Europe's largest ammunition production is widespread. The numerous, low factory halls are located far apart from each other on a wooded area in the Lüneburg Heath. This has to do with safety regulations: it is precisely defined how much explosives can be stored in a hall and also how many employees are allowed to work on them. Rheinmetall produces all kinds of bullets at its location in Unterlüß in Lower Saxony.
Business correspondent in Düsseldorf.
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In Building 53, for example, tank ammunition is manufactured, such a batch is called DM33A2, with a caliber of 120 × 570 millimeters. These are bullets without explosives; an arrow weighing around eight kilograms is made from tungsten and is covered in a layer of cellulose. This is filled with propellant powder, with which the projectile from the barrel is accelerated so much that the arrow cuts through enemy tanks - like a hot needle through butter. The powder itself consists of black, round blocks about one centimeter in size. 400 to 500 bullets per shift go through the process from assembly, filling to final assembly of the igniter and packaging for the respective customers. The capacity is 240,000 shots per year. In recent years, however, only around 60,000 pieces have been manufactured. That changed dramatically with Russia's attack on Ukraine.
NATO countries' ammunition production is in full swing. More than 2,500 employees work for Rheinmetall in Unterlüß alone, not only on ammunition for the Leopard tank or the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, the Dax group also produces classic artillery ammunition with the standard 155 caliber at its largest production site. This is exactly what is being fired at a particularly high rate in the war between Ukraine and Russia - and that is why there is great concern about supplies and armament with such ammunition.
One billion euros to build up artillery production
On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (both SPD) will come to Rheinmetall in Unterlüß for a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony. The group is investing around 300 million euros in a new factory to produce artillery ammunition, explosives and rocket artillery. From 2025 onwards, 200,000 rounds of artillery ammunition will be produced every year. This year, the group and its network in Germany, Spain, Hungary, Australia and South Africa will produce a good 450,000 to 500,000 shots.
According to its own information, the company has invested around one billion euros in establishing artillery production since Russia's attack on Ukraine. For example, by doubling powder production capacities – which is often a bottleneck. Rheinmetall's capacity increased significantly last year through the acquisition of the Spanish ammunition manufacturer Expal. The group is also increasing its stock at its home locations due to sudden demand.
Around 300,000 rounds of ammunition are to be delivered for the Gepard anti-aircraft tank. The Bundeswehr had actually decommissioned it long ago, but the vehicle experienced a resurrection during the war in Ukraine. Switzerland was originally supposed to deliver the first batch of 10,000 rounds, but the neighboring country refused to export for reasons of neutrality, which is why Rheinmetall quickly relocated production back. The investments are certainly worthwhile for the group. For the 2023 financial year, Rheinmetall expects sales of between 7.4 and 7.6 billion euros with an operating profit margin of around twelve percent.