21/07/2022 | Story
Marder infantry fighting vehicle – The Marder turned 50 in 2021
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.
The search for the right concept
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.
Combat performance upgrades
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.
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