1 in 10 German military pilots lost helicopter licenses for lack of flight time

Bundeswehr pilots can't get enough flight time amid helicopter shortages and are losing their flying licenses as a result. The report is the latest to shed light on the embarrassing state of Germany's armed forces.

More than one in 10 helicopter pilots in the Bundeswehr lost their flying licenses in 2017 because they could not absolve the required amount of flight time, the government said on Thursday.

The Defense Ministry released the figures in a response to a parliamentary inquiry by Green Party lawmaker Agnieszka Brugger.

In its response, the ministry said 19 out of 129 helicopter pilots lost their licenses in 2017 because of insufficient flight time, while 12 out of 135 pilots lost their licenses for the same reason in 2016. The Bundeswehr was able to redistribute the licenses after the pilots completed additional training programs, it added.

Read more: German military short on tanks for NATO mission

Civilians to the rescue

Brugger blamed the failure for some pilots to meet the necessary number of flight hours on a lack of working helicopters.

"Not even a third of the most important types of helicopters are fit for service," she told the dpa news agency. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Brugger added, was not "getting a grip on the dreary situation."

Read more:  'No more missions for Germany's navy,' warns armed forces ombudsman

A Bundeswehr report published in February found that technical problems had grounded 16 out of a total of 72 CH53 transport helicopters and 13 out of a total of 58 NH90 transport helicopters.

The shortages reportedly forced the Defense Ministry to start renting civilian helicopters to ensure pilots could still get flight time.

German weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported in late 2017 that the ministry had signed a €21 million ($25 million) contract with the General German Automobile Club (ADAC), which has a fleet of helicopters, to allow Bundeswehr pilots to absolve a combined 6,500 flight hours and thereby keep their licenses.

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The opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) slammed the government over the new figures.

"It's scandalous that Bundeswehr troops are losing their flying licenses because inadequate equipment is preventing them from flying enough," deputy FDP leader Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann wrote on Twitter.

She also wrote that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should intervene and put Finance Minister Olaf Scholz "in his place," without elaborating.

Read more: German Defense Minister von der Leyen wants €12 billion more for Bundeswehr

Scholz, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), has ignited an internal government row with members of Merkel's conservatives after presenting a budget that allocated far less money to defense spending than the defense ministry had asked for.

The row follows months of reports lamenting the poor state of the Bundeswehr and repeated pronouncements from the United States demanding Berlin meet the NATO goal of spending at least 2 percent of economic production on defense. Germany spent 1.13  percent of GDP on defense in 2017.

Read more: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hammers Germany over defense spending

Germany's NATO missions

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

Germany's NATO missions

Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

Germany's NATO missions

Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

Germany's NATO missions

Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Germany's NATO missions

More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

Germany's NATO missions

German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

Germany's NATO missions

Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.