Can a modern battle tank be flown?

Rheinmetall shows drone tanks with kamikaze drones

Rheinmetall wants to expand modern warfare with unmanned land vehicles. The German armaments company has developed a drone tank that is about to go into series production and is to be sold worldwide. The "Mission Master" is designed for monitoring, transporting troops or rescuing the wounded behind enemy lines. To support combat, the "Mission Master" can also be armed with 70 mm rocket launchers from the French company Thales.

As a so-called “Unmanned Ground Vehicle”, the combat robot can be operated remotely, partially automated or fully autonomous with a programmed routine. The system is electrically powered and can be used for up to eight hours. The 750 kilogram “Mission Master” can carry up to 600 kilograms, and with a low payload, the vehicle can allegedly swim.

"Loitering Ammunition"

At an armaments fair in Kielce, Poland, Rheinmetall presented the drone tank for the first time this week with a launcher for flying drones of the "Warmate" type. These are so-called “loitering ammunition”, which initially circled over the enemy territory and provided surveillance images. The drone is then guided to the target, detonates its explosive charge and is destroyed in the process. Rheinmetall describes the weapon system consisting of drone tanks and kamikaze drones as a “surgical attack with minimal collateral damage”.

The armor-piercing "Warmate" is manufactured by the Polish WB Group and has a length of about one meter, the wingspan is 140 centimeters. It belongs to the class of micro-drones. According to the manufacturer, the "Warmate" has a range of around 10 kilometers and can stay in the air for up to 30 minutes. According to a report, the Polish army has already ordered 1,000 copies. Exports are also said to have taken place to Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

Control with the "Argus" soldier system

The WB Group advertises the "Warmate" as fully autonomous. However, once programmed attacks can be canceled or redirected. The manufacturer does not provide any information about the explosive charge of the weapon. The targets are approached with the help of laser lighting. Rheinmetall also sells such laser target markers, which the Bundeswehr has also bought. They are used mobile by soldiers on the ground, but can also be mounted on airplanes or drones.

Attacks with the "Warmate" can also take place in swarms, the missions being coordinated by a ground station. It can also be controlled using a portable system that Rheinmetall markets as a digital soldier system “Infantryman of the Future” for NATO under the name “Argus”.

No WABEP for the Bundeswehr

By 2011, Rheinmetall had also developed a system with "loitering ammunition" for the Bundeswehr. This "active agent for the distance-able combat against single and point targets" (WABEP) consists of two different aerial drones. The "Kleinflugzeug Zielortung" (KZO) developed by Rheinmetall takes on military reconnaissance. Marked targets are then destroyed with a "Harop" from the Israeli manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). On behalf of the German Armed Forces, Rheinmetall carried out “practical tests and flight tests” with WABEP, including escorting the convoy, “switching off” enemy systems and attacks on vehicles in motion. According to the Defense Ministry, the fight against "particularly significant targets" was also rehearsed.

According to the Bundeswehr Plan 2009, the Ministry of Defense wanted to procure two WABEP systems, each with 42 drones plus ground stations, and operational readiness was scheduled for 2013. In the end, however, the federal government decided against the WABEP. The Israeli arms company IAI, however, continues to sell its "Harop". The military in Azerbaijan is using it to bomb Armenian troops, for example.

Protests in Unterlüß

Rheinmetall manufactures the “Mission Master” drone tank at a plant in Canada. A military magazine reports orders from "Italy and the Middle East". The Bundeswehr has also procured a device for initial tests. The system is based on technology from the Canadian robot manufacturer Provectus, which Rheinmetall recently took over completely. In addition to the defense division, Rheinmetall's automotive division should also benefit from this.

Rheinmetall has 120 locations worldwide and reports growing profits. At the company headquarters in Unterlüß in Lower Saxony, where the group produces ammunition and military vehicles, anti-militarist activists ended a ten-day camp at the weekend. Foreign opponents of the war were also guests, including from Sardinia and South Africa, where Rheinmetall produces ammunition for Saudi Arabia, among others. Around 250 people took part in the blockades that lasted several days, and around 600 came to Unterlüß today for the nationwide final demonstration.

About the author

Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Bürgerrechte & Polizei / CILIP. All texts at, in English, on Twitter @matthimon. Not a believer in conspiracy theories of any kind. Use the Binnen-I despite the rumble of annoying masculists.
Published 09/07/2019 at 8:25 PM