Funding for the crucial Czech Army modernization program remains uncut despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. We have interviewed Mr. Oliver H. Mittelsdorf, Senior Vice President Sales Tracked Vehicles and Turrets Vehicle Systems Division of Rheinmetall for more information on their current activities in the Czech Republic.
Rheinmetall Česká Republika s.r.o., founded 2018, is a subsidiary of Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH. Can you describe your main activities in the Czech Republic and highlight the most important cooperations with Czech industrial companies?
Rheinmetall Group’s long-term strategy in the Czech Republic is predicted on investment, partnership, security and innovation. Rheinemtall Landsysteme, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rheinmetall Defense, has put forward the Lynx KF41 – among the world’s most advanced modular medium-weight armoured fighting vehicles – in the tender to supply the Czech Army with 210 IFVs. Rheinmetall works with several Czech partners in the global Lynx program, such as Ray Service, Ceska zbrojovka, CSG, VOP Cz and Quittner & Schimek. Rheinmetall last year announced it would build the crucial turret system at its production plant in the region of Usti nad Labem, which employs more than a thousand people at its Rheinmetall Automotive subsidiary.
Rheinmetall with its Lynx KF41, the versatile infantry fighting vehicle, is entering the competition to replace the Czech Army’s fleet of the already obsolete BMP-2. What would you describe as your main competitive advantage and why?
Lynx KF41 is a next generation tracked, networked and highly protected IFV which meets the highest stringent military requirements. The Lynx concept embraces a complete family vehicle, consisting of a chassis module and flexible mission kits in numerous variants. This means the basic vehicle can be configured as an infantry fighting vehicle, an armoured personnel carrier, a command vehicle, an armoured recovery vehicle or field ambulance. Moreover, switching from one configuration to another can be accomplished in matter of hours. Thanks to the uniformity of the basis vehicle, the system will result in substantially lower lifecycle costs, while simultaneously letting military-users adapt to engaging tactical requirements and/or leverage new capabilities. Outstanding survivability, mobility and lethality characterize the Lynx, as do excellent growth potential, including in terms of total weight.
If you are successful and win the competition, what would that mean for the Czech industry? Do you plan to extend your cooperation with your current partners here, would you be looking for new potential partners, maybe employ Czech engineers or fill other job positions?
Rheinmetall has been mining the rich seam of qualified, talented and skilled engineers that exists in the Czech Republic since 2003. The country is already host to more than a thousand jobs at three divisions of Rheinmetall Automotive located in the region of Ústí nad Labem, while Rheinmetall Defense has been a longstanding customer of numerous Czech defense suppliers, as already mentioned above. And the LANCE turret system for the LYNX KF41 at Ústí nad Labem will add around 200 jobs to the process.
The tender to supply 210 tracked IFV’s presents the Czech Republic with the prospect to boost this influx of investment and jobs, thus helping to rebuild the country’s position in the global defense market. The Ministry of Defense’s request for proposals for 210 tracked IFV’s stipulates local industrial participation worth at least 40% of the purchase contract value, which Rheinmetall Defense with its LYNX KF41 – a state-of-the-art, modular tracked armoured vehicle – is already in the process of meeting.
In the event the Czech Ministry of Defense chooses the LYNX KF41 in the IFV tender, Rheinmetall has vowed to set up more such local design, production and support operations, establishing a broad network of Czech suppliers for systems and components. Rheinmetall is in the process of partnering with CzechTrade to find Czech suppliers of assembly parts, in particular precision castings, sand castings and metal moulds. Rheinmetall intends to incorporate this expanded network of local suppliers into its existing global supply chain for the LYNX KF41 and other defense products it sells and supports worldwide. In doing so, this will open up significant opportunities for the Czech defense industry, not only through local industrial participation, but also through integration into the German company’s global supply chains, thus producing export sales for the Czech companies.
Your Lynx vehicle is in competition also in the USA and Australia, are there any other European countries where you would like to see your infantry fighting vehicle?
With the signing of an agreement in Unterlüss on 17 August 2020, the government of Hungary has embarked on a massive program worth over two billion euros to modernize the country’s defense industry and military capabilities. The move was announced by Hungary’s Secretariat of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology and the Commissioner for Defense Development. Rheinmetall, Europe’s foremost maker of army equipment, will be cooperating with Hungary to create a joint venture and production facility in Hungary to manufacture the most modern Lynx infantry fighting vehicle.
Hungary is the first NATO and EU member state to choose the Düsseldorf-based Group’s innovative new IFV. The step is of central importance in Hungary’s ongoing program of military and industrial development, which aims to transform the Hungarian Army as quickly as possible into a world-class fighting force capable of actively addressing security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region.
What potential holds your new extensive program you have recently obtained in Hungary for your industrial partners here in the Czech Republic?
Czech companies will have a larger stake in Rheinmetall’s global supply chain after the recent announcement and will benefit the Czech defense industry greatly in terms of orders and employment.
Have you been affected by the coronavirus pandemic or do you see any possible threats for your business globally in connection with COVID-19?
Together with our suppliers we took immediate measures to cope with the situation caused by coronavirus. Currently none of our programs in the Defense business has been negatively affected.
Interviewed by: Kateřina Š. Urbanová