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Drone defence

On the lookout for unmanned aerial vehicles

Remote-controlled drones have been a familiar reconnaissance aid and tool in the military field for many decades. However, military drones can and may be deployed only in military airspace that is strictly shielded from civilian areas.

But drones have also found their way into the civilian world. More than 10 million unmanned aerial vehicles were sold worldwide for private use in 2016 alone. The projections up to 2021 indicate a clear trend in this market: sales are expected to increase sixfold by 2021. The high-performance cameras installed in the drones are the reason why many people buy them, as they offer the possibility to record spectacular aerial footage. While there are clearly defined statutory rules for operating drones, such as prohibition zones around sensitive areas like airports, the authorities are still searching for ways to enforce these rules. The result is an increasing number of costly and time-consuming disruptions to air traffic. Criminals and terrorists, but also unthinking hobby flyers, can cause tremendous damage with their drones.

Airspace reconnaissance is therefore absolutely vital. The technologies from Rheinmetall ensure that drones are detected, identified and classified in good time in order to assess and avert dangerous situations early on.

See how our experts work and learn more about our technologies for increasing airspace safety.

Rheinmetall Air Defence AG – competence centre for drone defence

Military and civilian threat scenarios are increasingly merging, and drone defence in particular is relevant for both areas.

As Head of Strategy and Business Development at Rheinmetall Air Defence in Zurich, drone defence is one of the topics that Matthias Diem focuses on. In the interview below, he explains what he likes about this field of activity and why he enjoys his job at Rheinmetall.

Please introduce yourself briefly.
Matthias Diem

Matthias Diem

I have been working in the area of strategy and business development at Rheinmetall Air Defence in Zurich since 2014 and lead a small but excellent team of outstanding employees.

As a father of four, I live in Zurich and also in Austria.

After studying economics in Austria, my career first took me to China, where I worked in the cable car and air freight industry. Various work placements in and study visits to China allowed me to get an insight into this incredibly dynamic business field. After further professional stations in Eastern Europe, I switched to the Advanced Marketing and Sales management programme at Airbus in Paris. This programme was rounded off by various stations at EADS International in Paris and EADS Defence and Security in Unterschleissheim and Vienna, as well as at Eurocopter Malaysia.

A further career step introduced me to the field of safety-critical communication, and air traffic control in particular, at a renowned manufacturer in this industry. This time was characterised by major projects in the Middle East and my first contacts with Rheinmetall. I was able to obtain a lot of information on Rheinmetall in advance as part of a joint project and was absolutely certain that switching to Rheinmetall was the right step for me, and an important one, despite the fact that it involved a huge adjustment for my family.

I really enjoy spending my free time with my kids out in nature or travelling, and skiing in particular – but only as long as they still let me win.

What is the most remarkable thing you have experienced as part of your work or that you have achieved with your work?

What strikes me as remarkable time and again are the ideas that we develop in the team or the requests we receive from the market. You often think you’ve seen it all, but then you’re caught off guard time and again. And yet we manage time and again to take a calm and level-headed approach to analysing new and unfamiliar scenarios and find a top-quality solution. I take exceptional pleasure in saying what I have never experienced at Rheinmetall: giving up. None of us like the thought of giving up or not giving everything in a competition.

That is remarkable, as I have seen this attitude ever since I started at Rheinmetall and there is no end in sight.

How long have you been working at Rheinmetall Air Defence and what inspires you every day about your field of activity?

I have been with Rheinmetall in Zurich for more than six years now. Every day at work is different, there is no routine. Be it in the strategic area or in business development. Being in close contact with potential customers and business partners introduces you to new perspectives every day and emphasises that you can, and must, learn something new every day. I personally take great pleasure in seeing all the various ways in which our technology and knowledge can be used.

We operate at a global level and are confronted with different cultures time and again. The art of incorporating the expectations of international customers into the company in the right way inspires me every time. At the Zurich location in particular, we are used to handling a very high share of export business successfully and with the long-term perspective in mind. This can succeed in the long run only if you approach the local circumstances with respect and an open mind. Many of our customer relationships are built on decades of appreciation and respect. These are not hollow words, but the result of many years of professional work.

In your opinion, what distinguishes Rheinmetall’s drone defence solutions?

What distinguishes us is that, as a system integrator, we are able to offer a comprehensive solution that ranges from the detection of an uncooperative drone, the creation of a complete picture of the local air situation and its integration in superordinate systems of the civilian and military air traffic control authorities, all the way to defence in both urban and military environments.

The technology and its performance is developing at a rapid pace in this context in particular, and it has to, as the drones are developing at least as quickly. We always have to be at least one step ahead here. The requirements for a high degree of automation of the systems will lead us to many more innovations in this field.

We develop many ideas together in the team and test their feasibility early on as part of a concept study, including with potential customers. Our main objective is to introduce the right solutions to the market – solutions that allow our customers to fulfil their assignment or maintain their operations. The future growth rates and prospects in the area of unmanned mobility offer very promising potential for our developments.

The use of high-precision and redundant military technologies makes a lot of sense in the civilian sphere as well. Our systems can make a significant contribution to increasing the level of safety and safeguarding air traffic for global aviation. What is most important in any case is that Rheinmetall can protect lives here, too.

What was your most positive experience while working at Rheinmetall so far and where do you see the greatest challenges for your area?

I am in the fortunate position to have been able to experience many great successes at work. I am delighted time and again when we as a team have completed a successful demonstration at a customer or implemented a new capability in our system.

It also motivates me to see that my colleagues at the individual locations are prepared to provide support, often at very short notice and without further ado. I think this is what distinguishes us as a company. We deliver quality and performance often on the basis of mutual trust and honesty.

To me, the best thing is to experience time and again how some colleagues or teams surpass themselves and everyone is prepared to achieve the goal and go beyond the proverbial extra mile. Everyone gets involved, takes on their responsibility and is part of the success.

Why do you personally think Rheinmetall is a good employer?

I can think of many aspects. To me personally, it is the combination of truly exciting and international projects with other specialist units of Rheinmetall and extremely interesting customers that demand a great deal from us. All this is possible while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As a father of four, I have come to greatly appreciate the culture at Rheinmetall. We respect the need to spend time with the family, make it possible for each other to be there for our families and enjoy this time free from worry. This can be in the form of additional paternity leave to be there for the births of our children or the possibility of taking time out. For example, I was able to take six weeks off last year to travel around Australia in a camper van with my whole family – that was quite an adventure.

Rheinmetall also provides its employees with the opportunity to tackle fresh and unconventional ideas. Of course, it also takes perseverance and power of persuasion to implement these ideas, but the main focus is on entrepreneurial thinking.

What would you recommend to applicants who are interested in a job at Rheinmetall?

Rheinmetall is a technology company with many invaluable qualities. A culture characterised by trust, entrepreneurial energy and team spirit. You can get involved, achieve goals and develop ideas here. The environment provides room for this.

I am confident about our future. The significance of safety, peace and freedom in our society and culture will increase considerably in future. Aside from the megatrends of mobility and interconnectedness that are so important to us, we are also making an important contribution to our society in the field of safety.

If you like to get inspiration, form your own opinion and are open to new ideas, Rheinmetall is the right place for you.

I am proud of the work we do and enjoy the feeling of working on something important and useful every day.

Dirk Schmedes is a software development engineer at Rheinmetall Electronics in Bremen. He works on the technologies used in the field of drone defence.

How did you end up at Rheinmetall?
Dirk Schmedes

Dirk Schmedes

I trained as an IT systems technician before deciding to study applied computer science. Then when I was looking for a suitable work placement in 2011, I found one at Rheinmetall. I was particularly impressed by the dedication of the employees and the excellent mentoring. After I graduated, I worked for an IT service provider in IT security for a short time before my path led me back to Rheinmetall. I was offered an exciting job on the high energy laser (HEL) project. I couldn’t imagine anything better than making systems function with software.

Every day, you explore the diverse areas of application for video tracking, which is also used in drone defence. What does your job entail?

Drone defence systems are made up of a combination of sensor types, as the interaction between them is what makes small drone reconnaissance possible. Rheinmetall Electronics in Bremen is in charge of the electro-optics segment, where we perform tracking and verification using EO sensor platforms based on instructions from a reconnaissance sensor (e.g. radar or direction finding).

One of the main activities involves automatically detecting objects, tracking them and signalling their position data. This uses the RME video tracker MMT, which our team is constantly further developing. Our goal is to develop a fully automated drone reconnaissance system, which alerts operators only in the event of a drone threat and gives them the basis to decide whether and how to defend against it.

As a software development engineer with segment responsibility, I’m the technical point of contact and I’m also responsible for software architecture and development. My job also involves automating fighter drones and trawling drones to make the job of the drone pilots easier.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Software is becoming increasingly more important for the functionality of our systems. In the electro-optics field, expectations of the systems are growing especially rapidly at the moment. But Rheinmetall has the capacity to cater to these requirements and develop end-to-end system solutions.

The work is particularly enjoyable in project configurations where the different divisions, departments or group companies of Rheinmetall work effectively together, communicate openly and operate in a goal-oriented way.

The thing I like most about my work is that electro-optics with its associated software is very intertwined from a systems perspective. For me personally, this means always having a grasp of the bigger picture. I have the impression that my work is really doing a lot to help move us towards our goal.

In your opinion, what makes Rheinmetall a good employer for IT specialists / software development engineers?

I’ve been at Rheinmetall ever since I started working, so I can attest to its huge technological diversity. This offers lots of opportunities to specialise if people want to. But there’s always a demand for generalists as well. We’re given a lot of individual responsibility in our areas of activity.

The working environment in our department is excellent. There’s a lot of willingness to help others and a high level of motivation in our team. The flexible working hours also help to create a good balance between our work and home lives.

Our technologies for military and civilian areas of application

You can get an overview of our drone defence toolbox for various different areas of application here and in the videos below.