Massive German Battle Tank Scrap Yard

Nestled in the rolling, green farmland of Germany's eastern state of Thuringia, over 300 former West German battle tanks are parked idly in an expansive scrap yard. The 1970s "Marder" combat tanks are the latest batch set to be destroyed by Battle Tank Dismantling GmbH Koch, a firm that disassembles old German military vehicles. "Most of the tanks here are being recycled. This means they are used for scrap metal. Other parts go back to the manufacturers or the defence ministry but the majority of it disappears in the blast furnace," said Peter Koch, managing director of the company. Koch's firm buys the tanks from private German defence manufacturers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, as well as from the German Armed Forces, or Bundeswehr. With seemingly endless neat rows of green tanks, Koch's team of around a dozen technical labourers have plenty to do. At any given time, there are around three tanks being dismantled in two adjacent warehouses. With three workers paired to a single tank, the entire dismantling process takes around two to three days--much of which is done by hand. The engines, which are quickly sold off to German engineering and electronics companies, are the most valuable spare parts. The other scrap material is piled up outside the warehouse and eventually recycled. Battle Tank Dismantling, now a 32 person company, grew out of a business founded in 1991 that decommissioned tanks from former Communist East Germany. Since then, it has demilitarised over 16,000 military vehicles, including 800 U.S. tanks that belonged to West Germany. A post-Cold War agreement, the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), set equal limits on the number of tanks and other military equipment that NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries of the former Soviet bloc could maintain. Up until 2012, up to five new military vehicles were delivered to the yard each day, according to one worker. But the influx of tanks has since slowed. Koch estimated it will take between three and four years to clear out the current crop, most of which will be dismantled, while some could be sold to countries like Indonesia. At the height of the Cold War, Germany had over 4,000 main battle tanks. Today, the German army keeps only 225. To compensate, Koch is seeking business with both Russia and Ukraine and hopes to win contracts to dismantle their old tanks. But the crisis in Ukraine has put the brakes on talks. "We have been in current trouble spots like Ukraine, which has an amazing potential for weapons which need to be disposed of," said Koch. "We were in Russia. We are represented in all of the former (East European) countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance."

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