Rheinmetall and the Bundeswehr: Profile of a 50-year Partnership
Beginning with the production of infantry weapons, artillery and ammunition for the newly founded Bundeswehr, in succeeding decades Rheinmetall would supply it with some of the world’s finest armoured vehicles and main armament as well as cutting-edge electronic systems: for half a century, Rheinmetall has been one of Germany’s and Europe’s most important defence contractors. In Germany alone, Rheinmetall Defence has plants and facilities at 16 locations. Employing a workforce of 6,800, the company generates €1.4 billion in annual sales.
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Rheinmetall has a 50% stake in the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) programme, one of the most important land systems projects in Europe. The first prototype Puma will be officially transferred to the Bundeswehr at the end of 2005, which eventually plans to field 410 of these new systems; the contract is worth over €3 billion. Unquestionably the world’s most advanced IFV, the PUMA is a flagship project critical to the modernization of the German Army.
As a systems supplier of technology for ground forces, Rheinmetall has been quick to respond to the changing requirements of today’s military, offering comprehensive new solutions for force protection in the field, including convoy security and the defence of forward operating bases.
In 1955, Rheinmetall laid the foundation stone for cooperation with the newly mustered Bundeswehr, supplying West Germany’s fledgling army with a tried-and-tested machinegun. Originally manufactured in Neuenburg (Baden) and later in Düsseldorf-Derendorf, the MG 42 was considered the best weapon of its kind anywhere; by 1979, 139,000 units had been produced. At the end of the Second World War, however, the Allies had had quite different plans in store for the German arms industry, originally intending to ban forever the production of military equipment in the former Reich. Following Germany’s capitulation on May 8th 1945, its surviving production plants and facilities were shut down, confiscated and largely dismantled. The continued existence of German armaments companies was not desired. The then Rheinmetall-Borsig AG, successor of the original Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik AG founded in 1889, likewise lost most of its factories and assets and suffered a complete halt to production. Starting in 1950, the company, now half-owned by the new Federal Republic of Germany, tried its hand at building up a line of civilian products in its bombed-out works in Düsseldorf; but the company experienced only limited success as a maker of office machines, shock absorbers and transport and loading machines.
New prospects opened up with the advent of the Cold War, which forced Western governments into a major strategic rethink. The Korean War, the founding of the German Democratic Republic and tensions over Berlin in the early 1950s led the Allies to recognize that the only way of defending Western Europe from the threat of Communist expansion would be a rearmed, democratic West Germany, anchored in a new transatlantic alliance.
The decision to create a West German Army was immediately followed by the question of how it would be equipped. The answer: to urgently re-establish a defence industry in the country. Because the Federal Republic of Germany was not permitted to operate its own defence plants, the first steps were taken to re-privatize Rheinmetall. The new owners, the Röchling family, were expected to meet a single but very important condition: they must engage in defence production on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany, thus ensuring that the new Bundeswehr would be properly armed and equipped – a commitment which the company honours to this day. Continuously augmenting its portfolio of top-quality products, for five decades the company has remained on the cutting edge of defence technology, responding to the changing needs of the armed forces of Germany, its allies and other likeminded nations.
MaK, STN Atlas, Henschel Wehrtechnik, KUKA Wehrtechnik, Mauser-Werke, Buck Neue Technologien, Nico and Nitrochemie: over the years, all of these companies have joined the Rheinmetall Group, and all have contributed to creating the German defence industry’s global reputation for unsurpassed technical excellence.
For example, the combat effectiveness of the world’s top-performing tank, the Leopard 2, is due above all to its main armament and ammunition, both of which bear the Rheinmetall hallmark. The company’s “Spürfuchs” armoured NBC reconnaissance vehicle enjoys a global reputation, as do its air defence systems, medium-calibre products (e.g. aircraft cannon), simulation systems, fire control units, and protective countermeasures systems, the latter used primarily in a naval context.
As the Bundeswehr gears up to meet new global responsibilities and increasingly takes on the role of an intervention force, Rheinmetall is now more than ever setting the pace of military modernization.
To protect troops in hazardous areas of operation – in forward operating bases, for example, or in convoys – Rheinmetall now offers an integrated system made up of a diverse array of individual components and subsystems, all networked into a total solution providing a high degree of force protection: a requirement-driven solution that combines the capabilities of reconnaissance, command, fires, mobility, sustainability and survivability – all from a single source.
Today, fifty years after it began cooperating with the Bundeswehr, the company remains squarely focused on the security challenges of the contemporary world.
Furthermore, in a world where it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between internal and external threats to national security, civil defence and law enforcement technology are now firmly on Rheinmetall’s agenda as well.
Rheinmetall’s new “Homeland Security” unit brings together the company’s wide-ranging competencies in the domain of civil defence and internal security. Here, technologies from the military sphere are modified and put to work in a public safety role, helping to protect civilian populations both at home and abroad. In this field, too, Rheinmetall is eager to build on the many successes that have marked a corporate history that dates back well over a century.
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Source : Rheinmetall