New Puma infantry fighting vehicle to successively replace predecessor Marder

Highly mobile with modular armour concept

Series production of the leading-edge PUMA infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) is set to commence soon. This vehicle represents the optimum combination of such military requirements as a high level of protection, assertiveness, mobility and command capability, making it a leading-edge replacement for its ageing predecessor.

In July 2009, Rheinmetall was awarded its largest order to date in its close to 125-year history. The Bundeswehr ordered over 400 leading-edge Puma infantry fighting vehicles from Projekt System & Management (PSM) GmbH, a subsidiary of Düsseldorf-based Rheinmetall.

Originally, the ageing Marder fighting vehicle was supposed to have been replaced by an entirely different vehicle: the Marder 2. Toward the end of the 1980s, the German government commissioned the former Krauss-Maffei to build a complete trial vehicle to be presented in 1991. Just as with the Marder fighting vehicle, Rheinmetall played a key role in this project. The prototype was equipped with a cannon which permitted rapid barrel and calibre changes from 35 to 50 mm. The military technical trials were performed at the Münster combat training facility to the satisfaction of all involved. However, the Marder 2 was dropped from the Bundeswehr planning in 1992 in response to the changing political parameters. Instead, the combat capability of the the Marder 1 IFV was enhanced and upgraded in multiple steps – naturally with the close involvement of Rheinmetall. The Marder 2 prototype, on the other hand, was relegated to a museum.

The "New infantry fighting vehicle" project was reactivated ten years later. The requirements: maximum protection of vehicle crew, airborne transport capability and rapid equipping and interchangeability of basic systems. These criteria could only be met with a completely new vehicle. The Puma's armour concept is modular. In the class A configuration, the IFV weighs 31.45 tonnes. This weight has been optimised for the A400M, the Bundeswehr's new transport aircraft. In class C, the combat variant, additional protective structures and modules are added to cover the entire threat spectrum, from mines and IEDs to ABC weapons. Furthermore, the Puma is equipped with a leading-edge fire suppression system for the crew compartment that detects and extinguishes fires within hundredths of a second, protecting the crew from significant harm.

The vehicle's main weapon is the MK30-2/ABM autocannon, developed by Rheinmetall. Unlike the Marder, this weapon is fully stabilised and has a calibre of 30 millimetres, while the Marder's armament was only 20 millimetres. This increases the combat range and enhances the effect on target. Additionally, the turret itself is no longer manned; the weapon is remote-controlled. The Heckler & Koch MG 4 serves as the secondary armament. The military's armament specification was expanded further in 2008. The Spike guided missile was added, manufactured by Eurospike GmbH, a 40-percent subsidiary of Rheinmetall.

For Dr. Björn Bernhard, General Manager of PSM GmbH along with Rainer Huth (KMW), the Puma is without doubt the world's finest infantry fighting vehicle: "With 1088 HP, the Puma has the most powerful engine of all IFVs. It also offers excellent protection that even some battle tanks might be envious of. And we're operating on the battle-tank level when it comes to first-round hit probabilities as well. No other vehicle has even come close."

To date, nine infantry fighting vehicles have been built for testing and demonstration purposes. Mission testing in the areas of tactics and logistics (part 1) has been completed. Following successful climate testing in Norway, the Puma was flown using an Antonov from Leipzig to Abu Dhabi in late summer 2013; there, the vehicle was subjected to over two months of summer testing in various phases. Firstly, the Puma demonstrated the accuracy of its primary and secondary armaments. The weapons were tested at a dead stop and on the move, as well as day and night. The temperatures at the modern firing range in the north-eastern portion of the UAE ranged from 35 to 50 degrees Celsius in the shade.

The experts from Bundeswehr Technical Command (WTD) 41 were able to "shoot through" their test programme without a hitch. Thus, the potential users themselves were able to see that the Puma can perform its mission precisely even under such conditions. Additionally, the air conditioning also demonstrated its high performance capability in numerous test series and in constant daily operation for weeks on end. The participants rated this extremely highly, just as they did the MUSS multifunction self-protection system.

At two other test sites in the north and north-east of the United Arab Emirates, the Puma IFV demonstrated its mobility; the WTD 41 experts were responsible for this part of the testing. The Puma mastered a variety of terrain, such as sand dunes, steep gravel tracks and the scree of dried riverbeds with great endurance and no damage. Testing officially concluded on 31 October 2013. On the basis of the results, the next important milestone is obtaining approval for use from the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support.

Bernhard sees export potential for the Puma primarily with customers who "want to equip themselves with leading-edge, dependable and future-proof technology – technology which of course has its price. I can well imagine, for instance, that the Puma would be attractive for countries like Australia or some of our European neighbours." A procurement campaign for fighting vehicles is currently under way in Australia, and PSM is optimistic; additional potential customers are in the offing in some countries of the Middle East.

In terms of production technology, Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH is in the process of creating the prerequisites for series production of the Puma at its Unterluess site. A new hall is currently under construction in Suedheide, in Lower Saxony; with 5500 square meters, this will be the largest at that site. From 2014 on, the Unterluess plant is expected to produce between 20 and 25 Puma infantry fighting vehicles per year.

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