Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) is again under heavy political pressure because of the serious problems with the Puma infantry fighting vehicle. During the pre-Christmas visit of Bundeswehr soldiers to Slovakia, the minister also experienced a ray of hope.

If Christine Lambrecht had hoped for a conciliatory end to the year, she was bitterly disappointed. After a long series of mishaps, missteps and sometimes devastating criticism, the Federal Defense Minister traveled to Slovakia on Monday to present a political success.

In Bratislava, she handed over the first German Leopard 2A4, which Slovakia will receive as part of the ring exchange, to her counterpart Jaroslav Nad. The two politicians posed smiling in front of the 60-ton tank; In a symbolic act, Lambrecht presented Nad with a golden key for the device.

It was a beautiful picture. But it is doubtful whether Lambrecht was really able to enjoy the moment. After all, the minister brought bad news from Berlin. Shortly before their departure, serious problems with the Puma infantry fighting vehicle became known.

During an exercise in Lower Saxony, operational readiness is said to have dropped to zero within a few days, reported “Der Spiegel”, citing a letter from Major General Ruprecht von Butler to the army command and the Ministry of Defense. 18 of 18 armored personnel carriers are unfit for combat due to technical defects – a total failure.

The Bundeswehr leadership was at a loss. How could that happen? And what are the armament policy consequences of the debacle? As early as Monday morning, the Ministry of Defense convened a crisis talks with representatives of the defense industry. However, it is still unclear whether and how quickly the broken vehicles can be made operational again.

The Puma problem is particularly explosive because of the timing. On January 1, 2023, Germany will take over the leadership of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force. In an emergency, the Pumas should ensure that a Russian attack on the eastern flank of the military alliance is repelled and fought back.

The fact that the armored personnel carriers went out of action a few days before the deadline was tantamount to a strategic military catastrophe. And an oath of disclosure for the Bundeswehr, which is known to have been struggling with material problems and doubts about its operational capability for a long time.

It was all the more important for Lambrecht to send a clear political message on her trip to Slovakia. Not only to the German public, but also to the allies. At a press conference in Bratislava, she promised that the NATO partners would be able to rely “one hundred percent” on Germany’s commitments. Any gaps in the Puma could be completely closed by the predecessor model Marder.

At the same time, she issued an ultimatum to the armaments companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall. The industry is “now responsible for repairing these non-operational systems,” said Lambrecht, emphasizing that they expected a solution within “a few weeks”.

At the same time, the SPD politician called for a long-term perspective from the industry as to how the Puma could be used reliably. Otherwise they threatened the end of the weapon system. The minister announced that there would be “swift decisions” in this regard. It’s a promise to be measured by. Not only is their own political future at stake, but the security of the Federal Republic and its allies.

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In Slovakia, Lambrecht was able to see for himself how important an operational Bundeswehr is for the defense of the country and the alliance. A few days after the Russian attack on Ukraine, Slovakia handed over its only S-300 air defense system to the neighboring country. Germany relocated two “Patriot” squadrons from Husum to Slovakia to protect the strategically important Sliac military airport. The anti-aircraft missile system can fight incoming cruise missiles, airplanes and helicopters at a distance of up to 70 kilometers.

On site, Lambrecht de Slovakia promised further support and promised the delivery of the Mantis air defense system. Among other things, it is intended to protect a maintenance hub in eastern Slovakia, in which German weapons for Ukraine are repaired, for example the Panzerhaubitze 2000. The plant is located a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

On Tuesday morning, Lambrecht traveled on to the Lest military base, 200 kilometers east of the capital Bratislava. 250 Bundeswehr soldiers have been stationed there in a multinational NATO combat unit since June. Their mission: deter and, if necessary, repel an attack by an “imaginary enemy” in the east. The camp is on a snow-covered hill in the middle of nowhere, outside between the container barracks and tents the icy wind whistles in your face.

With her pre-Christmas visit to the German soldiers, she wanted to continue a “good tradition”, said the Defense Minister. The minister was able to take at least one piece of good news from her last trip abroad this year. The better personal protective equipment that Lambrecht had promised the soldiers in March has arrived at the troops on the eastern flank. It is said that the new protective vests and cold suits made the men and women’s eyes sparkle. A major spoke of a “gift before Christmas”. In order to bring the Bundeswehr back up to date in all areas, the minister will certainly have to hand out many more gifts. The question is how much time you have left for that.