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Gunsmiths as a beacon of hope?: Unwelcome industry in a new light

Bearers of hope gunsmiths?
Unwelcome industry in a new light

By Christina Lohner

The armaments industry has not yet been one of the popular branches of the economy. That could change with the Ukraine war. The German arms manufacturers are currently looking for thousands of new employees – who can earn well. However, the industry is difficult to pin down.

The traffic light coalition wants to tighten control of arms exports, and hearings on the law are taking place these days. At the same time, Germany is supplying weapons to a hot war zone during the Ukraine war – a turning point. The approval of the German population is great. The highly controversial armaments industry can therefore hope for an image change.

Before the Ukraine war, it had become increasingly difficult for German armaments companies to use financing and other services from banks and insurance companies. Some contracts have even been terminated, as reported by Hans-Christoph Atzpodien, General Manager of the Federal Association of the German Security and Defense Industry (BDSV), ntv.de. Because while the industry sees security as the basis for any form of social sustainability – such as access to water, food or education – it is threatened with classification as unsustainable by the EU Commission.

“Until now, we have often only been noticed in arms export cases that were approved by the federal government but not understood by the public,” says Atzpodien. Germany is the fifth largest arms exporter, last year exports rose to a record 9.04 billion euros. But since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, “the industry has been perceived differently,” Atzpodien notes, “namely as a guarantor for a defense-ready Bundeswehr.”

In view of the planned special fund of 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr, German armaments companies are currently looking for thousands of new employees. Rheinmetall alone expects up to 3,000 additional employees for the expected orders. According to Atzpodien, applicants were always interested in the industry, but it would certainly be difficult to fill the positions. “The shortage of skilled workers does not go unnoticed in our industry either.” You can earn significantly more there than on average. According to the association, the average salary in the armaments industry was around 57,000 euros in 2014.

Sales low in global comparison

The number of jobs in the industry in Germany in 2015 was around 135,700 plus a further 273,400 jobs in other sectors of the economy that depend on it. More recent data are not available. The armaments industry is generally very difficult to quantify. Because where does it begin: with the steel company that supplies a steel hull for a combat ship, with the hiking boot manufacturer, who also manufactures combat boots, or with the weapon manufacturer? Does the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which mainly supplies civil aviation, or a software provider that also serves the German armed forces, count as an armaments group?

However, the number of core companies, i.e. the main contractors in the military sector, is likely to be in the thousands. The largest German armaments manufacturers are Rheinmetall, Thyssenkrupp, Krauss-Maffei and Hensoldt. The four are the only German companies among the 100 largest arms manufacturers in the world that the Peace Research Institute Sipri lists. In a global comparison, their sales are low, with American producers leading the list by a wide margin.

According to the BDSV, the German armaments industry serves all military areas such as shipping and aviation as well as land systems. The association emphasizes that companies in the security and defense industry equip state security bodies and armed forces, especially in EU and NATO countries. However, large projects such as the joint FCAS fighter jet by Germany, France and Spain could hardly be managed nationally. In order to save costs, but also to be able to work together better on missions, several countries are increasingly developing war weapons together. Germany, for example, has recently ordered submarines from ThyssenKrupp together with Norway.

In joint projects, however, it is always difficult to reconcile the different philosophies of different armies, explains Atzpodien and cites a particularly striking example: the German workplace ordinance must also be implemented in the interior of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle, i.e. a pregnant woman in the able to work for the third month.

How much of the planned 100 billion euros will end up with German armaments manufacturers is unclear. According to the BDSV, the Bundeswehr’s wish list, which is classified as secret, is not known either. The new fighter jets should come from the USA, a missile defense system possibly from Israel. But Rheinmetall is also expecting a strong increase in sales this year: instead of the previous 10 percent, sales of military goods are now expected to grow by 20 percent.

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