Skyranger 30 HEL adds laser weapon to mobile air defense arsenal
Rheinmetall has unveiled its portable Skyranger 30 HEL air defense system that boasts a combination of a 30 mm automatic cannon, Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) missiles, and a high-energy laser to protect mobile units.
After the end of the Cold War, one of the casualties of the victory was that many Western armed forces scrapped their anti-aircraft systems. But things have changed in the past decade, with a shift in the geopolitical situation and the emergence of an increasingly complex mix of drones, autonomous flight systems, and smart munitions that have prompted the need for a new generation of countermeasures.
The problem is that no one weapon is a panacea that can take out all threats, so a combination is needed for full protection. It's a bit like an aircraft carrier, which seems vulnerable because it doesn't have much in the way of guns, but is extremely hard to kill because it sits in the center of a screen of defenses that spreads out for hundreds of miles and consists of a myriad of ships, submarines, satellites, aircraft, missiles, and point defenses that a hostile force must penetrate to reach its target.
The Skyranger 30 HEL works on a similar principle, though on a smaller scale and at shorter distances. It's based on Rheinmetall's Skyranger 30 system, which made its debut last year in Bure, Switzerland. Like its predecessor, the Skyranger 30 HEL is a robotic turret that is built around the Oerlikon KCA 30 × 173 mm revolver cannon that was built for the Saab 37 Viggen fighter aircraft and has been upgraded as the 30 mm x 173 KCE, which fires programmable, time-delayed tungsten fragmenting rounds at a rate of 1,200 per minute.
Weighing only about 2.5 tonnes, the turret can be mounted on 6 x 6 and larger armored vehicles to provide them with cover from airplanes, rotorcraft, and drones. However, these aren't always effective and may be dangerous or illegal to use in built up areas, so the Skyranger 30 also includes SHORAD missiles to deal with low-altitude threats. These, as well as the gun, are targeted using a suite of radar, video cameras, laser rangefinders, and infrared sensors that can track targets across a 360-degree arc at a distance of up to 20 km (12 mi).
The latest addition to this mix for the Skyranger 30 HEL is the high-energy laser weapon with its own sensors. This laser pumps out a 20-kW beam that can automatically lock onto targets and neutralize them. According to Rheinmetall, the immediate goal is to increase this power to 50 kW and, ideally, to 100 kW in the near future. This will provide the Skyranger 30 HEL with not only a very long reach, but also a practically unlimited supply of laser ammunition at a cost of about a dollar a shot so long as power is available.