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  • Shoot The Arrow
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 10:33 AM on Oct 30, 2009

    The mantra came out of the first Gulf War in 1991: "It's no longer how many aircraft per target, it's how many targets per aircraft." Precision-guided bombs, even then, were close to one-bomb-per-target accuracy. The introduction of GPS-inertial guided weapons subsequently made it possible to talk about multiple targets per pass, at much lower cost than a laser-guided weapon.

    But that equation could be upset by new counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) systems. At the Defence IQ missile defense conference in Warsaw on Thursday, Rheinmetall Air Defence vice-president Fabian Ochsner briefed on the company's SkyShield, under development to protect Germany's three bases in Afghanistan from insurgent attack. It's also being proposed to defend energy installations and other critical infrastructure.

    blog post photo

    A complete system comprises six remotely operated, turreted 35 mm revolver cannon firing the company's AHEAD round (which is programmed on firing to dispense a cloud of sub-projectiles to destroy small targets), two radars and a control center. A 70-round burst can kill an incoming round.

    Could the system destroy an incoming JDAM or Small Diameter Bomb? "We would have liked to test that for the last ten years," Ochsner says. "The system was designed to handle the US HARM missile." (Switzerland is neutral.) "We have always wanted to test against an air-launched munition but we didn't get a firing range where safety would allow it. We've tried to convince some project offices - but nobody wanted to have a problem with their own project."

    However, the system has been tested against Turkey's Roketsan 107 mm guided rocket, says Ochsner, convincing the company that the warhead would work against bigger, slower targets.

    Although the system provided to Germany is static, the 35 mm turret itself is compatible with vehicles, and one gun can cover a 1 km-radius keep-out zone (a circle more than a mile in diameter). Rheinmetall says that the weapon has a greater effective range than the Raytheon Centurion, the land-based derivative of the Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS).

    Exactly how you could counter that kind of system is not clear. You could try putting radar absorbent material on the bomb - but at a range of just over one kilometer, that's unlikely to work. The alternative would be to try to saturate the defenses, but that means the end of "targets per aircraft." Or you could try to kill the C-RAM radars first, but the snag is that they are simple, cheap short-range devices.

    By the way, China's Norinco showed a model of a Centurion-equivalent system at IDEX in February - and the brochure depicted it being used to defend a transporter-erector-launcher for a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile. Why, yes, we do live in interesting times.

    Tags: ar99, missile defense, skyshield

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