Germany is under increasing pressure from its NATO allies to deliver Marder 1A3 IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) Ukraine. The Marder manufacturer, Rheinmetall, stated back in March that it could upgrade 100 of the retired Marders to the 1A3 standard within weeks and send them off to Ukraine. Initially the German government agreed, but then, for reasons as yet unexplained, halted the shipment of Marders to Ukraine. The problem is German politics and most Germans are unsure of exactly what is going on here.
This is nothing new. German defense policy since the end of the Cold War in 1991 has been an inexplicable mess. Before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, West Germany (the Russians still occupied East Germany until 1990) was the largest, best equipped and formidable military force in NATO. In 1989 the West German military had half a million troops. Five years later a united Germany had a force of 250,000 and the reductions continued until 2014, when the German military had 179,000 troops. The situation changed in 2014 because Russia had violated its 1994 agreement with Ukraine, in which it pledged to never seize any part of Ukraine. In return, Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons it inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed and half the population of the Soviet Union became independent states. Since 1991 a growing number of Russians have supported reforming the Russian empire, by force if necessary. In 2014 Russia acted against Ukraine. Ukraine mobilized forces faster than expected and halted the Russian operation in eastern Ukraine (Donbas). In 2022 Russia decided to finish the job and invaded all of Ukraine. That was a major disaster for Russia. After 2014 Ukraine sought to rearm and asked for support from NATO, which NATO provided. Many NATO members, especially the East European nations that joined after 1991, saw themselves as next on the target list if Russia succeeded in Ukraine. The Russian attacks on Ukraine were a major disappointment for Germany. With the largest economy in Europe, Germany took the lead in establishing economic links with Russia. This was seen as the best way to keep the peace, including Germany becoming dependent on Russia for most of its natural gas and oil needs.
Meanwhile the German military never recovered from the huge personnel and budget cuts that occurred between 1991 and 2014. In 1990 Germany spent $40 billion (2.52 percent of GDP) on defense. By 2001 that was down to $26 billion (1.32 percent of GDP). By 2o14 defense spending was only 1.15 percent of GDP. By 2020 it was 1.4 percent and the German military was still lacking many basic weapons (armored vehicles, warplanes and warships) and the ability to keep them operational. Often less than 20 percent of these weapons were combat ready. It was an endless scandal that was made possible by the inability to expand the size of the military. By 2019 Germany had only been able to expand its military by 5,000 troops (to 184,000.)
Ukraine went through similar reductions in defense spending and military personnel. But after 2014 rebuilt their military much more effectively than any one, especially the Russians expected.
The Marder IFV was very effective, and probably the best IFV developed by any NATO nation. Between 1968 and 1975 Germany produced 2,103 Marders and only the Germans used them until the 1990s. By 1991 the Marder had been upgraded to the 1A3 standard and as the German army retired them, export customers could finally obtain them. A replacement for the Marder was not put into service until 2015, when the first Puma IFVs entered service. The 41-ton Puma was larger than the Marder but the 34-ton Marder 1A3 had most of the new tech the Puma used. Only 350 Puma’s have been built so far, with another 210 on order. There are many more Marder 1A3s available and Ukraine saw this as an opportunity to equip their new offensive force with one of the best IFVs available. So far in September Ukrainian forces have destroyed about a quarter of the Russian forces in Ukraine and recovered much territory the Russians had occupied in 2022. The Ukrainians are still at it and point out that their efforts would be more effective if they had the hundred Marder 1A3s Germany had promised them back in March. That is being blocked by the dysfunctional and perplexing German defense decision making that has been the norm since the 1990s.
The first of Pumas was delivered to the German Army in 2015 and all 350 were delivered by 2021. Puma replaces Cold War era (1970s) Marder IFVs. Puma contains lots of innovations, many of them suggested by Marder users. The basic model has a remote (from inside the vehicle) control turret equipped with a new 30mm automatic cannon. This type of system has worked well in Iraq, where it was widely used in American vehicles. The Puma armor protection comes in three levels. The basic level results in a 29.4-ton vehicle that protects against artillery, heavy machine guns (up to 14.5mm) and RPG rounds. There's a 31.5 ton and 43-ton version. The Germans have settled on the 31.5-ton version as the standard. This one gives all round protection from 14.5mm machine-guns, and some protection from 30mm rounds.
The Puma's 30mm cannon can fire computer-controlled shells that will detonate inside of buildings or over troops taking cover behind a wall or in a trench. The 30mm cannon can fire up to 200 rounds a minute, and has a range of 3,000 meters. The vehicle carries 400 rounds of 30mm ammo, and over two thousand rounds for its 7.62mm machine-gun. Optional weapons include a guided missile launcher or automatic grenade launcher. The 30mm gun has an armor piercing round that is also effective against personnel (FAPIDS-T, or Frangible Armor Piercing Incendiary Discarding Sabot - Tracer). The Puma has a crew of three (commander, gunner and driver) and carries up to eight infantrymen (or cargo) in the rear troop compartment. The Puma is also "digital." Noting the success the U.S. Army has had with equipping their armored vehicles with "battlefield Internet" communications equipment, the Germans did the same with Puma. The Puma is 7.4 meters (24 feet) long and air conditioned. Top speed is 70 kilometers an hour.
While the Puma was designed to accept additional armor protection, the Germans preferred to use the 32-ton version, which is about what the Marder 1A3 weighs. Rheinmetall has no problem designing and building these IFVs and most Germans support giving them to Ukraine. What’s missing is a government that can make a decision and carry it out.