Advanced laser systems for security and armed forces
Capability enhancement with components from Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics
Asymmetric conflicts of the type encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq have necessitated a fundamental transformation of the land forces. High mobility and tactical flexibility are essential in urban areas and inaccessible terrain where many of the operations are conducted today. Although a lot of progress has been made with land vehicle development, boots on the ground are still needed. Many armies therefore attach considerable importance to the modernisation of the equipment of their infantrymen in order to enhance combat effectiveness, survivability and reconnaissance capabilities. Products from Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics GmbH (RSE) in Stockach offer real added value to soldier system equipment.
Rheinmetall was largely associated with advanced land systems in the past. The growing market for mission equipment is now also being served by high-tech products from Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics, presenting new strategic possibilities for the group in the field of infantry equipment.
“Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics GmbH has an important role in the Rheinmetall group”, says managing director Wolfgang Kammerlander. “Most of the members of Rheinmetall Defence are systems companies. By contrast, RSE is focussed on the relatively short-lived component market for infantrymen.” Kammerlander points out that it would be wrong to consider components less significant even if their price is naturally much lower than that of complete systems. “We simply sell larger quantities of our products”.
Variants of the most important product – the laser light module LLM that is the European market leader in this segment – have been sold more than 125,000 times since commencement of production ten years ago. With the exception of the French Army, all major armed forces on the continent are equipped with the laser light module. The product range from RSE at Stockach also includes fire control units, friend-foe identification systems (also referred to as Dismounted Soldier Identification Devices) and further laser components.
There are good reasons for the success of the company’s flagship product. The light and compact LLM combines a high-intensity light-source with an excellent laser and infrared target marker. The product for which there is strong international demand is more than just an aiming device. Kammerlander: “By relatively simple means, a laser light module improves self-protection as well as the reconnaissance capability and combat effectiveness of infantrymen.”
For instance, the activated laser beam makes nylon threads that are invisible to the human eye visible. Such threads are frequently used to trigger booby traps. “When passed over the thread, the laser beam is reflected clearly, giving added protection to soldiers in the presence of dangerous booby traps.”
The reconnaissance capability is likewise improved. Kammerlander: “Although modern night vision goggles are high-tech devices, they nevertheless still only give a 2D image of the environment. Our LLM restores the third dimension to our customers.” The explanation is quite simple: When the activated laser glides over an edge or projection, there is a visible “jump”, showing the terrain structure to the soldier.
The laser light module also improves combat effectiveness substantially. In urban combat involving direct fire, the effectiveness of the infantry is distinctly better. “We developed a modular concept that offers the best possible solution to meet the requirements that are tailored exactly to the tactical demands of our customers. None of our competitors have a solution that is as good as ours”, says Kammerlander.
The modular success story is complemented by a wide range of accessories, functional design and outstanding workmanship. “Although we obviously don’t serve the low-cost segment of the market, our customers realise they are buying quality”, notes Heiko Schmidt from the New Business Development department. There is no doubt that quality is crucial since the failure to fulfil an order in service due to flawed material can be far more expensive than to invest slightly more money in the purchase of a product.” Besides, it is important to remember that the lives of individuals depend on the quality of the products.
Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics is experiencing a period of change. The company that joined Rheinmetall in 2002 has a long history to look back on. Officially established as Contraves GmbH in 1975, the business had nothing to do with infantry equipment in its early days. Indeed, it was concerned with fire control components for the Gepard armoured vehicle (no longer in operation) and services related to this system.
The transformation of the German armed forces offered the chance to reorganise the Stockach facility with a focus on laser-based components. The most visible sign of change is the renaming of Contraves into Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics in 2009. Kammerlander who has been in charge of the Stockach business since 2007 and restored the undertaking to profitability only one year later was very much in favour of the name change. “The name Rheinmetall Soldier Electronics draws attention to our product portfolio and is a clear statement with respect to the role of the facility”, says the 57 year-old managing director who hastens to add: “We are proud of our name.”
Kammerlander remarks that the change process is still not completed. “We are currently reorganising logistic processes in production. Whereas in classical batch production, all activities associated with a product are completed in one order, we have decided to divide the manufacturing process into the pre-production of “common” parts for all customers and the production of customized products. This allows capacity-orientated preproduction with less capital tied-up in expensive material that is then used for the specific customer order.” The reorganisation has already had a positive effect: according to Kammerlander, an order that used to take six months to complete now only requires about six weeks.
RSE’s managing director is especially proud of the fact that the restructuring process has not led to job losses in the long term. The company presently has about 130 employees which roughly corresponds to the headcount that existed when Rheinmetall acquired the company in 2002. About one quarter of the staff are still involved in administration work. “We especially want the size of our production and development teams to grow in coming years”, says Kammerlander.
Stockach will be responsible for Dismounted Soldier Products in Rheinmetall’s new Electro-Optics division, encompassing the development and manufacture of innovative products for the infantry. “We need more of our own products”, says Kammerlander. RSE intends to grow mainly in the fields of dismounted soldier identification devices, laser markers and fire control units. Alongside the LLM, the product families are to be developed into strategic pillars of the business portfolio.
RSE is already planning a successor for its successful laser aiming device: “Series-production of the LLM Vario-Ray representing the next generation of our most important product is due to start soon”, explains business developer Schmidt. Furthermore, the transfer of laser technology within the Rheinmetall group is to be bolstered in coming years. By contrast, ongoing maintenance and repair services for military equipment will become less important in future.
Another important milestone in the change process will be the move to the new facilities in early 2012. The company will relocate to the industrial estate Blumhof to the east of Stockach. The topping out ceremony took place in September 2011 and the move should be completed by April next year. “The decommissioning of the Gepard made the large halls in the Winterspürer Strasse superfluous”, remarks Kammerlander. The move to the new site also symbolises the end of business with large systems from Oerlikon Contraves and is a clear sign of the new role in the Rheinmetall group.
Rheinmetall AGHead of Press and Public Relations
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