WASHINGTON — German powertrain specialist RENK Group has put down roots in the U.S. through its acquisition of L3Harris Technologies’ combat propulsion systems business, and it’s now making a play to partner with potential prime contractors who are designing replacements for the U.S. Army’s Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
RENK Group acquired L3Harris’ CPS business in a $400 million cash deal in July, giving the German company a foothold in the U.S. Now called RENK America, it has opened its Muskegon, Michigan, facility where it plans to build advanced mobility systems. RENK America officially unveiled itself at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., last month.
The 100-year-old German company brings in roughly $1 billion in revenue worldwide each year and has 3,000 employees distributed across Europe, including in the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Switzerland, and in Asia, including South Korea. Its industrial civilian business also has a presence in China and Brazil, RENK Group CEO Susanne Wiegand told Defense News in a recent interview.
Roughly 50% of RENK Group’s business is mobility solutions for combat vehicles — both tracked and wheeled — she said, to include power packs as well as stand-alone engines, transmissions and suspensions. “The whole chassis more or less is under RENK control,” she said.
“We really have a global coverage and footprint in the business: 75% of our revenue is defense, 25% is in the civilian business,” she added.
And to truly solidify what could be a growing business in the states, the company — through its purchase of the CPS business — has established a facility on American soil in the heart of vehicle-manufacturing country. The manufacturing facility exceeds a million square feet, but the company only uses half of that space. The property includes a 300-acre track course to test vehicles.
The CPS business goes back about as far as RENK Group. It has passed through ownership from such well-known companies as Teledyne and General Dynamics prior to L3Harris owning it.
The business was mostly focused on “making and designing engines and transmissions for pretty much every tracked vehicle in the U.S. and on the big side, meaning over 50 tons. We pretty much own the market,” RENK America CEO Ted Trzesniowski told Defense News in the same interview.
“We’ve heard the voice of the customer before saying that, well, they cannot really go and buy product of that complexity from a European provider and put into U.S. vehicles,” Trzesniowski said. “Now that product will be built and owned by a U.S. subsidiary. That changes completely the game, and it’s quite disruptive to the status quo environment in the U.S. in the combat vehicle arena.”
Making a play for OMFV
The formation of RENK America comes at the dawn of the Army’s attempt to replace its Bradley vehicle with an optionally manned fighting vehicle, or OMFV, and the company is talking to all of the potential prime contractors involved in the concept design phase of the program.
The design phase is part of the Army’s second stab at holding a competition for OMFV, which attempts to drive as much flexibility as it can across the board such as primarily avoiding stringent requirements from the start in favor of loose characteristics to guide industry development.
The Army’s previous attempt required the delivery of physical bid samples, which hamstrung foreign competitor Rheinmetall of Germany and drove Bradley-maker BAE Systems to avoid the competition entirely. Ultimately, the service received just one bid sample from General Dynamics Land Systems, which triggered the Army to rethink the effort and come back with a new approach.
The service mapped out a five-phased effort that begins with an initial design phase, then moves into a detailed design phase, followed by prototyping, testing and production.
The OMFV competition has foreign industry jumping to join in with new and modernized platforms or subcomponents. The Army, at this stage, has ditched much of the restrictions that would typically keep foreign competition at bay.
In later phases of the competition, the classification levels will increase, and foreign participation will be harder to achieve. Many foreign companies are preparing for that inevitability by partnering with American firms. Three out of five teams the Army chose to create initial design concepts for the OMFV have foreign companies on their side, or are foreign businesses teaming with American ones.
Rheinmetall has partnered with Raytheon Technologies, Textron and L3Harris to offer up its Lynx 41 combat vehicle. BAE Systems established a partnership with Israeli defense firm Elbit Systems that includes OMFV but goes beyond that single program. Oshkosh has teamed up with South Korean defense company Hanwha.
The other two parties designing for OMFV are General Dynamics Land Systems and nontraditional company Point Blank.
RENK Group already supplies power solutions and components to General Dynamics for its Ajax vehicle program. “We are delivering the program at the moment more than 700 pieces,” Wiegand said.
And Rheinmetall is a long-term customer. RENK supplies components for the Puma combat vehicle and for the first Lynx vehicle order being built for Hungary.
The company is also a BAE Systems customer, and RENK supplies the transmission for the K2 main battle tank manufactured by Hanwha and on order by the South Korean Army.
“They all know us,” Wiegand said of the OMFV participants. The only one of those companies RENK does not already work with is Point Blank, she noted.
While some teams — out of the five who were awarded digital design concept contracts — announced several teaming arrangements, there are others, like GDLS, who are purposefully keeping options open.
In RENK America’s view, no arrangements at this point are exclusive, particularly regarding propulsion systems. Trzesniowski believes that “whoever comes with the best solution and with the highest maturity and the higher integration of new technology, but at affordable price,” will get to be a part of the OMFV solution.
One perk of having a U.S. subsidiary now is that RENK Group can, for example, provide what is an expensive, sophisticated transmission to the U.S. market at an affordable cost because it will be manufactured stateside, Trzesniowski said.
The company’s strategy is to take that newfound affordability and offer it to companies with flexible solutions, such as hybrid options, according to Trzesniowski. “Everything is on the table.”
RENK America is also gearing up to test in 2022 a fully integrated power system including engine, transmission and power generation with Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Michigan within an entire combat system prototype.
“We are doing this partially to present to customers of OMFV, but also we have interested parties that would like to see this fully integrated solution ready and not just on PowerPoint,” Trzesniowski said.
The company also hopes to open the door to other international companies trying to do business in the U.S.
“We will be open for some, potentially, licensing if there is a manufacturer or designer from Europe that would like to actually build product in the U.S. and does not have their own footprint — for OMFV, for example,” Trzesniowski said.
“We have the facility, we have skilled people and know how to take any component of propulsion under our roof.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.