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Denel Dynamics unveils Cheetah C-RAM system

An artistic rendering of the new Denel Cheetah CRAM missile.Denel Dynamics has unveiled a system it is developing to protect deployed forces against rocket, artillery and mortar attacks.

The Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) system combines the Rheinmetall Skyshield protection system and Denel’s Cheetah missile system, which is currently under development.

The Cheetah-Skyshield combination will initially be aimed at preventing South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops and other assets from being attacked by widely available light artillery weapons, which are increasingly found in the hands of rebels and other irregulars, such as SAM-7 shoulder-fired rocket launchers, light cannons and mortars.

Dr Gerrit Viljoen, Denel Dynamics Chief Designer, told defenceWeb that, “Basically, what Cheetah is, is a force protection system. Especially mortars are a big threat in African peacekeeping operations. So what we provide here is a solution to actually shoot down these threats before they hit. It shoots down rockets, artillery and mortars after they’ve been launched.”

“We’ve got a 360 degree capability. So when you’re in a camp, say, somewhere in the DRC, you could be attacked from any direction and this system actually can protect you.”

“It can also be used in conventional operations (for) protection of bases. It would have been very useful in places like Afghanistan and other peace operations because these guys actually were under fire a lot.”

He explained that rebels often have the initiative over peacekeeping troops who might be encamped and sending out standing patrols, or a similar scenario. (UN Peacekeeping missions have very strict rules of engagement, which often give the upper hand to irregulars). He said of these asymmetric situations, that rebel forces “decide when to shoot at you and you’re basically a target, you can’t do anything about it. These rebels might even go to the extreme of firing their mortars from inside built-up areas; if you look at Goma [capital of North Kivu Province in the DRC] you’ll find there’s a shanty town right next to the airport. So we might be flying in transport aircraft with supplies and these guys might just drop a mortar on the aircraft and even cause failure of the mission because of the danger.

“You cannot fire back at them because they’re in the civilian population, but what you can do is you can take out that shell before it hits you. It’s also a purely defensive weapon, so you can only react to someone that’s already fired on you. We call it the shoot back first principle.

“It is a mobile system, so it can move with forces. It can protect forces against artillery attacks, rocket artillery and things like that. It is primarily aimed at our defence force which is currently deployed in Africa and our soldiers are vulnerable.”

Reinart Moraal, Chief Systems Engineer at Denel Dynamics, explained that the SANDF’s current Ground Based Air Defence (GBADS) system comprising the Skyshield “is effective against aircraft but the specific guns [35 mm] that we have are completely ineffective against rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM), so what’s interesting about this system is we just integrate this missile system with the systems the SANDF already has so it’s actually very cost-effective, because we don’t have to reacquire radar systems, tracking systems that you need for a GBADS system.

“In fact we have demonstrated some sub-systems of this system to the Defence Force and they are very excited about the prospects of this.”

“We got a lot of interest from a lot of countries,” Viljoen said.

‘‘We’ve got a three-year horizon till the technical demonstrator and from then on we can go into full-scale development and production.” Moraal said.

Viljoen said he felt for this application, the Cheetah-C-RAM system was the best in the world, only comparable with Israel’s Iron Dome, but that was a bigger system designed as a static system. “What we have with this partnership with Rheinmetall is that existing users of their fire control systems that they use with their guns (the Skyshield) can very easily integrate, so we have the advantage for clients of Rheinmetall, who can, at a very low cost, integrate this capability into their defence force.”

The Cheetah missile is a completely new system with its own radar seeker that will have a proximity warhead, although it will use technologies that have been developed for other Denel Dynamics missiles.
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