Air Defense: The German Cure For The Mortar Disease



September 28, 2008: Germany is ready to begin producing its Skyshield 35 C-RAM system (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar), and get it to Afghanistan next year. Skyshield 35 C-RAM  consists of two 35mm guns (each with 228 rounds of ammo) and a radar. It operates automatically, much like the U.S. 20mm Phalanx system.) Each target (an incoming mortar round) is spotted by the radar, which then points one of the guns in the right direction and fires off 10-12 rounds, which intercept the incoming shells with airbursts of fragments which cause the mortar shells to miss their target.

The U.S. C-RAM is a version of the Phalanx, designed to protect large bases from mortar and rocket attack. The original Phalanx was a 20mm cannon designed to defend American warships against anti-ship missiles. Phalanx does this by using a radar that immediately starts firing at any incoming missile it detects. The C-RAM system has its software modified to detect smaller objects (like 82mm mortar shells). This came about when it was discovered that the original Phalanx could take out incoming 155mm artillery shells. This capability is what led to C-RAM. 

Other modifications include linking Phalanx to the Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar and Q-36 Target Acquisition Radar. When these radars detect incoming fire, C-RAM points toward the incoming objects and prepares to fire at anything that comes within range (about 2,000 meters) of its cannon. C-RAM uses high explosive 20mm shells, that detonate near the target, spraying it with fragments. By the time these fragments reach the ground, they are generally too small to injure anyone. The original Phalanx used 20mm depleted uranium shells, to slice through incoming missiles. Phalanx fires shells at the rate of 75 per second. Another advantage of C-RAM, is that it makes a distinctive noise when firing, warning people nearby that a mortar or rocket attack is underway, giving people an opportunity to duck inside if they are out and about.

The first U.S. C-RAM was sent to Iraq in 2006, to protect the Green Zone (the large area in Baghdad turned into an American base). It was found that C-RAM could knock down 70-80 percent of the rockets and mortar shells fired within range of its cannon. It took about a year to develop C-RAM, and another version, using a high-powered laser, instead of the 20mm gun, is in development.

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