WASHINGTON — Following a media report about mass outages of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle during a recent drill, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said the manufacturers must fix any problems quickly or see the program canceled.
Fresh problems with the Puma, which has a history of iffy performance that officials thought were largely resolved, came to light after German has made the vehicle a cornerstone of its contributions to NATO’s Very High-Readiness Joint Task Force. Berlin will pick up the helm for that formation, and be its largest troop contributor with up to 2,700 troops, on Jan. 1, 2023.
Makers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann have described the Puma as the world’s most modern infantry fighting vehicle, highly interconnected with mounted and dismounted soldiers on the battlefield.
Der Spiegel reported over the weekend all 18 vehicles used during an exercise had failed, prompting the unit’s division commander to complain to higher-ups in Berlin about faulty onboard systems and even a case of an electrical fire.
Interviewed by the Heute Journal TV show on Monday, Lambrecht gave industry weeks to come up with solutions, stressing the goal of long-term reliability. “We can’t stumble from one fix to the next,” she said. It’s “worth the effort” to examine what exactly had happened, Lambrecht added, but warned “other decisions will have to be made” if problems remain unaddressed for too long.
Meanwhile, initial work to evaluate eight of the reportedly faulty vehicles has begun at a Rheinmetall test facility in Unterlüß, northern Germany, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Arne Collatz told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday. Officials hope to have an initial “analysis of the damage” before the end of the year, he added.
Leaders of the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have previously certified the Puma as ready for duty under the NATO-VJTF force during a yearslong process. Still, officials opted to modernize the vehicle’s half-century-old predecessor, Marder, named after the weasel-like mammal marten, as an insurance policy in light of the Puma’s past reliability problems.
Those Marders will now make up Germany’s armored contribution to the NATO formation. Defense officials in Berlin have said the government’s pledge to the alliance would be unaffected by the Puma saga. But the Defense Ministry’s most recent report on major weapon systems, dated November 2022, describes the Marder’s capabilities as “significantly degraded” compared to its successor.
Correction: This article was updated on Dec. 23 to correct the Marder vehicle’s age, which is 50-some years.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.