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The Bundeswehr has commissioned the Rheinmetall Group to provide and operate a reconnaissance system in the form of a tethered surveillance balloon to protect a field camp in Niger. As the company announced today, the order is worth 21 million euros. The contractor is Rheinmetall Project Solutions GmbH, a newly founded subsidiary that will provide operational support services in the Rheinmetall Group in the future.

"In the future, with this solution, the Bundeswehr will be able to identify possible opposing forces over a distance of several kilometers day and night and, if necessary, initiate measures at an early stage," the company writes in the press release. It has already been shown in the past that such systems - simply because of their visibility - have more than halved the probability of an attack.

The company also points out that it has committed itself to "operating around the clock, seven days a week". The sensors are operated by soldiers at the special workplaces provided for this purpose. These operators are trained by Rheinmetall.

The reconnaissance system known in a similar form from Afghanistan was originally intended for the protection of the Camp Castor in Mali, a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Defense confirmed this at the request of Soldat & Technik.

According to a report in the daily newspaper Welt from the spring of 2021, the Bundeswehr initiated the procurement of this system in 2016 in the form of an immediate initiative and negotiated a corresponding contract with a provider in 2019. However, the system could not be put into operation because the United Nations, which had its own warehouse nearby, refused to approve the operation of the balloon, citing its proximity to the international airport.

The protection denied to the German soldiers in Mali now benefits the Bundeswehr contingent in Niger. Since 2018, German special forces have been training Nigerien soldiers there under the leadership of the Special Forces Marine Command as part of the Gazelle mission. At the turn of the year 2020/2021, the mission was integrated into the EU Training Mission Mali (EUTM). The forces remain stationed in Niger, but are shifting the focus to the Malian-Nigerian border area. The new station was Tillia, where a school for special forces is being built as part of the federal government's training initiative.

Waldemar Geiger