Transcript of the conversation of high-ranking officers of the Bundeswehr, February 19, 2024

Transcript of the conversation of high-ranking officers of the Bundeswehr, February 19, 2024

On February 19, 2024, the following conversation took place between Brigadier General Frank Graefe, head of the Operations and Exercises Department of the Bundeswehr Air Force Command, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Bundeswehr Air Force Inspector, and two officers of the Air Operations Centre of the Bundeswehr Space Command Stephan Fenske and Frostedte.

Gerhartz: Greetings, everyone. Graefe, are you in Singapore right now?

Graefe: That’s right.

Gerhartz: Okay. We need to make sure we’re on the same page. As you have heard, Defence Minister Pistorius is determined to carefully consider the issue of sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine. We have a meeting planned with him. Everything needs to be discussed so that we could start working on this. So far, I’ve seen no specification of dates when this might start. It wasn’t like the Chancellor said to him, ‘I want information now, and tomorrow morning, we’ll make a decision.’ This isn’t something I’ve heard. On the contrary, Pistorius is watching the ongoing discussion. No one knows why the Federal Chancellor is blocking the dispatch of the missiles. This gives rise to all sorts of outlandish rumours. I’ll give you an example. Yesterday, I received a phone call from a journalist who is very close to the Chancellor. She had heard in Munich that the Taurus missiles wouldn’t work. I asked her who had told her that. She mentioned a man in military uniform. That was a low-level source of course, but the journalist latched onto his words and wanted to write a story with a headline like ‘Now we know why the Chancellor refuses to send Taurus missiles – because they won’t work.’ Totally stupid. Only a limited number of officials have access to this kind of information, but we still see this nonsense spread. They’re talking utter nonsense. I want to coordinate this issue with you to avoid going in the wrong direction. First, I have questions for Frostedte and Fenske. Has anyone talked to you about this? Did Freuding contact you?

Frostedte: No. I only talked to Graefe.

Fenske: Same. I’ve only talked to Graefe.

Gerhartz: Maybe he’ll contact you later. I’m probably going to have to attend a budget commission hearing because some problems emerged over rising costs of converting the infrastructure to support F-35 jets in Buechel. I’ve already conveyed my recommendations through Frank – that we need to have slides to visualise the subject matter. We showed him a test presentation, with Taurus installed on a Tornado carrier or any other carrier required by the mission. However, I have little idea of how this will go. Mind you, it’s a half-hour meeting, so there’ll be no time for a 30-slide presentation. It should be a short report. We need to show what the missile can do and how it can be used. In case we make a political decision and supply Ukraine with Taurus as assistance, it is essential to thoroughly consider potential consequences. I would appreciate it if you not only identify the problems we have, but tell me how they can be resolved. For example, if we’re asked about delivery methods... I know how the British do this. They always transport them in Ridgeback armoured vehicles. They have several people on the ground. The French do it differently. They send Q7s loaded with Scalp missiles to Ukraine. Storm Shadow and Scalp have similar installation specifications. How are we going to solve this problem? Will we transfer MBDA missiles with Ridgebacks from hand to hand? Will one of our people be dispatched to MBDA? Graefe, please tell us what you think. Messrs Fenske and Frostedte, please report on how you see the situation.

Graefe: I’ll start with the most sensitive issue, which is the current criticism of supplying the missiles. The issue is being debated almost everywhere. There are several priority aspects here. One is the timeframe. If the Chancellor now decides that we should supply the missiles, they will be taken from the Bundeswehr. Good, but they won’t be ready for use until eight months later. Second, we cannot reduce that time. Because if we do, there could be misuse, a missile could hit a kindergarten, and cause civilian casualties again. These aspects must be taken into account. It should be noted during the negotiations that we will not be able to do anything without involving the manufacturer. They can equip, re-equip and deliver the first missiles. We can expedite production a little bit, but there’s no point in waiting until we have 20; we can ship five at a time. The delivery timing will directly depend on the industry. Who will pay for it? Another question is what weapon systems these missiles will be installed on. How should the interaction between the company and Ukraine be maintained? Or have we established some integration?

Gerhartz: I don’t think so. Because the manufacturer, TSG, said they could solve this problem in six months, and any carrier will do, whether a Sukhoi or an F-16.

Graefe: If the Federal Chancellor decides to go for it, it must be understood that the manufacture of the mounts alone will take six months. Third, in theory, we might have to address the issue of training. I’ve mentioned the fact that we are cooperating with the missile manufacturer. They train personnel to maintain these systems, while we provide instruction in their tactical use. Three or four months is needed for this. This part of the training can take place in Germany. As the first missiles are supplied, we must promptly decide about the mounts and training. Possibly, we will have to ask the British to share their know-how. We can give them databases, satellite photos, and planning stations. Our part [of the deal] is to supply the missiles themselves, and we have them, while the rest can be delivered by industry or IABG.  

Gerhartz: We must realise that they can use aircraft with mounts for Taurus and Storm Shadow missiles. The British were there and outfitted the aircraft. The systems don’t differ so widely, they can be used for Taurus missiles, too. I can give you some idea of our experience with using the Patriot systems. Our experts also planned for long timeframes initially, but they managed in a matter of weeks.   They put so many of them into operation so quickly that our staff said: “Wow, we didn’t expect that.” We are fighting a war that uses many more modern technologies than our good ol' Luftwaffe did. All of this suggests the idea that we should not overestimate when setting timeframes.  And now, Messrs Fenske and Frostedte, I would like to hear your opinion regarding the possible supplies to Ukraine.

Fenske: I would like to dwell on the training issue. We have studied this matter and, if we work with the personnel that has already gone through relevant training and will also be drilled in parallel, roughly three weeks will be needed to study the equipment, and it is only then that the direct Air Force training may begin, which will take about four weeks. So, this is much less than 12 weeks. But, of course, all of this is possible provided the personnel possess relevant skills and we can train them without resorting to interpreters’ services, plus a couple of other points. We have discussed this with Ms Friedberger. If we speak about combat use, they will, in fact, advise us to support at least the first group. The planning has not been easy; it took us nearly a year to train our own personnel, whereas now we are trying to cut this time to ten weeks in the hope that they will be able to race a Formula 1 car over rough terrain. A possible option is to provide periodic technical support. Theoretically, this can be done from Buechel, provided we establish a protected communication link with Ukraine. Were this within reach, subsequent planning would be easier. The main scenario is at the very least to ensure full manufacturer support and assistance through the user support service that will deal with software problems. In principle, it’s the same as here in Germany. 

Gerhartz: Just a minute. I understand what you are saying. Politicians might become concerned over the direct protected communication link between Buechel and Ukraine. This might signify [Germany’s] direct involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. But in this case we could say that the information exchanges will pass through MBDA and send one or two our specialists to Schrobenhausen. This is a ruse, of course, but quite likely it looks differently from the political point of view.  If the information exchange goes through the manufacturer, it has nothing to do with us.

Fenske: The question is where this information would go. In case of information about the targets, which should ideally include satellite images with 3m resolution, they should be first sent to Buechel for target modelling. I think we’ll be able to organise the information exchange between Buechel and Schrobenhausen regardless, or consider the possibility of sending it to Poland, and do this where we can travel by car. This issue should be analysed more closely, and we’ll certainly find acceptable options. If our idea is accepted, we’ll go by car in the worst case, which will allow us to cut reaction time. Of course, we won’t be able to react within an hour, because we’ll need time to give our approval. At best, the aircraft will be able to fulfil the order six hours after the information is acquired. Certain targets can be attacked with a resolution of over three metres, but if we need more information about a target, we’ll have to use satellite imagery for targeting. In this case, the reaction time will increase to up to 12 hours. It all depends on the target. I haven’t analysed the details, but I think it is a possible option. All we have to say is that we need to consider how to transfer the information.

Gerhartz: Is there any reason to hope that Ukraine will be able to do everything on its own? It is a fact that there are many people in civilian clothes with an American accent there. Can we assume that they will quickly learn to use [the missiles] on their own? After all, they have the satellite images.

Fenske: Yes, they receive them from us. I would also like to say a few words about air defence. We must think carefully about having equipment in Kiev to receive information from the IABG and NDK. We have to provide it to them, which is why I am going there on February 21 to have everything planned as well as possible, not like how it was done in the case of Storm Shadow, when we only planned control points. We must think about evading or flying under radar. If we prepare all of this, training will be more effective. And then we’ll be able to resume discussions on the number of missiles. If we send 50 missiles, they will be used up very quickly.

Gerhartz: Exactly, and this won’t change the course of the hostilities. That’s why we don’t want to send all of them. And not all of them in one batch. We may first send 50 missiles, and then give them another 50. This is absolutely clear, but this is big politics. I suspect the real objective. I have learned from my French and British colleagues that the situation with the Storm Shadow and Scalp missiles is the same as with the Winchester rifles. They may ask, “Why should we send another batch of missiles? We have supplied enough. Let Germany do its bit now.” Does Mr Frostedte have anything to say on this score?

Frostedte: I will add a little pragmatism. I will share my views on the specifications of Storm Shadow. We are talking about air defence, flight time, altitudes and so on. I have come to the conclusion that there are two interesting targets: a bridge in the east and ammunition depots higher up. The bridge in the east is a difficult target; it is a relatively small target, but a Taurus can strike it, just as it can strike ammunition depots. If we take this into account and compare this to the number of Storm Shadow and HIMARS missiles that have been used up, I want to ask you if our target is the bridge or ammunition depots. Can we hit them despite the shortcomings of the RED and Patriot systems? My conclusion is that the limiting factor is that they usually have only 24 missiles…

Gerhartz: This is clear.

Frostedte: It makes sense to link Ukraine to the TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures). This will take a week. I believe it is worth thinking about planning objectives and centralised planning. In our unit it takes two weeks to plan objectives but we can do it faster if need be. Regarding the bridge, I believe that the Taurus [missiles] don’t have the necessary range, and we also need to know how effective this would be, which means we must have satellite information. I don’t know if we can quickly train Ukrainians for this mission, that is, within a month. How would a Taurus attack on the bridge look? From an operational perspective, I can’t say how quickly Ukrainians will learn to plan such missions and how long integration will take. Since we are talking about the bridge and military bases, I would say that they want to have them as soon as possible.

Fenske: I’d like to say the following about the destruction of the bridge. After thorough consideration, we unfortunately concluded that the bridge is similar in size to a landing strip. Therefore, we would need more than 10 or even 20 missiles.

Gerhartz: It is believed that the Taurus missile, if launched from a French Dassault Rafale fighter jet, can accomplish this.

Fenske: This would only make a hole in the bridge and damage it. Before making any definitive statements, we must first…

Frostedte: I’m not advocating the idea of [attacking] the bridge. I’m simply being pragmatic. We need to know what they want, and what we need to teach them. So, when planning such operations, we’ll need to mark the main points on the photographs. They will be given the targets, but it is worth mentioning that planning attacks on small targets must be more thorough than just looking at computer images. It will be simpler if the targets are confirmed, and the planning will take less time.

Gerhartz: We all know that they want to destroy the bridge, and the potential consequences this may have, and how [well] it is protected, because it has both military strategic and political significance. On the other hand, they also have a land corridor. There are certain concerns about maintaining direct links with the Ukrainian armed forces. Hence my question is: Can we use a diversionary tactic by sending our people to MBDA? In this case, we would only maintain direct ties with Ukraine through MBDA, which is much better than if they were connected to our Air Force.

Graefe: Mr Gerhartz, it doesn’t matter. We must be very careful from the beginning to avoid any wording that would implicate us in the conflict. I am exaggerating a bit, of course, but if we inform the minister now that we are planning meetings and will travel by car from Poland to remain undetected, this will be seen as involvement. We won’t do this. As for the producer, we must first of all ask MBDA if they can handle this. And it doesn’t matter if our people do this in Buechel or Schrobenhausen, it will still be seen as involvement. I don’t think we should do this. We defined it as the main part of the “red line” from the very beginning, and so we will only take part in training. We’ll tell them that we will draft a roadmap. The training period needs to be divided into several phases. A long phase will last four months, during which we will thoroughly train them, including the bridge option. A short phase will last two weeks, to teach them to use the missiles as soon as possible. And once they have been trained, we’ll ask the Brits if they would take over at that stage. I believe this would be the right course of action. Just imagine the uproar if the media were to find out about our personnel in Schrobenhausen or our car trips to Poland. I regard this option as unacceptable.

Gerhartz: If such a political decision is made we must tell Ukrainians to come to us. First, we must know whether this political decision may be qualified as direct participation in planning objectives. In this case, they can study here a bit longer. They will be able to complete more complex objectives. This is quite possible, considering they have some experience and use high-tech equipment. If there is an opportunity to avoid direct participation, we shouldn’t take part in planning objectives, do it in Buechel and then send it to them. This is a “red line” for Germany. It is possible to train them for a couple of months. They won’t learn everything during this time but will manage to do something. We must only make sure they manage to process all information and work with all parameters.

Graefe: Seppel said it is possible to make a long and short version of the roadmap. The main idea is to achieve results soon. If at the first stage, the goal is to hit ammunition depots rather than such a complex facility as a bridge, it would make sense to go for an abridged plan and achieve results. As for the IABG information, I don’t think this is a critical problem since they are not tied to a certain place. They should conduct reconnaissance themselves. Obviously, effectiveness depends on this. This is exactly what we meant when stressing that this should be taken into account during the transfer of missiles. This decision has not been made yet but this is usually done.

Gerhartz: This will be key. There are ammunition depots that cannot be attacked after a short preparation because of highly active air defences. We will have to deal with this seriously. I believe our people will find a solution. But we should first be allowed to try, so as to have an opportunity to offer the best political consultation. We must prepare better not to fail because, say, the KSA probably does not know where air defences are located. The Ukrainians have this information and we have data from radars. But if we want our planning to be precise, we must know where radars and stationary installations are located and how to circumvent them. This will allow us to draft a more accurate plan. We have a super system and if we have precise coordinates, we will be able to use it faultlessly. There are no grounds to prohibit us from doing this. There is a certain scale where the “red line” is passed politically. There is a long and a short route to it. It is different from using the full potential. The Ukrainians will be able to use it better with time because they will have practice and will continue getting it. I think I shouldn’t be present at the meeting personally. It is important for me to make sure that we present a realistic assessment and refuse to fan the flames as others do when supplying Storm Shadow and Scalp.

Graefe: I must say the longer it will take them to adopt the decision, the longer it will take us later to carry it out. We must divide everything in stages – start with simple things and then move on to complicated issues. Or we could turn to the British. We could ask them if they could help us at the initial stage and do the planning. We can speed up what is in the zone of our responsibility. We do not develop missile mounts. Ukraine should resolve this problem with manufacturers itself.

Gerhartz: We don’t want to have problems with the budget commission now. That may make it impossible to start construction work at the air base in Buechel in 2024. Every day in our programme counts.

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