Turkey may see the first test of Germany's new C-RAM air defense system
The official handover of two new Mantis counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) system to the German military took place two months ago. Although the air-defense weapon was developed for Afghanistan, initial deployment could be much closer to home, in Turkey along the Syrian border.
The Mantis handover to the Luftwaffe's air-defense group (FlaGrp), which comprises all of the military's air-defense assets, took place as the unit prepared to send a team to scout locations for the NATO deployment of Patriot air-defense systems to eastern Turkey at Ankara's request, after a village near the border came under Syrian mortar attack last year. The Patriot deployment is a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Turkey, as the systems have no C-RAM capability, although NATO has reported Scud missile attacks inside Syria, which they are designed to counter.
No decision has been made to send Mantis to Turkey, but German officers say the system could defend a village, though not the entire border, as well as forces such as the German Patriot deployment module in Turkey. Debris from firing Mantis is too small to harm civilians, and the system's automatic firing mode can be stopped manually if a friendly target is in the way, says Capt. Carsten George of the Luftwaffe, commander of one of the two Mantis units.
The development of Mantis, an acronym for Modular, Automatic and Network-capable Targeting and Interception System, was driven by rocket attacks on German camps in northern Afghanistan. These were a regular occurrence, but have been reduced as NATO's International Security Assistance Force, of which Germany is a member, started to withdraw last year.
Mantis is based on an improved version of the Skyshield system—specifically the ammunition and fire-control radar—which was developed by Oerlikon, now part of Rheinmetall. Mantis can defend against 107-mm rockets fired from 4 km (2.5 mi.) away. It fires programmable 35-mm “Ahead” (airburst ammunition) rounds to an effective range of 1,000-1,500 meters (3,300-4,900 ft.), in bursts of up to 36 at 1,000 rounds per minute, to destroy RAM rounds. Ahead shells release tungsten projectiles in the path of incoming rounds. Kill probability is 30% at 1,000 meters, 70% at 500 meters and 98% at 200 meters, Rheinmetall says. Each system consists of six 35-mm guns, two radars, a command post, maintenance console and operator simulator.
Lt. Gen. Dieter Naskrent, deputy chief of staff of the Luftwaffe, describes the delivery of Mantis as “a further important step in the transformation of the Luftwaffe, . . . considerably strengthening the operational capabilities of ground-based, close-in air defense.” Bodo Garbe, who represents the electronic solutions division on the executive board of Rheinmetall Defense, adds, “Mantis is conceptually one of the pillars of the [German military's] future air-defense network 2020.” Patriot missiles would provide longer-range air defense against aircraft and ballistic missiles.
Mantis also has an anti-aircraft capability against low-flying vehicles, manned and unmanned. The system has been integrated into German command and information systems and radar tracks from FlaGrp's mobile ground surveillance radars, which give Mantis a capability against air-breathing threats such as cruise missiles.
Germany is looking with interest at Israel's recent experience with its Iron Dome C-RAM system during Operation Pillar of Defense last November. Iron Dome has a longer range than Mantis, which could fill in the gap at shorter ranges.
Lt. Col. Arnt Kuebart, commander of FlaGrp, says Mantis is operational, with one system designated for deployment and the second for training, although both can be deployed if necessary. George says deployment to Afghanistan would have required 36 troops. For ground mobility, Rheinmetall has conducted tests of Mantis mounted in trucks. A challenge is keeping the guns stable during firing.
Garbe says Mantis has an “open architecture for the integration of further sensors and effectors, be they high-energy lasers or new missiles.” The system may also be used offshore. Kurt Rossner, head of Rheinmetall Air Defense, says a Mantis gun was tested on an oil platform with a computer program to stabilize it.
The Bundeswehr has an option for two more Mantis systems, but Naskrent says no decision has been made to acquire them. Mantis cost €48 million ($62.4 million) to develop, and the first two systems cost €138 million, according to Rheinmetall.