BERLIN, Germany – The German Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that it could not provide details on Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s pledge to supply Ukraine with a certain air defense system. The reason cited was that the Bundeswehr – the nation’s armed forces – does not have the weapon in stock.
The weapon in question is called IRIS-T and it can come in the form of a short-range air-to-air missile or a ground-based short-range or medium-range air defense system.
When asked which of these systems Berlin plans to send Kiev, the Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Naval Captain David Helmbold, replied that “this question should be ultimately addressed to the [defense] industry since we do not have these systems in our service.” He added that he could not clarify the issue as the Bundeswehr does not possess such air-defense systems in its arsenal.
The comment came just hours after Scholz told the parliament that his government planned to send more advanced systems to Ukraine, including an IRIS-T system and counter-battery radars capable of detecting artillery fire and pinpointing the location of the enemy artillery systems that opened it. The chancellor did not elaborate whether he meant air-to-air missiles or ground-based systems when speaking about IRIS-T.
The Bundeswehr does have IRIS-T weapon systems in its arsenal but only in the form of air-to-air missiles mounted on its Eurofighter and Tornado fighters. The system designed to replace the US AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile has been developed by companies from several nations, including Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Greece among others.
In Germany, IRIS-T is produced by the Diehl arms manufacturer, which offers both the air-to-air missiles and the ground-based systems. Speaking about the potential deliveries to Ukraine, Helmbold said that, when Scholz spoke about the “most modern” air defense system in Germany, he might not have necessarily meant the systems in the military’s possession.
“Germany is not just the Bundeswehr,” Helmbold noted, adding that “it also refers to the capabilities of the industry.”
According to a defense blog run by freelance journalist Thomas Wiegold, who previously worked for the dpa and AP news agencies, Diehl could “divert” its planned delivery of the ground-based middle-range IRIS-T SLM air defense system and send it to Ukraine instead of Egypt as was intended. The company’s production capabilities currently allow it to manufacture two such systems per year, the journalist added.
IRIS-T SLM systems have also previously been delivered to Sweden. The Bundeswehr had reportedly only considered procuring it but has not struck any such deals with Diehl so far.
On Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the parliament that the planned delivery of the air-defense system to Ukraine would “take a while, months.” She also added that the system produced by Diehl had initially been intended for “another country.”
The German tabloid Bild reported in mid-May that IRIS-T SLM systems could be deployed by Ukraine around November. Berlin has been steadily supplying Kiev with small arms, anti-tank missiles, and ammunition since the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Scholz has faced criticism at home over his reluctance to supply Ukraine with the heavier weapons Kiev has repeatedly requested.
On Wednesday, Scholz touted his record of providing military aid to Kiev and called the decision to break Germany’s tradition of not sending arms to conflict zones “courageous.”