West German military officers signal distress over budget cuts

It can't yet be called a counterattack. But one senior officer, Brig. Gen. Johann Adolf von Kielmansegg, has now gone semi-public with the military's distress over cuts in the West German defense budget. Army Inspector (Chief of Staff) Lt. Gen. Henning von Ondarza has indirectly endorsed the objections by a conspicuously faint rebuttal of them. And privately, other officers are quick to echo the complaints.

The slimmed-down Army structure planned for the 1990s ``in no way'' meets West Germany's ``strategic requirements in a crisis,'' General von Kielmansegg wrote in a confidential memo to General von Ondarza earlier this year, according to North German Radio. Gen. von Kielmansegg heads the operations department of the West German Army.

After the leak to North German Radio, Defense Ministry spokesmen declined to confirm the content of the memo Monday. They treated the substantive points as accurate, however.

And the reported content of the memo corresponds to the viewpoint expressed by other senior military officers and officials in private conversation since the Army Structure 2000 (the form the Army will take in year 2000) was tentatively approved at a high-level planning conference last February.

To adjust to the sharp drop in young men of recruit age beginning in the early 1990s, Army Structure 2000 plans to let the numbers of servicemen on active duty drop from the current official 495,000 to 456,000.

Formally the current 12 divisions with 48 brigades will be maintained. But many of these brigades will drop from 95 percent manning to a ``cadre structure'' of only 50 to 70 percent manning. They could be built up to full strength only by a mobilization of reserves that would take some 48 hours and could call into question NATO's policy of ``forward defense'' on short notice.

As serious as the drop in manpower, in the eyes of the critics, is the drop in defense spending that has already brought West German procurement of equipment down from near the top in NATO lists to 10th or 11th place today.

In his lukewarm rebuttal of von Kielmansegg criticism, Ondarza ignored the main points and focused instead on the alleged criticism of him as Army chief of staff for not making the dearth known to the public.

``The opportunities and risks [of the planned new structure] were repeatedly described by me,'' Ondarza asserted Monday in a statement distributed by the Defense Ministry.

He added that final decisions on the restructuring would be made only in 1990 after experiments with ``elements of the structure'' next year.

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