Before the war in Ukraine, Germany’s defence industry was unloved, but now Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to inject €100 billion into the country’s armed forces has put it in the spotlight. What has changed for you?

Rheinmetall is now a lot more in the public eye than it used to be. There’s also a broad consensus in Germany among politicians and society at large that security, freedom and democracy can’t rely solely on dialogue and economic cooperation. You need to be able to project strength and resolve. This is something we’ve forgotten in Germany in recent decades, and it has caused us to neglect our security posture – especially our military security. I’m very glad that our chancellor has decided to make national security a centrepiece of government policy again. Security through military strength is now endorsed by 62% of German society from 38% in 1989. German public opinion, all in all, has changed during the war in Ukraine in 2022 in relation to security.

There are a lot of gaps at the Bundeswehr that need to be plugged: capabilities, structure, equipment, you name it. At Rheinmetall, the new era isn’t just limited to Germany. Lately, we’ve seen an enormous increase in demand from neighbouring countries and other partner nations. The strategy of internationalisation that we’ve been pursuing in recent years is paying off now, because we’re already present in a lot of these countries with projects and production facilities. That’s a big help.

How intense is the pressure for new artillery and vehicles? What sort of lead times are you facing?

In Europe, the increase in demand focuses on just a handful of manufacturers. The availability of material poses a growing challenge here: for example, when we order steel for tank guns today, it can take eight to 12 months to arrive. Tanks also need engines, tracks and electronics. All these things have long delivery times – I mean, sometimes there’s a 24-month wait for electronic components. Obviously, we do everything we can to speed up the process by stockpiling materials, for instance, and by placing orders with our suppliers as early as possible.

More broadly, now that EU defence spending is rising again, there is a concern that taxpayer money will be wasted in duplication. From your point of view, what are the obstacles to more EU defence collaboration?

This concern is entirely unfounded. On the contrary, the increasing Europeanisation of important areas of defence policy is already resulting in significantly greater cost efficiency. For example, in the context of the European Defence Fund, Europe’s defence industry is becoming more and more competitive and innovative through targeted cooperation. At the same time, the specific military capabilities the EU needs are also becoming clear. Can you give an example? Of course. Take the German defence minister’s declaration of intent to jointly procure 35% of future armaments at European level. What’s more, the European Commission has proposed a legal instrument to strengthen joint procurement through the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act, or EDIRPA, for 2022-2024. Going forward, the volume of these programmes will increase significantly. We don’t expect to see a reversal of this trend. In fact, the opposite is true. Thanks to the European Union, duplications – with each Member State developing its own armament systems and each Member State separately procuring common requirements – can be avoided. In a further step, common arms export guidelines could be introduced in future. This will have a positive economic impact, too, which will benefit the taxpayer.

EDA has identified the key capability gaps that make European forces unable to sustain operations without U.S. help. Do you think Europe can really fill all these gaps?

Potentially, for sure. Of course, this process is only just getting off the ground, and it will take time to fully close these capability gaps. After all, we’re talking about a large number of Member States that will have to coordinate and agree to this. But there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s technologically feasible and politically desirable. The European institutions, especially the Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space and the EDA, will take the lead here in future and create the necessary structures and policies. The rise in global conflicts, in particular the war in Ukraine, is driving this acceleration.

Rheinmetall’s new main battle tank was unveiled in June. Why is this “a new tank for a new era”?

The Panther has got everything it needs today: a more powerful main gun for maximum combat effectiveness, superb mobility, a digital command and control capability, and the best-possible force protection features. In the war in Ukraine, we’ve seen how Russian tanks like the T72 are practically defenceless against modern antitank missiles. Tanks today need active protection systems of the kind developed by Rheinmetall. The Panther also features protection against drones and guided missiles that attack from above, our ‘Top Attack Protection System’. Another very important point: the Panther is available at short notice, not sometime in the next decade. The Panther has earned us an enormous amount of attention and recognition, by no means limited to professional defence circles.

This tank will compete directly with the Franco-German project Main Ground Combat System (MGCS). Is this not the kind of duplication that the EU wants to avoid?

No. The Panther is our current response to current requirements. Looking at the security situation in Europe today, I’m very glad we decided to develop it a while back. Existing tank concepts are mostly 40 years old. Many countries are thinking about renewing their legacy systems, which is more urgent than ever now. The Panther incorporates Rheinmetall’s full range of expertise in weapons, ammunition, force protection, sensors and digitisation. We see the Panther as a bridge to the MGCS, which incidentally won’t be available until the middle of the next decade at the earliest. Moreover, it offers an alternative to countries that don’t want to participate in the MGCS programme. Of course, the MGCS will also benefit from our technologies and experience.

Lastly, Rheinmetall was reported as saying in September that 16 Marder infantry fighting vehicles it had restored at its own cost were ready to be delivered to Ukraine if officials in Berlin gave the go-ahead. Can you give us an update?

It’s up to the German government to decide which military systems to send to help Ukraine defend itself, whether from surplus Bundeswehr stocks or the defence industry. A considerable amount of material has already been supplied, including artillery and air defence systems, vehicles, ammo, protective kits, and all sorts of other things. To help Ukraine, the German government has agreed to an equipment swap with Greece, which will be getting our Marders in exchange for sending BMP-1 vehicles from its inventory to Ukraine. We shipped the first Marders in October. Negotiations on further deliveries are ongoing.

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