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German intercept taurus crimean bridge2 bundeswehr Russian hackers
L-R: Head of the operations and exercises department of the Bundeswehr Air Force Command Frank Gräfe, the Bundeswehr Air Fore inspector Ingo Gerhartz. Collage by Euromaidan Press

Intercept of German generals planning Taurus strike on Crimean bridge: full translation

Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan published a German-language audio intercept of this discussion and a very bad Russian translation. We give you a good English one.
Intercept of German generals planning Taurus strike on Crimean bridge: full translation

On 1 March, Russian propaganda queen, RT chief Margarita Simonyan shared an intercept of high-ranking German generals discussing the most controversial topic of the latest months: the Taurus missiles that German Chancellor Scholz refrains from sending to Ukraine, and their ability to strike a crucial bridge connecting occupied Crimea to mainland Russia.

They are genuine, German authorities have admitted and have launched a probe into the possible eavesdropping of the conversation on the video platform WebEx.

What does the leak tell us about the possibility of these missiles destroying the Crimean bridge? Simonyan provided a Russian translation, but it has gross inaccuracies (for instance, “reachback” was interpreted as “Ridgback,” or claims that the provided Storm Shadow and Scalp missiles “escalated the situation” were falsely placed in the mouth of Gerhartz). So you don’t have to use it, we made our own English translation from the conversation, held in German. Our comments are in bold italics.

According to Simonyan, the conversation involved the Head of the operations and exercises department of the Bundeswehr Air Force Command Frank Gräfe, the Bundeswehr Air Fore inspector Ingo Gerhartz, and employees of the air operations center of the Bundeswehr Space Command, Udo Fenske and Sebastian Florstedt.

In it, they mention that 100 Taurus missiles at most could be sent to Ukraine, that Germany could likely face pressure from France and the UK, which have already provided two rounds of Storm Shadow and Scalp missiles, contradict Scholz’s claims that German troops are necessary on the ground in Ukraine to use the missiles, and search for ways to navigate around Germany’s “red lines” of not being involved in military operations in Ukraine.

Euromaidan Press’ translation of the intercepted conversation of German military commanders

Gerhartz: I wanted us very briefly to align ourselves beforehand. In particular, comrades Florstedt and Fenske know how the whole thing came about. The Minister of Defense really wants to really get deep into Taurus, although the appointment is only half an hour. We won’t be able to get this thing off the ground, to put it this way, I don’t see any triggering momentum behind it at the moment.

It’s not like the Chancellor just said, “hey, get smart again, and then let’s decide tomorrow.” But he saw Pistorius again through this discussion that keeps coming up repeatedly. Nobody knows why the Chancellor is blocking [Taurus delivery to Ukraine], so adventurous rumors arise.

Taurus missiles to Ukraine Germany
The Taurus air-launched cruise missile has an operational range of approximately 500 kilometers, making it one of the longest-range conventional missiles in the world. Its dual-stage warhead with initial penetration and subsequent blast effect is designed to defeat hard and deeply buried targets. Credit: Taurus

I got a call yesterday from a journalist who is extremely close to the Chancellor. She had heard in Munich that the Taurus wouldn’t work at all. I thought, “who tells such bullshit?” She said that someone in uniform told her that; of course, she doesn’t give away her source. She now wants to make a mega headline out of it, like, “we finally have the reason why the Chancellor is not delivering Taurus [to Ukraine], because the thing doesn’t work at all.”

Of course this is total nonsense,  We even do firing campaigns every other week, the last one was not so long ago. But in the meantime, nonsense is floating around. That’s what I wanted to briefly coordinate with you, so that this doesn’t go in the wrong direction.

So first of all my question to Florstedt and Fenske. Has anyone spoken to you directly? Has General Freuding contacted you?

Florstedt: No, I only heard from Frank.

Fenske: Negative for me too, I only communicated with General Gräfe.

Gerhartz: Maybe he will still contact you. The presentation is half an hour long, and I might not be there. I could be in the Budget Committee at this time. We have an issue with a slight price increase in the F-35 infrastructure in Büchel (a military air base of the German Air Force). The costs were underestimated, and there is great frustration now. So, you could be on your own then. Make a presentation, but not a slideshow of 30 slides – it should be a short pitch.

We showed him a demo show, where there was a Taurus on the carrier next to the Tornado. Perhaps show how it looks mounted on the Tornado or for example what a mission planning system looks like. Tell a little bit about how the Taurus works, what it can do, how it is used.

A German Tornado IDS during a test launch of the Taurus missile in South Africa. Bundeswehr/Adolfs

But of course, it still gnaws at the back of his mind, if we were to make a political decision to support Ukraine with this, how could the whole thing ultimately turn out? And I would be grateful if you would not only present the problems but also always provide the solutions.

For example, when it comes to mission planning, the English do it entirely through reachback. They also have a few people on-site. Reachback refers to providing remote support, expertise, and capabilities from outside the main operating area. In this context, it involves German forces leveraging resources and knowledge from Germany to assist Ukrainian forces in employing advanced weapons systems without needing to deploy personnel directly into Ukraine. Reachback allows Germany to support Ukraine’s defense from a distance. This could involve remote technical support, strategic planning assistance, and possibly real-time data and intelligence sharing. 

The French, on the other hand, do not do this but perform quality control) on the Ukrainians when loading the Scalp as, technically, Storm Shadow and Scalp are relatively similar. I was told: yes, good heavens, they could also look over the Ukrainian’s shoulder during Taurus loading.

The question is, how do we solve this? Do we let [the French] do the mission planning and give them MBDA support in a reachback manner and then bring one of our people to MBDA?

MBDA is a European missile developer and manufacturer with operations in several countries, including France, the UK, Italy, and Germany. Given MBDA’s experience in missile technologies, their role would likely encompass providing guidance on integrating missile systems (such as Taurus) onto Ukrainian platforms, offering solutions for operational challenges, and ensuring the missile systems’ effective use.

So I would like to ask again: how did we always position ourselves, how would we do it?

Gräfe: I’ll start with the most sensitive issues. One is the timing. If now the Chancellor says, we’ll hand [the Taurus] over after all, but the Bundeswehr comes and says “great, but it will take eight months”. And the second thing, of course, is we can’t shorten the time; imagine it goes wrong after a misdeployment and the thing falls on a kindergarten, causing civilian casualties. So, these are the two left-right limits between which one must weigh.

One track is the delivery of the missiles. We actually have nothing to do with that, and we can’t do anything without the company. It would then be a goal, as it is also with the rockets from IRIS-T (the sophisticated German air defense system Ukraine received to bolster its defense during Russia’s war), to retrofit and deliver the first missiles relatively quickly. Rudimentary things such as a little overhaul, taking down insignia, etc would need to be done. But we must not wait until 20 are ready, we could theoretically give away the first five. So that would be the first track. How fast can they be delivered? That completely depends on the industry. And then there is still the question of who pays for this.

The second question is that of the interface. How do you attach it to which weapon system? This would need to be done by some tinkerer from Ukraine with the company. Because we don’t have any stakes regarding integration into SU [possibly – Sukhoy jet], right?

Gerhartz:  I don’t think so, although here TSG (Taurus Systems GmbH, a joint venture between MBDA Deutschland GmbH (a part of MBDA) and Saab Dynamics. Taurus Systems GmbH is responsible for the development, production, and maintenance of the Taurus KEPD 350 missile system) says they can do [the integration] in about six months, [fitting it] either on a Sukhoy plane or F16.

Gräfe: We do not have any stakes, but if the message comes that the Chancellor has decided [to give Taurus] after all and then the next message is that it takes six months just for the interface, the positive news will quickly become negative news.

The third case that could theoretically affect us is training. We said back then, similar to IRIS-T, that we do it in cooperation with the industry: the industry trains on how to operate the system, and we provide people to support the whole thing tactically. We spoke of three to four months at most; this would be the part done in Germany.

We would have to find a quick solution for the first flights. Perhaps the British could help both with the interface and the training, if they look at the thing with their know-how of [fitting] the Storm Shadow, it can’t be such a big difference.

Ukraine ingeniously adapted to deploy the Storm Shadow precision cruise missiles, designed for launch from aircraft like the Royal Air Force’s Tornado GR4 jets, from its Soviet-era Su-24M and Su-24MR supersonic bombers. They were adapted using modified pylons from decommissioned RAF Tornado GR4 fighters. This adaptation required pre-flight input of coordinates, as the Soviet avionics on board the Ukrainian aircraft do not allow for in-flight communication with the missile system.

Storm Shadow integrated on Su-24MR UK cruise missiles
A leaflet gifted to UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who authorized the transfer of Storm Shadow cruise missile to Ukraine, shows the missiles fitted on a Soviet-era Su-24MR jet. Photo: Oleksii Reznikov’s twitter

And maybe they participate in the operation at the beginning, while we are training operators. Then it just didn’t take that long.

And then there are a few more things. Can we provide a database? Can we provide satellite imagery? Can we provide planning stations? In addition to the actual missiles we have, all of this would have to go through industry or IABG (Industrieanlagen-Betriebsgesellschaft mbH, a German company providing engineering services, technical consultancy, and testing services to various sectors, including aerospace, defense, automotive, telecommunications, and public administration).

Gerhartz: We must remember that they have planes, which the British wired to use with the Storm Shadow. So they are not that far away from being able to use a Taurus from these planes as well. We are not talking about the F-16 now. We have it on the MiG-23.

I can only mention the experience with Patriot [air defense systems]. They mastered the system in just a few weeks and are now deploying it to an extent that our people say, “Wow, we never expected that.” So, you know, they’re engaged in a kind of warfare that’s more high-tech than our good old air force. So I always consider that with any timelines we set up, we shouldn’t underestimate them.

A video by Ukraine’s Air Force showing the work of the Patriot air defense system in Ukraine

But now, I also want to see and hear your perspective, Fenske, Florstedt, especially regarding a potential delivery to Ukraine.

Fenske: I would like to revisit the training aspect again. We’ve already looked into it; if the right personnel come and can be trained in parallel, we’re looking at about three weeks of industry training and a training phase that we, the Air Force, can conduct in about four weeks. So, we’re already significantly below twelve weeks, assuming we have the appropriately qualified personnel that we can do it without an interpreter and such.

A few more details to consider. We’ve already spoken with Ms. Friedberger. Regarding deployment, the recommendation is to support at least the first missions. Since planning is very complex, it takes us about a year to train our own personnel. We’re trying to compress that down to, let’s say, ten weeks with the expectation that they can handle Formula 1 race cars both off-road and on track.

So, supporting planning techniques would be a possible variant. This could theoretically even be done from Büchel, with a secure line to Ukraine. Transfer the data file over, and then it would be available and could be planned together. So that would be the worst-case scenario. The minimum would be to support everything through the industry with a User Help Desk, which could provide support for software questions, much like we have in Germany.

Gerhartz: So, let me dive right in, Mr. Fenske. If there were political concerns that this direct line from Büchel to Ukraine might be seen as too direct involvement, yes, politics and all. One could also say, okay, the data file will be created by MBDA, and we send our 1 or 2 experts to Schrobenhausen (town in Bavaria that is home to significant German arms manufacturers like MBDA and TDW). 

Although that is total nonsense, just seen that way, but politically maybe something else, if the data file comes from the industry, not directly from us.

Fenske: Yes, the question is, where does the data come from? When it comes to the target data, which ideally comes with satellite images that give us the highest precision, with an accuracy below three meters, they must be first processed in Büchel.

I think we could make the data transfer between Büchel and Schrobenhausen work. Another possibility is that you send the data file to Poland, and the handover-takeover takes place somewhere in Poland, and someone drives there by car. You have to look into the details, then solutions will be found.

So at the moment when we have the support, in the worst case, I will have to commute  back and forth by car, which affects the reaction time. So you might not be able to respond within hours, although we could get down to six hours from assignment to aircraft airborne.

Then we also have precision that is unfortunately greater than three meters, which could be sufficient for some targets. If I want to have higher precision, and therefore work with satellite images and model the target, then it could take twelve hours. It depends on the target in each case.

So I’ve never looked at the details, but I think it will also be possible. However, we need to state that we require a data line capable of handling this

Gerhartz: Considering what Ukrainians are already doing, with many individuals there walking around in civilian clothes speaking with American accents, do you believe they can quickly adapt? As they already have access to all the satellite imagery.

Fenske: This ties into the need to penetrate air defenses, something we’re confident in doing, especially since we can operate at low altitudes with IABG and NDK data supporting us.

We definitely need to provide them with this data so that I can fly below radar detection at an altitude of 21 meters, maximizing mission planning efficiency, unlike Storm Shadow’s waypoint-based planning, but actually navigating around or under the systems. Providing this data will likely lead to quick learning effects. Then, we’ll quickly come to the issue of missile count; if I choose a number like 50, then those 50 missiles could be quickly used up.

Gerhartz: Clearly, this won’t change the course of the war; for this we do not have…, we’re not giving them all away, and not all assets are intended for this purpose. This goes without saying. So, one might suggest allocating 50 units in the first installment, and if we were to push ourselves to deliver another 50, that would likely be our limit.

But then, we enter into the realm of big politics. I suspect there might be significant momentum building because, based on what I’ve heard from my British and French colleagues, they are almost out of their Storm Shadows and Scalps. Thus, they might propose, before we proceed with further deliveries—since we’ve already made a second round of deliveries—perhaps it’s time to involve Germany in this discussion.

Florstedt: Yes, today I delved into this once more and took a pragmatic approach. I thought about what the unique selling point is compared to the Storm Shadows and air defense — robustness, altitude, etc. And I realized there are two interesting types of targets: a bridge in the East [the Crimean Bridge] and munition depots that we can penetrate.

Fire at the Crimean (Kerch bridge after a Ukrainian attack in October 2022. The bridge, which connects occupied Crimea with Russia, is  considered to be “Target #1” for Ukrainian  Forces.Source.

The bridge in the East is difficult to access, its pillars are relatively small, but the Taurus can accomplish this, and we can penetrate munition depots.

Taking this into account and comparing how many Storm Shadows, MALD [decoys] and HARM [missiles] were intercepted, we have a pretty cool unique selling point. I’ve identified three routes where it’s about hitting either the bridge or the munition depots.

Is it reachable (inaudible)?

And I’ve concluded, yes, it’s fundamentally feasible. The limiting factor is the number of Su-24s left, which would be in the single digits.

Gerhartz: Yes, exactly.

Florstedt: And I’ve selected a few release points and said, look, fundamentally it’s doable, and how do you teach the Ukrainians the TTPs [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]? I’d estimate it could be taught to the pilots in under a week.

But it really comes down to us: what are we actually doing now with mission planning? We need to consider both it and centralized planning. Training for the mission planning takes two weeks within our unit; if you don’t focus on SRZV, it goes relatively quickly.

That said, looking at a bridge, what I wanted to point out is that the TTP of the Taurus isn’t sufficient for simply targeting it. This means I need imagery to understand how the Taurus can operate, and for that, we need the mission data. I’m not sure if we can train Ukraine in a timely manner—obviously, speaking in terms of months as we currently are, but ideally in a shorter period—on what a bridge pillar looks like for the Taurus and how to teach them this.

Therefore, from an operational perspective, it’s difficult to assess how quickly this “image planning,” let’s say, can be imparted to Ukraine and how quickly integration can occur. But otherwise, fundamentally, TTS (Tactical Training Schools) for me would focus on the bridge and munition depots, and I generally see the potential to teach the people quickly.

Fenske: I’d like to quickly add something about the bridge: we’ve looked at it intensively, and unfortunately, it is like an airfield in size. This means that I might need 10 or 20 missiles for it.

Florstedt: I would estimate if you focused on the pillars when designing the release points…

Crimean Bridge
The aftermath of an explosion at the Crimean Bridge on 17 July 2023, one of Ukraine’s attacks on the bridge. Photo via subsribers of the Russian Telegram Channel Baza.

Fenske:  Even for the pillar, we might just end up making a hole. To provide a valid assessment, we’d really need to…

Florstedt: My intention wasn’t to present a detailed analysis of the bridge; I merely wanted to highlight the pragmatic approach.

Florstedt: What exactly do they intend to achieve with it? How quickly could we train them for this task? Ultimately, we need to provide them with centralized, image-based mission planning data. Essentially, we have to supply them with CEMOBI if they don’t possess it, along with the targeting data we already have, but we also need to make it accessible to them. For such small targets, precise planning is required beyond just satellite imagery. For hardened targets, planning is relatively straightforward and quick, especially when leveraging its capability to fly at very low altitudes.

Gerhartz: This brings us to the key point: We all understand their objective to eliminate the bridge. It’s clear, and we also grasp its ultimate implications. The supply lines, which are of significant military and strategic importance, also carry a political weight, making the island [Crimea peninsula when the Crimean bridge is destroyed] a critical asset. This aspect has become less critical now that they essentially have their land bridge [control over south-eastern Ukraine].

map occupation of Crimea
Map of Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, including the “land bridge” to Crimea. Map by Euromaidan Press

And there lies the concern about establishing a direct military link into Ukraine. The question remains whether we can effectively execute the strategy of deploying our personnel to MBDA, ensuring only a direct line between MBDA and Ukraine exists. This approach might be perceived as less severe than having a direct line from our Air Force to them.

Gräfe: I believe, ultimately, it wouldn’t make a difference, Ingo. We need to be careful not to set up a kill criteria [deal breaker] right from the start. If we tell the minister, and I’m exaggerating a bit here, that we plan the data and then drive it across from Poland by car to keep it under wraps, that would be a kill criteria. We won’t manage to implement this with any sort of involvement from us.

So first, if it comes from the company, MBDA would first have to agree to do it. Then we’ll proceed.

However, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether our team in Büchel or Schrobenhausen does the planning. Being involved means being involved, and I doubt we’ll be able to overcome this obstacle.

Assuming this prohibition against involvement as a foundational red line, we circle back to my initial point. We might need to divide the training into a Fast Track and a Long Track, where participants spend four months learning everything thoroughly, including how to target a bridge. In a Fast Track, the focus would be on rapid deployment after just two weeks, tackling immediate questions like how to manage ammunition depots.

Another option could be to ask the British to take over the training during this phase until the Ukrainian team is fully trained. But any attempt at such a workaround would be problematic if it were to leak to the press. Neither having our personnel in Schrobenhausen nor transporting data by car through Poland seem like viable solutions.

Gerhartz: However, if there is a political will, we could suggest that a representative from Ukraine come here. Then we need to clarify if the political mandate strictly prohibits any direct involvement in mission planning. If so, it’s clear that training will take longer, the complexity will increase, and the effectiveness of the operation might decrease, though success is not out of reach. They have already accumulated some experience in this area, and we’re aware of the high-tech equipment they are currently deploying.

Then, we would need to consider that if the directive states there is to be no direct involvement, we cannot conduct the mission planning in Büchel and send it over. I could almost imagine that for Germany, this might be a red line. Yes, it must be clear that they need longer training, which could take a few months. And not everything is possible with this approach. However, it’s not the case that nothing can be done with it; they might actually get a handle on it quite quickly. They just need to ensure they can process the entire database, the mission data, on their own, right?

Gräfe: Then I would do as Seppl just mentioned, creating a Short-Track and a Long-Track. The aim is to achieve a quick effect. And if it’s about achieving an initial impact with munitions depots and not the complexity of the bridge, then one could say, for a certain portion, we implement this Short-Track to quickly achieve an effect.

And these IABG data, I don’t see that as a critical issue because they aren’t tied to a specific position. They have to conduct their own reconnaissance. It would be very generic, related to the capabilities of the system. That was a point we had already discussed in this group, that it could well be imagined to hand them over. Currently, we are at a German Eyes Only stage.

Gerhartz: That will remain the central issue because, fundamentally, even with an ammunition depot, there is no simple planning in that environment due to the vast number of air defenses. This means one needs to delve deeply. I believe that our team will find a way. And the point would also be, at that moment, we would say, let’s try it, to also be able to offer better political advice.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz still restrains from giving Taurus missiles to Ukraine. Credit: open sources

As I said, we need a green light. We must start. However, it will fail with us because KSA [German military intelligence unit] doesn’t have a clear representation of where all the air defense systems are located.

But the Ukrainians have that, hopefully. Because from what I see with us, only the radar device is shown. But for us to have a clear plan, we really need to look at where the radar and launch devices are located.

The more we simplify, the less accurate our plan becomes. We have an excellent tool, meaning if we have the data, we can say quite precisely how we can prevail. Everything that we need to leave out, due to lack of time of training or complexity, always results in a reduction of assertiveness.

There’s no reason to start with the assumption that something is impossible or a lost cause. It’s about finding where the political red lines lie, and based on that, it may be possible to proceed with different strategies, like the Short-Track and Long-Track approach I quite like. This provides various timelines and complex usage possibilities that will become more manageable for Ukraine over time.

That’s what practice teaches us…

Even if I’m not directly involved, I see you all as capable enough, and the minister is quite cooperative, similar to predecessors. I just wanted to make sure we appear sober there and don’t throw in any show-stoppers that are not credible while other nations send Storm Shadows and SCALPs.

I am not crying “hurray” — we just gave away 3 Patriot radars out of 12, and faces fell. But at the moment they are shooting down airplanes and rockets which won’t be able to hit us.

Gräfe: I think it’s clear to say the longer you wait with a decision, the longer it will take afterward to really implement it. There are several levels to consider: starting with something simple, moving on to larger tasks, or possibly reaching out to the British, if they can take over initial support and planning. Could this accelerate the responsibilities that fall under our domain? However, as mentioned, the interface isn’t our responsibility at all. The Ukrainians would have to handle that part with the producers.

[…]

Gerhartz: We don’t want the committee to create issues. If it doesn’t consider, let’s call it, the price increase in advance, then we would face the issue of construction delays. This might even render the start of the construction work this year impossible. And every day counts in this program. That’s why it’s great that the interview went well. I think by Wednesday, we’ll also receive the decision to proceed with the two consortia, with the general contractors. […]

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