WEAPON SYSTEMSPuma Tanks Unusable: Is Germany's Military Fit for Action?

By Ben Knight

Published 21 December 2022

Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, German leaders vowed to boost the Bundeswehr and take on a leading role in NATO. But now there is yet another debacle: All of the cutting-edge Puma tanks are unfit for action.

The German military faced yet another PR disaster on Monday after reports emerged over the weekend that a training exercise involving one of its key weapons, the Puma tank, left not a single one operational.

The conservative opposition was quick to jump on the news as supposed evidence of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s mismanagement of the Bundeswehr, particularly under the control of Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.

It’s a nightmare,” Christian Democrat (CDU) parliamentary group leader Johann Wadephul told German  public broadcaster ARD. “The Puma is supposed to be a main weapon system of the German army. And if the Puma is not operational, then the army is not operational.”

The criticism from parliament is entirely justified,” Lambrecht said in a statement released Monday. “Our troops must be able to rely on weapon systems being robust and stable in combat.”

Lambrecht said she had commissioned the relevant departments of the military and manufacturers Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall to provide her with an analysis of what has gone wrong by the end of next week. The older Marder tanks will be used in NATO exercises for now, as had already been planned, she said.

The highly complex Pumas, which cost €17 million ($18 million) each, took over a decade to develop. Originally green-lit in 2002, the tank was meant to replace the older Marders, which Germany has been using since the 1970s. But the Puma was plagued with technical issues, including a leaky roof hatch, restricted sight-lines for the driver and electronics issues. Even when completed in 2015, not all the Pumas could be used.

Bullets Running Out
The new debacle comes on top of several alarming headlines in the German media recently about the state of the country’s military. These suggested the Bundeswehr only has enough ammunition for two days of intense fighting — a figure apparently leaked by unnamed sources in defense circles. 

If this is true (and such information cannot be confirmed, as it is a state secret), German ammunition supplies are well below the standards expected by NATO, which requires each member to have 30 days’ worth of ammunition. To make up that shortfall alone, defense experts say Germany needs to invest another €20 to €30 billion. 

The state of the Bundeswehr’s hardware has long been a topic of concern: There have been several stories in recent years about tanks and helicopters that needed repairing, rifles that fail in hot weather and soldiers having to train in the cold without thermal underwear.