The soldiers and officers of the Netherlands’ 43rd Mechanized Brigade are getting used to serving under a new commander. In fact, they are getting used to being part of a different army altogether: the German one. This month, the 43rd Mechanized Brigade will permanently join Germany’s First Tank Division. In addition to soldiers, Germany and the Netherlands are sharing tanks, ships, and other military equipment. In doing so, they are pioneering a radical concept: a military sharing economy.
The story begins two years ago, when cuts to military spending in the Netherlands had stripped the country of its last operating tanks (a couple remain in storage). By then, according to data collected by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Netherlands’ defense expenditures had dropped from 2.5 percent of GDP in 1990 to 1.2 percent. That left very little funding to buy new—or even maintain existing—tanks and other major pieces of equipment, even though such machinery is a pillar of any country’s armed forces. As Anthony Leuvering, a colonel in the 43rd Mechanized recalled, “our chief of defense said, ‘We need tank capabilities in our toolbox but we don’t have tanks anymore.’” And so, Leuvering said, “We talked to the Bundeswehr.”
Supported by the German government, which has long advocated European military integration, the Bundeswehr quickly agreed to share the tanks belonging to the Bundeswehr’s First Tank Division, which is stationed just under 40 miles from the Dutch border and is tasked with territorial defense of western German regions. It is also the army’s lead division for several foreign missions including the training of Iraqi armed forces.
In December 2015, the new joint division conducted a pilot exercise in Oberlausitz, a densely forested region near Germany’s border with Poland. The operation was a test complex combat mission, the aim of which was for the soldiers to get used to working together and for the Dutch soldiers to get used to operating tanks. On both occasions, soldiers and
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