Germany sought to reassure Nato that it could still be relied on to lead the alliance’s rapid response task force even after all 18 of its most advanced armoured vehicles malfunctioned in a training exercise earlier this month.
Defence chiefs held a crisis meeting in Berlin on Monday to discuss the massive problems that have emerged with the Puma, one of the world’s best-protected infantry fighting vehicles, with defence minister Christine Lambrecht describing the issues as a “bitter setback”.
The 18 Pumas that malfunctioned were among 42 that were supposed to be deployed as part of Nato’s “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” (VJTF), a rapid response force which Germany will lead from next year.
“Nato can continue to rely on us carrying out our duty with the VJTF,” Lambrecht said.
Lambrecht added that the army would not order any more Pumas, which were developed by the arms companies Rheinmetall Landsysteme and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) but have long been plagued by technical problems. The companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The malfunctions could prove highly embarrassing for Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, who has vowed to restore the fortunes of the armed forces and make up for years of underfunding with a massive increase in defence expenditure. Days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine he announced the creation of a €100bn investment fund for the Bundeswehr, the German army.
Last week the Bundestag gave the green light for €8bn of the €100bn to be spent on new F-35 US fighter jets to replace Germany’s ageing Tornados. They also authorised spending on a technical upgrade of the Pumas.
On Monday, the defence ministry said that during training at the army’s firing practice centre last week, the Pumas had suffered an “unexpectedly high” number of breakdowns — though it stressed that the exercise’s tactical and climatic conditions were “challenging”.
“The recent malfunctions of the Puma IFV are a bitter setback,” Lambrecht said, adding that she had ordered an investigation into what went wrong with the vehicle.
The minister said the Bundeswehr would not order any more Pumas until it is “proven to be resilient”. “Our army must be able to rely on weapons systems being robust and stable, in combat, too,” she said.
“This not only hurts the Bundeswehr’s reputation in Nato, but also the image of the companies . . . involved,” said Thomas Wiegold, a prominent military blogger.
Officials insisted that Germany’s contribution to the VJTF next year would not be affected by the issues with the Puma. It said the German combat units that will be deployed to the task force had been trained on an older IFV, the Marder, and these would now be used in the VJTF instead of the Pumas.
Officials said a joint investigation was currently under way to analyse the Puma’s problems. This was being carried out by the army, the Federal Office for Equipping the Bundeswehr, the private logistics company responsible for repairing military equipment as well as Rheinmetall and KMW.
The Puma has had a long and troubled history. Production started in 2010 but it was only declared battle-ready last year.
“Scrap metal for €6bn is embarrassing for Germany,” said Dietmar Bartsch, parliamentary leader of the leftwing opposition Linke party. “The IFV Puma was from the start a bad design that swallowed up billions in taxpayers’ money.”
The technical issues were first revealed in a letter by Maj Gen Ruprecht von Butler, commander of the 10th Armoured Division, to the Inspector of the German Army, which was leaked to news magazine Spiegel. He said the Pumas’ electronics appeared particularly prone to malfunction.