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In the week beginning 12 December 2022, 18 Puma infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) suffered total failure during training at the Bundeswehr’s range in Bergen. In response, the German Ministry of Defence (MoD) commissioned a comprehensive inventory and failure analysis effort, which has been underway since 16 December. The vehicles in question belonged to a Bundeswehr armoured company scheduled for deployment to the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) 2023.

The incident in Bergen was first reported by Der Spiegel, citing an email sent from the commander of the Bundeswehr’s 10th Armoured Division, Major General Ruprecht von Butler, to the Army’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais. The email stated that the operational readiness of the 18 Puma IFVs dropped to 0 after just several days on deployment. The failures were primarily attributed to problems with the electronics, but also included a cable fire.

German MoD stated that the goal of the failure analysis is to restore the IFVs’ operational readiness as quickly as possible. Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht described the renewed failures of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle as a bitter setback, stating “I have commissioned an analysis by the end of next week by participating agencies of the Ministry of Defence (BMVg) and the Bundeswehr, the Army Logistic Service (HIL), and industry”. She added, “The Puma project is at a decisive milestone, and I have made that unmistakably clear to all those involved. Until the vehicle proves to be stable, there will be no second batch.” The criticism from parliament was entirely justified, the minister stressed. “Our troops must be able to rely on weapon systems being robust and stable, even in combat.”

Puma VJTF 2023 Configuration_(Bundeswehr)

According to the German MoD, however, Germany’s contribution to the NATO spearhead in VJTF 2023 will remain unaffected by these “technical challenges.” In the course of preparing for deployment, he said, Panzergrenadier (mechanised infantry) combat units have already been trained on the legacy Marder IFV, which will replace the Puma units in the VJTF. The Pumas were supposed to form a core component of the VJTF starting on 1 January 2023, however the vehicles affected by the failure are currently being transported back to Bavaria.

Perhaps more concerningly, the Pumas in question were the improved ‘Puma VJTF 2023’ configuration, which had previously been certified as combat ready. This standard featured various improvements, including software updates, upgrades to the commander, gunner, and driver optics, provision of colour displays for the infantry dismounts, and the addition of Elbit PNR-1000 UHF radio, and two additional Rohde & Schwarz UHF/VHF SOVERON VR5000 Software Defined Radios (SDRs). Company and battalion command vehicles were additionally equipped with an L3Harris AN/PRC-117G(V)1(C) satellite radio and a Thales SEM 93 VHF radio.

Furthermore, on 14 December 2022, just days before the Der Spiegel broke the story of the readiness failures, the German government released funding to upgrade the Army’s baseline Pumas to the VJTF 2023 standard. Additionally, a second batch of 50 Pumas, of a similar configuration to the VJTF 2023 standard, was slated to be ordered in 2023. However, both the upgrade plans and the procurement of the second batch have now been paused, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Lars Hoffmann