BERLIN — Raytheon and Rheinmetall have unveiled an integrated suite of air-defense capabilities that they think could meet the entire portfolio of German air-defense needs, ideally choking off efforts to buy an antimissile system from competitor Lockheed Martin, according to executives.
The announcement to provide sensors and shooters capable of defeating everything from low-flying drones to incoming missiles fans the flames of a long-standing industry battle between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. While Lockheed, in cooperation with MBDA Deutschland, clinched a deal in 2015 to develop a German system based on the Medium Extended Air Defense System, Raytheon and Rheinmetall are waiting in the wings if things go south.
Raytheon believes it can offer its Patriot system for less money, sooner, and without the risks inherent in a new development. Those points were largely already in play when Berlin went for MEADS anyway. But what has changed, executives here argued today, is that Patriot has undergone continued improvements, attracting some of Germany’s European allies.
That pertains especially to the area of sensors, where Raytheon says it has made substantial progress in gallium-nitride radar technology, which could vastly decrease Patriot radar down times.
The bottom line, Rheinmetall and Raytheon argued, is that Berlin risks ending up with an “insular” air-defense capability so novel that nobody else has it.
Lockheed officials have faced that argument for years, but the prospect of European heavyweight Germany adopting a new system with built-in 360-degree radar and interceptor capability has kept hope alive of landing a key deal on the continent.
Asked about a specific opportunity to get back into the business, Rheinmetall officials suggested they are banking on a surprise when it comes to cost, as the Lockheed-MBDA team is expected to submit more detailed figures in the coming months.
In other words: If MEADS comes in too high, the tide might seriously turn against the program, which was initially begun 10-plus years ago to replace Patriot.
The defense ministry has given no indications that it plans to make a change in the TLVS program, short for Taktisches Luftverteidigungssystem.
Lockheed Martin and MBDA this month formalized their relationship under a joint venture, meaning the German government will deal with a hybrid German-US company.
Raytheon and Rheinmetall executives argued today that the capability gap TLVS is meant to fill does not exist because Germany already operates Patriot. “You can make up your own mind whether it’s needed at all,” Harald Mannheim, Rheinmetall’s chief of German air defense programs told reporters.
Raytheon’s Michael Tronolone, business development director for Europe and NATO, said the company would strive to build a “sovereign” command-and-control architecture for Germany that knits together various elements of the proposed air-defense suite.
In the short-range segment, roughly 4-15 kilometers, Rheinmetall is proposing its own development of a 35-mm gun that would obliterate aerial targets with shrapnel. There is also a more quickly available variant with a 40-mm gun, but the hit probability is lower. In the future, laser weapons also are possible – especially against drones – but the technology is not yet considered ready for real-world deployment.
In the range segment up to about 100 kilometers Raytheon proposes its Next-Generation Patriot product. The company says the system features a “netted, open architecture,” 360-degree sensors and the option of using all interceptor variants that Germany already has in stock.
For Raytheon, offering its existing Patriot customer base an additional shorter-range capability with the help of Rheinmetall could mean big business, as many countries are busy crafting plans for fighting drones.
In Ukraine, Russian-linked separatists reportedly were successful in using small reconnaissance drones to call in artillery strikes against ground formations, which were unprepared to take down the aircraft.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.