Local munitions company working on export orders, new products

14th October 2016 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

South African grenade, artillery ammunition, rocket propellant and warhead manufacturer Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) hopes to conclude more than one new order before the end of this year. “This includes a significant export contract, about which we cannot reveal any details yet,” says RDM CEO Norbert Schulze. “I’m very confident that we will win this major order.”

One of these contracts will, all being well, be for the company’s Assegaai suite of 155 mm artillery shells. “We are the only company in the world, at the moment, to offer an entire 155 mm artillery ammunition suite; this is something we are very proud of,” he highlights. The Assegaai suite covers all categories of 155 mm ammunition, from high explosive rounds through all the types of illumination rounds to inert (training) rounds. Further, Assegaai shells can be fired from all three lengths of 155 mm barrels in use today – 39 calibre, 45 calibre and 52 calibre. (For example, 39 calibre means a barrel whose length is 39 times its calibre or, in this case 39 × 155 = 5.045 m.) “They fit any existing 155 mm system, regardless of the country of origin,” he emphasises.

At the recent Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2016 exhibition, RDM and Denel Dynamics and Rheinmetall Air Defence jointly launched a new weapon. This is a Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) missile, designated the Cheetah. “It’s a new development to provide protection for camps against rocket, artillery and mortar fire,” he explains. “Conventional air defence systems are ineffective against such small and fast-moving targets. The Cheetah missile will be integrated with the Rheinmetall SkyShield air defence system. C-RAM protection is becoming an international standard.”

For the Cheetah, which has a range of 6 km, RDM provides the safety and arming device, the rocket motor and the warhead. This is not unusual. Missiles produced by Denel Dynamics usually have an RDM content of about 40%. “These are components fully developed by us.”

Also showcased by the company at AAD this year was its new range of 40 mm medium-velocity grenades (for firing from grenade launchers, not for throwing by hand). “This fills the gap between low-velocity and high-velocity grenades and they can be launched from a low-velocity grenade launcher,” he points out. “This is a big advantage, because low-velocity launchers are already in widespread service with armies and police forces.” Low-velocity grenade rounds have a range of 400 m, but the RDM’s new medium-velocity rounds have a range of 800 m. “So the medium-velocity gives a tactical advantage.” The new grenades come in both lethal (for military use) and nonlethal (primarily for police use) variants.

In another new development, the company is fitting all its grenade types with self-neutralisation systems. Rather confusingly, in the industry, these are known internationally as self-destruct systems, even though the system does not destroy the grenade. “Self-destruct does not blow the grenade up. Rather, it renders the fuse inactive, so the grenade can’t explode,” he elucidates. “Self-destruct only activates if the grenade is fired and hits something – including the ground – without exploding.” The practical effect is, however, the same as the grenade blowing itself up. “You won’t have any duds lying on the ground.” The self-neutralised grenades will be safe to pick up.

The C-RAM system and the medium-velocity grenades in particular drew attention at AAD. “We got a lot of interest, especially from the Middle East.” The company’s business is overwhelmingly in the export sector, with the South African National Defence Force now accounting for only 10% of its revenues.

RDM, which is 51%-owned by German defence group Rheinmetall and 49% by South Africa’s State-owned Denel defence industrial group, was created eight years ago, when Rheinmetall took a majority stake in Denel’s artillery and rocket propellant operations. When the German group took over, these operations were in very bad financial shape. “We’ve come from a very unprofitable business, that was lying on the floor, to a very profitable business,” highlights Schulze. “We have brought South Africa’s munitions manufacturing capability back into life.”