“Total failure” is how the German-built Puma schützenpanzer infantry fighting vehicles are now being described. Production of the first batch of 350 vehicles started in 2010 and was only completed in August 2021.
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While noted for being one of the best-protected infantry fighting vehicles in service today, the platform is plagued by technical failures that could affect the formation of NATO’s so-called spearhead force meant to defend against Russian aggression.
The fleet of Pumas was meant to replace the aging Marder. The vehicle is set to take a prominent role next year in NATO’s 5,000-strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.
However, the readiness of the vehicle is being called into question.
Maj. Gen. Ruprecht von Butler, who commands the 10th panzer “Lion” division, wrote to senior commanders and to the German Defense Ministry to complain that the tank was causing “considerable unrest,” the Times of London reported.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told reporters on Monday that several Puma schützenpanzers were put out of service during a recent eight-day military drill.
“The recent failures of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle are a major setback,” Lambrecht said in a statement, adding that she had requested a report on the matter by the end of next week. “Our troops must be able to rely on weapon systems being robust and stable even in combat.”
Problem Plagued Puma
Lawmakers in the German opposition have been even more critical of the Puma’s performance after every single one of the 18 participating vehicles seemed to experience problems in the recent drill. Not a single one was left operational.
“It’s a nightmare,” Christian Democrat (CDU) parliamentary group leader Johann Wadephul told the ARD broadcaster. “The Puma is supposed to be a main weapon system of the German army. And if the Puma is not operational, then the army is not operational.”
As a result, Berlin will not purchase any additional Pumas until the vehicles’ issues have been addressed. Germany maintains a fleet of 350 Puma vehicles. Berlin secured financing for 229 additional units following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
This is not the first time the vehicle has made headlines in the German press. It has been plagued with enough problems to earn the unfortunate moniker “pannenpanzer,” or “breakdown tank.”
The Puma could be seen as a symbol of the Bundeswehr’s comprehensive struggles. By the end of the Cold War, the Bundeswehr fielded 500,000 men in 12 divisions, and it was equipped with some of the best military hardware in the world.
It was the backbone of NATO in Europe and one of its most capable forces.
With the end of the Cold War, the Bundeswehr lost its enemy, and then its funding. The fighting force shrank as it was reoriented toward limited expeditionary operations including peacekeeping in the Balkans. In Afghanistan, the Bundeswehr fielded only small contingents of light infantry.
Today, Germany’s soldiers lack modern radios, night-vision equipment, body armor, and even winter clothing. It is hardly a modern fighting force, but Berlin has vowed to boost defense spending and modernize its military in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has made 100 billion euros ($106 billion) available for defense investments in this year’s budget.
That is good news, but it could take more than money to fix the Puma and the Bundeswehr.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.