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Germany Red-Faced Over Military Equipment Failures

A Sea Lynx helicopter is pictured on a frigate in Eckernfoerde, Germany, in 2010.
Andreas Rentz
Getty Images
A Sea Lynx helicopter is pictured on a frigate in Eckernfoerde, Germany, in 2010.

Germany's defense minister warns that her country currently can't meet its long-term NATO commitments because of a widespread grounding of German military planes and helicopters.

"At the moment, we are below the target numbers announced a year ago on airborne systems we would want to make available to NATO within 180 days in cases of emergency," Ursula von der Leyen told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag over the weekend. "The reason is the delays in getting replacement parts" for planes and a recent grounding of German navy helicopters.

Scores of German military aircraft have been grounded, according to confidential reports recently leaked to the German media. Only 42 of 109 Eurofighters are considered airworthy, as are 38 of 89 Tornado fighters. Of Germany's C-160 military transport planes, only 24 of 43 are in service and a delivery of replacement Airbus transportation planes is behind schedule.

Reported tears in the tails of German Sea Lynx helicopters that are taking part of European Union anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa led to the grounding of 22 of those aircraft.

Over the weekend, a military transport plane bringing German equipment to western Africa to help in the fight against Ebola was stuck on Gran Canaria island because of a technical problem. The German defense ministry said Monday that the plane is still there awaiting repair.

The revelations have embarrassed the German government, after Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier assured the U.N. General Assembly over the weekend that Germany would take on a greater international security role

A growing number of German ruling coalition and opposition politicians are calling on Von der Leyen to spend more to fix the widespread problems. This year, Germany reduced defense spending by more than $1 million, to $41.3 billion, which is far below NATO's recommended level of 2 percent of the GDP.

"This is embarrassing for such a large country as Germany with such a big economy," former German armed forces chief of staff Harald Kujat told Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg radio.

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Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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