September 1, 2016 –
BERGEN, Germany - Nothing is Impossible! - “Ein Unmoglich Gibt Es Nicht!”
This is the company motto of 4th Company, 33rd Mechanized Infantry Batallion, a German Bundeswehr mechanized infantry unit stationed in Luttmersen, Germany.
These soldiers were selected to receive the most recent addition to the German Army’s fleet of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV), the Puma. They recently completed a live fire training exercise during the summer that took place over a two-week period.
The U.S. Army Reserve was able to observe their range as part of Military Exchange Program between Germany and the United States. The program helps to unify both countries and share best practices relating to operations, strategy and training.
Since 2015, the Puma vehicle has started to replace the Marder 1 IFV, a fighting tank that is not only thirty years old, but was primarily designed for operations during the Cold War era. While the Marder is still a solid fighting vehicle, the Bundeswehr German Army needed a technologically modernized vehicle that could perform under today’s combat conditions.
The Puma is proving to be such a vehicle, very technologically advanced and state-of-the-art with a balance between firepower and protection.
“The thing I like most about this tank is the air burst capability”, said Master Sgt. Mike Busch, operations NCO. “We can adjust the target range up to 9 meters.”
Busch is referring to the primary weapon system that was named after one of the automotive parts suppliers that manufactures the Puma. It is a Rheinmetall 30mm MK 30-2/ABM (Air Burst Munitions) autocannon.
Of the two types of ammunition available for this weapon, the primary is a full-caliber, multi-purpose, Kenetic Energy-Timed Fuse (KETF) munition. The air burst then functions similar to a shot gun where after the shot is fired, it disperses into several smaller flying, lethal rounds, capable of incapacitating the identified target.
The weapon can fire at a rate of 200 rounds-per-minute at an effective target range of 3,000 meters. That is over 1.86 miles away and still hit the target.
The secondary weapon system mounted to the tank is the MG 4, a 5.56mm coaxial light machine gun. At 850 rounds-per-minute with an effective range of 1,000 meters, this weapon could provide excellent cover for troop movements and effectively hit unconcealed and unprotected targets.
The vehicle is fast, small and well protected.
Three soldiers are required to operate the vehicle and they could transport up to six additional fighters. The entire vehicle is protected against heavy blast mines, projectile charges from under the body and has a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection system, a fire suppressing system and air-conditioning.
It can even fire the main gun while moving backwards, a unique feature of the Puma making it a highly mobile fighting machine.
Operating the system requires a level of technical skill that the mechanized infantry unit is quickly adapting to. Inside the cabin there are multiple screens that switch between six different camera zooms providing a full 360 degree panoramic surveillance.
It is also outfitted with a stabilization periscope that assists the gunner in hitting the target. Regardless if the tank moves backwards or forwards, the gun can lock into the target for optimized accuracy.
The camera can also switch to thermal vision where even a lone rabbit darting across the range field can be spotted 2,600 meters away.
"Schießende Abteilung still gestanden, Achtung!” shouts Capt. Konrad Fuchs, the company commander of the tank unit. He has detected a target and directs his soldiers to move into position on the live fire range.
The extensive audio/visual system in the Puma allows the commander full control of his troops even at a distance. However, it is the intensive hands-on-training that will provide the soldiers their combat readiness.
“We get to practice everyday,” said Fuchs. “We need to because the system is new and complex. We need the experience and to be trained to go to combat.”
Just like any other military unit, training is the critical component to mission readiness. The highly advanced technical capability of the Puma would be useless without developing the required fighting skills of the team.
“The shots hit the target the first time and it is stronger than the Marder” says 1st. Lt. Maximillion Kohl, a platoon leader. And as for the training “we are getting there.”
The unit must learn the new complex system, learn how to operate as a team with the new system and they must also evaluate the functionality of the Puma to identify any problem areas.
And on this range, the gun did not always fire. Everyone had their hands full but in the end, it is a good way to improve through failures for this mechanized infantry unit.
The daunting task of being the first company to receive the Puma proved not ‘impossible’ for them. Every member of the team complimented each other’s ability to function as one unit.
“It is like a new car,” said Sgt. Christoph Masch. “And I am the driver.”
No matter the role, each team member became stronger as the days went on and they were able to maximize their individual strengths and collective abilities.
“We worked hard to make this happen and I am very proud of my soldiers,” said Fuchs.
The Bundeswehr will eventually procure around 350 Pumas to outfit their mechanized infantry units with.