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40 years of IFV Marder

Picture 01: IFV Marder

It was on 7 May 1971 that the first series MARDERs were handed over to the troops in Kassel and Kiel simultaneously. When constructing this infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), designers had assumed that it would fight alongside the LEOPARD 1 MBT and, thus, make a decisive contribution to national defence by the army. But history was to take a different path. Today, the LEOPARD 1 is no longer in use while the MARDER, has proved itself, supporting the Quick Reaction Force in battles near Kunduz and Mazar-e Sharif. Its 40th anniversary is a great opportunity to give a mostly technical overview - to our younger readers in particular – of the four decades during which this successful weapon system has been in service, including the 11 years of development which had preceded it.

How it all began

When the Bundeswehr was just being established, procuring a suitable IFV proved to be a very challenging task. Germany's mechanised infantry used a fighting style that involved rapidly switching between mounted and dismounted fighting and that was not optimally supported by existing vehicle. Provisional procurement of the vehicles M39 and Bren Carrier showed that very clearly. For this reason Hispano Suiza, a company based in Switzerland, was tasked with developing the HS 30 IFV already in May 1956. The prototypes still came with a crawling passage to the rear that allowed for the, albeit arduous, mounting and dismounting of the infantrymen. However, in the course of development a number of assemblies had to be installed in the crawling passage, which, in later versions of the HS 30, forced the infantrymen to leap over the drop side if they wanted to dismount. The project HS 30 became a long-term disaster for a number of reasons, and the troops were not very happy with this vehicle. So when the delivery of the vehicles started in autumn 1959, the army's high command had already realised that the HS 30 could, at best, meet the mechanized infantry's most urgent requirement only. It was not, however, an adequate IFV capable of fighting alongside what was later to become the LEOPARD 1 MBT, the 30 ton standard tank that was just being developed at that time.

Therefore, in autumn 1959 the army's high command laid down the military requirements for a new class of vehicles with the IFV as its pilot vehicle. Requirements for the new IFV included:

  • Higher capacity for dismounted troops (12 infantrymen instead of 6)
  • A one-man turret featuring a 20 mm autocannon with a maximum weight of 1,500 kg
  • Supporting the rapid and safe switching between mounted and dismounted battle mode
  • Cross-country mobility, autonomous operation and endurance similar to those of the standard tank
  • Partial protection from 20 mm ammunition and full protection from NBC weapons for the crew
  • Low silhouette, overall height (with turret) no higher than 1,890 mm
  • Submerging capability up to a water depth of up to 5 m
  • Use of common standardized assemblies across the complete vehicle class

In the end, many but not all of the original military requirements were met, as is often the case in tank development.

Obviously, sufficient budget funds were available at that time and the defence materiel procurement procedure was quite simple, so that the first development orders for seven prototypes of the first generation could already be placed in January 1960. There were two consortiums:

  • The Rheinstahl group with its subsidiaries Ruhrstahl in Witten and Hanomag in Hanover
  • Henschel AG in cooperation with MOWAG in Kreuzlingen (Switzerland)

Due to the restrictive military requirements the concept solutions created were bound to be very similar to the HS 30. The prototypes of the first generation weighed approximately 16 tons and still came with a rear engine. Since the gearbox had been placed in the front, however, an exit of about 650 mm in width could be integrated into the rear. Still, these vehicles were not quite what the customer had imagined. Also, they had many technical shortcomings.

Picture 02: Prototype RU 112 from 1961; note the distinctive similarity to the HS 30. In order to comply with the maximum vehicle height requirements a step (depression) had to be created in the hull top within the turret area.

In 1962, prototypes RU 122 and RU 241 were presented as interim solutions. Both had the engine located in the middle of the vehicle, allowing for a wide rear exit. This, however, also resulted in a very jagged crew compartment.

Picture 03: Layout draft of the RU 122 vehicle from 1962. As the engine was located in the middle, a wide rear exit became feasible. The commander was seated behind the driver..

In search of the right concept

After having inspected the first vehicles, the army's high command came to realise that, in order to achieve a more optimal IFV concept, the restrictive requirements had to be loosened. So the maximum height requirement of 1,890 mm was dropped and crew capacity was reduced from 12 to 10. In October 1962, development contracts on seven new prototypes of the section vehicle were awarded to Ruhrstahl (Hanomag) and MOWAG. Henschel had not participated in the tender, as the company preferred to focus primarily on developing further prototypes for the "Jagdpanzer Kanone” tank destroyer, the mortar carrier, ambulance and rocket launcher variants. The cooperation with MOWAG had been discontinued earlier due to patent disputes.

For the prototype concepts of the second generation a new approach was chosen. In order to allow for a large rear exit the entire power pack of the RU-class vehicles was situated in the front, which rendered the failure-prone Cardan shaft connections unnecessary. A new one-man turret by Rheinmetall was now available for the vehicles: the DL RH 3 turret which was intended to accommodate a coaxial MG in addition to the 20 mm autocannon. In the beginning the commander was seated left of the turret; in later prototypes, however, his seat was moved to right behind the driver, which cleared space for an anti-tank rocket system to be installed to the left of the turret later. The new design resulted in an increase in vehicle size; the combat weight jumped to approx. 26 tons. When the vehicle was tested by the troops, they criticised that the commander was seated outside of the turret, which severely affect his sight as well as his ability to command and control. During off-road testing the vehicles with their torsion bar suspension demonstrated poor driving dynamics, which is why the RU 264 was equipped with a hydro-pneumatic suspension. This was expected to provide better driving properties. Yet after almost 5 years of testing, the trials were stopped in 1971 because reliability and stability of the suspension elements had proved insufficient.

Picture 04: RU 262 prototype from 1964 with a compact power pack in the front, but still with a one-man turret. The vehicle still featured a suspension with five road wheels. An interesting detail: the headlights had no hoop guard!

After parting ways with Henschel, MOWAG chose a new approach when creating the concepts for the prototypes of the second generation: Their prototypes M211 and M212 came with a new narrow two-stroke ten-cylinder diesel engine located in the middle of the vehicle. This ensured a wide rear exit and a balanced position of the centre of gravity, but also divided the crew compartment in the front and the rear part.

Picture 05: MOWAG prototype M211. The position of the engine in the middle is clearly. There was only a narrow passage left and right of the engine. Note the external elements of the leaf-spring suspension at the road wheels.

In autumn 1964 several vehicles were subjected to heat testing at the military training area Teulada on Sicily. The high temperatures put a lot of strain on the vehicles, as did the rugged terrain. The tests revealed that the relatively wide clearances between the road wheels often resulted in the track jumping off when more load was put on one side. A fierce debate ensued on whether a six-wheel suspension should be used in the future, and whether the increase in weight resulting from that was acceptable. Interestingly enough, this problem was to return about 40 years later in current IFV development. All in all it became obvious that another, third generation of prototypes was required before a decision on series production could be made.

Additional requirements necessitate new concept solutions

Due to the additional increase in weight to about 27.5 tons, the new prototypes were to be equipped with the new MB 833 Ea 500 engine with its exhaust gas turbocharger and a rated output of 44 kW. All vehicles came with a torsion bar suspension with six road wheels. In late 1964, development contracts on the construction of twelve (!) prototypes of the third generation were awarded to Rheinstahl AG, Henschel and MOWAG. In 1965/66, the vehicles underwent technical testing, followed by troop trials.

Picture 06: RU 361 from 1966. The vehicle was now equipped with a suspension with six road wheels and a machine gun at the rear. The commander now sat right behind the driver. Left of the turret there was the so-called "BANTAM hatch". There were another two major hatches over the rear part of the crew compartment.

During production of the vehicles the customer submitted additional requirements. For one, the vehicles were to be equipped with a mount for a machine gun at the rear. Another requirement was that the commander should be seated in the turret. Finding a technical solution for this was far from easy, as the diameter of the pivot bearing was only 720 mm. Within a year the KuKa company succeeded in designing a suitable two-man turret; the design, however, required that the gun be mounted on the roof above the crew. The consequences of the complex ammunition feed system and the external mounting of the gun, as well as the commander's design-related obstructed view between the 7 and 8 o'clock positions, were deemed acceptable at that time.

Picture 07: RU 363 prototype from 1966/67 including the retrofit two-man turret, the 20 mm autocannon mounted on top and the machine gun at the rear. Note: at the front there were small lateral air intake gratings to provide additional cooling of the breaks. Four smaller hatches were now located above the rear part of the crew compartment.

During production of these vehicles another requirement was set forth: the infantrymen should be able to engage in combat under full protection of the vehicle. This meant that four firing ports had to be installed. It was too late to implement this requirement for the third generation prototypes, as it would also have required completely re-designing the rear part of the crew compartment. And so, after 9 years of development and the production of no less than 28 prototypes, another generation of prototypes had to be created before one could be picked as the series vehicle. Quite audaciously, these ten vehicles were declared to be pre-production models right away.

Pre-production vehicles

Finally, in October 1966, a decision was made in favour of the RU-class vehicles. The designs presented by MOWAG were ruled out because they did not, among other things, suit the logistic concept of the "IFV New” class. Results from technical testing and troop trials of the most recent prototypes were incorporated in the construction of the ten pre-production vehicles in 1967. Due to the new HSWL 194 gearbox by RENK a smooth front could be fitted, which helped to improve the visual conditions for the driver. Integration of a guided missile launcher was postponed until the time when the MILAN, a second-generation semi-automatic command missile, was available. All pre-production vehicles now featured a two-man turret with the weapons mounted on top and a total of four firing ports on the sides of the hull.

Picture 08: Pre-production vehicle VS 3005 during a demonstration in Munster in 1969. The vehicle came with two firing ports on each side. It's turret design was modified once again; the Kinon laminated glass optics was replaced by driver's optics. The gun mount on the turret of this vehicle does not yet correspond to the design status of the production vehicles.

The pre-production vehicles now had a combat weight of 27.5 tons (without skirts). In 1968/69 they were subjected to intense testing. Even though the vehicles, or at least the concept, met the requirements of the troops, some assemblies still had significant deficiencies. One reason for this was the ever-increasing weight which resulted in more frequent failures related to power train, breaks and suspension. Another issue criticised by the troops was the massive noise exposure (vibration) inside the crew compartment.

In order to prevent any further delays in series production, in October 1969 a procurement contract was already concluded with Kassel-based Rheinstahl AG Sondertechnik as the main contractor and MaK (headquartered in Kiel) as a subcontractor – even though there were still no final and tried solutions for the failure-prone assemblies! After no less than 11 years of development and the construction of 28 prototypes and 10 pre-production vehicles the first IFV MARDER production vehicles were handed over to the troops on May 7, 1971. The price per unit was approximately 1.05 million Deutschmark. From 1971 to 1975 a total of 2,136 IFV MARDER were produced for the Bundeswehr, 1,261 of them by Rheinstahl and another 975 by MaK. Out of the many other vehicles of that class that had been planned only the self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon ROLAND and the mobile radar platform TÜR (prototype stage only) were subsequently implemented. In the 1970s the missions intended for the "IFV" New class were based on the chassis of the M 113, the costs of which were about 35 % of that of the MARDER at that time.

Picture 09: Handing-over of the first production vehicle on 7 May 1971 at the premises of MaK in Kiel. At the same time, another production vehicle was handed over at Rheinstahl AG Sonderfertigung in Kassel. What is noteworthy is the shape of the track cover in the front and the rear. The mounts for the primary weapon and the rear MG on the roof had taken their final form by then; the "BANTAM hatch" left of the turret had been done away with for good.

The MARDER IFV in service

Remarkably, even after intense testing and exhaustive troop trials the users would more than once request functional improvements. In addition, upgrading of the equipment to counter contemporary threats required constant modifications to the vehicles. Let me briefly outline the upgrading measures taken so far:

  • 1977/78: integration of the MILAN weapon system with 4 missiles on board; this reduced the capacity of dismounted infantrymen to 7
  • 1979 - 1982: 1st upgrade to Marder1 A1; installation of the passive first generation night vision sights (image intensifiers), double belt feeder for the autocannon, reinforcement of the traversing gearbox among other things
  • 1984 - 1989: 2nd upgrade to Marder1 A2; retrofitting with thermographic cameras for the gunners, the MIRA thermal sight for the MILAN weapon system, removal of the rear gun mount
  • 1989 - 1998: 3rd upgrade to Marder1 A3; additional hull and turret armour (protection from 30 mm autocannon ammunition), redesign of the ammunition supply and feeding system, relocation of the turret machine gun from the gun container to the left side of the turret, installation of stowage boxes and removal of the firing ports, removal of one of the four roof hatchets for the rear crew compartment, increase in weight to 33.5 tons
  • 2002 - 2005: 4th upgrade to Marder1 A5; retrofitting with protection from blast and shaped charge mines of 74 vehicles, modification to the stowage concept, clearing of the floor of the crew compartment, seats suspended from the hull ceiling, increase in weight to 37.4 tons
  • 2011: Marder 1 A5A1: retrofitting a compartment cooling system and multi-spectral camouflage, to 35 vehicles increase in weight to approximately 40 tons

Picture 10: MARDER 1 A5A1 with integrated compartment cooling system in the rear (2011). Due to the lack of space in the crew compartment any additional equipment has to be stowed away on the outside of the vehicle; more stowage space (for NBC overgarments) has also been created in the rear hatch.

Picture 11: MARDER 1 A5 under camouflage for operations in arid regions. The camouflage serves to reduce detectability as well as heating-up of the crew compartment due to sun exposure; however, it causes difficulties if decontamination of the vehicle is required.

The producer, of course, was keen to position the MARDER on the international market as well. The first efforts were crowned by success when Thyssen-Henschel succeeded in exporting the TAM light tank to Argentina in 1977. It was followed by several vehicles of the same family: VCTP IFV, mortar carrier, command tank, self-propelled howitzer (SPH), ambulance, armoured recovery vehicle, and a rocket launcher; some of them never made it past prototype stage. The MARDER family, which had never made it into the Bundeswehr fleet, was now being realised in Argentina. For political reasons, above all, no further exports of MARDER vehicles to South America and Thailand took place. Renewed efforts by the manufacturer to sell the MARDER to Switzerland and Greece in the 1990s failed. In 2008, however, one more success could be recorded after Chile had decided to buy 200 MARDER 1 A3 from Bundeswehr stocks. Remarkably, RLS bought out several hundred MARDER in 2011, saving them from certain scrapping. It will be interesting to see where these vehicles (featuring, among other things, a LANCE turret and improved armour) will re-emerge in the future.

What about the future?

In the past there have been numerous hopeful attempts to have the IFV MARDER replaced during the 1990s. One of them was the "Kampfwagen 90" (KW 90, "Combat Vehicle 9") project that included the planned production of about 1,000 MARDER 2 from 1997 to 2001. A first experimental vehicle was presented and tested in 1991. However, in 1992 this project fell victim to the "peace dividend" after the German Reunification.

Picture 12: Experimental vehicle VT 001 of the MARDER 2 IFV with a two-man turret and a 35/50 mm autocannon during handling trials in Munster in 1992.

In 1995, another try was made with a project called "Neue gepanzerte Plattformen” (NGP, "new armoured platforms"). Its fathers envisioned a new family of vehicles with modular elements, consisting of an MBT, an IFV and support vehicles. Since the IFV was supposed to have the same protection as the MBT, such a NGP IFV, as first concept studies revealed, would have a combat weight in the range between 55 and 72 tons! This made the involved parties reconsider and decide to scrap the "NGP" project in 1997. The IFV was the only part of the project to be pursued further, considering for how long the MARDER had already been in use. In 2000, the Chief of Staff of the army voiced the idea that about 1,000 units of a new IFV in the weight class of around 50 tons should be produced.

In 2001, however, the situation changed completely. Now, there was the requirement that the new IFV had to be transportable by plane in the planned "Future Large Aircraft” (FLA) (what would later become the Airbus A 400 M). To ensure air transportability the vehicle's weight had be 32 tons! Finding a solution to this problem required a lot of creativity, which was reflected, first and foremost, in finding a name for the new vehicle. Its designation varied by the month: SPz 3, MMWS PANTHER, NSpz, NePz, IGEL, PUMA.

Notwithstanding this hubbub, the involved parties adhered to the planning of a new IFV. After an interlude that involved the Federal Ministry of Defence favouring the fielding of an upgraded Swedish CV 90 IFV for the Bundeswehr, and after several emergency sessions in the autumn of 2002, the development contract on an IFV developed in Germany by PSM ("PANTHER System & Management GmbH", later re-named "Project System & Management GmbH"), located in Kassel, was concluded. In late 2005 the contractor already presented a first complete system demonstrator ("GSD"), followed by five pre-production vehicles in 2006/2007. During the following years, these pre-production vehicles were subjected to intense testing to make the components more ready for series production. On December 6, 2010 the first two production vehicles of the PUMA IFV were presented (but not handed over) to the customer.

If the contractor succeeds in demonstrating all required system capabilities by December 31, 2012, the first PUMAs might be handed over to the troops in late 2013 at best - after 12 years of development and the construction of six prototypes/pre-production vehicles (cf. the corresponding data on the MARDER). The successor will admittedly be about 13 % heavier than the current MARDER version; but its unit price will be 16 times higher, which allows for conclusions as to its complexity and the used-capacity costs to be expected (comparison of the total costs based on the price levels of 1971 and 2010).

Picture 13: Predecessor and successor shoulder to shoulder: MARDER 1 A3 IFV and PUMA IFV (GSD). There are no significant differences in height and length. Due to the required RPG-7 protection, however, the PUMA is much wider than the MARDER. Also note the differences in the front design.

Then the era of the MARDER would come to an end. The MARDER IFV has been in service for about 45 years, at altitudes of up to 4,300 m (in Chile), and proved itself under tough operational conditions. What we can say is that it is a highly successful combat vehicle that sets a high standard. It is only fair, however, to give its successor a chance to show if it is up to that standard, and if it can maybe even outperform its predecessor...

Author: Wiss. Dir. Dipl.-Ing. Rolf Hilmes

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