A PUMA with more than 1,000 horsepower
High-Tech “Big Cat” enters series production
Dr. Björn Bernhard is proud of the new PUMA infantry fighting vehicle. The engineer is one of the two managing directors of Projekt System & Management GmbH (PSM), a joint venture between Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann responsible for the development and production of the infantry fighting vehicle.
“The PUMA sets the standard worldwide for infantry fighting vehicles,” says the 39-year-old with great confidence. “Delivering 1,088 units of horsepower, the PUMA not only has a comparatively powerful engine but also offers outstanding protection that puts even battle tanks in the shade.” This high-tech “big cat” has now entered the final project phase: series production.
By the end of 2020, the Bundeswehr will have taken delivery of 350 – between 40 and 60 every year – of these armored vehicles to replace the MARDER, which is being phased out. Worth a total of € 1.6 billion, this order is the biggest ever in Rheinmetall’s 125-year history. For its money, Germany’s armed forces will benefit from a technological masterpiece unequalled anywhere in the world. Right from the outset, the requirements placed on the new infantry fighting vehicle were extremely high. The client demanded nothing less than a completely new breed of flexible allrounder, offering the very highest degree of protection for its crew, effective weaponry and outstanding mobility even on tough terrain. At the same time, the tracked vehicle was to be relatively lightweight so that it can also be transported with the Bundeswehr’s new A400M transport plane to distant areas of conflict. The engineers were effectively being asked to square the circle – a feat they successfully accomplished with the series-ready PUMA.
“Including each individual screw, one PUMA is made up of some 30,000 components,” explains Dr. Björn Lach, who heads the PUMA Infantry Fighting Vehicle Product Management team and is responsible for series startup. “What makes the PUMA so special is therefore not only its original innovations but also the unprecedented combination of the most diverse elements.” In configuration level A, the infantry fighting vehicle weighs “just” 31.45 metric tons which, given the high degree of protection it offers, practically makes it “flyweight” – which is apt because it needs to be transportable by plane. With relatively easy-to-mount, modular add-on equipment, the defense capability of the PUMA can be enhanced for specific deployment scenarios, through to a level C combat variant offering maximum protection against threats such as IEDs, mines and even NBC weapons.
The tank turret is no longer manned. The main weapon – the Rheinmetall-developed MK30-2/ABM automatic cannon – is remote-controlled by the armored infantrymen. The abbreviation ABM stands for “Air Burst Munition”, a form of munition with a high number of subprojectiles that can be individually programmed after firing as they pass through the muzzle. Sensors ensure that the muzzle never loses sight of the target even when the PUMA is negotiating uneven surfaces. You could even leave a full glass of beer on top of the muzzle without a drop being spilled while the vehicle is in motion. The secondary weapon is the MG 4 from Heckler & Koch. The Bundeswehr also requested the Spike guided missile from Rheinmetall affiliate Eurospike GmbH.
In 2013, the PUMA underwent rigorous testing in preparation for initial series production. Following successful cold-weather testing in Norway the year before, two of the PUMAs were flown to Abu Dhabi where the accuracy of the weapons was put to the test at temperatures of almost 50°C in the shade. In addition, these high-tech “big cats” skilfully, and without fatigue, negotiated the trickiest terrain such as sand dunes, steep gravel tracks and boulder-strewn desert landscapes. The air-conditioning system, which was in operation for weeks on end in high temperatures, also demonstrated its superior performance.
Following these successful tests, the PUMA will enter series production. At the production site in Unterlüß, a 5,500-square-meter production hall costing € 7 million has been constructed, where at least 150 new jobs will be created in the economically underdeveloped region of the Lüneburger Heide. And so for the coming six years, this site will be the birthplace of the PUMA and a thriving industrial location.