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German defense group Rheinmetall ships drones to Ukraine

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Rheinmetall, Germany’s largest defense contractor, will ship the Luna unmanned aircraft system to Ukraine before the end of the year, as part of a “large-scale” military aid package that Berlin launched last month.

The Dusseldorf-based company said Monday that the order, for a low double-digit amount, would give Kiev access to “one of the latest systems” for unmanned aerial reconnaissance, real-time object detection and classification.

The announcement came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz found himself under increasing pressure to supply cruise missiles to Ukraine, as the country struggles in its counter-offensive against Russia.

Some of Berlin’s concerns stem from 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 in attacks.

On Monday, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner made a surprise visit to Kiev — his first since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion in February last year — to assure the Ukrainian government that Berlin will continue to stand firm in its fight to push back Russian forces.

“Ukraine must not lose this war,” said Lindner, who leads the liberal Free Democrats party. “This is about the future of the European order of peace and freedom,” he added.

Lindner, who said his country has committed more than 12 billion euros in military support to Ukraine, added that Germany’s finance ministry also wants to support its Ukrainian counterpart in attracting much-needed foreign direct investment.

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Rheinmetall’s Luna system – formerly used by the German government under the name Husar – consists of a ground control station with several drones, as well as a launch catapult, landing safety nets and equipment for quick repairs. The company said it had a flight time of 12 hours, with the ability to range activity at a range of “several hundred kilometres”.

Oleksandr Dmitriev, advisor to the Ukrainian Minister of Defense, called the German drones “a very powerful system that can give us a solid advantage, because the enemy does not have its capabilities.”

He said Ukraine needed “hundreds of thousands of drones, ‘kamikaze’ and surveillance variants” as quickly as possible. Dmitriev noted that the increased use of drones since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year showed that they could be “a game-changer that in future wars can replace missiles and artillery.”

Germany’s defense industry has been revived by the war in Europe, with companies like Rheinmetall becoming the darling of investors soon after being deemed largely untouchable by many funds’ ESG investment criteria.

Rheinmetall was among the biggest beneficiaries of Scholz’s Zeitenwende – or “turning point” – in Europe’s largest economy’s defense policy, which came along with a €100 billion private military fund.

He has also pushed Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papeberger to become one of Europe’s most outspoken defense executives, often criticizing Berlin and other governments for not placing enough orders for Ukrainian military equipment.

Papperger has said he would eventually want to build Panther tanks on Ukrainian soil, and Rheinmetall in May announced a “strategic partnership” with Kiev-owned defense contractor Ukroboronprom that it said would “build a bridge between Rheinmetall and Ukraine’s existing state defense industry”.

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Additional reporting by Roman Olarchik in Kiev

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