Air Defense: Civilians Zapping Mortar Shells In Afghanistan


September 7, 2010: The United States, and several allies, are buying the C-RAM (Counter-Rockets And Missiles) anti-rocket system, to defend their bases in Afghanistan. Since C-RAM is based on a navy weapon, the manufacturer also provides civilians (often former sailors who operated the navy version) to operate and maintain the C-RAM systems. This means that the armies using the system don't have to send their own troops to be trained for the task. In peacetime, the C-RAMs would be used very little, mainly for training. But in Afghanistan, these systems are at work 24/7, and need a lot of maintenance.

C-RAM is basically the American Phalanx naval gun system with new software that enables it to take data from its own, or other radar systems, and shoot down just about any kind of artillery shell or rocket within range. It 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. At least that's been the experience in Iraq. 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 C-RAM was sent to Iraq in late 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. In the last four years, C-RAM systems in Iraq have intercepted several hundred rockets or mortar shells aimed at the Green Zone and other bases. Not bad, since it only took about a year to develop C-RAM. A C-RAM system, which can cover an area about four kilometers wide, costs $15 million. In addition to the United States, Britain and Israel have also bought C-RAM. There is a mobile version, mounted on a flatbed trailer, and hauled by a tractor.


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