The Marder infantry fighting vehicle turns 50
Battle-proven weapons system for mechanized infantry
Combining excellent tactical mobility and impressive firepower with the ability to transport troops quickly and safely in high-threat areas of operation, the Marder infantry fighting vehicle is an outstanding modern weapon system.
Tried and tested, its operationally proven design features a powerpack in the forward section and a centrally positioned turret; the fighting compartment is in the rear, with a generously dimensioned ramp for rapid entry and exit. Maintenance is straightforward. Moreover, the Marder is specially designed for ease of use and maximum dependability. Rheinmetall offers numerous possibilities for enhancing the vehicle's survivability, firepower and reconnaissance capabilities.
On 7 May 1971, the first production versions of the Marder infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) were formally transferred to the German Army. This took place at simultaneous ceremonies at Kassel and Kiel – the corporate seats of manufacturers Thyssen-Henschel and Krupp MaK, both of which have belonged to Rheinmetall since 1999 and 2001, respectively. At the time of its inception, it was assumed that the German Army’s new infantry fighting vehicle – teamed with the Leopard 1 main battle tank – would make a decisive contribution to national territorial defence. In reality, the future had altogether different challenges in store for the vehicle.
During the Cold War, deployments were limited to peacetime exercises, which, however, credibly underscored the ability and willingness of the Federal Republic of Germany and its NATO partners to defend themselves. It has been a long time since the Leopard 1 featured in the Bundeswehr’s inventory. The Marder, on the other hand, has remained in service down to the present day, proving its mettle as part of the Quick Reaction Force in firefights in the Kunduz and Mazar-e Sharif regions of Afghanistan. And there is still no clear end in sight to the combat vehicle’s service life.
Development of the prototypes
The search for the right concept
After examining the first vehicles, it gradually became clear to the Army general staff that the restrictive specifications would have to be dropped in order to enable a better IFV concept. The maximum height requirement of 1,890 mm was abandoned, while the crew strength was cut from twelve to ten troops.
In October 1962 development contracts for seven new prototypes of the section vehicle were signed with Ruhrstahl (Hanomag) and MOWAG. Henschel did not take part in the competition, as the company was concentrating primarily on the development of prototypes for the following variants: a gun-based tank destroyer, a mortar carrier, a field ambulance and a rocket launcher. Cooperation with MOWAG was terminated due to a patent dispute.
For the prototypes of the second generation, a new conceptual approach ensued. In order to make a larger rear hatch possible, in the RU vehicles the complete powerpack block was now transferred to the front of the vehicle, simultaneously eliminating the need for the coupling shaft, which was susceptible to malfunctions. A one-man turret, the DL-RH3, newly engineered by Rheinmetall, was now available for the vehicle; it was to be armed with a 20mm automatic cannon and coaxial machinegun.
Initially positioned to the left of the turret, in later prototypes the commander’s station was placed directly behind the driver, thus enabling integration of an antitank missile system to the left of the turret – specifically the Bofors antitank missile, or BANTAM, which was to be procured at a later date. The new concept resulted in a larger vehicle, whose weight increased to approximately 26 tonnes.
During field trials, the fact that the commander was not located in the turret was criticized, as this severely impaired his ability to see and lead. Because the torsion bar suspension vehicles handled poorly in off-road terrain, the RU 264 was equipped with a hydraulic-pneumatic suspension system. It was hoped that this would lead to improved driving performance. However, after five years of trials, testing was stopped owing to the inadequate reliability and stability of the suspension elements.
Owing to the additional increase in weight to approximately 27.5 tons, a new mb 833 Ea500 exhaust gas turbocharged engine with a nominal output of 444 kW was installed in the new prototypes. In addition, all of the vehicles were equipped with torsion bar-suspended six-roller running gear. At the end of 1964, the companies Rheinstahl AG, Henschel and MOWAG were awarded development contracts to construct no fewer than twelve third-generation prototypes. The vehicles underwent technical testing and subsequent field trials in 1965 and 1966. During fabrication of the vehicles, the German military slipped in a new requirement: the vehicles were now to be equipped with a carriage for mounting a machinegun at the rear of the vehicle.
In the end, it was the RU vehicles that won the decision in October 1966. The MOWAG company dropped out of the running, because (among other things) its developments did not fit in with the logistics concept for the vehicle family. The evaluation of the technical tests and field trials of the final prototypes flowed in 1967 into the design of the ten pre-production vehicles. The new HSWL 194 transmission developed by the Renk company enabled a flat bow, thus enhancing the driver’s field of vision. Integration of a guided missile system was postponed until the MILAN (Missile d’Infanterie léger antichar) became available, a second-generation system with a semi-automatic guidance system.
All of the pre-production vehicles now featured a two-man turret with weapons mounted on top and a total of four ball-shaped gun mantlets on the flanks of the hull. By now, the pre-production vehicles had a combat weight of 27.5 t (without armour skirts). During the 1968/69 timeframe, the pre-production vehicles were carefully scrutinized. Even if the vehicle conformed to the expectations of the military from the conceptual standpoint, individual subassemblies still suffered from considerable defects. Among other things, this was due to the steadily increasing weight of the vehicle, which led to a heightened malfunction rate in the transmission, brakes and running gear.
Of the many Marder family vehicles originally planned, only two were ultimately realized: the Roland anti-aircraft missile system and a prototype TÜR radar carrier for detecting and tracking low flying aircraft. In the 1970s, the planned Marder family variants were mounted on an M113 chassis instead, the basic version of which cost around 35% as much. The Marder IFV was expected to remain in service until the early 1990s.
Combat performance upgrades
Remarkably enough, even after intensive testing and extensive field trials, the user called for numerous subsequent functional improvements. The need to adapt the vehicle’s combat performance in line with evolving threats also resulted in a steady flow of modifications. Combat performance upgrades to date are listed below:
Integration of the MILAN weapon system with four guided missiles on board; seating reduced to 6 or 7 soldiers;
First combat performance upgrade to Marder1A1
Among other things, installation of a first-generation night vision device (residual light intensifier) with thermal energy receiver (PNZG WOE), double belt feeder for the automatic cannon, strengthening of the lateral traversing gearing;
2nd combat performance upgrade to Marder1A2
Among other things, retrofitting of 1,462 vehicles with thermal imaging devices (WBG-X) for the gunner, and/or use of MILAN infrared adapter MIRA for the MILAN weapon system; elimination of the rear weapon mount; upgrade to SEM 80/90 radio; introduction of spotted camouflage painting.
3rd combat performance upgrade to Marder1A3
Among other things, retrofitting 2,097 vehicles with additional armour for the turret and hull (protection against 30mm automatic cannon fire); redesign of the magazine and ammunition feed; extension of the turret machinegun from the weapon housing on the left-hand side of the turret; mounting of storage bins coupled with simultaneous elimination of ball-shaped weapon mantlets; number of roof hatches reduced from four to three; installation of reinforced torsion bars; new seats for commander and gunner; new rear hatch with larger loading volume; weight increased to 33.5 t.
Combat performance upgrade to Marder1A4:
Utilization of this version as a mobile command post (battalion commander), accompanied by additional equipping of 24 vehicles with SEM93 radio.
4th combat performance upgrade to Marder1A5
Among other things, retrofitting of 74 vehicles with protection against blast and projectile-forming mines; alteration of the stowage concept; added floor clearance in the fighting compartment; attachment of seating to the roof of the hull; installation of GPS system (PLGR); installation of more powerful brakes and higher-performance ventilation pumps; new armour skirts (steel armour); wider tracks (500 mm); replacement of conical compression springs with hydraulic buffers; installation of three additional storage bins; lining of fighting compartment interior with anti-spall liner; weight increased to 37.4 t.
Combat performance upgrade to Marder1A5A1
Among other things, retrofitting of 35 vehicles with air conditioning and multispectral camouflage equipment (MMT); CG-12 electronic protection system; reinforced protection on the fighting compartment roof around the hatches; combat weight: approx. 38.1 t.
Of the 382 Marder vehicles currently in the Bundeswehr inventory, just under 300 are supposed to be kept in service with the mechanized infantry at least until the end of this century. In addition to these come tank driver training vehicles, testbed carriers, etc. It was decided in 2016 to initiate a further service life extension programme while eliminating obsolescent features. An order for a package of measures was awarded for initial development of prototypes, followed by full-scale retrofitting of the vehicles, one after the other. The service life extension programme encompasses the following individual measures:
- Starting in 2016, development and pilot integration of the MELLS multirole antitank lightweight guided missile system (PzAbwWA MELLS) into the Marder1A5 IFV.
- Starting in 2017, delivery of retrofit kits for integrating the PzAbwWA MELLS into the Marder 1 A5 fleet (now implemented in 35 vehicles) as a replacement for the obsolete MILAN weapon system.
- Starting in 2017, commencement of the Marder IFV service life extension programme with the development and pilot retrofitting of:
– the PzAbwWA MELLS into the remaining Marder IFV variants;
– a new fire detection and suppression system for the IFV Marder 1 A3 family;
– a new thermal imaging target device to replace the obsolete EBG-X;
– a new driver vision system in the A3 family variants (SPECTUS II),
– minor components to eliminate obsolescent features. Furthermore, an order was awarded to replace the drivetrain of the Marder1A5 family with the goal of a comprehensive elimination of obsolescence.
- Starting in 2018, expansion of the service life extension programme to include fabrication of a pilot vehicle with a new drivetrain.
- Starting in 2019, development and pilot integration of a battle management system into the different Marder variants in order to create a complete information and data network based on the Bundeswehr’s FüInfoSys-BMS (battle management system) as well as previously introduced radio and command equipment, the objective being to improve the degree of digitization of the VJTF (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force) – the NATO spearhead formation – which will be furnished by the Bundeswehr in 2023.
- Starting in 2019, delivery of retrofit kits for installing a fire detection and extinguisher system developed during the course of the service life extension programme.
- Starting in 2021, delivery of retrofit kits for installing the new SPECTUS II driver vision system. This system enables the combination of images produced by a residual light intensification camera and thermal imaging device. A rear-view camera and separate infrared spotlight are installed at the back of the vehicle.
- Starting in 2021, delivery of retrofit kits for installing the new SAPHIR 2.6 MK thermal imaging device (a Rheinmetall development) as well as delivery of retrofit kits for installing the new drivetrain in 71 vehicles of the 1A5 family. The new drivetrain features a basic engine with an output of 563 kW; the gears have been adapted for the higher performance level; in addition, digitized drivetrain electronics have been installed.
Foreign deployments of the Marder IFV
When the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) moved into the former Yugoslavia starting on 12 June 1999, the Marder infantry vehicle (the 1A3 version; Fig. 17) advanced side by side with the Leopard 2 main battle tank and the Luchs armoured reconnaissance vehicle. After this, the Marder IFV was utilized primarily in a security role, guarding mobile checkpoints as well as conducting area surveillance operations.
Here, its high mobility in the rough terrain of the Balkans, automatic cannon for security and surveillance operations, as well as its ability to transport security forces and additional equipment made the Marder a valuable asset. Other tasks that fell to the vehicle included convoy and patrol escort duties.
Starting at the beginning of 2003, the prevailing threat posed to the vehicles from landmines led to their replacement with the 1A5 version.
During the course of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployment in Afghanistan, the first Marder1A5A1 vehicles reached the German contingent at the end of 2007. In total, up to 35 Marder IFVs were deployed in Afghanistan in Mazar-e Sharif and (starting in 2009) Kunduz in order to reinforce the Quick Reaction Force, or QFR (Fig. 18). Here too the Marder IFV proved to be highly effective.
Its mere presence gave German troops and their allies a greater sense of security – and quickly earned the respect of the enemy. Owing to tactical considerations, the Marder IFV was often deployed in mixed formations together with wheeled vehicles like the Dingo. Besides security missions, the Marder IFV often served as an armoured reserve in flanking operations. Due to the bulky equipment, the fighting compartment generally carried only four soldiers at most. The open, occasionally broken terrain of northern Afghanistan suited the Marder IFV very well; the irrigation ditches and typical earthen walls around the compounds generally posed no obstacle.
The Marder IFV encountered problems only when the enemy enjoyed local superiority in ambush situations involving large IEDs and concentrated RPG fire. And then there was the terrible heat: in the rear of the fighting compartment, temperatures of up to 80°C were measured. This is why the fighting compartments of all 35 Marder IFVs deployed were equipped with air conditioning systems starting in 2010.
Of course, the manufacturer was also eager to establish the Marder IFV in the international marketplace. Things got off to a promising start here in 1977 when Thyssen-Henschel succeeded in exporting the vehicle to Argentina, where it was dubbed the Tanque Argentino Mediano, or TAM. An entire of family of vehicles followed: the Vehiculo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP), a mortar track, a command vehicle, a self-propelled artillery system, a field ambulance, an armoured recovery vehicle, and a rocket launcher platform (partly as prototypes). It was thus Argentina that would raise a family of Marder vehicles rather than the Bundeswehr. Additional sales of Marder vehicles in South America and Thailand failed to materialize, primarily due to political reasons. Efforts by the manufacturer in the 1990s to sell the Marder IFV to Switzerland and Greece likewise came to nought. In 2009 Greece desperately wanted to buy 422 vehicles. Ultimately, however, this project foundered due to financial constraints.
In 2008 Chile decided to purchase 200 surplus Marder 1 A3 IFVs and seven driver training vehicles from the Bundeswehr. In addition to these came another thirty vehicles which were to be cannibalized for spare parts. The operating environment in Chile poses special challenges, with the vehicle deployed at elevations of up to 4,300 metres above sea level and temperatures of over 40°C. Extremely high levels of dust require intensive and meticulous care of all the filters.
Starting in 2015, Rheinmetall sold Indonesia 42 Marder1A3 IFVs from company stocks.
Finally, during the 2017-2020 timeframe, the German government transferred a total of 75 Marder1A3 IFVs incl. two driver training vehicles as well as spare parts to Jordan under a military assistance programme.
Current user countries
Replacement plans and the future
In 1984, under Germany’s “Kampfwagen (Fighting Vehicle) 90” programme, the tactical specifications for developing a successor to the Marder IFV were announced. Development got off to a promising start; just seven years later, a prototype was made available to the military for field trials. But the sudden change in the security situation in Europe led to a massive cut in defence spending, the so-called “peace dividend”, resulting in turn in the cancellation of this promising development programme in 1992. A renewed development push failed in 2001 due to the military’s extremely high expectations with regard to force protection.
The launch of a third development programme proceeded under tightly constrained parameters owing to the German military’s occasional insistence that a future IFV would have to be transportable by air in a relatively small cargo plane. In the end, this resulted in a total system optimized to meet these requirements, featuring modular protection and an unmanned turret. Particularly when it came to traditional command and control capabilities, the latter required a rethink on the part of the military.
In the jubilee year 2021, the following should be borne in mind: on 18 March 2021, the Chief of Staff of the German Army declared the Puma infantry fighting vehicle to be combat-ready – 37 years after the drafting of a tactical requirement for replacing the Marder IFV! Nevertheless, fifty years after the Marder IFV was first fielded, Germany’s mechanized infantry can still count on this dependable, battle-tested system, even if it is no longer on the absolute cutting edge in a number of combat performance criteria and functions.
Thanks to the measures now underway to extend its service life, it should be possible to keep the Marder IFV in operation at least until the end of this century – stretching its period of active service to nearly sixty years. As its extraordinary career draws to a close, the vehicle literally continues to reach new heights – witness its ability to operate at 4,300 metres above sea level in Chile. For its successors, the Marder IFV has set a very standard indeed.
Author: Wissenschaftlicher Direktor a.D./Dipl. Ing. Rolf Hilmes