It was to be a pivotal moment for a Germany more confident in its military capabilities.

On January 1, 2023, Berlin will succeed France at the head of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force, a unit which must be able to intervene in any theater of operation in two or three days.

And Germany intended to take the opportunity to flaunt its technological know-how by carrying in its luggage the ultimate combat tank: its Puma armored infantry vehicle.

Except that a few days before this transfer of power, the decision was made to leave the machine in the garage.

The German Defense Minister, Christine Lambrecht, thus declared on Monday, December 19, that instead of the Pumas, the German contingent will include Marder armored vehicles, which have been in use for more than 50 years.

Eighteen tanks out of 18 failed

It is that the Bundeswehr – the German army – had just experienced a serious hiccup, revealed on Saturday by the magazine Der Spiegel.

The soldiers had decided, a little earlier, to carry out a shooting exercise for 18 Puma tanks which were to be made available to NATO, and they realized that all the vehicles were faulty.

The nature of the problem was not revealed by the Ministry of Defence, which merely specified on Monday that it had requested an in-depth investigation to find out the ins and outs of this episode "particularly embarrassing for Germany". to use the title of an editorial in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Berlin has indeed embarked on a vast project to modernize its army in order to prove that the country - long subscribed to a pacifist position - was up to the security challenges of the moment.

To achieve this, the Parliament approved, in June, an envelope of 100 billion euros, seeing in the Puma tank an example of the transformation of the Bundeswehr.

"It's a nightmare.

If the Puma is not operational, the whole army is not because this armored vehicle is supposed to be our main weapon”, lamented Johann Wadephul, deputy of the CDU (the Christian Democratic Union, conservative), interviewed by the first German channel ARD.

The "Rolls" of armored infantry vehicles

Because, on paper, this armored infantry vehicle is "the Rolls in its class and I can't imagine a single country that wouldn't want it for its army", assures Alexandre Vautravers, expert in security and armaments, also editor-in-chief of the Swiss Military Review (RMS).

Germany decided, in 2002, to integrate the Puma into its arsenal, and it is a vehicle which “is about twenty years ahead of the alternatives available to other countries”, summarizes the Swiss expert. .

It's not only very fast, with plenty of power and a high rate of fire, but it's also a vehicle loaded with electronics and computing – from the tracks to the turret.

One of its great advantages over other armored vehicles, mentioned at length in articles in the German press, lies in its on-board communication system which allows it to be permanently linked to the units moving around in order to transmit to them, in real-time, all information about the positions of enemy targets.

A device which, in theory, makes the Puma “the central element of the infantry concept of the future developed by the German army”, underlines the Tagesschau news program of the ARD.

But this future continues to be postponed.

The recent setbacks of the Puma are far from being the first disappointments of this military program.

It suffered so many delays, hiccups and budget overruns that this tank earned the nickname “Pannen-Panzer” in Germany (the “panzer with breakdowns”).

It was not until 2021, 19 years after the first and only order for 350 Pumas placed by the army with industrialists Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, that this tank was declared operational.

In the meantime, Berlin has had to recognize over the years problems with: the computer system, the on-board software, visibility, weight… and sealing.

Indeed, in 2015, when the first prototypes were delivered to the army, the military quickly realized that the rain was coming through the closed hatch.

Far from ideal for a vehicle that relies so much on on-board electronics.

The Panther?

The Hedgehog or the Puma?

For the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, the painful delivery of this Puma is “symptomatic of the malfunctions of the arms acquisition system”.

Development programs get lost in endless and complicated administrative and political procedures”, explains Alexandre Vautravers.  

A project like the Puma can thus be revoked and modified countless times.

And the devil sometimes hides in the most unexpected details.

Thus, in 2002, the future tank was to be called "Panther"... before the Ministry of Defense realized that this name had already been used by the Nazis for one of their tanks.

He had then proposed the name "Hedgehog", also abandoned after long debates because Berlin did not find it wise to give a combat vehicle the name of an animal "which spends part of the year in hibernation". tells the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

At the end of this long procedure, there may only be a handful of engineers who know how to properly assemble the vehicle.

"Today, only a small number of these armored vehicles are produced, in a traditional way. Logistically, the workshops and stocks of spare parts as well as the technical personnel are in short supply and it is difficult to maintain these vehicles. in working order. Unlike older systems [like the Marder, Editor's note] developed and purchased in large numbers during the Cold War and for which there are still large stocks of parts, as well as a reserve of know-how" , emphasizes Alexandre Vautravers.

Until now, these dysfunctions remained German-German problems.

But this time, this new quack is also likely to serve Ukraine.

kyiv had indeed asked Berlin to deliver some of its old Marder tanks, since the Puma had been officially operational since 2021. But from now on, Germany “will probably prefer to keep its Marders”, assures the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

So as not to end up with very impressive paper Pumas.

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