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Nato force set back by ‘total failure’ of Germany’s Puma combat vehicles
All 18 of the Pumas broke down within days during recent military exercises
All 18 of the Pumas broke down within days during recent military exercises
Bruno Waterfield
Monday December 19 2022, 12.01am GMT, The Times

The “total failure” of Germany’s Puma schützenpanzer combat vehicles will hit the formation of Nato’s “spearhead force” defence against Russia.

Major general Ruprecht von Butler, who commands the 10th panzer, or Lion, division, has written to senior commanders and German defence ministry to complain that the tank was causing “considerable unrest”.

The Puma armoured personnel carrier is meant to replace the Marder infantry fighting vehicle and Von Butler’s brigade is supposed to take a role in Nato’s 5,000 strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2023.

The Puma is the most expensive infantry fighting vehicle in the world at more than €17 million per unit, and while the Bundeswehr have ordered 350, technical problems have delayed deployment. The cost of fixing the 41 Pumas for the Nato force is estimated at €723.5 million while €2.8 billion is earmarked to get 297 others into service.

During a recent eight-day exercise with 18 of the vehicles to prepare for frontline alliance roles, operational readiness dropped to zero, or “totalausfall” [total failure], within a few days, according to Von Butler’s letter, which has been leaked to Spiegel magazine.

The vehicle, which has been plagued with problems, was signed off as combat-ready by the army inspector a year ago but Von Butler reported that breakdowns had “never occurred with this frequency before”. He wrote: “You can imagine how the troops are now evaluating the reliability of the Puma system. This cannot be compared with the usual reliability of German land vehicles, and we are talking here about vehicles that we had brought to a different — supposedly — more reliable level. This is particularly stressful for the troops who report to me.”

He warned that Nato planners should assume that the brigade “can only be fully operational again in three to four months”.

Christine Lambrecht, the defence minister, will hold crisis talks over the tank problems today with army commanders in a major setback for the German military at a time when fears are growing of a new Russian offensive in Ukraine early next year.

The revelations are highly embarrassing for the government. In an interview at the weekend Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, insisted that Germany’s military was now well-equipped. “Unlike in the past three decades, the Bundeswehr will once again be able to repel an attack on our territory or that of our allies,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

In the course of the exercises which ended last week, Pumas broke down with turret problems, failures of electronic systems and even a serious cable fire in the driver’s compartment.