German minister rubbishes claims that €1.5 bn of military radio systems are lying unused

Despite the latest reports, Mr Pistorius is currently polling as Germany’s most popular politician
Despite the latest reports, Mr Pistorius is currently polling as Germany’s most popular politician - Toms Kalnins/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Germany’s defence minister has dismissed reports that a billion-euro purchase of radio systems has flopped because of technical issues, saying that “nothing is rotting” or “gathering dust”.

Boris Pistorius conceded on Tuesday that a major order of digital radios for German military vehicles still hadn’t been installed but rubbished allegations of a procurement disaster at the ministry.

“Yes, there has been a delay but it is nothing that has even remotely put the acquisition itself in question,” Mr Pistorius said, while on a trip to Latvia.

“Absolutely nothing is rotting, nothing is gathering dust,” he added, saying that he had been left “surprised” by reporting on the issue.

His remarks came after Germany’s Die Welt newspaper reported at the weekend on an alleged “armaments disaster” within the defence ministry, claiming that initial supplies of a €1.5 billion purchase of radios bought from Rohde & Schwarz were currently lying unused.

The report said that the units’ batteries were too weak and claimed there had been issues with fitting the equipment.

The communications systems were eventually supposed to be installed in 34,000 German army vehicles, including its tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as Berlin seeks to lift its military communications out of the analogue age.

Major Nato allies have long since made the switch to digital radio systems, which can be encrypted, making them harder to spy on.

Delays cost predecessor her job

Germany had hoped to have the new systems ready by the time it provides 35,000 troops to Nato’s high readiness force in 2025.

Compounding the sense of chaos, a classified document leaked to German media on Tuesday appeared to confirm that nobody at the ministry had considered the possibility that installation of the radios might pose an issue.

The document admitted to “underestimating the complexity” of installation and conceded that problems had “not been adequately recognised in the original planning”, citing the need for “significant technical interventions in individual systems”.

Chronic delays in spending a special €100 billion military budget, announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cost Mr Pistorius’s predecessor her job.

Christine Lambrecht resigned in January this year, claiming that constant media scrutiny was distracting her from the work of modernising the country’s military.

Germany’s opposition had called for Ms Lambrecht to step down, saying that she was “out of her depth” in the role.

Critics questioned why she had proved unable to order new munitions for the Bundeswehr’s depleted arsenals by the end of last year and accused her of failing to improve the military’s ill-equipped armed forces.

The latest scandal involving the ministry comes as Mr Pistorius, a no-nonsense former state interior minister, is polling as Germany’s most popular politician by some distance, amid widespread dissatisfaction with Mr Scholz’s coalition government.