Home to some of Europe's leading developers ofair-launched weapon technologies, Germany holds a central role in several of the continent's key projects
Europe's guided weapons industry has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last decade. This process of rationalisation and integration has reduced duplication and increased companies' ability to compete with their US rivals. This transition, best evidenced through the consolidation of leading parts of the French, Italian and UK missile sectors into one organisation, MBDA, has allowed the European company take on the might of market leader Raytheon.
Now established as a leading supplier of missile systems, MBDA is also moving closer to achieving its long-planned integration of much of Germany's missile manufacturing capability.
The prime target for this move is to gain full control of EADS's LFK subsidiary, in which MBDA already holds a 30% stake. Scheduled for completion before the end of the year, this integration has suffered a lengthy delay while MBDA's stakeholders - BAE Systems, EADS and Finmeccanica - have struggled to agree a fair price forthe German business.
Integration and mergers aside, LFK's focus has been centred on its lead project, the Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missile. Developed with Sweden's Saab Bofors Dynamics under the Taurus Systems joint venture, the 350km (190nm)-range design is nearing first deliveries to the German air force. The weapon will provide the service with a cruise-missile capability in line with several of its European allies, which are also acquiring similar stand-off-range strike weapons. A shorter-range variant dubbed the KEPD 150 has failed to secure a launch customer, but LFK has succeeded in selling 100 derivative autonomous free-flight dispenser weapons to the Greek air force for runway-denial operations. The unpowered glide weapon, which has a maximum range of around 20km, has been integrated with the service's Lockheed Martin F-16, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and Vought A-7 Corsair strike aircraft.
Other LFK projects include its involvement in Euromissile's Trigat LR anti-armour missile selected for the German army's Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters, plus Raytheon's Patriot surface-to-air missile and ship-launched Rolling Airframe Missile. It is also developing the fibreoptic-guided Trifom/Polyphem missile for ship- and ground-launched use, but has yet to secure interest in an air-launched version.
LFK is also involved in a collaborative effort with German propulsion specialist Bayern-Chemie to demonstrate a hypersonic weapon system suitable for future ground-based air-defence and air-launched strike applications. Their prototype HFK-E1 missile was fired from a ground launcher at the German military's WTD-91 test range at Meppen last October, where it achieved a top speed of more than Mach 7. If perfected, such a hypersonic weapon could be used for suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) - a leading capability shortfall identified among NATO's European members.
Responsible for producing the demonstrator's rocket motor, EADS/Thales joint venture Bayern-Chemie has also received heavy investment from MBDA to deliver the rocket-ramjet motor for the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
Early last year it received an estimated €250 million ($295 million) contract to develop the weapon's propulsion subsystem, including its solid boron-fuelled throttleable ducted ram-rocket engine. The Meteor is set to arm the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab/BAE Systems Gripen multirole fighters for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
In a key development for the MBDA-led project, Bayern-Chemie says it is on track to conduct its first windtunnel test firing of the ramjet engine around the third quarter of this year. MBDA says the Meteor programme has achieved 200 project deliveries and milestones to date, and the weapon is on track to enter service in 2012. The next-generation weapon will challenge Raytheon's market leading AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile for future orders.
Although both LFK and Bayern-Chemie are strongly linked with - and partly controlled by - the current MBDA concern, Germany's other leading missile manufacturer, BGT, shows no interest in becoming a fully fledged part of the future four-nation company.
While it is 20% owned by MBDA, BGT is strongly defiant in retaining the independence offered through its 80% ownership by Germany's family-run Diehl group.
BGT is heading the development of the IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile for six European nations: Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. It expects to receive a launch order and begin series production on the weapon early next year (see box opposite). The company is also continuing development work on its Armiger anti-radiation missile, which is being promoted as a potential replacement for Germany's current Raytheon AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile.
Building on a successful test conducted last February, the next controlled firing of Armiger will take place from a ground launcher during October. This year's trials will be followed in October 2005 by the firing of an Armiger equipped with a seeker. Concluding in 2006, the project's current development phase is being conducted using funds assigned by Germany's BWB procurement agency.
The ramjet-powered Armiger design has in the past undergone installation trials on a German air force Tornado electronic combat and reconnaissance platform, but will not be fired from the aircraft during the current development activity. This will avoid airframe integration and test aircraft costs, says BGT.
The company's high level of independence was illustrated earlier this year, when it announced a surprise pact with MBDA's arch rival Raytheon to support current operators of the US company's AIM-9L/Li Sidewinder and AIM-120 missiles. The agreement will not extend to additional Raytheon products, such as its latest-generation AIM-9X Sidewinder imaging infrared-guided short-range air-to-air missile, which is a leading rival to the BGT-led IRIS-T.
Regardless of BGT's determination to retain its position outside a single European missile house, the expected inclusion of other companies such asLFK will bring the German industry closer to its European counterparts and strengthen MBDA's competitive position on the global stage.
CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON
Source: Flight International