Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Our increasingly imponderable security environment is unlikely to improve, even though we may find ourselves in a “new” normality once the waves of Covid-19 have abated. We should not run the risk of stumbling from a pandemic crisis to a security-policy crisis.

LtGen Alfons Mais has been the Chief of Staff, German Army, since February 2020. (Photo: Bundeswehr)

For Germany as a continental middle power, the land dimension will continue to be the decisive one. But the increasing interconnection of the land, sea, air, cyber, and space dimensions requires the Bundeswehr as a whole to be capable, in the future operating environment, of multinationally and multidimensionally conducting command and control in high-intensity combat operations.

Since the decisions taken at the 2016 Warsaw Summit, NATO has once again focused on the succinct formula: “Threat determines the requirements.” There is a lot of catching up to do in terms of operational readiness and the challenges that modern high-intensity warfare poses for organic major units. A balance must be achieved between the tasks of international crisis management (ICM) and those of national and collective defence.

Potential adversaries of the Alliance are once again named more clearly than before in strategic papers, not least because they are able to quickly leverage an intelligent transfer of available state-of-the-art technologies for military benefit, and to conduct hybrid destabilisation operations below formal conflict thresholds. They are on their way toward outmanoeuvring the modernisation efforts of European armed forces.

Military capability requirements are expressed in the targets that NATO sets for its member states. The NATO Defense Planning Process (NDPP) represents the means and the toolkit. This process is conducted at four-year intervals and, in consultation with the participating nations, determines the military capability targets on which the member states undertake to deliver.

The Bundeswehr capability profile translates this commitment into a national ambition. Even in times of Covid-19, the following must apply: Good planning must never be detached from the present situation, but the present situation must never be allowed to stand in the way of good planning. For this reason, let us now take a look ahead.

The Army in the Bundeswehr Capability Profile

From 1990, for a period of about 25 years, the Bundeswehr worked toward generating the peace dividend and thus contributed substantially to achieving the state objective of stable finances.

That led to a clear focus on stability operations within Armed Forces and Army planning.

The organisational efficiency of the Bundeswehr was prioritised over its overall military effectiveness pursuant to Article 87a of the German Basic Law. Smaller operational structures in the form of tailored-to-the-mission sub-contingents of the basic army organisation served as the benchmark for procuring equipment. In the context of a collective-defence scenario, however, combined arms operations require much more! They need integrated, fully manned, and equipped military structures in order to be available at short notice for various policy options. Land forces and thus the Army must prevail against an opponent who is skilled in employing both hybrid and highly lethal conventional means while flexibly leveraging his freedom of unilateral action.

Meeting of the North Atlantic Council (Photo: NATO)

The Bundeswehr capability profile kicked off a paradigm shift, recognised as long overdue, in terms of planning. The needs of the hour are to establish cohesive, structural operational readiness for Army major units and their enablers. We need to give them the capability to become effective over long distances in an employment area outside of Germany within the time frame (“notice to move”) stipulated by NATO and, furthermore, to ensure their logistic supportability and sustainability in a combat environment.

In the Bundeswehr capability profile, the contribution of the land forces is defined in terms of structure, not of capabilities. This first kick-off is thus of a quantitative rather than of a qualitative nature and aims to equip brigade-and-higher-strength units in a manner that is rapid and task-oriented and to reduce the modernisation backlog so as to once again enable combined arms operations. In short, the intent is to move away from simple cost efficiency and toward a type of military effectiveness that can safeguard the interests and security of the Federal Republic of Germany even in the face of recession and increasing tensions.

Cohesive, effective structures concern the land forces as a whole. In this context, the capability profile speaks in terms of integrated forces. The Integrated Force (Systemverbund Land), in addition to the Army brigades and divisions, includes all the support elements of other major organisational areas required for an operation.

Achievements of the Capability Profile to date

Over the past few years, the logic of the Bundeswehr capability profile has contributed substantially to promoting the paradigm shift represented by the Bundeswehr reorientation toward regarding ICM and national and collective defence as equally important. It defined the rationale and targets of the initiated realignment measures. The core business of the land forces – conventional combat operations, with military operations conducted by major units – has once again taken centre stage.

The following categories have been formulated anew as the measure of operational readiness: responsiveness, provision of personnel and training levels, equipment, logistic sustainability (especially in terms of ammunition), interoperable command-and-control capabilities, and the closing of capability gaps such as in the areas of air defence, joint fires, countermobility and mobility (bridge- and mine-laying capabilities). In order to progress as rapidly as possible on the long journey toward effectiveness in combat, the so-called “dynamic availability management” has been shelved. Even it was an artefact of the efficiency strategy thus far pursued and the guiding principle for the maintenance of the Army’s training and exercise capability, many of its tools currently still need to be used to compensate for a lack of materiel. The revitalisation of abandoned capabilities has been initiated: Extended all-arms air defence will give the Army brigades and divisions the means to defend against immediate airborne threats posed by micro and nano unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Army Plan, a strategic communication aid (Photo: Bundeswehr)

That is certainly a starting point from which to proceed to more technologically sophisticated solutions. The same holds true for reactivating equipment from old stocks, such as the mine layer 85, which will provide Army major units with quick, initially small-scale relief as regards the Army’s lack of countermobility capabilities until a future mine-laying system, enabling modern technological solutions, is introduced. Furthermore, the capability profile unambiguously illustrates the defence requirements needed to actually enable the Army, the land forces, to accomplish their core mission. These acknowledged Army requirements are documented in the ministerially approved Vorhabenplan Heer (Army Project Plan).

The Army Plan

The Army Plan comprehensively outlines the gradual yet parallel approach with which the Army intends to reach the capability profile it has been tasked with building. The Plan also serves as a strategic communication aid. It combines the quantitative and the qualitative components of Army planning. The upper “advance arrow” represents the gradual buildup of a mechanised division pledged to NATO by 2027. This division will dispose mostly of already available capabilities and known materiel, yet will, in the medium term, be the cornerstone with which responsive major units are kept ready for VJTF and NRI.

The lower “advance arrow” points toward the two follow-on divisions that in future are to put to integrative use technologies that exist but have not yet been tapped by the German armed forces. These cohesive major units, in particular, must be designed in such a way as to provide a plethora of new options to policy-makers in future conflict scenarios, both in a context of national/collective defence and of stability operations. But what are the capabilities that are required? The key to answering this essential question is conducting potential analysis for possible adversaries. Their future methods of conducting operations, their doctrinal approach, their tactics and technique, their existing capabilities, and extrapolated future capabilities, the requirements of the Alliance and our own ideas on future operations of the land forces are decisive in this context. In short: Both “quantity and quality” and “efficiency and effectiveness” must be optimised in the future divisions.

In the 2000s, the political and military focus on operations abroad in times of budgetary constraints made the industrial outsourcing of the previous decade along with a modularisation of brigade-and-higher-size units with a concomitant centralisation of support forces a practical solution. The disadvantage of this organisational principle is management of numerous inherent interfaces. This disadvantage remains manageable for a plannable, continuous provision of services and contingents – typical for the operations in Afghanistan, for instance. Under conditions of uncertainty and time pressure in a complex environment along with stringent demands in terms of responsiveness and swift manoeuvrability, the disadvantages of this concept become evident.

The German Army provides a robust and credible deterrence force for NATO (Photo: Bundeswehr)

Equipping the armed forces to be equally capable of conducting ICM and collective defence will therefore demand new solutions and long-term lines of development, which need to be drafted and debated. While ICM, based on the current organisational principle, can be continued effectively, the new world requires major units that can, on an ad-hoc basis, operate and fight (with a 9-to-180-day notice to move). Without a prior force generation, these units must be operationally effective immediately and organically dispose of all capabilities to rapidly deploy over long distances. With regard to national and collective defence, the “train as you fight” principle will be complemented by “organise as you want to operate.”

Commitment: An Adequate German Contribution to NATO

Based on the commitments that Germany has made repeatedly on a policy level since 2016, NATO expects an adequate German contribution to a credible collective defence. With its geographical position and its economic status, Germany as a continental middle power can make a substantial contribution using militarily relevant major units of the land forces that have the potential for relieving other partners particularly during the early stages of an Article 5 contingency along the eastern border of the Alliance. Along with providing an effective logistic hub in the centre of Europe, Germany will then become a “main contributor” in the event of a potential Article 5 contingency on NATO’s eastern flank. The major US-exercise EUROPEAN DEFENDER 2020, which unfortunately has just had to be discontinued, has shown once again: US reinforcements for air and naval operations in the Euro-Atlantic area are available significantly faster than US land forces. The European NATO members have use their own land force contributions to close this time gap.

The more options the German land forces provide for their political leaders, the more they can contribute to achieving the required deterrence effect on the eastern border of the Alliance and the more valuable Germany’s contribution to the Alliance will be in general – also with regard to cohesion.

Division 2027

The next planning step after VJTF 2023 is the buildup of Division 2027. If armament projects envisioned in the ministerially approved Army Project Plan for the Division – which come at a relatively moderate price and are effective when considered from all angles – are implemented, we can keep our commitments to NATO and make a contribution of great military value to the Alliance. The realisation of Division 2027, if implemented as planned and intended, and embedded at a still-to-be-planned corps level, indeed promises a significant improvement of European combat power on the continent. For the land forces, it represents the backbone which Germany as an enabling nation can provide to our European partners across the entire spectrum, from “deep” integration (with our NLD partners, for instance), to training, exercise, and equipment support (such as for Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Hungary). In this sense, the planned implementation of Division 2027 is a litmus test also in the eyes of our European partners. By today’s standards, it furthermore offers “the best bang for the buck” and is an investment that would cover many of the commitments pledged to NATO.

The Army in the Upcoming Capability Profile

Collective defence with phases of high-intensity combat against a peer or even partially superior adversary along the boundaries of the Alliance is the determinant for our planning considerations. The backlog – a natural result of an exclusive concentration on international crisis management – is enormous, as are the challenges the German Army faces. In the field of materiel and equipment, to highlight just one of the major challenges, the Army will have to manage parallel modernisation and procurement measures. Some big-ticket items are almost at the end of their life cycles while the corresponding successor systems have not yet reached full operational viability.

In future, procuring new and additional weapon systems instead of modernising them once again seems the more prudent approach. A numerical increase of major combat systems will increase, especially for complex systems, the availability of platforms at the soldiers’ level for purposes of training and exercising.

Personnel Ceilings

By restructuring its training, the Army intends to reallocate personnel in order to strengthen its logistic and command-and-control capabilities, which were deliberately undersized in the ARMY2011 structure. This follows the itinerary begun in the context of the Bundeswehr realignment measures in terms of personnel. The Army has already factored in potential personnel-efficient innovation gains. It will make maximum effective use of its assigned personnel ceiling of 60,787 active-duty billets (+20,000 reservists). Deficits will be counterbalanced exclusively by means of internal optimisation, because we have everything we need and we will be able to do what needs to be done.

Development of our Understanding of Warfare and Doctrine

The path toward Division 2027 is clearly described, but other important steps in the capability profile for the period after 2027 need to be refined and clarified. The Army Project Plan is approved and stakes out the path in terms of quantity. It already includes parts of the lower “advance arrow” of the Army Plan. The Army must now identify the qualitative requirements that need to be addressed from 2032 if we want to prevail against an adversary whose strength is at least equal to ours. For this purpose, the Army has begun to prepare operational guidelines for land forces which put more emphasis than before on known adversary doctrinal approach and methods, shortly, to the future face of war.

This will help to align capability development with actual operational demand, with a clear-cut overall operational concept. The purpose of targeted doctrine development is to set sustainable priorities. Budgetary constraints alone demand this.

Here is a rough outline of parts of this concept: The Digitalisation of Land-Based Operations (D-LBO) programme will enable us to operate with smaller command posts, accelerate decision-making cycles, implement the “sensor-to-shooter” concept, increase the range of reconnaissance and effects, and strengthen interoperability with our partners in general.
We will generally elaborate for more mobile and faster forces that are capable of more than just conventional manoeuvre warfare, and thus open up new options for the political level.


With regard to 2023 and 2027, it is possible to realise the Army Plan and simultaneously continue ongoing operations, standby commitments, and realistic training and exercises, if the ministerially approved Army Project Plan is implemented and backed with the necessary resources. Day-to-day operations will not be granted a reprieve.

Beyond VJTF 2023, the primary objective is to realise Division 2027, which will generate a high-value asset for NATO. Implementing the planned measures, for instance in the framework of the initial steps toward digitalisation, remains a necessity also after Covid-19, in order to adequately respond to the threat situation and to uphold cohesion within the Alliance.

In terms of what to implement for the 30s and 40s of this century, we still have some more time to deliberate. The Army will actively support and assist in shaping these deliberations.

Lieutenant General Alfons Mais is Chief of Staff, German Army.