The Minister of Defense is again under criticism. However, after turbulent days, her company rejects reports of a crisis in the procurement of stealth aircraft. In the crisis meeting, however, Lambrecht is said to have missed a crucial point.
On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed the federal government’s decision to buy new stealth jets in the United States, which will cost billions. “Germany is sticking to its commitment within the framework of the NATO agreements on nuclear sharing, including through the purchase of F-35 fighter jets with dual deployment capabilities,” writes the SPD politician in an article for the US medium “Foreign Affairs”. .
The aircraft are intended to replace the outdated fleet of Tornado fighter jets with which the Air Force has so far contributed to nuclear deterrence. After reports of new risks in the project, housekeepers from the traffic light coalition also discussed the project in a “crisis meeting” on Monday. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD), who has come under increasing criticism in recent days, also took part in the meeting.
As the “Bild” now reports, Lambrecht left the meeting at the crucial point, namely when it was about the F35 planes. The report does not explain why. As a result, the other participants would have tried to defuse the ambiguity. It is unclear whether Lambrecht may have taken a position before leaving the meeting.
She defended herself in a “Spiegel” interview on Monday and saw the responsibility for the poor equipment of the Bundeswehr in her predecessors, who most recently came from the Union. “What has been neglected over the years and decades, I can’t fix in one fell swoop,” she said. Specifically, Lambrecht complained that no ammunition had been purchased in recent years. She demanded from Scholz that he had to significantly increase the defense budget as early as 2024. “Believing that you can somehow get by with 50 billion euros will not work, and everyone is aware of that,” said Lambrecht.
The interview was given ahead of Monday’s deliberations. “We made it clear once again today that the F-35 is a top priority project and requires the Minister’s full attention. The F-35 is intended to ensure Germany’s nuclear participation. This shows that the aftermath of the tornado is a central defense policy project,” said FDP budget politician Karsten Klein (FDP) of the German Press Agency after the meeting. It is about significant investments of over 10 billion euros. “If the timeline is broken, there are significant follow-up costs for the further use of the tornado. This must be prevented,” said Klein. The Ministry of Defense must create all the prerequisites. This applies to the approval as well as to the structural facilities for operating the new machines.
The Department of Defense has contradicted reports of significant new risks. A spokesman in Berlin said the Budget Committee of the Bundestag was informed in a 25 million euro bill which aspects of the project were still unclear and how the consequences and the likelihood of problems should be mitigated. “There is no crisis. There is currently no problem in the planning, not even in the infrastructure,” said the spokesman. According to the submission to the committee, the project is “clearly on the right track” and “everything is green”.
The “Bild am Sonntag” reported at the weekend about a secret submission in which the Ministry of Defense warned of significant risks in the business, which could also affect the conversion of the airfield in Büchel (Rhineland-Palatinate) and the granting of national certification for the aircraft.
Germany has been involved in NATO’s nuclear deterrent for decades with its own fighter jets. They are stationed at the Büchel Air Base in the Rhineland-Palatinate Eifel region in order to deploy US nuclear bombs stored there in an emergency. This is called nuclear sharing. The Tornadoes currently intended for this purpose are now to be replaced by the more modern F-35 stealth jets, one of the Bundeswehr’s largest armament projects.
Most recently, there had been increased resentment about the slow start to the procurement of equipment and weapons, which nine months after the start of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine had not gotten off to a good enough start. Lambrecht is criticized for this. Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said on Monday when asked how satisfied the federal government was with the minister’s work: “The Federal Chancellor is satisfied with the work of all the ministers in this cabinet.”
So far, Scholz himself has not publicly indicated any dissatisfaction with Lambrecht. Last week he defended her after the difficulties in procuring ammunition for the Bundeswehr became known. Also, simply firing a cabinet member who has come under pressure would not suit him.
Instead, the chancellor is trying to compensate for deficits in the defense ministry by getting himself and his government headquarters more involved in defense policy – for example on the ammunition problem, about which there was a meeting at official level in the chancellery with the defense industry last week. Things could look different if Interior Minister Nancy Faeser opted for a top SPD candidate in Hesse, giving up her ministerial post and a cabinet reshuffle would be necessary anyway. That would be the chance to clear other construction sites at the same time.