As winter approached, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeatedly asked his partners for more air defense assets, anticipating a repeat of the Russian onslaught against civil infrastructure of the previous year, and Germany has answered the request.

The Federal Republic of Germany’s announcement of its latest military aid package for Ukraine last week has included a welcome response to Ukraine’s request.

The new package includes Marder armored vehicles, tank, 155mm artillery and small arms ammunition, mine-clearing and bridge-laying tanks, ground surveillance radars, trucks, assault rifles, and other aid in its latest delivery to Ukraine, announced on Jan. 4.

This latest shipment provides an enhancement to Ukraine’s air defense capability after Russia launched mass air attacks against the country over the winter holidays, killing and injuring dozens of civilians. This includes two TRML-4D air surveillance radars, 30 drone detection systems and missiles for the IRIS-T air defense system.

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The other significant weapon system that has caught the eye is the provision of the first of two Skynex air defense systems.

Germany announced in December 2022 that it had contracted the manufacturer to produce two systems, at €182 million ($200 million), for delivery in early 2024.

In April the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal, stated that the Skynex air defense system was already working in Ukraine – although where it came from and who provided it was not clarified

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“The latest air raid alert in Kyiv was a UAV threat. Over the past two weeks, this is at least the fifth actual attempt by the enemy to attack the capital using drones,” says Kyiv military official.

What is Skynex?

Skynex, or more precisely Oerlikon Skynex is a mobile, modular anti-aircraft artillery system manufactured by Rheinmetall.

All its components are containerized and can be readily transported between firing positions by vehicle and either placed on the ground or operated directly from the vehicle.

The Skynex system uses the Oerlikon X-TAR3D situational awareness and detection radar, which has a range of up to 50 km linked through a command post equipped with the Oerlikon Skymaster information and control system controlling up to four 35mm Oerlikon Mk 3 Revolver Gun air defense cannon.

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Main components of the Skynex system. PHOTO: Rheinmetall/Kyiv Post

The system can operate independently or in close connection with other air defense systems from which it can issue or receive targeting information thereby allowing it to be integrated into Ukraine’s main air defense architecture.

The Oerlikon guns are housed in remotely controlled turrets which include the gun mount and fire control equipment in the form of an optical and radar sight.

Target acquisition and engagement are performed automatically by the built-in fire processor. The system can be remotely controlled from any location and uses a versatile management, command and control solution based on the Oerlikon Skymaster.

The Skynex system is one of the newest in the world of short-range air defense systems, having been first unveiled only in 2016. It is armed with the 35mm automatic Oerlikon Revolver Gun Mk 3 cannon for which a variety of 35×228 mm rounds are available.

Each gun has a standard load of 252 shells which it can fire at a rate of 1000 rounds per minute out to an effective firing range of 5 km.

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According to the manufacturer, Skynex is effective against aircraft, helicopters, cruise, anti-radar or anti-ship missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV/drones). The ammunition includes high-explosive and armor-piercing rounds.

The increasing use of drones in modern wars and conflicts has forced the world’s armies to look for cheap and affordable ways to combat them. One of the types of ammunition available to the Oerlikon Skynex was specifically designed to defeat both large drones such as the Iranian Shahed-136, and swarms of smaller FPV drones.

Known as Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction (AHEAD) ammunition. This is a programmable munition designed to take on a target at the optimum distance decided upon by its integral laser rangefinder

On reaching the predicted range it functions to release a cluster of aerodynamic tungsten sub-projectiles in a cone-shaped “cloud” that will destroy the target’s control surfaces and other vital components. This significantly increases the effectiveness of fire and reduces ammunition usage rates.

Principle of functioning of the AHEAD projectile. PHOTO: Rheinmetall

There are four varieties of rounds optimized for the type of target to be engaged (if known). These are:

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  • PMD062 with a payload of 152 sub-projectiles,
  • PMD330 with 497 sub-projectiles,
  • PMD375 with 860 sub-projectiles,
  • PMD428 with more than 600 sub-projectiles

Other versions of the system, which are unlikely to be provided to Ukraine have been demonstrated or are under development by Rheinmetall: a system equipped with a 30 kW laser designed to destroy UAV and the Denel Cheetah counter-rocket, artillery missile (C-RAM).

Skynex is undoubtedly a highly effective system that will provide excellent point protection for important strategic and energy infrastructure facilities.

The provision of only two (or possibly three) systems with a total of eight (or twelve) firing modules the provision of only two (or possibly three) systems with a total of a maximum of eight (or twelve) firing modules will provide only limited enhancement to the overall air defense requirement.

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