KNDS will set up shop in Ukraine to repair heavy weapons, make ammo

KNDS will set up shop in Ukraine to repair heavy weapons, make ammo

PARIS — KNDS, the French-German maker of the Leopard tank and the Caesar howitzer, will set up a unit in Ukraine that will work with local firms to set up equipment maintenance, manufacture spare parts using 3D printing, and produce 155mm artillery shells.

KNDS hopes to establish the subsidiary in Ukraine later in June, following months of talks, Chairman Philippe Petitcolin said on the sidelines of a signing ceremony in Paris attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu and KNDS France CEO Nicolas Chamussy.

“The signature marks the beginning of a new era between us and Ukraine, since we’ll have a full subsidiary of KNDS, both the German and French parts, and from there we’ll be able to cooperate with Ukrainian companies,” Petitcolin said. “We’re in discussions with a lot of companies.”

Ukraine operates 386 pieces of KNDS equipment, particularly Leopard tanks and Caesar cannons, and the company still has 250 pieces to deliver based on orders received, which translates to a requirement for “lots and lots of support” according to Petitcolin.

KNDS France CEO Chamussy signed letters of intent with Ukraine’s ENMEK to set up a maintenance center for Caesar cannons and for 3D printing of spare parts, as well as a contract with KZVV to transfer production of 155mm shells.

The maintenance center won’t require any French technicians, as Ukraine is already handling Caesar maintenance with replacement parts shipped from France, according to Chamussy. “The Ukrainians know how to do this very well,” he said.

KNDS France is currently producing one Caesar truck-mounted howitzer a week, according to Petitcolin. The company is on track with plans to lift the manufacturing pace to six per month from four, said Chamussy.

“If there’s sustained demand, we know how to step up the pace from one a week. We know how to do better, we know how to do more, but of course it all depends on the demands we get,” Petitcolin said. He said the company has concrete Caesar orders for 2024, but not yet for 2025, though “there will no doubt be some contracts” at the Eurosatory defense show that starts June 17.

KNDS France has the capacity to increase total artillery production to 12 cannons a month, according to Chamussy. In addition to the Caesar self-propelled gun, the firm also makes the 105mm LG1 towed artillery piece.

KNDS plans to start ammunition manufacture with its local Ukrainian partner within 12 months, according to Petitcolin. In a next step, the company could start manufacturing system modules or even entire systems in Ukraine, the chairman said.

French Armed Forces Minister Lecornu commented on plans to transfer Mirage 2000-5 jets to Ukraine, saying the aircraft in question are in service with the French Air Force right now, including for NATO air-policing missions in Estonia and Romania. The aircraft are gradually being withdrawn from service through 2030 to be replaced by the Rafale.

“So we’re talking about fighter jets that are fully operational,” Lecornu said. He declined to say how many aircraft France will transfer, or which countries might join in a Mirage coalition.

Lecornu said the urgency is to start training Ukrainian pilots on the Mirage 2000. He said France has been training pilots on the French-German Alpha Jet for several months, but the Mirage “is a different category.” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that training normally takes five to six months, meaning Ukrainian pilots could be able to fly the Mirage 2000-5s by the end of the year.

Lecornu also discussed French plans to train a brigade of 4,500 Ukrainian soldiers, saying rebuilding capacity is “the big priority” for the Ukrainian army. The country faces a challenge of training 15 to 20 brigades, which he described as an “absolutely considerable effort.”

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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