Germany’s Rheinmetall, the tenth largest weapons manufacturer in Europe, has ambitious plans to dominate the Continent’s arms market.
The company currently earns slightly more revenue from its auto parts business than its military arm but chief executive, Armin Papperger, wants to take advantage of political support for consolidation in the sector to boost its defense arm.
Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel has said he believes that German defense firms should consolidate to cope with the falling number of contracts being awarded in Germany and many western countries.
Mr. Papperger is keen to play a major role in these plans.
He is considering taking over Thyssen-Krupp’s marine systems business, which recently said it is aiming for annual sales of €1.3 billion ($1.7 billion). Handelsblatt sources say initial talks have already taken place although both firms have refused to comment.
Mr. Papperger is particularly interested in the submarine systems business, where Krupp is an industry leader.
But he has a bigger vision, to make Rheinmetall a leading European manufacturer, dominating land and water weaponry, the way Airbus dominates the aviation industry, with the government’s full support.
“I am behind all of Rheinmetall’s plans to expand its base,” Rainer Arnold, the SPD’s defense spokesperson, told Handelsblatt.
Mr. Papperger could go even further by taking over one of Airbus’ subsidiaries such as Atlas Elektronik or Optronics. Industry sources suggest that Tom Enders, Airbus’ chief executive, is considering selling these this year.
Atlas is one of the key suppliers to Thyssen-Krupp’s marine systems technology. Optronics makes precision measuring instruments, surveillance cameras and laser systems.
Mr. Papperger is also making intense efforts to take over Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, or KMW, a tank maker based in Munich.
Both firms currently produce the Leopard 2 battle tank, the Puma infantry fighting vehicle and the Boxer armored personnel carrier.
Frank Haun, the chief executive of KMW, is working towards a merger with Nexter, the firm’s French competitor. But German politicians in both the ruling center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats oppose this plan.
If all Mr. Papperger’s plans come to fruition, Rheinmetall, which is currently listed on the M-DAX, would double its defense sales to nearly €5 billion. This would create a national champion of proportions not seen since the Second World War.
After the United States and Russia, Germany is the third-largest weapons exporter of weapons but its firms are comparatively small; on a list of the world’s largest producers of weapons, Rheinmetall ranks 30.
Now Mr. Pappenger wants Rheinmetall to join the big league of manufacturers but the route will not be straightforward.
KMW’s attempt to establish a deal with France’s Nexter are opposed by politicians who fear the deal could be disadvantageous for Germany.