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On June 24, 2015, the keys to the Puma infantry fighting vehicle were handed over to the inspector of the army. With this starting shot, the introduction was far from over.

The production of the weapon system's full operational readiness continues to this day. This is a process in which results from operational tests, experience from the troops as well as technical developments and the implementation of system components are incorporated. Close cooperation between the user, the Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Use of the Federal Armed Forces (BAAINBw), and industry is essential and a prerequisite for making the Panzergrenadier system operational and for further developing the Panzergrenadier force.

Rifle troop infantryman of the future - extended system (Photo: Bundeswehr)

Framework conditions in the course of the introduction

The foundation stone for the new development of an infantry fighting vehicle for the armored infantry troops was laid in 1998 with the tactical concept “New Armored Platforms” (NGP). Up to the introduction of the AFV Puma there were three structural changes (1994 to 1999 New Army for new tasks, 2000 to 2003 Army of the Future, 2003 to 2010 Army in action and since 2011 ARMY2011) in the Army, including the reduction of the armed forces and a Focus on stabilization operations. With the reduction of the armed forces as a whole, the reduction of the main weapon systems went hand in hand. A modernization of the remaining weapon systems in terms of their precision and distance capability was indispensable in order to maintain the assertiveness of the armored forces. Based on the current security situation and as a result of the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, with the conception of the Bundeswehr from 2018, the focus was again on national and alliance defense. The consequences of this decision become clear with Germany's responsibility for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Land) (VJTF (L) 2019). In terms of its concept, the Puma therefore had to be able to cover the entire spectrum from stabilization operations to high-intensity combat between allied forces.

Another factor that influences the realization of the tank's operational readiness is the rapid further development of technical possibilities and the transition to digitalization. In order to remain capable of leadership in an international context, extensive adjustments were also necessary in this area. The starting shot for the digitization of the German land forces was given in 2018 by the inspector of the army with the strategy for the digitization of the army in the context of land-based operations.

Basic conceptual considerations

The basic considerations for the development of the tactical concept NGP were identified deficits in the areas of mobility, firepower, protection and command ability for the weapon systems of the armored forces as a whole. However, the growth potential of the Marder AFV was assessed as exhausted and the new development of a combat vehicle for the armored infantry troops was then prioritized.

In addition to increasing assertiveness and mobility, the requirements for improvement in the area of ​​survivability and protection were the guiding principles for the new development of an armored personnel carrier. The use of the weapon systems in the context of conflict prevention and crisis management as well as in the context of supporting allies also required rapid relocation, even over long distances. The ability to strategically relocate the new AFV was therefore also taken into account and went hand in hand with the development of the Future Transport Aircraft, later known as the A400M.

A two-vehicle system with a separation of the infantry and mounted armored components was discarded. The decision was made in favor of a single vehicle solution as a multi-role weapon system with modular protective equipment. This also enabled the weapon system to escalate for use in operations of different intensities.

How the Panzer Grenadiers fight

Um das System Panzergrenadier zu verstehen, ist ein kurzer Exkurs in die Kampfweise der Panzergrenadiere notwendig. Panzergrenadiere werden mit der Panzertruppe als Hauptträger den beweglich geführten Landoperationen zugeordnet. Sie werden in Operationen grundsätzlich gemeinsam eingesetzt und wirken eng und unmittelbar zusammen. Dabei kämpft die Panzertruppe vorrangig gegen Panzerkräfte, die Panzergrenadiertruppe im Schwerpunkt gegen feindliche Infanterie im bewaldeten Gebiet sowie im urbanen Raum. Gemeinsam und im Verbund mit Kampfunterstützungskräften kann die Panzertruppe ihre Schnelligkeit und Stoßkraft effektiv umsetzen. Das bestimmende Merkmal der Panzergrtenadiertruppe dabei ist die Fähigkeit zum schnellen Wechsel der Kampfweise zwischen dem aufgesessenen und dem abgesessenen Kampf.

Overview infantryman of the future - extended system (graphic: Rheinmetall)

An armored infantry group always consists of the armored personnel carrier with its core crew and the rifle squad (SchtzTrp). The core crew includes the commander, the gunner and the driver. The SchtzTrp fights from the tank over the hull and after changing the fighting style, infantry. He is led by a squad leader and uses a mix of infantry hand and anti-tank hand weapons.

Even in infantry combat, Panzergrenadiers always fight close to and with the IFV. He supports the SchtzTrp with his on-board weapons whenever possible. For this, a constant connection with the slaughtered forces is necessary.

Deriving the skill requirement

The derivation of the capability requirements for the Panzergrenadier system was characterized by several dependencies. The security policy framework led to the requirement of strategic relocation capability in all dimensions in order to be able to relocate forces flexibly and quickly to future areas of operation. Ultimately, this meant that the Puma AFV had to be air-transportable in the A400M. The associated upper weight limit of 31.45 t was a key aspect that led to the decision to use a modular structure and to dispense with a manned tower. The second guiding factor was a high weighting of survivability and protection, which reinforced the decision to use an unmanned tower and the implementation of modular protection levels. The demand for protection was also implemented for the rifle squad with the Infantryman of the Future - Extended System (IdZ-ES), a protection class 4 equipment.

With regard to the tactical demands of mobility and effectiveness, the stipulation was that the same tactical mobility as the Leopard battle tank had to be achieved in order to be able to fight effectively in conjunction with the tank troops again. The armament was designed, according to the principles, to combat enemy infantry and lightly armored vehicles. In the fight against heavily armored vehicles, the enemy should be able to achieve at least one mission abort.

For use in the context of conflict prevention and crisis management, the requirement for the use of non-lethal agents was also introduced into the development. This additional ability underlines the multi-role capability.

Development of the Panzergrenadier system

Puma infantry fighting vehicle

The described weighting of the capability requirements led in the consequent implementation to an unmanned and thus remotely controllable tower and the implementation in modular protection levels, which includes both passive and reactive components. These include reactive protection modules and a multifunctional self-protection system (MUST) to fend off guided missile systems and other laser-guided weapons.

Due to the weight and size specifications, the SchtzTrp, consisting of a mix of soldiers with a total strength of six instead of the original minimum requirement of seven, optimally even eight soldiers could be implemented.

In the area of ​​impact, it was decided to implement a 30 mm automatic cannon with functionality for airburst ammunition, which makes it possible to fire tempable ammunition (programmed dismantling kit with sub-projectiles), armor-piercing (arrow ammunition) and practice ammunition. With the airburst ammunition, the main focus of the task spectrum, the fight against enemy infantry, was done justice. Furthermore, the integration of the multi-role capable light guided missile system (MELLS) was implemented to combat heavily armored targets.

The improvement in mobility was taken into account with a newly developed, powerful engine and with a new, decoupled drive concept to improve driving performance in the field.

Leadership skills in the Panzergrenadier system (Graphics / Photo: AHEntwg)

Integration of the infantryman of the future - extended system

In addition to protective equipment, the IdZ-ES system includes a variety of optronics ranging from laser rangefinders to thermal imaging devices. These can be selected and used according to the mission. In addition, a weapon mix was implemented that includes the G36 A3 assault rifle as the basic armament and a launcher for 40 mm grenades. In addition, the MG4 light machine gun with a caliber of 5.56 mm x 45 NATO and, since 2018, the MG5 with a caliber of 7.62 mm x 51 NATO are also included in the weapon mix. The Panzerfaust 3 is also part of the equipment.

In addition to effectiveness and protection, the requirement to improve leadership skills was also implemented. This is the area in which the system's greatest advance lies. Every soldier and the Puma are connected to the group radio via a UHF radio. The equipment also has its own command information system (FüInfoSys), which enables every soldier to create situation reports digitally and to report them via radio data transmission. A map system with a GPS connection is also available for navigation. All information, such as route data, the position of the neighbors and situation reports can be displayed at any time via an operating and display device, a transparent helmet display or night vision goggles.

System Panzergrenadier

The Panzergrenadier system comprises the coupling of various individual systems. Here the Puma is connected to the rifle squad (IdZ-ES equipment) via the FüInfoSys IdZ-ES, the FüInfoSys Army and the integrated command information and weapon deployment system. Due to the unmanned tower and a restricted external view, the Blue Force Tracking is indispensable for leading after changing the fighting style. This is the only way for the tank commander to reliably determine the location of the dismounted squad and to rule out any danger when using the on-board weapons. The SchtzTrp always fights together with the tank and can send geo-referenced situation reports to the commander via the FüInfoSys. These can be evaluated and forwarded by this. This is an important step towards the requirement of sensor to shooter. At the same time, the commander and the squad leader are able to distribute reports down to the level of the individual soldier. Everyone receives current messages, for example about locks that are georeferenced due to the GPS connection.

In the mounted battle, the rifle squad continues to communicate in the tank via the IdZ-ES system. To do this, it connects to a vehicle interface, an additional speech hood is no longer required.

The command system is currently used up to the level of the armored infantry platoon. In the future, the FüInfoSys IdZ-ES will be extended to the company level. In addition, as part of the digitization of land-based operations, a new battle management system will be introduced for the first time for the VJTF (L) 2023 order.

Status of development of the Panzergrenadier system

When the keys were handed over, the Puma AFV with the IdZ-ES system was officially introduced into the troops as the Panzergrenadier system. At this point in time, not all system components had been developed. The introduction therefore took place in usage levels, all missing system components are to be adjusted in the course of a consolidated retrofit planning. The Puma AFV is currently used in basic operation for training. To date, five armored infantry battalions have been equipped with the new tank.

The main components in the consolidated retrofit are the MELLS guided missile system and the turret-independent secondary weapon system (TSWA). In addition to the use of 40 mm HE shells, this will also be able to use non-lethal agents. The tactical operational test for the MELLS weapon system was successfully carried out in 2018. The TSWA is still under development. In addition, the sighting equipment for the turret, for the crew of the rear combat area and for the tank driver is adjusted to current color and night vision.

It is currently planned to upgrade the armored personnel carrier in two stages. In this context, the retrofitting runs under the working term S1 for the first stage, with which the threshold of operational readiness for the series systems is exceeded for the first time. In the S1 + stage, remaining measures and the TSWA are to be retrofitted.

The leadership ability is currently still ensured via the SEM family (80/90) and a UHF radio (SOLAR 400) to connect the IdZ-ES system. In the training company, this ensures the connection of the rifle squad to the group vehicle and a circuit for the AFVs. Since no second radio device is integrated into the IdZ-ES system, a platoon or company command group cannot be mounted and dismounted yet. However, a follow-up system will be launched this year, with which this will be possible on a UHF basis. The full command capability of the Panzergrenadier system will only be available with the retrofitting of digital radios and the introduction of an IdZ system with a second radio.

The main advantages of the FüInfoSys IdZ-ES lie in the planning of operations. With the transmission of all relevant graphic information down to the level of the individual shooter, there is a time advantage in the implementation of commands and a uniform level of knowledge. In combat, however, the main focus is still on radiotelephony, since entries into the command and information system take significantly more time. Information is entered in the digital situation map during breaks in the battle.

To ensure training, a shooting and combat simulator as an integrated system, the tower training system and the duel simulator training system (AGDUS) were commissioned. Since maneuver ammunition is not intended for the Puma AFV, the release of the shot is simulated via the electronic weapon and effects simulation in a modified version that is currently under development.

Firing of the MELLS guided missile during the successful verification of the weapon system at the Puma (Photo: Bundeswehr / Jana Neumann)

Further development and future prognosis

The Bundeswehr is currently tied to a combat brigade within the framework of the NATO Spearhead (VJTF). The Federal Republic of Germany has announced that it will make another contribution to VJTF in 2023. In order to be able to act internationally on an equal footing and to provide our soldiers with the best possible and most modern equipment, the use of the SPz Puma is planned.

Since it has not yet reached the threshold of operational readiness, the development of 41 systems with a VJTF construction stand, which is detached from the series, was commissioned. At this stage of construction, developments are preferred which are only planned for later in series production as part of the consolidated retrofit planning. The AFV Puma VJTF will have the MELLS, the adjustment of the sighting equipment and, for the first time, digital control equipment, which also includes an adapted IdZ-ES system. The second command group (platoon or company) can be operated with this adapted system. With the fully available command and control capability, the Panzergrenadier system will have crossed the threshold to operational readiness for the first time - a big step and success. The tactical operational test for the VJTF construction stand is planned for the second half of 2020. The start of series production in this design status is planned for 2021, depending on the result of the verification.

The main challenges: Interactive electronic technical documentation, software maintenance and changes, availability of spare parts and additional special tool sets must be solved by then. Due to the complexity of the weapon system, the Head of the Army Development Office is considering setting up a Puma system center.

Depending on the result of the verification of the AFV Puma VJTF, it was also decided to commission a second batch, which is to be introduced in a design level S1 from 2023. The inflow of the 2nd batch is coordinated with the planned, consolidated retrofit planning in order to keep the availability in the troops as constant as possible and to compensate for the commitment of the large equipment in the conversion measure S1.

With the Panzergrenadier system in the VJTF construction stage, the new modern weapon system of the Panzergrenadier troops will be ready for use for the first time and the Puma armored personnel carrier can demonstrate its full capabilities. The Puma already shows a considerably higher tactical impact force, which completely convinces the armored infantry class. With the construction stage S1, the first ready-to-use systems will also be available in series production. When the Panzergrenadier system is ready for use, the tried and tested Marder anti-aircraft gun system can ultimately be decommissioned.

Lieutenant Colonel Kim Feilcke is the team leader operational tests in the Office for Army Development II 1 (1).