned out differently. Some politicians in the traffic light coalition are also demanding that Germany, with its armaments industry, has to be prepared to continuously support Ukraine. “Ammunition planning is important for the Bundeswehr and Ukraine. I’m not sure that everyone in the ministry recognized that,” says Green defense politician Sara Nanni.

In August, she campaigned in a joint appeal with Alexander Müller (FDP) and Kristian Klinck (SPD) for Germany to supply Ukraine with more military equipment. The traffic light trio argued that the armaments industry had to be boosted in order to close gaps in stocks quickly.

Military experts have long been calling for a more strategically forward-looking policy in order to set up the Bundeswehr in a contemporary manner. But there is little sign of that at the moment. Instead, it seems as if Lambrecht is on sight when it comes to modernizing the troops. And thus from one breakdown to the next.

Next Wednesday the minister will face the next crucial test. Then the Budget Committee will decide whether Germany will buy F-35 stealth bombers from the US as planned. Recently there have been doubts as to whether the necessary conversion of the Büchel airfield will be completed in time. If all goes well, the first jets should be delivered in 2026. Today it seems unlikely that Christine Lambrecht will still be in office.