Air Defense: MANTIS In Mali

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September 7, 2017: Germany is sending its MANTIS (Modular, Automatic and Network capable Targeting and Interception System) C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar) system to guard its peacekeeper base in Mali. Islamic terrorists there have taken to firing rockets and mortar shells at this camp. MANTIS was developed from an anti-aircraft system in 2008 as the Skyshield 35 C-RAM system but by the time the first unit was ready (in 2011) for service in Afghanistan it had been renamed MANTIS and evolved into a more capable system. Yet the basic concept and function of the 2008 design remained. That was a radar and control unit linked with two separate 35 mm/1000 KDG autocannon that could swivel quickly to face a target. When turned on the radar detected and identified likely targets and then, when they were 3,000 meters away one or both 35mm autocannon fired a burst of 12-24 shells which automatically exploded near the target and each 35mm ABM-KETF shell disperses 152 tiny (3.3 g each or 8.5 per ounce) tungsten rods that formed a cloud and disabled any shell or rocket passing through. The MANTIS fire control system automatically calculates the speed and trajectory of the incoming target, aligns the 35mm guns and fires the burst of shells that will create a large enough tungsten cloud to intercept. All this takes a few seconds and it worked reliably, after a few tweaks, before it got to Afghanistan in 2011. A MANTIS system consists of two radar control systems and six 35mm autocannon each on its own swivel platform. There is also a ship based system similar to the American Phalanx.

The original C-RAM was an American system that showed up in Iraq in 2006, left in 2011 and returned in 2015. C-RAM is a land-based version of the U.S. Navy Phalanx anti-missile system. Phalanx is the last line of defense against anti-ship missiles. C-RAM was first created to defend American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several foreign nations have since bought C-RAM and users are satisfied with its performance. C-RAM works 24/7 and needs a lot of maintenance. Often civilians (usually retired sailors with Phalanx experience) are hired to operate and maintain C-RAM systems. Phalanx is used by sixteen other navies besides the American fleet.

C-RAM, like MANTIS and other similar system, is basically the 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. Phalanx 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 35mm shell used by MANTIS has about 50 percent more range (3,000 meters) than Phalanx but that does not seem to make much difference.

The original Phalanx used 20mm depleted uranium shells to slice through incoming missiles but the high-explosive shell was needed to ensure destruction of the smaller (than missiles) targets shells and rockets presented. 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 and that success rate has gone up because of hardware and software tweaks as well as operator experience. Other improvements included the ability to detect low altitude (flat trajectory) rockets and home-made rockets that are not as predictable as factory made stuff.

The first C-RAM systems in Iraq intercepted several hundred rockets or mortar shells aimed at the Green Zone and other bases. Not bad, since C-RAM only took about a year to develop. A C-RAM system, which can cover an area about four kilometers wide, costs $15 million. There is also a mobile version, mounted on a flatbed trailer and hauled by a tractor. MANTINS built on all this to evolve into a similar system but one using components developed in Europe.

 

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