PARIS --- The world’s army equipment industry was back with a vengeance at last week’s Eurosatory defense show here, after a four-year hiatus as the Covid pandemic forced the organizers to cancel the 2020 show. Although final figures had not been released at the time of writing, organisers COGES were expecting over 1,800 exhibitors and 57,000 visitors.
By all reports, both the exhibition area and the number of people in attendance were appreciably higher than in 2018, even though exhibitors and visitors from Russia and China – two massive weapons exporters which attended and exhibited massively at previous shows – were barred this year because of the political circumstances.
Political circumstances were also very much present at the show, as the live demonstration played out daily in Ukraine underlined the crucial need for anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft defenses and artillery – all capabilities that European armies have allowed to wither as they basked in the warm sunshine of the post-Cold War ‘peace dividend.’
Artillery reclaims its pre-eminence
The entire French Army, for example, can only muster 64 Caesar truck-mounted 155mm self-propelled guns after giving 18 to Ukraine, and will have to compete with foreign customers which continue ordering them -- Lithuania and Belgium have ordered 27 in the past month – to renew its inventory.
And the same is true of field artillery throughout Western Europe, as the “God of war,” as Stalin famously described it, was one of the first capabilities to be cut after the end of the Cold War. The British Army has practically retired its tube artillery, as have The Netherlands and Germany, whose PzH2000 is widely considered the best tracked artillery piece in the world. Most have either been sold or are in storage, the public has discovered, and restoring them to service will be a long and complex process.
Germany and The Netherlands have also long retired their Gepard twin 35mm self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, a weapon that is ideally suited to shoot down drones of all sizes thanks to the range and power of its proximity-fuzed ammunition. The Ukrainians are keen to get their hands on Gepard, but they cannot because Switzerland, where a unit of Germany’s Rheinmetall is the only maker of their ammunition, refuses to allow that it be exported to countries in a conflict zone -- of which Ukraine is one.
The same is also true, albeit to a lesser degree, for tanks.
The number of tanks in service in NATO’s West European nations have dropped to ridiculously low levels, at best a brigade’s worth when many fielded several divisions just decades ago. The British Army plans to order just 148 of its next-generation Challenger 3 main battle tanks, while France’s 2019-25 Military Program Law calls for only 200 Leclerc Valorisés to be in service by 2028.
Given the rate at which tanks are being destroyed in Ukraine, the likelihood is high that major orders for modern tanks will follow in coming years and, as evidenced at Eurosatory, nations will be able to choose between an ever-growing product range, from upgraded models of in-service tanks – Leopard 2A7+, Challenger 3, Leclerc Valorisé, M-1 Abrams – and an emerging generation comprising Rheinmetall’s Panther KF51, KMW’s Enhanced MBT, South Korea’s K2 Black Panther, and more.
But the question remains of whether tanks are still as operationally useful on the battlefield, given the number of tanks lost by both Russia and Ukraine to cheap, disposable weapons as well as anti-tank missiles.
The race to restore stockpiles
And what is true for artillery and tanks is even more so for ammunition, as the spectacularly high rates of fire in Ukraine has led army staffs to realize just how inadequate their stockpiles are – and even more inadequate, given the quantities of their holdings of Javelins, AT-4s, LAWs and artillery and small arms ammunition they have provided to Ukraine.
According to a recent article posted by the Royal United Services Institute, “US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.”
The RUSI article notes that “the US is not the only country facing this challenge. In a recent war game involving US, UK and French forces, UK forces exhausted national stockpiles of critical ammunition after eight days,” while a recent report by the French National Assembly’s Defense Committee concluded that French Army ammunition stocks would also be consumed in days. “We need €6-7 billion to restore French ammunition stocks,” according to one of the report’s authors, Jean-Louis Thiériot.
So, having been seen to have disarmed too fast, too far, a race to rearm is likely to follow, as Western army staffs scramble, all at the same time, to procure the ammunition and missiles they need to increase their inventories. This will likely overwhelm the industry’s capacity, as production rates have been cut back for decades as military orders dwindled.
This is a major problem for most Western European armies, but which their East European allies will largely escape as they had not disarmed as fast after the end of the Cold War restored their independence in the 1990s.
Drones and loitering munitions much in vogue
After an initial demonstration of their war-winning capabilities during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, unmanned aircraft and loitering munitions have again been shown by the war in Ukraine to be one of the most, if not the most, desirable military capabilities.
This is not the place to detail how Ukraine practically blunted Russian armored attacks, and their logistic support, using drones and loitering munitions – and even modified commercial UAVs dropping grenades on enemy troops – but it is clear that this kind of weapon – deadly, lightweight, versatile and cheap – will also be a major procurement priority for any army staff worth its salt.
Logically, the corollary is that the anti-drone market is also maturing fast now, with major procurement programs ongoing all over the world, especially for ground-based systems both for protection of fixed targets or for escorting mobile columns.
Finally, again as shown by the Ukrainians, connectivity is another crucial capability that the military of all sizes and of all persuasions must acquire and master to remain relevant in the future.
Why make it simple, when you can make it complicated?
This celebrated French expression, meant to ridicule their civil servants’ propensity to complicate issues solely to justify their jobs and perks, takes on a new significance when comparing the rustic and cheap weapons that have been battle-proven in Ukraine to the ever more complex and expensive weapons that Europe is either buying or planning to buy.
Unmanned aircraft are a case in point. Where Azerbaijan and Ukraine made incredibly successful use of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone, France, Germany, Spain and Italy finally awarded Airbus, the prime contractor, an initial €7.1 billion contract to develop Eurodrone, a twin-engined monstrosity with a wingspan of 26 meters, that should enter service in 2028. And this does not include production.
By an odd coincidence, the Eurodrone contract was signed on Feb. 24, the very day Russia invaded Ukraine, touching off the spectacular demonstration of the TB2’s capabilities in combat. Thanks to a Lithuanian initiative to crowd-fund an additional TB2 for Ukraine, we know that this tried and tested weapon costs €5 million each.
Of course, the TB2 cannot match Eurodrone’s endurance, it cannot fly as high, cannot carry as heavy a weapon payload.….but do the four Eurodrone partners, who already operate very expensive US-made Reaper and Predator drones, need to spend a huge amount of money to buy a bigger and more expensive drone than any military in the world has yet bought?
For just the money it is spending to develop Eurodrone (€7.1 billion), the four partner countries could have bought 1,420 TB2s. With such numbers, they could easily afford to lose a few dozen, but what will happen if a future enemy shoots down a few dozen Eurodrones?
The US military, the most modern and richest military in the world, has been beaten and forced to pull out of Afghanistan by a few thousand sandal-shod Taliban fighters armed with AK-47 assault rifles, yet they continue to spend billions - $807 billion in 2022 alone – on perfect, gold-plated weapons like the F-35 fighter, the KC-46 tanker, the CH-53K helicopter, and more – which cost a bundle, promise much and deliver little.
Ukraine, and the military lessons that it offers, provide European staffs with the opportunity they need to avoid following the disastrous US example, but only if they are willing to face reality.
Selected news from the Eurosatory 2022 show
-- Germany’s Rheinmetall stole the show with its Panther KF51 main battle tank, developed with its own funds, on the opening day of Eurosatory 2022. Hailed as the “first fully digitalised MBT concept” by its manufacturer, the Panther KF51 MBT uses Leopard 2 components in its chassis, fitted with a brand-new turret armed with Rheinmetall’s own 130mm L/52 smoothbore gun, rebranded as the Future Gun System (FGS).
--Israel’s Elbit Systems unveiled its Medium Robotic Combat Vehicle (M-RCV) unmanned ground vehicle, co-developed with the Israel MoD. It includes the BLR-2 robotic platform from BL Advanced Ground Support Systems; a 30mm remotely operated turret developed by the Israeli MoD for the Eitan APC; a robotic autonomous kit; and situational awareness systems.
-- The Swedish defence matériel agency, FMV, announcedthat it has ordered a new batch of 24 Archer self-propelled 155mm self-propelled howitzers. In parallel, BAE Systems Bofors said it had recently delivered the final batch of 48 Archers to the Swedish armed forces. Finally, BAE Systems announced that Archer had been short-listed by Switzerland, but this has not yet been confirmed by the Swiss.
-- Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) also unveiled a self-funded tracked version of the 8x8 Boxer wheeled armored fighting vehicle (AFV) with an increased gross vehicle weight and compatibility with all existing mission modules, such as the 155mm/52 calibre Remote Controlled Howitzer, NEMO 120mm turret-mounted mortar and John Cockerill Defense C3105 turret, according to Shepard.
--The Franco-German KNDS group (KMW + Nexter Defense Systems) presented for the first time at Eurosatory the new iteration of its Enhanced Main Battle Tank (EMBT), a technological demonstrator with a redesigned chassis (with a set of cameras and sensors, a MTU 883 engine more compact than the Leopard 2 engine) and turret (with new optronic systems, a new ARX30 remotely operated turret from Nexter, Trophy hard-kill systems and a new RWS).
--South Korea’s Hanwha Defense displayed, for the first time in the European market, a full-scale RedbackInfantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). The Redback was shortlisted in 2019 as one of the two final bidders for Australia’s LAND 400 Phase 3 program. Last year, the futuristic combat vehicle successfully completed the final tests and evaluations conducted by the Australian Defence Force, followed by the South Korean Army’s test trials in recent months. It is supposed to have attracted interest from European Armies too.
--Two new customers for Caesar: Lithuania has signed a Letter of Intent to buy 18 Caesar Mk II truck-mounted 155mm self-propelled howitzer, arguably the most combat-proved weapon of its kind in the world. This order comes on the heels of a Belgian order for 9 Caesars, signed on May 14 by Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder. These guns Caesar 6x6 Mark IIs will equip the Belgian Land Component from 2027.
--Germany has joined the Baltic nations’ Common Armoured Vehicle System (CAVS) on 14 June 2022. CAVS is a multinational programme aimed at developing an armoured vehicle system based on the common requirements of the Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Patria’s 6x6 vehicle has been chosen as the chassis platform for the common R&D program.
--Israeli robotic system manufacturer Roboteam has developed a lightweight tactical UGV in partnership with fellow Israeli firm Smart Shooter, comprising the medium-sized Transportable Interoperable Ground Robot (TIGR) and the Smash Hopper light remotely controlled weapons station (LRCWS) from Smart Shooter.
-- Belgian company John Cockerill Defense has rolled out a spectacular new vehicle concept. The Cockerill i-X is a lightly armored 4x4 vehicle that was designed to intercept and engage incoming ground-based threats, much like an interceptor aircraft. While it made its initial debut in March during the World Defense Show in Riyadh, the vehicle was showcased for the first time in Europe this week at the Eurosatory show.
--France-based missile house MBDA has been developing its Sky Warden solution for several years, a C-UAV suite designed to counter the entire spectrum of drone threats, and unveiled for the first time its integration into a single vehicle, the Mobile CUAVSystem, based on a Arquus-made Sherpa vehicle. It will also exhibit it at the Berlin air show this week.
--MBDA also unveiled its new AKERON family of tactical combat missiles, including the MMP and MHT missiles, now renamed AKERON MP and AKERON LP respectively.
--According to Safran, the first system of SDT Patroller tactical UAV program for the French Army, comprising five aircraft and two ground stations, should be ready for delivery in 2022.
--General Dynamics European Land Systems (GDELS) unveiled two new vehicles at the show: the MERLIN light tactical vehicle (LTV) and the DURO-e 4x4, which is the first all-electric, all-terrain military vehicle developed by the company.
--Israel’s Plasan unveiled its new lightweight WILDER 4x4 vehicle during the Eurosatory 2022 defence exhibition, adaptable into a 6x6 or even an 8x8 platform.
-- Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary ELTA displayed its Rex MK II UGV multi-mission system providing direct support to maneuvering infantry units. Rex can perform a variety of tasks: tactical logistic support, tactical ISR, operating lethal weapons through target acquisition, evacuating wounded soldiers. The Rex includes “follow-me” driving mode adapted for infantry forces, ELTA says.
-- The Czech Republic’s Excalibur launched at Eurosatory its new Morana 155 mm weapon system, with a 52-calibre tube fitted onto a 8x8 wheeled chassis to create a self-propelled howitzer.
-- Greek defence company EODH signed a new framework agreement with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) during the exhibition to expand the partnership on MBT protection upgrade packages based on new-generation ASPIS NG armour modules and vehicle protection technologies, with marketing and R&D efforts.
-- Sweden’s Saab has created a new item of clothing called Soldier System, designed to obscure a range of optics such as ultraviolet and IR.
-- Italy’s Leonardo unveiled at Eurosatory its new multi-domain Tactical-Multi-Mission Radar (TMMR), an AESA radar designed to detect, classify and track small and fast-moving aerial threats and to provide situational awareness for missions involving land-based and airborne platforms.
-- German sensor house Hensoldt and Italian vehicle manufacturer Iveco Defence Vehicles (IDV) presented at the show a new Military Utility Vehicle (MUV) concept demonstrator, a modular sensor-fusion platform for surveillance and reconnaissance as well as for self-protection and convoy protection. The basis of the MUV concept demonstrator is an all-terrain 7-ton chassis from IDV with a maximum payload of 4 tons.
--France’s Texelis hopes to use the versatile Serval mobility system as a basic structure for other vehicles, including the complex EGC 8x8 combat engineering vehicle, which will succeed the EBG in French Army service. On the other hand, the partnership between Texelis and QinetiQ has developed and in-wheel Electric Hub Drive, to ‘hybridise’ its offering in the armored vehicle segment.
--France’s Arquus is displaying new features for its Scarabée reconnaissance vehicle, with new internal configuration, new doors and new RWS with MMP Hornet antitank missile. Arquus also unveiled a new mortar-equipped variant of its Sherpa 4x4 vehicle at Eurosatory 2022, with a Thales 120mm rifled mortar barrel and NTGS Mobile Mortar System.
--During Eurosatory 2022, France’s Lacroix Defense unveiled S-KAPS, its new modular soft-kill self-protection suite. Including notably new IA add-on as an evolution of its Galix-AOS systems.
--UK’s Supacat unveiled an HMT Extenda Mk2 vehicle equipped with a 105mm cannon, to stimulate the debate around the use of such vehicle, a result of a partnership between Supacat, AM General and Mandus Group.
--France’s defense procurement agency, DGA, has qualified the Fardier lightweight, air- and heli-transportable 4x4 vehicle, of which it intends to buy 300 for French paratroops and special operations forces. It is made by a French SME, UNAC.
--At Eurosatory, Rheinmetall also premiered the Caracal airborne vehicle family it developed in partnership with Mercedes-Benz and ACS Armoured Car Systems. Based on the latest G-class chassis, and intended for special operations, the 4.9-tonne Caracal can be fitted with add-on protection for countering ballistic and landmine threats.
--During the show, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced that, with its development now completed, the first “Eitan” wheeled 8x8 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) is in series production. It will soon be delivered to the IDF’s “Nahal” Brigade for operational use.