Saturday, March 12, 2011

C-RAM Systems Become A Priority

By Andy Nativi(AW&ST)

Although rocket, artillery and mortar (RAM) attacks have not been as lethal in recent conflicts as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings, they pose an ongoing threat to military installations, forward operating bases, infrastructure and civilian areas. Work underway in the U.S., Europe and Israel is focused on developing effective and economical counter-RAM systems that provide coverage and, importantly, a sense of security to troops and civilians.
Insurgents use RAM attacks as part of asymmetric warfare or as a tactic in terrorism. In many cases the weapons are crude and inaccurate, or outdated. In some instances, they are homemade. Israel, for example, has been the target of more than 10,000 rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in recent years. While deaths and casualties have been low owing to the inaccuracy of the weapons, their chief objective is to terrorize and demoralize people living in targeted areas. Israel has attacked and destroyed rocket- and mortar-launching teams with aircraft and ground troops, but at a huge cost for each counterattack.
Most experts believe that an effective counter (C-RAM) system is one that provides a layered defense. The best strategy is to prevent an attack. Indeed, patrols and 24/7 surveillance make it difficult for attackers to reach a suitable firing position, especially given the limited range and precision of their weapons, even if some rockets, artillery fire and mortars have greater range.
If this fails, however, there is the active defense option, in which counter-fire is used to break up a sustained attack, and passive defense, which involves assets such as early-warning radar, ground sensors and airborne surveillance, and weapons that destroy incoming threats.
This combination of technology and weapons incorporated into a mobile system is generally the first choice of military planners for an effective C-RAM capability. The concept will eventually be extended to moving targets such as convoys. Lightweight, vehicle-mounted C-RAM systems, similar in operation to mobile air-defense platforms, are expected to become a reality in the near future, providing convoys with a defensive shield against attack, in much the same way that active defense systems guard tanks from rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
For the time being, however, the priority is to provide C‑RAM for fixed targets.
The first approach taken by the U.S. was to adapt Raytheon’s Phalanx, a close-in weapon system (CIWS) deployed by the U.S. Navy, which features a rapid-fire 20-mm Gatling gun. Similar land-based weapons have been used in the past, notably the M163 self-propelled, 20-mm Vulcan gun deployed for air defense by the U.S. Army; and the trailer-mounted M-167A1/A2, later brought to Pivads (Product Improvement Vulcan Air Defense System) configuration.
The Army rushed development of the Land-based Phalanx Weapon System (LPWS) in 2004 and deployment started the next year in Iraq. Named Centurion by Raytheon, the system is based on a standard Phalanx 1B CIWS, which is mounted on a trailer alongside a power-generation and control system, water-cooling station and ammunition reserve (1,550 rounds). The entire system weighs 24 tons—6.1 tons for the weapon and electronics.
Centurion is a strategically transportable, but not tactically mobile system. It is autonomous, having its own Ku-band acquisition and fire-control radar (known colloquially due to its white dome as R2-D2, the name of the Star Wars movie robot), a Flir thermal imaging sensor and a link to a forward area air-defense command-and-control system. The weapon has an M61A1 gun, which fires 3,000-4,500 rounds per minute. Typically, 400 rounds are fired in each engagement, either in bursts of 60 or 100 rounds, or in a continuous burst. The M940 MPT-SD ammunition, developed for the application, flies faster and thus has more range than the previous M246 HEI-TSD round due to improved aerodynamics. The MPT‑SD round flies 1,800 meters (5,900 ft.) in 3 sec., and 2,000 meters in 3.69 sec., and is designed to self-destruct after 3.8 sec.
U.S. and U.K. forces have deployed the LPWS in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system has proven its value in battle, intercepting hundreds of mortar rounds and rockets (insurgents generally do not use tube artillery). To increase its capabilities, the U.S. Army’s C-RAM program office has developed a network concept that links surveillance and counter-fire sensors over large areas that can cover several forward operating bases.

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