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German plans to send thousands of anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine have been hit after it emerged some of them don’t work.
The Soviet-made Strela missiles were part of communist-era East German stocks and have been in storage so long they are no longer operational.
Germany reversed its longstanding ban on delivering weapons to conflict zones last week and pledged to send arms to Ukraine.
The issue does not affect the first batch of German weapons supplies, which has already been delivered to Ukraine.
A shipment of 1,000 anti-tank rockets and 500 fully operational US-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles was safely delivered this week.
Berlin announced this week that it plans to follow it up with a delivery of 2,700 of the Strela missiles.
But it has now emerged that 700 of the missiles are so badly damaged they are no longer operational.
The German defence ministry was reportedly surprised by the government announcement, because the Strela missiles were declared obsolete and placed in storage in 2014. They are at least 35 years old and had been declared unsafe.
The Ukrainian government reportedly specifically requested the missiles despite their age.
But 700 are affected by tiny cracks which have led to corrosion and mean they cannot be used.
Germany is expected to deliver the remaining 2,000 missiles despite the fact they are no longer considered safe to handle.
A classified military document obtained by Spiegel magazine reads: “Owing to the obsolescence of the rocket motor, the Strela missile is no longer safe to handle, so it can no longer be fired.”
The wooden boxes in which the missiles are stored are reportedly so mouldy that when they were last inspected in November troops had to wear protective equipment.
The issue illustrates how badly depleted German weapons stocks have become following years of military underfunding.
Olaf Scholz’s government has vowed to reverse that in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and last week announced a new €100bn (£83bn) fund for defence spending.
A defence ministry paper leaked to the German press called for €20bn (£16.6bn) to replenish ammunition stocks alone.