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Germany’s largest defence contractor Rheinmetall will ship its Luna drone system to Ukraine before the end of the year, as part of an “extensive” military aid package launched by Berlin last month.
The Düsseldorf-based company said on Monday that the order, worth a low double-digit million amount, would give Kyiv access to “one of the newest systems” for unmanned airborne reconnaissance, real-time object detection and classification.
The announcement came as German chancellor Olaf Scholz has found himself under growing pressure to provide cruise missiles to Ukraine, as the country struggles with its counteroffensive against Russia.
Some of Berlin’s concern stems from a fear of being implicated in a growing number of drone attacks on Moscow. Rheinmetall has confirmed that the Luna drones are pure reconnaissance systems, meaning they cannot be used for attacks.
Germany’s finance minister Christian Lindner on Monday made a surprise visit to Kyiv — his first since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion in February last year — to assure the Ukrainian government that Berlin would continue to steadfastly support it in the battle to repel Russian forces.
“Ukraine must not lose this war,” said Lindner, who leads the liberal Free Democrats (FDP). “This is about the future of the European order of peace and freedom,” he added.
Lindner, who said that his country had committed military support to Ukraine worth more than €12bn, added that the German finance ministry also wanted to support its Ukrainian counterpart in attracting sorely needed foreign direct investment.
Rheinmetall’s Luna system — which the German government has previously used under the name Husar — consists of a ground control station with several drones, as well as a launch catapult, safety nets for landing and equipment for quick repairs. The company said it had a flight time of 12 hours, with a capacity to scope for activity in a range of “several hundred kilometres”.
Oleksandr Dmitriiev, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister, described the German drones as a “very powerful system which could give us a strong advantage, because the enemy does not have its capabilities”.
He said Ukraine needed “hundreds of thousands of drones, both the ‘kamikaze’ and surveillance variants” as quickly as possible. Dmitriiev noted that increased use of drones since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year has shown that they can be a “game-changer that can in future wars replace missiles and artillery”.
Germany’s defence industry has been revived by the war in Europe, with companies such as Rheinmetall having become investor darlings not long after being considered largely untouchable due to ESG investment criteria at many funds.
Rheinmetall has been among the biggest beneficiaries of Scholz’s Zeitenwende — or “turning point” — in the defence policy of Europe’s largest economy, which has come alongside a €100bn special military fund.
It has also propelled Rheinmetall’s chief executive Armin Papperger to become one of Europe’s most outspoken defence executives, frequently criticising Berlin and other governments for not placing enough orders for Ukrainian military equipment.
Papperger has said he will eventually want to build Panther tanks on Ukrainian soil and Rheinmetall in May announced a “strategic partnership” with Kyiv-owned defence contractor Ukroboronprom that it said would “build a bridge between Rheinmetall and the existing state defence industry in Ukraine”.
Additional reporting by Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv