Title: Rheinmetall Canada: a growing need for integrators

Sub-title: In today’s complex geopolitical environment, armed forces are constantly asked to do more with less. Integrating high-end products with custom Canadian components, software, service and support, can make that job easier, says a senior executive at one of the country’s leading defence contractors.

 

The nature and scale of the challenges that the Canadian Armed Forces have faced in recent years has been truly impressive. Whether it be tackling homeland security preparedness, troop deployments in support of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, peacekeeping operations in the Balkans or Katrina humanitarian assistance; our soldiers constantly step up to the challenge.

 

Yet despite the fact that budgets have been rising in recent years (to about $18 billion during 2007-2008) the Canadian Armed Forces achieved those missions using remarkably modest means. To do so much with so little, defense department officials have had to be creative in their procurement strategies. And they will need to be even more so in the near future, says one industry export.

 

 “In today’s fast changing world, capabilities matter,” says Nick Papiccio, vice-president in charge of business development and government relations at Rheinmetall Canada. “When Canada’s soldiers need kit to do their jobs-- such as the Leopard tanks that quickly became necessary for the Afghan deployments -- they want them fast. Often lives are at stake. So having a solid base of domestic defense providers is not just something desirable, it’s an outright must.”

 

Papiccio, who is one of Canada’s foremost defence industry experts, should know. During his stint at Rheinmetall Canada and, prior to that, in his long career with the Canadian Armed Forces, he has seen it all. “It’s not like is was in the old days when I was a Naval Combat Officer and directing above water and anti-submarine activities during the Cold War,” says Papiccio. “Today, the military needs to adapt constantly to face the challenges generated by both conventional war and asymmetric threats.”

 

An increased focus on flexibility

However defence industry suppliers need to adapt too. “Coalitions and joint operations are becoming ever-more important, which means there is an even increasing need for interoperability and interconnectivity among military and industrial organizations,” says Papiccio. In a sense, those developments are good news for systems integrators like Rheinmetall Canada, which have the flexibility to turn on a dime.

 

During the past several years, the company’s Canadian sales, (which are spread between six divisions: land systems, weapons & munitions, propellants, air defence, C4ISTAR and simulation & training) have shot up from just $25 million, to more than $100 million. Not surprisingly the number of researchers, production people, software developers and engineers has also increased: from 175 to more than 400, of which close to half are engineers.

 

And that’s just here in Canada. When all of its international divisions are combined, the German-based Rheinmetall Group as a whole last year generated sales of close to 3.6 billion euros and employed more than 18,000 people, about a third of whom are on the defence side.

 

Ground Based Air Defence

Rheinmetall has a long and prestigious history here in Canada. The company, (then known as Oerlikon Aerospace), first made waves during the mid-1980s when it was awarded a multi-billion dollar ADATS low level air defence contract. The move sparked a wave of technological development at the company’s headquarters in the garrison town of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, which quickly encompassed 32,000m2 in office, laboratory and production space.

 

From those beginnings, Rheinmetall Canada has become the prime supplier of ground-based air defences to Canada’s land forces says Martin Bouchard, the company’s point man on the project. Protection is centered around the world’s premier short-range air defence missile system known as Air Defence Anti-Tank Systems (ADATs). Rheinmetall Canada is currently maintaining and improving this capability by modernizing the system into a more versatile platform that can protect against a much broader spectrum of potential threats. For example one recent improvement includes the Centralized Appended Trainer, which is a real time simulation system that will allow operators to train on actual ADATs vehicles.

 

“We listen carefully to our customers to understand their needs and then we create new solutions by combining dissimilar technologies to achieve a specific capability,” says Bouchard. However the company’s focus here goes beyond the domestic market. In fact, the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu facility was designated as the Center of expertise for ground-based Air Defence and as the center of excellence for BMC4I within the Rheinmetall Group of companies.

 

Land Defence Systems

According to another long-time Rheinmetall employee, systems integrators bring several things to the table that conventional defence contractors cannot. “Our approach is remarkably consistent. We try to identify potential major acquisitions that the Canadian Department of National Defence or one of our export clients are likely to make, in which we have a competitive advantage. Then we partner with other players that can supply off-the shelf systems, or other value-adds and we supply in-country service support,” says Jean Claude Rollier, the company’s Director of Land Defence Systems.

 

“This saves our clients money, provides them the flexibility to incorporate customized elements or software into their procurements, ensures that long-term service and support is available right here in Canada and delivers key industrial regional benefits.” 

 

CASW: Close Area Suppression Weapons System

According to Rollier, one key example Rheinmetall’s capabilities-based approach is its outlook regarding the upcoming Close Area Suppression Weapons System (CASW) project. The initiative, which has been on DND’s plate for several years, is designed to provide a man-portable tripod-based system that supplies direct or indirect fire support capability at the company level.

 

An RFP for the delivery of 200 or so systems coupled with integrated logistics support, which could be worth as much as $100 million, will be issued next spring. Each system will consist of a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, a fire control system, with programmable airburst ammunition which will detonate based on variable factors such as distance, wind and so on. For the CASW bid, Rheinmetall will partner with Heckler & Koch, which will supply the launchers themselves.

 

Rheinmetall will make and integrate the fire control system, which will include a computer and customized software that will provide for adjustments for battlefield conditions, and will also integrate day and night vision capability, as well a laser range finder which measures the distance.

 

MSVS: Medium Support Vehicle Systems

To Rollier, the ability to partner with other defence industry players is a key capability. This partnership ability should be significantly tested on the Canadian Forces project to replace the five-ton medium truck fleet. This huge +$2 billion initiative will be divided into three separate phases.

 

Rheinmetall’s current focus is on the expected $500 million contract for 1,500 trucks, of which 200 will be equipped with an armored cabin. For this project Rheinmetall teamed up with BEA Systems (tactical vehicle systems division), which will provide the truck chassis and Rheinmetall would manufacture the cabins and conduct the final assembly at its Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu plant and would act as Canadian partner and take on the long-term maintenance and in-service support capability.

 

Leopard II tanks: upgrades, service and support

The Leopard II tank initiative is another complex project that Rollier strongly feels that Rheinmetall can add value to. 

“When we became aware that DND was looking for tanks, we knew we could help,” says Rollier. “We already provide certain elements of the Leopard including the fire control systems, but we also thought that we could upgrade the additional tanks and do the work in Canada

 

There are currently 20 Leopard in Afghanistan on loan from the Dutch government. In addition Rheinmetall Germany provides armored recovery vehicles. Furthermore the Canadian government is finalizing a contract with the Dutch government to buy 100 additional Leopard II tanks (80 of the A4 version and 20 A6 version).  If that occurs, Rollier believes that Rheinmetall would be the perfect partner to upgrade them, and to possibly provide maintenance and support.

 

“There would be several upgrade priorities,” says Rollier. “These would likely include the provision of mine protection, additional cooling capabilities, an electrical drive and a few other things. But there again our ability to partner becomes crucial. We don’t have the capabilities to do all the work but we can ally ourselves with other companies that can.”

 

Battle Management Command (BMC41)

Providing soldiers the means to collect and assess information so they have access to real time situation awareness is crucial to today’s fast moving military operations, says Wayne Levandier, Rheinmetall’s Senior Manager (Marketing and Sales). “Armies are increasingly using tactical UAVs to recover information regarding the ground around them,” says Levandier. “But maintaining the sensor equipment in top condition, compiling the information, assessing it and getting it to the right people on the ground is just as important as collecting that information in the first place.”

 

In few places are Rheinmetall’s capabilities being tested as they are in the tactical UAV operations currently underway in Afghanistan. For this initiative, the company is currently partnered with France-based Sagem, which supplies the Sperwer A, four-meter wide UAVs that are being used. These units are now flying 24hrs a day, in 12-hour shifts, under stressful and demanding conditions. Rheinmetall provides parts, various engineering tasks, service & support and ongoing system improvements.

 

The company’s tactical UAV initiative in Afghanistan could lead to further opportunities down the road. The Canadian Armed Forces are currently considering renting several smaller UAV systems, consisting of sensors, ground control units and ancillary equipment.

 

The bid is currently in the “letter of interest” phase. An RFP is expected to be issued in February and a contract could be awarded in Sept 2008. Rheinmetall is partnering with U.S. based AAI for the bid. The companies would provide Aerosonde units, (which are about four feet in length and are only one twentieth the weight of the tactical UAVs) coupled with parts delivery, service and support. However despite their small size, the Aerosonde are hardly pushovers. They have spectacular endurance capabilities. One has even crossed the Atlantic Ocean and another holds the world’s endurance record in the category, after having achieved more than 36 hours of continuous flight.

 

Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance

Another of the key areas in which Rheinmetall adds value to the systems that it delivers is through its intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) custom software development initiatives, which add functionality to many standard sensor systems. Over the years, the company has developed a family of software suites, including the Video Portable Suite, (VPS) which is used in the tactical UAV Afghanistan deployment.

 

Through the use of a laptop and other equipment, the VPS software enables soldiers to extract data, interface that information with the ground control station and to extract video data and images, so that these can be send across the battlefield in the form of contact reports.

 

BMC4I technology is also expected to be a key element of Canada’s Integrated Soldier Systems Program which will be implemented during the coming years. “We are currently doing substantial work in soldier systems,” says Levandier. “And we hope to use our experience there, in order to help the CF build its own capabilities in this crucial area.”

 

ITARs free technology

As for Papiccio, he remains focused on the many tasks at hand. “We are a Canadian defence industry success story and a world class systems integrator, so we really feel that it is our duty to provide as much help as we can to enable the Canadian Forces to handle their many challenges during the coming years,” says Papiccio. “We provide an in-country partner that can ensure long term service and support, ITARs free technology and reliable cost effective, results-oriented custom solutions. How can you beat that?”

 

Sidebar: Company Snapshot

 

Name: Rheinmetall Canada

Head office: Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu

Phone: 450-542-5805

Internet: www.rheinmetall.ca

Key competencies: Ground Based Air Defence, Land Defence Systems, Command and Control Systems, Systems Integration

Key executives: President, Pierre Stalder, V.P. Nick Papiccio

 

 

Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is a Quebec correspondent and contributing editor at Canadian Defence Review.

 

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