The war in Ukraine shows that Germany is poorly positioned in terms of armaments. The tank builder Krauss-Maffei Wegmann sees no obstacles to boosting production - but has a clear demand for politicians.
The tank builder Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) sees no industrial obstacles to a significant increase in production. His company is constantly asking all subcontractors what production rates are possible, said KMW boss Ralf Ketzel. "So far, nobody has given us a signal like 'that's not possible'," he said. "What we need for this is a clear political consensus."
Meanwhile, criticism from the German armaments industry is becoming ever clearer that, despite all the political declarations, hardly any orders have been received so far. KMW is a manufacturer of weapon systems such as the Leopard 2 battle tank and the Panzerhaubitze 2000. With more than 4000 employees, the company describes itself as the market leader for highly protected wheeled and tracked vehicles in Europe.
During the Cold War, KMW had produced about 300 Leopard tanks a year, which is about one per working day. After that, the business model changed. Most recently, there was a new build program in the order of 50 Leopard tanks per year. There is also an upgrade program in which 60 or 70 vehicles per year are brought up to date. About 50 other vehicles come for repairs, i.e. for repairs and maintenance.
"If you want to start producing 300 vehicles a year again, we have a number of issues that need to be considered. For example, vehicles today are more complex because they consist of many more parts. In addition, we would need certain tasks that we now have in the Do the main work, give it back to subsidiaries or partner companies," said Ketzel. "We also have enough room to get back into production relatively quickly, if it's really wanted."
When he came to the company himself, there was basically an assembly line, "not a single repair, not a single conversion," he recalls. "Only series production of the Leopard took place. Since then, however, we have not reduced the infrastructure, but we have expanded. We have added three halls. That gives us room to breathe."
According to Ketzel, KMW is well utilized with repair and conversion orders. According to figures that were collected in Europe before the Ukraine war and with the replacement of the vehicles that have now been handed over, production will reach 500 to 600 Leopard 2s, according to the KMW boss. If this is not required in an extremely short period of time, it is possible with the current infrastructure in Europe and with the current production lines.
"We have a lead time of one year before assembly and integration begin. This means that the large sub-suppliers who produce motors, optronics, electronics or special optics are required to do so immediately," said Ketzel. "Some don't have a problem with it at all because they have a larger production line for many systems anyway. But sometimes even small issues can cause headaches. It could be a chip, for example."
Ketzel estimates one to two years for the start-up of a co-production - whether as an additional production line abroad or in Germany. However, the subcontractors also need a lead time. "If we have an order now, we can ensure that the first systems will be delivered in two years. In three years that will increase. How steep this curve becomes depends on the parameters. We can perhaps set up two lines, but we can't build five."
Almost a year after the turning point, the federal government and the procurement department of the Bundeswehr have not yet placed any orders for the large weapon systems. When asked whether the starting signal had already been given for ramping up production, Ketzel replied: "No. We are in talks with the (procurement office) BAAINBw for many contracts. From our point of view, they are on the right track. But talk about it we don't have three-digit numbers." A clear political consensus as a basis for decision-making could also be a "certain target configuration", which should be achieved in four years. "A prominent example is the Puma infantry fighting vehicle: There was a clear statement that a division would be needed in 2027. That's what we invested in. The British are a good example. They say they want to have 500 Boxer wheeled armored vehicles over ten years. It is working."
Ketzel emphasizes that KMW - unlike automobile manufacturers or computer manufacturers - does not operate freely on the market. "Everything is subject to the War Weapons Control Act. That's simply put. First of all, the manufacture of war weapons is prohibited, and then there are special permits. If we want to start manufacturing a war weapon, we need a permit," he says.
The tank builder, which has its headquarters in Munich and several branches in Germany and overseas, observes the course of the battles in the Ukraine and draws conclusions for its own concepts in the construction of weapon systems. The Crimean War had "foreshadowed the First World War". "Today we see a lot - and maybe even understand it - that will change our image of combat operations," says Ketzel. The question is whether in the future it will still be possible to live with "tent city-like command posts" or whether complex decision-making processes will have to be organized in staff units.
"From the Ukraine you can feel: It's completely different, more like a network with good communication. We experience ad hoc decisions that are not planned as well as we know it with maps and situation reports and reports. Our world and Their nervous systems often work the other way around. They react to impulses, to blocks of information and not to briefings." The question of how large, how light and how networked the main battle tank can be in the future is also of concern. "We saw that in the naval sector. At some point people said: cruisers or battleships are too big," says Ketzel. "But there are still ships, including big ships, but no longer battleships. Today there are aircraft carriers."