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C-Ram--the artillery shell zappers.

Rocket, artillery and mortar (in this context also collectively known as Ram) fire has emerged as one of the insurgent's weapons-of-choice in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. Relatively low in cost, easy to smuggle, yet able to exact serious casualties, and alongside the roadside bomb and suicide bomb, these types are a guerrilla's weapon par excellence.

Before the American-led coalition found itself embroiled in what President Barack Obama's administration now calls 'Overseas Contingency Operations', having abandoned the 'Global War on Terror' sobriquet, troops positioned in supply depots and bases would not have to worry so much about the threat of rocket, artillery and mortar attack during the 'linear' conflict of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, for example. Although it must be remembered that this particular campaign did see attacks with R-11/R-17 Elbrus (Nato reporting name SS-1 'Scud') missiles which claimed 28 lives when one of the weapons hit a US Army barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. However, Scud missiles are large, conspicuous and also vulnerable to interception from weapons such as the Raytheon Mim-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile.

Rockets and mortars are not. They give an insurgent significant 'bang for his buck', exacting a heavy loss of life for a relatively inexpensive weapon, coupled with the propaganda kudos of capturing the attack on video ready to be played on the evening news or posted onto a website. Little surprise then, that efforts in North America, Europe and Israel to develop technology capable of intercepting such munitions are gathering significant momentum. Raytheon, Rheinmetall, Northrop Grumman, Rafael and Boeing have all either fielded or are developing technologies which use hard-kill interception with either gunfire or directed energy, to neutralise the threat under the Counter-Ram (C-Ram) umbrella.


Raytheon has enjoyed considerable success with its Centurion Block-0 system. The Centurion is a land-based evolution of one of Raytheon's most famous products, the Phalanx close-in weapon system which has been fitted to surface ships for the last 29 years. The Phalanx is designed to shred incoming anti-ship missiles into pieces with an M61 20-mm Vulcan Galling gun which fires 20-mm rounds at a rate of 4500/minute (for the Block 1B version), after the threat is detected by the Phalanx's radar.

The first deployment of the Phalanx as a land-based defence system occurred in summer 2005, when a Phalanx-1B system was used in Iraq to protect the Camp Victory logistics base in Baghdad, the Logistics Support Area Anaconda in Balad north of Baghdad and also the Green Zone in the centre of the city. The Centurion is equipped with an M61A1 Gatling gun which fires either M246 or M940 munitions at respectively 3000 or 4500 rds/min. Unlike the tungsten armour-piercing rounds that the naval Phalanx uses, both the M246 and M940 rounds are high-explosive incendiary tracer munitions. AKu-band radar on the Centurion watches the sky for incoming rounds. The Centurion can engage targets in both day and night and prioritises the most deadly threat and engages that first. Moreover, once an incoming attack is detected an alert is sounded to warn anyone nearby to take cover. The entire system is self-contained on a flatbed truck which also carries a power generator, a cooling system and an operator station. So far, the Centurion has performed over 110 engagements of incoming threats in Iraq.

As well as being selected by the US Army to protect key installations in Iraq, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence has leased several Centurion systems to protect British Army troops stationed in the country. The British systems were converted from Phalanx Block 1A systems that were with the Royal Navy. These were returned to Raytheon and converted into Centurion systems. This was done by installing the guns with the same computer used in the US Navy's Phalanx-1B system, along with a forward-looking infrared radar system for combat identification, changing the software to allow the gun to track rocket, artillery and mortar targets and also adding a longer barrel, which groups the Centurion's rounds more tightly together. However, both systems are equipped with a forward-looking infrared system. This is imperative to ensure that a visual identification is made prior to engagement, even in conditions where visibility may be obscured, to verify that the hostile round is just that--not a friendly aircraft.

The Centurion can also ensure that what remains of the munition after the engagement poses as little danger to those on the ground as possible. When the system engages a mortar shell, for instance, the burst of ammunition is usually sufficient to shred the shell into fragments. However, this is not always the case when the Centurion engages a rocket. Sometimes, the initial burst will be sufficient to only cut the weapon in half. Therefore, the Centurion can recognise that large pieces of debris may still be travelling through the sky and the system can engage these remains until they are in pieces small enough to no longer represent a threat. As well as the United States and Britain, other countries who may be in the market for the Centurion system include existing naval Phalanx customers such as Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. Greece, Israel and Mexico have reported interest in buying the Centurion system for border, outlying islands and oil platform security respectively.


One European solution to the problem of artillery, rocket and mortar fire is the Rheinmetall/Oerlikon Skyshield, or rather a fine-tuned version of it. The Bun-desministerium der Verteidigung (German Ministry of Defence) has shown significant interest in the Skyshield and it has been procured as the starting package for the System Flugabwehr (Air Defence System) programme. The rationale behind the project being to provide an air-defence system that can protect deployed German Army formations in Afghanistan against rockets and mortars bombs until around 2015 when a new system will be procured to replace all army air-defence systems. The entire programme is expected to cost the German Ministry of Defence up to [euro] 946 million with the Skyshield being used to protect stationary civilian and military installations against mortar and artillery fire and low-flying aircraft. Under the current contract, one system will be procured for training with the other being deployed to protect German forces in Afghanistan. Deliveries should be complete by 2011. A further contract for another two systems is expected from 2011, allowing the full protection of German forward operating bases at Feyzabad, Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif in northeastern Afghanistan.

The Rheinmetall product uses the Skyshield 35 revolver gun which fires 35-mm Ahead (Advanced Hit Efficiency And Destruction) ammunition at a rate of 1000 rds/min. The Ahead round is designed to detonate in front of the incoming projectile, showering 152 3.3-gram tungsten cylinders into its path. Initially, the gun will fire 36-round bursts to intercept the target, although this quantity could be reduced in the future to score a kill with fewer rounds. The Ahead ammunition has a range of four kilometres and 250 rounds can be held in the gun ready to fire. The ammunition knows the optimum point in the sky to eject its pay-load thanks to the shell's timer fuse which is programmed by three electromagnetic coils positioned in the gun's muzzle as the round leaves the barrel. The first of these detects the round, the second measures the time that it takes to travel between the first and second coils and the third then transmits the optimum time for the round to detonate based on the ammunition's speed. What this allows the ammunition to do is to eject all of the rounds fired at the same point in the sky to create a hail of tungsten cylinders around the incoming projectile. The projectile flies into the tungsten cylinders and is shredded to pieces.

This description pertains to the standard air-defence system, originally designed to sound the death knell to aircraft and cruise missiles, which are soft skinned. Catching and destroying a mortar round is, on the other hand, an entirely different challenge. For some obscure reason, Germany will not allow Rhein-metall to reveal what modifications have been made to the system following extensive trials, notably over the Baltic. One thing is certain, as was the case of the Centurion, dispersion had to be minimised. However, it is also obvious that the Ahead's 3.3-gram pellets were only going to merely scratch the paint off a mortar round, but could nevertheless (as it has indeed proved, by the way) trigger the proximity fuse (if fitted) or the impact fuze (sheer luck) of the mortar or artillery shell. One of the possible options taken by the German programme was to increase the size (and maybe even the shape) of the pellets and by virtue of longer bursts at least smash the fuse off the nose of the round if not penetrate the body.


Northrop Grumman has taken a slightly different approach with the Skyguard. This uses a version of the company's Tactical High Energy Laser (Thel) to vaporize an incoming round. The Thel weighs around 70 tonnes, although Northrop Grumman hopes to reduce the size of the system to around half this.

The Skyguard uses a chemical laser that utilises compressed gas to generate the beam. The system uses gas drawn from cylinders that can be simply hooked up to the Skyguard, presumably in a similar fashion to how a civilian gas cylinder can connect to a camping stove. Each cylinder has enough gas to fuel ten firings. However, unlike the camping stove, several gas cylinders can be connected to the Skyguard to provide almost continuous firing. The gas cylinders are easily replaced and can be refilled at a refuelling station. The electrical requirements of the system are relatively benign, with the laser using 100 kilowatts of power.

Iron Dome

Few countries know more about rocket attack than Israel. The country has been suffering regular rocket attacks from the Hezbollah and Hamas militias since 2001. Unsurprising then, that Israel Military Industries began to develop the Magen Kassum system which uses an interception round based on the 160-mm Lar (Light Artillery Rocket). The projectile itself is unguided and, like the Skyshield system, is launched into the incoming path of a rocket. Unlike the other systems surveyed in this article, however, the product is not designed to hit artillery shells, but is primarily intended to defeat attacks by Hamas Qassam or Hezbollah Zelzal rockets.

Meanwhile, Rafael is working on an anti-rocket system called 'Iron Dome', the development of which is expected to be complete by 2011, with initial operating capability to be announced in the second quarter of 2019. Rafael's aim is to see that the Iron Dome can engage any of the rocket types that were launched against northern Israel during the second Lebanon war of 2006, as well as those regularly launched from the Gaza Strip. This is in addition to engaging 70-mm artillery shells. The Iron Dome can perform its operations in rain, dust or cloud. It uses a missile with a proximity fuse that detonates near any target flying through the air after the radar has detected the incoming munition. The radar tracks the projectile's trajectory and transmits this information to the Battle Management and Weapon Control (BMWC) system, which then analyses the projectile's trajectory and computes its expected impact point. The interceptor is then launched towards the projectile, and during its journey it receives updates from the radar via the BMWC regarding the projectile's trajectory. The Iron Dome tracking radar can be mounted on the back of a six-wheeled truck, with the BMWC positioned on a similar vehicle. The system's missile firing units are located on two-wheeled trailers.

Laser Centurion

Taking a leaf from Northrop Grumman's book regarding the use of directed energy weapons, Raytheon is contemplating how it will further develop its Centurion system. One idea is to add a directed-energy weapon as a supplement to the system's existing gun. This would not only give the Centurion an extra defensive measure should the gun fail, but could also extend the reach of the system to attack threats at a longer distance. The company has already started looking at using a laser to defeat incoming 60-mm mortar rounds, and in 2006 Raytheon experimented with using an industrial laser during a bench test to explode a spinning mortar round.

The company has since experimented with engaging targets with a laser fitted to the side of a Centurion system at White Sands Missile Test Range in New Mexico. The laser will be able to use the same power supply as the Centurion to reduce operating costs. To this end, the company also plans to use an existing commercially available laser to reduce the cost of developing a completely new product for the Centurion. While Raytheon has not yet named a manufacturer for the laser, the company plans to use a telescope with the laser that will allow the beam to be focused at a precise point on the incoming projectile. This will allow the laser to get an extremely accurate fix on the incoming round, and also to ensure that the laser's energy begins to rapidly dissipate beyond this point so as not to pose a collateral damage risk to friendly aircraft which may be flying beyond the incoming projectile.

The laser will have a range of around 1500 metres, which is about three times the range of the Gatling gun. The time the laser will take to destroy the round in flight will be approximately two seconds. The ability of the Centurion to rapidly change target once an engagement is complete is a vital capability that could help to defeat multiple attacks with rockets and shells. Raytheon is confident that the development of the improved Centurion can be completed soon with the new system entering service around 2010. Other future options for the Centurion include installing the equipment on the back of an Oshkosh Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, which would greatly increase its mobility options and allow it to move around the battlefield and accompany troops. The control unit for the Centurion would be placed in the driver's cab.

Hel TD

Boeing has also shown interest in using directed-energy weapons to defeat the artillery threat. On 23 July 2007, the company won a $7 million award to begin development of a truck-mounted laser system which would be able to protect troops from indirect fire weapons under the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (Hel TD) laser programme. Phase 1 of the programme involves Boeing performing initial design and development to devise a truck-mounted beam control system. Phase II of the contract was awarded on 15th August 2008. This will see Boeing integrating a ruggedised version of the beam control system onto an Oshkosh Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck. Low-power demonstrations of the Hel TD are expected to begin in 2010, with higher-power tests to ensure the tactical strength of the laser to get underway by 2013. Boeing has accumulated significant expertise in directed energy weapons over recent years. In August 2008 it performed a test firing at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico of its Advanced Tactical Laser.


Directed-energy weapons for the destruction of explosives are already in use. Since 2005, the US Army has used the Sparta/Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division Hlons (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle Laser Ordnance Neutralization System) a.k.a. 'Zeus' in Iraq. The Zeus uses a ten-kilowatt solid state laser that is trained on a suspect device to focus a heat that should cause the explosives to ignite and self-destruct. The system can destroy roadside bombs at a distance of up to 300 metres and the laser can be used as often as 2000 times per day. However, the Zeus can only destroy munitions on the ground. For targets in the air, the efforts of Raytheon, Rheinmetall, Northrop Grumman, Rafael and Boeing are certainly enhancing the protection of troops against the Ram threat.
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Title Annotation:C-Ram
Author:Withington, Thomas
Publication:Armada International
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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