The Rheinmetall Group’s defence component, Rheinmetall Defence has been awarded an order for Saphir 2.6MK thermal imaging systems. The contract will see the company supply 260 systems for the Bundeswehr’s Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV. The order comes in at €27 million to be delivered from 2022 – 2023. The construction of the devices will be trusted to Rheinmetall Electronics. The Rheinmetall Electronics is based in the Free City of Bremen and is currently utilized to develop mission systems with a particular focus on reconnaissance and fire control platforms. The company is expected to work alongside Baden-Wurtumberg firm, AIM Infrarot-Module GmbH a Rheinmetall affiliate, to deliver the order. AIM-Infrarot-Module GmbH is renowned for the manufacture of IR components for the creation of thermal imaging systems. The company currently produces the eSWIR, HuntIR Mk. 2 Thermal Targetting & Observation Sight for squad support weapons and high accuracy rifles and the RangIR high resolution thermal sight. The latter of these examples being currently used in Germany’s ongoing Infanterist der Zukunft (IdZ) future solider project.
The Saphir 2.6MK is the latest thermal imaging device produced by Rheinmetall through their Rheinmetall Electronics company arm. The Saphir 2.6MK comes as a German specific follow up to the Saphir 2.0. Rheinmetall currently does not provide technical specifications on the Saphir 2.6MK. The likely reason for this is that being German specific, the technical information will only pertain to German vehicles. The knowledge as to its details would potentially breach security arrangements. The press release hints at an expected increase in observation range, existing 24 hour capabilities and processed image resolution. The purchase of the Saphir 2.6MK is reportedly with a mind to using the system as the thermal sight for the MELLS anti-armour solution. The MELLS anti-armour solution is a German exclusive configuration of the existing SPIKE-LR. The SPIKE-LR, currently manufactured in Europe through the joint Rheinmetall-Rafael-Diehl Defence, corporate entity known as EuroSpike GmbH. The SPIKE-LR is a variant of the wider SPIKE anti-armour family fixable to IFVs. The MELLS variant of this system was sold to the Bundeswehr in 2019 as an infantry weapon and is now fitted in its vehicle mode to the Marder IFV.
The Marder IFV currently exists as the Bundeswehr’s IFV, designed to convert basic infantry units into IFV supported, mechanized infantry. The Marder is manufactured by Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH, another arm of the Rheinmetall Group. The Landsysteme arm, produces the German military’s armoured vehicles, being involved in the Krauss-Maffei built Leopard 2 MBT and solely creating the Lynx IFV, Puma IFV and Marder IFV. The department’s other successes include the Buffel armoured recovery vehicle, Kodiak armoured engineering vehicle and PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer. The Bundeswehr’s current fleet of Marder IFVs began its existence in 1971, today primarily composed of the 1A3 variant. The Marder fleet is currently approaching a planned phasing out in favour of the Puma IFV. The Bundeswehr expects the majority of the fleet to be removed from service with only the most modern variant, the Marder 1 A5A1 remaining in service. The A5A1 variant is a wholly 21st century design having been conceptualized in 2003/2004 and produced from 2010 onwards. The recent creation of the A5A1 variant has allowed it to be fitted with modern jammers, multispectral camouflage, advanced mine protection and a remodelled interior.
The Marder A5A1 is expected to survive the phasing in of the Puma to operate alongside them, to avoid a capability gap forming during the replacement programme. The Saphir 2.6MK has likely been procured primarily with the Marder A5A1 variant in mind. The Marder A5A1 has already had exclusive access to upgrades among the Marder series, most recently in the form of the Spectus II Drivers Sight back in October. The upgrades to the Marder A5A1 fleet component, are in the hopes of giving it a life extension, modernizing the system to the extent to which it can cooperate with Puma IFV’s on the field.