We went off to discover a division of Nexter that is as strategic as it is discreet, the Ammunition Business Group (ABG) made up of France’s Nexter Munitions, Italy’s Simmel Difesa and Belgium’s MECAR making ABG one of the companies with the most complete portfolio of ammunition in the world: as of mid-December 2015 the catalogue contained over 200 different products.
The first stop of this European tour started in Italy with Simmel Difesa (Simmel).
Based in the heart of the Latium region near the village of Colleferro (built by Simmel in the early 20th Century to house its workers), this 100-yr old company specialised in marine munitions is one of the historical pillars of the Italian defence industry. In serious economic trouble at the beginning of this century, Simmel’s affairs, since it was bought by the Nexter group in May 2014, have taken a turn for the better with an annual turnover of €50m which it is hoping to double in the mid-term future. Today the company employs more than 200 people on a site that covers over one million square metres.
Its large production capacity and its LAP (loading, assembly, package) competence sharpened Nexter’s appetite for Simmel but it would be ungracious to limit the company’s draw to just these two points. It is also part of that small club of manufacturers who can imagine, develop, conceive and produce almost each of the constitutional elements of their finished products. Only a minority of parts are made by sub-contractors. This forced Simmel to earmark a not inconsiderable amount of time and money into research and development (it’s not easy to revolutionise a shell) and to innovate: the company is one of the few that develops and produces its own detonators.
Simmel is also working on insensitive munition technology which means rending a munition “as insensitive as a rock while stocked but remarkably efficient when fired.” In order to achieve this, specific compounds need to be used to reduce the risk of “sympathetic” explosions (in other words when the explosion of one munition fires off all those around it), or the risk of a munition exploding when shot at or being stocked in poor conditions. Although this technology is understood and mastered the considerable added cost means that for the moment is it only used for munitions such as missiles and torpedoes carried on critical platforms, notably naval ones.
Simmel is nevertheless working on integrating this technology into its 81mm mortar shells and 40mm grenades. Amongst the latter there is one that has a somewhat long and incomprehensible name: LV HEDP IM SD, which means Low-Velocity High-Explosive Dual-Purpose Insensitive Munition Self-Destruction, a new product which is already undergoing a battery of tests on many of the 40mm grenade launchers currently in service, including the FN GL1 made by Belgium’s FN Herstal.
An insensitive version of the 81mm mortar shell has also been inroduced. Simmel has opened talks with BAE Systems to propose it to the British army. Some shells have already been fired in a demonstration in Britain, Simmel told FOB. Already qualified for the British L61A2 and U.S. M252s, Simmel’s 81mm grenades are now being tried on the domestic market in a qualification campaign on the Spanish Expal mortars acquired by the Italian army.
Come back tomorrow to visit the rest of Nexter’s ABG