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A New Air Defence System for Germany

Rheinmetall Electronics, Diehl Defence and HENSOLDT Sensors have signed a joint agreement for cooperation as a special partnership to submit a tender for the future German short range and very short range protection air defence system (LVS NNbS).

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NNbS is intended to close the capability gap in mobile air defence that arose after the Cold War due to the phasing out of systems and capabilities primarily from the Army; namely the protection of ground troops during deployed operations as well as tactical operation centres and other assets against short- and very short-range aerial threats. The project itself is structured into multiple phases:

  • Sub-project 1 "Initial Land Capability", which expects a tender in 2022;
  • Phase 2 “Laser-effector”, which has been detached from NNbS and went under contract as a weapon system for naval units at the beginning of 2021;
  • Phase 3 “Follow-on land capability”, which expects a tender in 2026. “Initial Land Capability” calls for the procurement of vehicles for the protection against firearms, guided missiles, rockets, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Now Rheinmetall Electronics, Diehl Defence and Hensoldt Sensors have signed a joint agreement to cooperate in a special partnership known as an “Arbeitsgemeinschaft” (ARGE). Under the framework of ARGE NNbS, the three companies will submit a tender for the future German short-range and very short-range air defence system, the LVS NNbS. A procurement of four fire units is planned, and the tender is expected to be issued in 2022. According to the Bundeswehr's assessment, this would make it possible to protect three brigades and a division’s own troops.

The ARGE NNbS now wants to offer a quickly available, national and low-risk solution with existing systems and system components. The system concept of ARGE NNbS mainly uses tried and tested systems and subsystems, integrating components already in use by the Bundeswehr. A further advantage of ARGE NNbS is comprehensive logistical support in Germany for the short-range and very short-range air defence system. Rheinmetall would primarily be the integrator, and for certain solutions also the platform manufacturer. The main part of the sensors - especially the radars - will come from Hensoldt. Diehl Defence will provide the IRIS-T and IRIS-T SL effectors.

With regard to mobile protection, sub-project 1 of NNbS initially envisages a pure missile solution. Here, the joint approach of the ARGE offers the advantage of secondary use of the IRIS-T guided missiles already in service with the German Air Force. These only have a limited service life on the aircraft. However, there is no reason why they cannot be used for ground-based air defence instead of having to be disposed of after their aerial service life.

According to Rheinmetall, however, one shortcoming remains that sub-project 1 will not close the capability gap in the area of combating smaller drones. The threat posed by drones used for military purposes is steadily increasing however. After all, small drones are not high technology and can accordingly be produced quickly and cheaply by (almost) any country on earth. At the same time, swarms of drones enable the oversaturation of air defence. NNbS is also intended to remedy this situation, but this will only be possible in sub-project 3 "Follow-on land capability".

The Bundeswehr has already tried to bridge this capability gap in December 2019 with the acquisition of ten Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS). These have been bought from Norwegian manufacturer Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace and are based of its Protector remote weapons station (RWS). For Germany’s Protector RWS C-UAS project, Kongsberg has cooperated closely with Hensoldt and is integrating the Hensoldt Spexer 3rd generation radar for UAS detection and tracking. The solution utilizes a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher with airburst ammunition, but the Protector RWS has a variety of weapon integrations up to 30 mm and air defence missiles that can be employed against UAS. Kongsberg was awarded the contract through an international tender process. The ten drone defence systems ordered will initially be deployed in 2023 with the NATO spearhead, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). The Bundeswehr solution Protector RWS will be carried by the Boxer wheeled armoured fighting vehicle.

According to the government, the LVS project is to replace the Patriot air defence system for medium and long ranges by 2031 and expand its capabilities. Currently, the Bundeswehr has twelve ground-based Patriot systems. In addition, the LVS NNbS is to replace the Mantis weapon system and the Ozelot light air defence system (based on the Wiesel 2) and expand their capabilities. The armed forces currently had two Mantis systems and two Ozelot platoons.

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