The military attache corps in South Africa recently got a close-up taste of Rheinmetall Denel Munition’s (RDM’s) artillery rounds, mortar bombs and grenade launcher ammunition through a live demonstration at the company’s Boskop facilities.
Some 20 attaches attended the two-day demonstration on 8 and 9 May outside Potchefstroom, which was also graced by RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen. This was the first Military Attache and Advisory Corps (MAAC) event hosted by RDM since 2017, which preceded the massive March 2019 Ammunition Capability Demonstration the company hosted at the Denel Overberg Test Range before the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to such events.
MAAC members were given an overview of RDM and its products by Helmsen and other company officials through slideshows and demonstrations. At the Z Area testing site at Boskop, RDM detonated multiple rounds of artillery and mortar ammunition in ‘arenas’ lined with 1.6 mm thick steel plates so that the attaches could see the effects different rounds had.
RDM officials emphasised the importance of range, accuracy and lethality as the difference between success and failure. Lethality was clearly demonstrated by RDM’s M0603 insensitive high explosive (IHE) pre-formed fragmentation (PFF) 155 mm artillery round, which contains 16 000 tungsten balls – its lethality was significantly higher than the conventional HE M2000 155 mm natural fragmented round as evidenced by the large number of holes in the steel marker plates.
Mortar rounds were also detonated and their effects witnessed by the MAAC group. RDM noted that PFF mortar rounds have two to four times the effect of normal HE ammunition: a 60 mm PFF round offers the lethality of an 81 mm mortar while the 81 offers 120 mm and 120 mm offers 155 mm equivalent lethality: the tungsten balls penetrate Kevlar armour, although armour plates can provide some protection.
As PFF rounds offer greater lethality, it means fewer rounds are needed for the same effect, reducing the logistics burden by 50%, RDM officials emphasised. They also highlighted anti-armour applications of PFF rounds, as the hail of tungsten balls can damage or destroy the optical/sighting and communications systems on armoured vehicles, including main battle tanks, and render them useless or force crew to open hatches, leaving them vulnerable.
RDM’s expertise in PFF rounds originally stemmed from its development of 76/62 mm naval PFF rounds, which were subsequently adapted for other applications within the RDM range. The PFF rounds in naval applications serve as a defence against incoming missiles.
The MAAC demonstration also witnessed RDM fire its 40 mm grenade range, including coloured smoke, airburst, phosphorous, and high explosive. Hand grenades were also showcased – stun grenades are, for example, being supplied to the South African Police Service for crowd control.
The 40 mm airburst grenade is a relatively new product for RDM, as is its 120 mm rocket-assisted mortar that can fire out to a range of 15 km. The company also showcased new lightweight and bunker-buster aircraft bombs, and revealed it is working on a ramjet-powered 155 mm artillery shell that will have a range of 155 km – double its longest-range recording setting 155 mm Assegai round.
Although the main focus of the MAAC demonstration was on RDM’s military capabilities, the company’s Training Academy and green energy drive were also highlighted. Rheinmetall aims to be a carbon neutral company by 2035 and is making significant progress towards this. At Boskop the company displayed its GESS green hydrogen power plant, which uses over 100 solar panels to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then convert the hydrogen to electricity when needed using a fuel cell.
RDM aims to export green hydrogen and is in the process of installing solar power plants at its facilities, with the Somerset West plant due to be completed by the end of this year. All five RDM facilities across South Africa are being expanded and upgraded, not just to ensure a clean, secure energy supply but also to meet the massive worldwide demand for artillery ammunition. Especially since the war in Ukraine started, demand has been so high that RDM is running its facilities nearly 24 hours a day to keep pace.
The company specialises in the design, development and manufacture of large- and medium calibre ammunition. Its product portfolio includes large-calibre ammunition (76, 105 and 155 mm), artillery projectiles, propellant, charges, pyrotechnic carriers, mortar bombs (60, 81 and 120 mm), 40 mm grenades and various missile subsystems. Plant engineering for various filling and lapping facilities is also part of the product portfolio.