Billions of euros have been invested, and after one training session, the new German armored vehicles are already sputtering to the side

If the German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht finally had good news from the political front, military reality throws a spanner in the works again. The day after Lambrecht reported last week that the first 13 of the famous 100 billion euros for a historic upgrade of the armed forces actually spent, it turns out that one of the main recipients of that money is smoking and spluttering at the edge of the battlefield – before the first enemy shot has ever been fired.

As usual, the bad news found its way out thanks to a leak, to the weekly newspaper The mirror, from the Berlin defense headquarters, which is known as an official-political snake pit. This time it was an internal fire letter from Major General Ruprecht von Butler, commander of the Tenth Tank Division. Message: The Puma infantry fighting vehicle is completely undeployable. Eighteen units have participated in an exercise in recent weeks ahead of their NATO deployment to Eastern Europe next year.

At the end of the exercise, there were functional: zero.

“The last two had problems in the tower after an hour and a half on shooting day yesterday,” von Butler said in his letter to the commander-in-chief of the German land forces, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais. The two undoubtedly understand each other well, because the same Mais also sounded the alarm immediately after the Russian attack on Ukraine. “It’s war in Europe, and the Bundeswehr is more or less empty-handedMais wrote on LinkedIn. It is high time, he wrote, for the German armed forces to “re-position” themselves.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.  Image AFP

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.Image AFP

organizational problems

That same week, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in his so-called turning point-speech the gigantic investment of 100 billion euros in the armed forces, and for a moment it seemed as if a new military superpower had been born. But the problems with the Pumas are exemplary of the seemingly insurmountable material and organizational problems surrounding the German armed forces, and it doesn’t seem that 100 billion euros can solve them easily.

There is a shortage of everything, from night vision goggles to winter socks to ammunition to personal protection equipment. What is in stock say soldiers, thanks to the notorious military bureaucracy takes forever to get your hands on. The German taxpayer has been shaking his head for years as the creation of one hyper-advanced new (weapon) system after another degenerates into endless delays and budget overruns. The NH90 transport helicopter, the Tiger combat helicopter and also the Puma infantry fighting vehicle: all types of vehicles and aircraft that can also be purchased elsewhere, but the Germans prefer to make the very best themselves.

On the left a new German Puma, on the right its decades-old predecessor Marder.  Image Getty Images

On the left a new German Puma, on the right its decades-old predecessor Marder.Beeld Getty Images

Beating heart

On paper, the Puma is therefore invincible. “The most advanced infantry fighting vehicle in the world”, exults manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann on its website. Unparalleled crew protection against everything from IEDs (improvised explosive devices, red.) to anti-tank missiles. Exceptionally maneuverable. Extremely climate resistant. Pioneering technology.

At least, when he does. It seems that the technological feats that make the device so powerful are also its Achilles heel. After crisis consultations on Monday, the German government decided to abandon the intended purchase of new Pumas for the time being. The 350 pieces that have already been ordered must first show themselves to be ‘stable’.

Extra painful: the 37th Panzergrenadier Brigade, to which the eighteen broken-down Pumas belong, will become the beating heart of NATO’s ‘Very High Readiness Joint Task Force’ (VJTF) next year, when Germany takes over its rotating leadership. It must protect the eastern flanks of Europe. The brigade can still do that, Defense Minister Lambrecht assured on Monday. She will receive Marders, the decades-old predecessor of the Puma. “We had already planned that during the preparations, and that turned out to have been smart.”

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