Poor German Weapons Quality is Failing Ukraine – Just Like it Failed Turkey

The German defence sector has gone to considerable lengths to gain a greater market share internationally and compete with entrenched industry leaders such as the United States and Russia, albeit often with questionable success. Questions regarding the quality of German armaments have been raised repeatedly with the performances of several kinds of systems cited as examples. Most recently, German media outlet Der Spiegel reported on July 29 that Panzerhaubitze 2000 self propelled artillery guns, widely touted by Western sources as the most capable in the world, were showing significant signs of “wear and tear” after just a month in service – with the guns only having been delivered and the end of June. This has resulted in guns breaking down, forcing Ukraine to rely more on its artillery acquired from other sources. It has been fortunate for the Ukrainian Army, however, that the artillery pieces have not been widely deployed with non-German systems, most notably those from the United States and Soviet Union, forming the bulk of its units. A further issue with the Panzerhaubitze 2000 has been its poor compatibility with ammunition from other NATO member states despite a strong emphasis in the alliance on interoperability. German Gepard anti-aircraft tank donated to Ukraine have also suffered from compatibility issues with ammunition from other NATO members.

The serious underperformance of the Panzerhaubitze 2000 is far from unprecedented, with Germany’s other leading land warfare system the Leopard 2 tank similarly performing very poorly  when deployed by the Turkish Army against Islamist and Turkish insurgents in both Iraq and Syria. British media outlets reported that the tank showed “numerous faults exposed in lethal fashion,” with Stars and Stripes assessing that the tank’s reputation “has taken a pounding in battles with Islamic State militants.” The National Interest highlighted that its combat performance “shockingly illustrated” that they were “not so good armour after all.” Turkish military leaders described their Leopard 2 units’ early engagements with Islamic State militants as “trauma” due to the extent of the losses suffered, with the performances of tanks widely claimed to be the most capable in the Western world against lightly armed non-state forces again raising serious questions regarding the quality of German armaments in general.

With Germany in June unveiling the first post-1990s Western tank design, the Panther, and its defence sector apparently seeking to capitalise on the Russian-Ukrainian War and surges in defence spending across the continent to increase its output, the performances of its armaments in actual combat could be a serious impediment to such ambitions. A notable early sign of this may well be the decision of the Polish Defence Ministry not to acquire more Leopard 2 tanks, or to invest in the Panzerhaubitze 2000, and to instead acquire their South Korean competitors the K2 tank and K9 howitzer both of which are near unanimously considered to be far more capable and reliable.