The Chief of the German Army declared System Panzergrenadier fit to fight on 18 March, marking an important milestone in the programme. Lt Gen Alfons Mais also recommended equipping NATO’s spearhead formation, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) 2023, which the Bundeswehr will be furnishing, with the new system.
In essence, System Panzergrenadier consists of an enhanced VJTF version of the PUMA IFV – manufactured by PSM GmbH, a joint venture of Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann – coupled with the VJTF2023 version of the Future Soldier-Expanded System (IdZ-ES), developed by Rheinmetall. Following extensive development and modification, System Panzergrenadier underwent a three-week-long tactical evaluation in February 2021, passing the test with flying colours.
The system will substantially enhance the fighting strength and combat effectiveness of VJTF 2023, effectively bringing together for the first time in Germany a digitised vehicle platform and a soldier system equipped for digital radio communication. It offers two key advantages: all mounted and dismounted are able to access the same information; also, they are able to share this information with greater precision, faster and more reliably. The closely knit network of sensors and effectors carried by the two elements minimises the target detection to target engagement timeframe, blending capabilities into a single overarching system and enabling more effective tactical interaction. This, in turn, enhances the overall combat effectiveness of mechanised infantry units.
A total of forty VJTF-grade PUMA IFVs will form part of the VJTF 2023 equipment. The most advanced version of the Puma to date, it includes integration of standoff-capable effectors, such as the MELLS multirole lightweight missile system; additional sensors such as a new driver vision system; and improved C4I architecture. The new panoramic driver vision system heralds the end of the periscope era. For the first time, the entire crew will be able to ‘see through’ armour, by day and night. The fusion mode combines daylight vision with high-performance thermal imaging, enabling swift detection of concealed targets around the clock. The PUMA is the first significant Western combat vehicle to include a system like this as a standard feature. With the PUMA having been declared fit to fight, the German Army’s mechanized infantry corps finds itself on the threshold of a new era, with the prospect of the remaining battalions also being equipped with a comparable revamped version of the PUMA.
Embodying a systemic approach to reequipping vehicle platforms and soldier systems, System Panzergrenadier forms a sound foundation for conceptualising and equipping larger coherent systems of systems. Looking ahead, System Panzergrenadier thus becomes the basis for digitally-networked and -directed formations. Given the substantial increase in experience and capabilities in the field of IT systems integration, this path provides a powerful impetus for future projects. In the consortium cofounded with PSM GmbH, Rheinmetall Electronics GmbH is responsible for command capabilities, and thus for assuring cross-platform networking of the system of systems.
Furthermore, System Panzergrenadier is stimulating further development beyond the immediate project. The next generation of the IdZ-ES is already on the starting blocks, while the new PUMA VJTF IFV offers an excellent point of departure for expanded capabilities, for example, in the sensor-to-shooter category. It is a technological trailblazer whose continued development is poised to deliver new capabilities for the German Army’s Division 2027 and Digitised Land-Based Operations system, the D-LBO.