Im Ukraine war are now increasingly hitting weapon systems that are decades old, especially on sides of Russia, on modern Western armaments technology. After initial hesitation, Germany is now even supplying Ukraine with weapons that the Bundeswehr does not yet have, such as the Iris-T air defense system.
In the list of armaments aid from Germany to Kiev, the number of “THeMIS remote-controlled tracked vehicles” has just been increased from seven to 14. The project is of great military importance, but raises a number of industrial policy questions.
Armaments experts are convinced that remote-controlled and possibly even almost autonomously flying, driving or floating platforms will play a key role in armed conflicts in the future. They should be the useful companions of fighter jets, tanks and soldiers. Unmanned platforms should operate in teams with soldiers.
In the future market of these robot vehicles or drones are not only well-known large armaments companies such as Rheinmetall active, but also new suppliers. This includes the Estonian company Milrem Robotics, which was founded just ten years ago and has around 200 employees.
With the 2.40 meter and 1.6 ton tracked vehicle THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System), the newcomer to the armaments market has developed a platform that can be used in a variety of ways. From logistics tasks to the transport of injured soldiers, electronic reconnaissance to armament. The manufacturer proudly says that 16 countries have already ordered the vehicle, including eight NATO members.
The platform is driven by electric motors, whereby a diesel engine can be switched on to generate electricity. The vehicle “is designed to reduce the burden on soldiers and give them the ability to carry and utilize additional equipment and firepower,” Milrem said.
In November 2022, the German armaments group and Leopard tank general contractor agreed Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Milrem Robotics the delivery of 14 THeMIS platforms to Ukraine. Initially seven for the evacuation of injured people. The others, equipped with technology from the French company CNIM Systèmes Industriels, to eliminate Russian ordnance. The project is financed by the German Ministry of Defence.
KMW acquired a stake of almost 25 percent in Milrem in spring 2021. But two years later, there was a surprise. In February, the United Arab Emirates’ large state-owned defense company, the EDGE Group, took over the majority. This means that Milrem can now expand internationally and expand production. The remaining shares are held by company founder and boss Kuldar Väärsi and private investors.
EDGE is no stranger to the German armaments industry. For example, the Heckler & Koch competitor CG Haenel from Thuringia belongs indirectly to EDGE.
Concerns at the EU in Brussels
When KMW joined Milrem, it was said that a European competence center for unmanned technology should be set up together. With the Type-X model, Milrem has also developed a twelve-tonne robotic tank.
But the new major shareholder from the United Arab Emirates for the armaments company from Estonia has now also aroused the interest of the EU Commission. Milrem is at the head of a European consortium for new military robot vehicles (iMUGS project), which also includes Nexter and Diehl. The Arab major shareholder could possibly benefit from EU subsidies or technology developments, is a fear in Brussels, writes the industry service defensenews.com.
The entry of non-European companies into EU armaments factories arouses concern in Brussels that the long-term goal of a sovereign European armaments industry will be made more difficult. One argument is that if new developments are promoted in technology funding programs, the knowledge should not flow to armaments companies outside the EU. However, Estonia has approved the Emirates’ majority entry into Milrem.
It’s a tightrope walk, because the countries in the Middle East are in turn major customers of European armaments companies. The sheikhs are now becoming more self-confident. Whether it’s the United Arab Emirates with the EDGE Group or Saudi Arabia with the SAMI Group founded in 2017 – the states are now building up their own large armaments groups in order to become less dependent on exports from the USA or Europe.
The state-owned armaments group EDGE, which was only founded in 2019 and is based in Abu Dhabi, already has over 20 companies and can go on a shopping spree with state money. It is already broad – from drones to missiles, land vehicles to the new large area of unmanned tracked platforms.
Western corporations try to stay in business through cooperation. The sheikhs have also recognized that armaments budgets are increasing in Europe and that arms aid to Ukraine is being expanded. They also want to benefit from this. The acquisition of a majority stake in the robot vehicle company Milrem by the Arab EDGE Group is therefore an example of the reorganization of the armaments industry.
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