Germany to modernise outdated armed forces

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The German government unveiled a major Euros 26 billion defence savings package yesterday as part of plans to modernise the country's outdated armed forces to meet the demands of global peacekeeping and fighting international terrroism.

Under the scheme, the German armed forces will lose 32,000 of its 282,000 troops and more than 100 of its 500 plus domestic bases will be closed over the next eight years. The army will also axe plans to upgrade its existing "Patriot" missile defence systems.

Announcing the measures, Defence Minister Peter Struck said : "The new course is designed to meet future probabilities. Servicemen will be sent abroad to solve regional conflicts and fight international terrorism. The German armed forces' area of deployment is the whole world.Ó

Mr Stuck said that despite the cuts, Germany would abide by its commitment to purchase 180 Eurofighter aircraft and its plans to develop the Airbus A400 M military transport plane with its European Union partners.

The package is part of the German government's programme to radically reform its armed forces to meet the strategic changes that have evolved since the collapse of Communism.

During the Cold War the German armed forces were designed almost wholly to guard against the threat of invasion from the East Bloc. They have remained largely ill equipped, undertrained and too overmanned to meet the demands of the post-Communist world.

Mr Struck said the reforms would include a complete restructuring of the German armed forces into fighting units designed for rapid deployment, stabilisation forces which would be sent as a second wave into areas such as Afghanistan and the Balkans and support forces whose job it would be to back up and supply troops abroad.

The government is also under strong pressure from its Green coalition partners to end military conscription under which recruits currently serve a mandatory nine months in the armed forces. Mr Struck said yesterday that the government had kept open its options on abandoning the practice after German elections in 2006.

Angelica Beer, the Greens party leader and the main advocate of ending conscription welcomed the reforms yesterday: "Mr Struck is doing what we have been asking for for years," she said, " Conscription will end. We hope to reach a decision on this issue before the end of the year," she added.