Recruitment and retention in the Bundeswehr

There has been a lot of dissent to and even protest against the personnel policies of the Bundeswehr. The recruitment appears to aim at young people who don't want to leave their comfort zone and don't want any martial-ish job. Retention policies appear to focus on on-base luxuries in the era von der Leyen (=minister of defence) while lots and lots of problems that are most detrimental for retention are unsolved.
And then there's the issue that "retention" is almost a misnomer in regard to the Bundeswehr; the career models are still mostly about young people joining as "Soldat auf Zeit" (soldier for a fixed time period), with NCOs and officers maybe becoming career soldiers until retirement afterwards.

Here are my thoughts on the personnel system. I held them (mostly) back for a really, really long time because I actually haven't  had an insider experience in a long time.

In general:
Recruitment for air force and navy security unit personnel and army should be through a militia-ish system. Every German gets the invitation to join the militia for half a year and earn a really good pay there (easily squeezed between school and university, or a temporary gap filler after job training when the employer didn't keep the trainee employed). These six months would give a general military education and basic infantry skills to everyone. This pool of trained reservists would greatly accelerate a military expansion if there's a two-year arms race or even a war in the future. The training would be designed to be militarily worthwhile and individually attractive. It would typically begin in summertime a month after the end of the school year, and end early enough to allow them to join university at the following summer semester with a vacation before and after the militia service.
Some of those who do this would volunteer for another short period for reserve NCO training while others would join the regular army (which then doesn't need to bother with basic training and automatically has an "everyone a rifleman" ethos).
The recruitment for this militia should follow the "masculine" attraction of the job; it's better for their recruitment videos to show stuff blowing up and camouflaged bivouacs in snowy woodland than a daycare centre on the base.

The number one priority should be that the armed services are fit enough that their personnel is proud to serve in them.
Soldiers should not serve on a base where almost nothing is newer than their own age. No cheating about readiness - be ready! De facto 100% of nominal equipment strength should be achieved and maintained. Obsolete equipment is tolerable only for an at most three years long period when the successor hardware gets phased in. Red tape needs to be limited, and superiors who obsess about protecting themselves from consequences of mishaps need to be removed. Officers and NCOs who were promoted beyond their ability need to be demoted. Disaffected personnel that really wants out should be allowed to leave (with some financial disadvantages).

Recruitment for medical services should be cut severely. The military should not have any physicians other than general practitioners and surgeons with focus on trauma patients. The military could use conscription to get other needed specialists in times of war.

Job security after the military service is important; so far you better jump the ship soon enough, or you might end up being unemployed without a decent pension later in your life. So anyone who leaves the armed services after 20 years of service should have a job guarantee with at least 90% of the last military service monthly income in the civilian bureaucracy.

Some physically demanding jobs should be done at age 20-35, and the limits of acceptable ages are 18-38 for these jobs. These physically demanding jobs (infantry, scouts, many engineer jobs) make up less than one quarter of all army personnel, and likely less than half of the army personnel ever had or will have the physique potential to be good at those jobs for several years.
I would thus divide the army into those who have a career involving such physically demanding jobs and those who go through the others (office jobs, mechanics, drivers and so on). The former should stay in the physically demanding jobs (and militia leadership positions) till age 35 or till they really, really want a more comfortable assignment at least for a while. The more of these are in "cushy" jobs at age 24-38, the more internal reserves the army will have for the demanding jobs. The more of them are in "cushy" jobs at age 39-50 the more of an internal trainer reserve for basic and militia training the army will have. These men (yes, "men") would help to make non-combat, non-scout units more robust in combat situations.

The other (bigger) share of army personnel could be hired approximately the conventional way; the prospect of getting a not too stressful job and possibly some training such as mechanic, paramedic or electrician (or a qualification to join a civilian bureaucracy afterwards) would serve as effective incentives. Decent pay, not too many relocations to different bases, not too many off-base courses away from family, climate-controlled office spaces and driver cabs et cetera can make such jobs an attractive career option till retirement. That is, if one gets away from the "soldier for a few years" model and also makes the hierarchy less depressing for the lower ranks (it sucks if 90+% of the troops at your base are authorised to give you orders).

I'm not in favour of the continued existence of the German navy, but I won't have it my way, so here are my 2 Euro cents for personnel affairs of a not-disbanded German navy:
The pre-1900 recruitment appeal of the navy was enormous; join the navy and you'll see the world. Nowadays we can do so by flying, but hardly anyone can afford to travel past the Mediterranean before age 25. So let's exploit this for recruitment.
Build two dedicated training ships (NOT a refurbished sailing vessel!) with good accommodations (compact, but well-designed cabins), training facilities including a movie theatre and a gym. These two ships could cruise once around the world per year, completing the training from basic to sonar operator/administrator/cook/whatever in one year. Dozens of ports all around the world would be visited with long port call periods where the trainees could leave the ship for the evening or for several days.
That should do the trick of recruiting if combined with a four year total voluntary service. There will then be the need to achieve good retention rates with those troops who served well and showed potential.  This should be achieved by a combination of good pay, motivating service and concentration of the whole navy in  one Baltic Sea port (warships and boats could cruise to some saltwater port as a temporary base for saltwater training - the difference does matter for mine countermeasures and ASW).
Warships should be operated by 'seamen for life'; men and women who intend to and usually do serve on board of ships till age 50 if not beyond. Personnel turnover per year should be much less than 10% per year on a warship. Smaller units such as minehunters could be used for the start of a career at sea (to identify those suitable for a 'seaman for life' career), and the rather uncomfortable submarines could have the conventional personnel rotation.

Warships (other than training ships) should never be sent farther than Arctic and Mediterranean waters, and crews should be rotated every couple weeks between sister ships if there's a multi-month mission for a warship in the Mediterranean.

Air force:
Just about every air force world-wide has a reputation for a relatively comfortable service, save for the quasi-infantry security units.
The air force can thus do its recruitment and retention approximately as done or mentioned before. It has no special attraction other than the very small quantity of pilot jobs. Aircraft mechanics are special in my opinion; aircraft mechanic should be a job for life, with retirement at about age 60. The security units could recruit through the militia and rotate personnel with air defence batteries.*

The air force is a branch where attractive barracks features (yes, including daycare, but also a free gym), good pay, pride in functional and purposeful units and a decent work experience (no harassment, no feeling of being at the bottom of the barrel as enlisted personnel) could be the pillars for recruitment (partially through word of mouth) and retention. Over 90% of air force jobs could be done by women at age 50, so there's no need for a particularly young personnel force. A career at the air force could and should typically be a career for age 18-60.

- - - - -

The lack of details and detailed accusations and ranting about specific problems betrays my lack of detailed knowledge of post-2000 Bundeswehr personnel affairs.
This was thus rather an appeal to look at not utterly conventional approaches, farther away than today's approaches from the Cold War's Bundeswehr which rested on short-serving conscripts, recruitment in part through retention of conscripts as volunteers and generally very high personnel turnover in all units.


P.S.: I'd like to fire off ONE very specific rant and complaint, though: "Leichte Sprache" (simplified language for retards) and "Gebärdensprache" (sign language for deaf people) features are 100% unnecessary and indeed most embarrassing on a Bundeswehr recruiting website! WTF!?

*: Air defence small units and units often need to deploy far away from the protection of air base security units, and should be as capable of self-defence as "rear" field army units. Many NCOs in the air force security units appear to (in my experience) overcompensate and can be unnecessarily uncomfortable superiors. Periods of service away from such an environment could be welcome relaxation, so a rotation to units with rather technically-minded NCOs and officers as in air defence units makes sense.


  1. I'm not sure the militia system, as described, will perform its stated task - create a pool of trained recruits.
    In my experience it takes at least a year of "practice" after training to "engrave" the skills and make them less perisheable. The "practice" period can be somewhat shortened by intensifying training (as in live in the field, teain till you drop) but that is not a sustainable tempo, instructor-wise.

  2. Obsolete, but functioning kit should be kept for mobilisation or used to equip a local defence force. Even relatively sophisticated kit can help. One recent example - the US Army recently decided to reinstate 10 regular and 1 NG V-SHORAD battalion. To help facilitate this, 72 Avenger vehicles are being taken for a field at Letterkenny where they have sat for over a decade to be refurbished for service. In the UK we originally bought 156 Stormer Starstreak vehicles. All but 30 of these were sold off or converted to "Troop Recce Vehicles" - there is nothing to reinstate to increase our residual tacked V-SHORAD capability. Recently the Bundeswehr reinstated a couple of mine laying ploughs - all 29 our Stormer Shielder minelaying vehicles were sold off via Witham Specialist vehicles, so we could not do this.

    1. That's wasteful. VShoRAD is of very little use nowadays. A handful ManPADS or light vehicle-mounted launcher pedestals are all that's required to achieve almost all of the effect that VShoRAD can achieve at all - push fixed wing threats to above 15k ft and force attack helos into hit-and-hide tactics.

      We need much better battlefield air defences than 1980's-style VShoRAD.
      A mix of AMRAAM-ER, IRIS-T SL (or VL MICA IR) and RBS-23 would be very powerful, while a few Bolides/RBS90NG would be sufficient for a low budget force operating with support by better-equipped forces (or with reliable-enough fighter support).

    2. Tracked V-SHORADS was just an example. I could have used MBTs - for years now, Challenger 2 MBTs taken out of service haven't been kept in sheds - they've been stripped of parts and torched. This happens with everything from blankets to aircraft because the Treasury charges interest on money invested in equipment. It is therefore in the MoD's best interest to keep equipment and spares holdings to an absolute minimumun.

      PS: I strongly suspect that the bulk of our pedestal MANPADS were sold off or scrapped too when the TA regiments equipped with them were re-roled.

  3. I have discussed realy very similar ideas with officers of the bundeswehr and also in a forum with people of the bundeswehr university and so on and it was always extremly annoying. In a nutshell their answer was always: this is all impossible, unthinkable, against german law, against the Besoldungsrecht (salary law), the Beamtenrecht (civil service law) and several other laws and against all regulations etc

    Moreover they always had an very officer-centric thinking: as if the armed services were only for the well-beeing of the officer corps. The interests of all other soldiers were not regarded, this soldiers were instead always regarded as lacy, problematic, and especially as a liability if you give them a lifelong career and job-security. They always claimed that if you have career/professional rank and file and nco a life long in the army this would devastate the quality of them because then only the worst would go to the armed forces to do nothing at all there because with an life long garanty for employment they would stop doing anything after joining.

    I then replied that in the police forces there is an lifelong garanty for the job and what about officers which serve life long in the forces ? Then they all again came up with laws and hindrances because of regulations.

    To sum it up: the bundeswehr is an extrem form of an

    Armed bureaucracy - but not an army.

    There are fewer and fewer soldiers in the bundeswehr but mainly spineless yes-man paper-shufflers which cannot think anything outside their echo chamber and their regulations/laws. But moreover they are of insane arrogance and realy believe that the bundeswehr is an strong elite army (at least the officer corps) and that nearly everything they think and say is the holy grale and unchangeable as perfect as it is.

    Therefore the bundeswehr has no future as an fighting force and is not reformable at all. It will decline further and further and not because of moeny or equipment but because of the "soldiers" and their "military" culture.

  4. Let's put it like this, according to experience, two thirds of the male population would opt out of the militia via medical certificates or moral objections. For the female population this number will be probably higher and feminists and other vested and loud interest groups are unlikely to embrace you, creating as much backlash as possible.

    Would an organization like the firefighters work? They have professional and "militia" components with a special payment due if you do not partake (limited to men owning houses, an issue no feminist bothers to raise). While you advocate the military capabilities given by the training, from a reluctant civilian's point of view it matters more what training he/she can translate into civilian market gains or whether it serves as a financial windfall in hard times (such as suitable training scheduling for self-employed freelancers to create a secure base income). And then there are the pros in the service, who consider anyone, but a pro, an inferior being, who didn't really do a thing worth mentioning in military context. Which is in part right, because at least almost 20 years ago, the pros were very good at communicating how unnecessary the conscripts were via the assigned tasks and trainings. As a simple conscript/militia member, the best publicly acceptable argument for taking away a year of my life was that the conscientious objectors performing community service were providing a useful and esteemed service, which would fall apart of conscription ended.

    1. I thought the part where I write
      "Every German gets the invitation to join the militia for half a year and earn a really good pay there" was clear ebnough. It wasn't meant as a proposal for a conscription-based institution. I've argued against conscription in times of peace at length (times of crisis and war are a different issue).

    2. I see our misunderstanding. I don't see a real difference to the current system, so for the throughput to make this idea work in significant enough numbers for any impact it probably needs some kind of "conscription".

    3. I had some time to better express my opinion. I get it that you didn't advocate conscription, but the actual practice of late conscription and your militia proposal (if enacted with significant numbers) are close to indistinguishable with differences rather limited to what it's called.

      The late conscription with two thirds finding the door left behind a group that can be considered close to volunteers after they were volunteered, with some anecdotal exceptions. The socio-economic and educational strata they came from were probably better off than those that would join in a militia, which furthermore suffers from the adverse effects of such a choice on their dating life. It turns off a number of potential interests, which will present a tough choice for young men to set their priorities. Given a choice between fatherland and girlfriend, most would probably pick the later.
      Within the organization, social stratification according to belonging to the pro and non-pro group could be observed and can be observed among others, such as firefighters. So there's going to be friction with the militia at the bottom of the barrel, which makes it less likely that promises of payment and educational opportunities get realized instead of a boreout. This riflemen idea makes sense for a conflict. It makes little sense in regard to economic benefits other than highly paid recruits doing strange work from a civilian economic point of view.
      The problem is not only money, but lifelong social backlash risk after reading the CV and the even more widespread aversion among the female part of the population. In this regard daycare babysitting and whatnot is possibly quite helpful in changing the image of the institution into something society as a whole can more easily accept. It would benefit a discussion if we had some data on attitudes as they play in my opinion a more important role for choices at this young age before partnerships are more settled.

  5. "I don't see a real difference to the current system, so for the throughput to make this idea work in significant enough numbers for any impact it probably needs some kind of "conscription".

    That is a strawman: You have no numbers and you simply ignore, that a 6-12 months militia system is attractive for people who would never serve 4 years as enlisted man.

    The question is whether a volunteer force with 180.000 soldiers as target number gives in economically good times a better result than a smaller force (120.000) plus a militia system.

    The advantage of the militia system is that it costs peanuts to test it.


    1. FWDL, isn't this exactly the field test you are talking abou?