German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that the vehicles' failures were “a major setback” and that a report is expected soon about the matter.
She added: "Our troops must be able to rely on weapon systems being robust and stable even in combat."
A spokesperson from the defense ministry reported that a damage assessment is underway and admitted the tanks in question have been experiencing an “unusually high failure rate.”
Despite the drama, she reassured Germany’s allies in NATO that they can rely on them to fulfill their readiness obligations for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF, next year. All 18 of the modern tanks intended for the task force that participated in the firing exercise are now inoperable due to problems that arose during the exercise. They suffered from issues ranging from turret defects to electronic failures. In one case, soldiers had to abandon the tank after the wiring caught on fire.
The German military currently possesses 350 Puma tanks, and 42 of them are set up for use with the NATO joint force. Pumas move troops around battlefields and are equipped with weapons systems such as a 30mm cannon that is theoretically capable of firing hundreds of rounds each minute. They are considered one of the most modern infantry fighting vehicles in the world. Shares in tank manufacturer Rheinmetall fell 7 percent after the announcement.
Bundestag Defense Committee Chair Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann told POLITICO: “We just released money last week in committee to purchase more Pumas. The minister was right to suspend this today. As long as the errors have not been clarified, no further purchases will be made.”
The German defense ministry released a statement indicating that they are aiming to make the Puma tanks operational quickly. In the meantime, they’ll be using the Puma’s predecessor, Marder tanks, starting January 1 in a “fall-back solution” for the NATO task force. These tank models from the 1970s are one of the types that Ukraine has been trying to purchase from Germany but Berlin has so far declined to sell to them.
It is worth noting, however, that Germany’s main battle tank, the Leopard II, also participated in the exercises and its performance was significantly better. Meanwhile, Germany’s plans to purchase dozens of American-made F-35 fighter jets is also running into difficulties such as additional costs and delays.
It’s just the latest in a series of problem for Germany’s military. A recently leaked email written by a senior commander to the head of the German Bundeswehr armed forces discussed the poor condition of the country's infantry fighting vehicles.
The email, which was obtained by Der Spiegel and written by Major General Ruprecht von Butler, said, “Even with the best preparations, the question of the vehicles’ readiness has become a game of lottery.”
Germany has said that it will increase its defense spending and modernize the military as the Ukraine war continues. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has made 100 billion euros available for investments in defense in this year’s budget.
Sources for this article include: