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Bundeswehr and coronavirus pandemic: preparing for a long crisis

In view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bundeswehr is preparing for support in a protracted crisis. To this end, new command structures are being created domestically - and soldiers are provided as long-term reserves: permanent readiness has priority over the short-term provision of personnel.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn had already given an initial indication of the contingency planning on Thursday during his visit to the 10th Panzer Division in Veitshöchheim: It is intended as one of four newly established regional management teams that are to organize the aid of the armed forces domestically in the future.

So far, the management structure of the Bundeswehr for administrative assistance in the event of a disaster has been based on the federal states that are responsible for disaster control: As a rule, the so-called state commandos have been the contact persons so far Territorial Tasks Command in Berlin, which in turn is assigned to the Inspector of the Armed Forces Base (SKB) as National Territorial Commander is subordinate to.

With the new crisis structure, new organizational and management lines will be drawn in in the future. This should enable the troops to respond more quickly to requests for administrative assistance from the federal states.

Under the Territorial Tasks command, the 10th Panzer Division is responsible for the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Thuringia and Saxony as the regional command staff south. The 1st Panzer Division in Oldenburg, as regional command staff west, organizes aid in North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Bremen and Saxony-Anhalt. In the north the naval command in Rostock is responsible for Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Hamburg, in the east the air force command in Berlin is responsible for Berlin and Brandenburg.

While the National Territorial Commander, in the person of SKB Inspector Martin Schelleis, retains direct control over military police and NBC defense units, soldiers are subordinate to the four regional command posts for logistical support and security - the latter are for Space and property protection, protection of critical infrastructures and security provided.

However, not all of the 15,000 or so soldiers who are to be available to deal with the domestic crisis will be put on the same level of readiness at the same time. Units in train strength are planned in all regions, but so-called follow-up forces are also available: The first units, for example 26 logistics trains with around 30 men and women each in the south, are on standby for twelve hours, and a further 57 trains can be used within 72 hours.

The staggering is important because the Bundeswehr has to expect infections and thus failures among its soldiers. Taking into account the current dynamic course of infection and based on the currently known data situation, a failure rate of approx. 15 percent of the workforce is assumed as a first approximation, it says in a directive of the armed forces base.

As the legal basis for planning and deploying the Bundeswehr in this case, the Bundeswehr relies on Article 35 of the Basic Law, which regulates administrative assistance by the armed forces in Germany. The normal case is predominantly technical / logistical support without performing official tasks, especially not as an executive organ.

However, disaster aid is also possible for soldiers in accordance with Paragraphs 2 and 3 of this Article of the Basic Law - if a federal state requests this or the federal government decides to do so.

The soldiers who are deployed in support are then deployed as armed forces, but are bound by the provisions of the respective federal state. Even their so-called Powers of intervention, i.e. to what extent they are allowed to exercise police rights, for example, are based on these civil rules - that Law on the application of direct coercion and the exercise of special powers by soldiers of the Bundeswehr, which primarily regulates the rights of guarding barracks, does not apply in this case.

All security operations are under police control and such on-site guidance must be ensured as much as possible, stated the Bundeswehr. The use of specifically military weapons is only permitted in special exceptional cases and on the instructions of the Federal Minister. Security operations are to be documented by the military leaders deployed on site in order to ensure a legal review.

Corresponding requirements for assistance, with which the Bundeswehr is supposed to support the police, had not yet been made by (today) Friday - even if Baden-Württemberg is considering a corresponding request.

Two necessary additions (Thanks for the reader's information): On the one hand, the state commandos will continue to be involved - as the point of contact for the respective state governments for administrative assistance requests. And on the other hand: These regulations of the National Territorial Commander apply to everything that is not done by the medical service of the Bundeswehr - which remains responsible for the support primarily with medical staff and in the Bundeswehr hospitals.

(Archive picture August 2016: Exercise of the NBC defense force in Bruchsal - Björn Trotsky / Bundeswehr)