Rheinmetall sees great potential in expanding its portfolio of solutions in the field of so-called loitering ammunition with the scalable technology of Israeli partner UVision, as Jan-Phillipp Weisswange, Deputy Head of Press and Public Relations at Rheinmetall, explained at a press briefing in Bonn on 12 January.
Existing Loitering Ammunition Market
Rheinmetall and UVision Air Ltd. had already entered into a strategic cooperation in the field of precision ammunition known as “loitering ammunition” on 11 October 2021. Loitering munitions are guided weapons that are launched and then controlled by an operator to circle over a target area for a longer period of time (loitering) and use electro-optical or infrared sensors to detect possible targets. If the operator detects a target, it is assigned via data link and attacked by the munition.
The strategic partnership with UVision will be implemented by the Rheinmetall subsidiary RWM Italia SpA with the aim of addressing the market for this kind of precision weapons in Europe and NATO, as Romano Ricca, Chief Business Development of RMW Italia, explained during the press briefing. According to Ricca, this includes the adaptation of EU and NATO standards. Together with RWM Italia, joint production and further development are to take place in a future joint venture, as well as possible integration owith land-and sea-based platforms, for example Rheinmetall’s LYNX IFV. Together with the acquisition of the Penzberg-based drone manufacturer EMT, the Group is thus supplementing its portfolio of airborne systems for various applications- armed and unarmed.
According to Rheinmetall, the loitering ammunition weapon type can be brought to bear both in low-intensity conflicts with various threats – such as from the civilian environment – and in high-intensity combat against an equal or even superior opponent. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Caucasus from September to November 2020 had clearly shown the potential of using such systems. At the time, Azerbaijan deployed the technology on a large scale.
The HERO System
According to Dagan Lev Ari, Director of Marketing and Sales at UVision Air Ltd, the development of precision guided weapons dates back to the 1980s. According to him, however, the threat posed by such weapon systems and their possibilities were only recognised during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
He stressed that the development objectives for the HERO family of loitering ammunition from UVision were precise and high weapon effectiveness with the least collateral damage, geared to the needs of the troops, as well as the protection of the own troops with high reliability at the same time. According to Lev Ari, HERO combines the advantages of an Unmanned Air System (UAS) with those of a guided missile. The products of the HERO series are portable and thus easy to deploy and put into operation. They can be deployed from both land and sea platforms.
According to the manufacturer, easy handling with a hand-held control unit also allows the direction of attack to be chosen freely to a large extent. In addition, an attack from above (top attack) can be carried out. The operator can still abort a mission until shortly prior the final impact on the target. After that, the ammunition returns to the loitering mode due to its special aerodynamic properties. After the final abort of the mission, the system can touch down by using a parachute, where it can be picked up and prepared for new missions.
HERO is quietly launched with compressed air and thus has no detectable dust or smoke emissions. It has a low signature and, due to its electric propulsion system, does not draw a rocket tail. The control system is scalable from 5 km to 60 km according to customer specifications regarding frequencies to be used and range by using different ground stations. It is also possible to transfer the control from one operator at the launch to another near the target.
According to Dagan Lev Ari, HERO is also suitable for engaging moving targets on land as well as at sea. It can be used independently of the availability of GPS. Constant monitoring according to the “human-in-the-loop” principle also ensures constant recording of the mission on the ground station and provides proof of compliance with the strict rules of engagement. To meet the development objective of simple control, UVision offers complementary training systems for training operations as well as software-supported training modules for operator training.
The System Family
According to UVision, HERO is already in use with several customers and is combat-proven. The weapon effects of the systems, which are designed according to possible flight times, payload and range, range from an effective charge of 0.5 kg in the case of the portable HERO 30 system to armour-piercing warheads (HERO 120) and tandem warheads for HERO 400, which can be used against bunkers or fortifications. The lighter models are portable and can also be carried by infantry forces as precision munitions.
The UVision USA Corporation, founded at the beginning of 2019, is to produce the HERO ammunition family for the needs of the US armed forces in the United States from mid-2022. The US Marine Corps has tested the system as a precision system for long-range weapon effects (Precision Fire Capability) and will integrate the HERO 120 LM system with the LAV-25 mortar carrier.