Kyiv’s need for supplemental anti-missile air defense assets beyond those promised by its allies may partially be solved by Rheinmetall’s new hybrid mobile system mounted on a tank chassis.

Turkish milblogger Ömer Çay posted a picture on X a little over a week ago that seemed to show that Rheinmetall had grafted a 35mm Skyranger short range air defense turret onto a Leopard 2A4 tank chassis. This was seen as a “budget” alternative to its full blown Skynex mobile, modular anti-aircraft artillery system, which costs a cool €90 million ($100 million) a pop.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday. June 17 that the German manufacturer was seriously considering doing the same thing with surplus Leopard 1 tanks, many of which it was currently refurbishing, for transfer to Ukraine to bolster its ground-based air defense (GBAD) and self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) capabilities.

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The threat from first person view (FPV) drones and loitering munitions, such as Russia’s Lancet, calls out for weapon systems that can work in concert with Ukraine’s ground forces to provide close-in protection.

Germany, Denmark and others have already provided Ukraine’s armed forces with around a hundred Leopard 1 tanks. Bjorn Bernhard, head of land systems at Rheinmetall, told Bild “There are still many Leopard 1 main battle tanks on whose chassis we could mount the Skyranger turret with its 35mm caliber automatic cannon.”

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Rheinmetall has already opened a facility, somewhere in Western Ukraine, where it is repairing and servicing German Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) and Leopard tanks – a task which Bernhard says remains its priority.

The idea of combining the Skyranger module onto the tank chassis is attractive for more reasons than just the cost savings that could be made by using the obsolescent tanks as its prime mover.

The volume of ammunition storage offered in the Leopard would greatly enhance 252 35mm round and short-range air defense missile payload for which the cannon’s turret is designed to hold. The tank offers several other advantages including improved off-road mobility, the ability to carry additional equipment and interoperability with other Leopards in the field.

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Skyranger is based on a turret equipped with the 35 mm Rheinmetall Oerlikon GDM-008 revolver cannon which can be elevated up to 85 degrees with 360-degree rotation. The unmanned turret weighs 4.25 tons and is controlled by two operators inside the vehicle. The gun is optimized to fire AHEAD (Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction) ammunition, an airburst round that releases a cloud of sub-projectiles ahead and close to a target. This allows Skyranger to engage conventional missiles as well as UAVs and to counter rocket, artillery, and mortar attacks (C-RAM).

The cannon can fire single-shots, rapid single shots at 200 rounds per minute or at a maximum burst rate of 1,000 rounds per minute with an effective range of 4,000 meters. In addition, it can be fitted with a launcher for two FIM-92 Stinger or Mistral missiles and in the future MBDA’s Enforcer Small Anti-Drone Missile (SADM).

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Skyranger employs an integrated sensor suite, consisting of an AMMR multipurpose radar operating in the S-band, equipped with five antennas to provide complete 360-degree coverage for detecting aerial targets out to 20 kilometres and Rheinmetall’s FIRST passive target detection system, which identifies small targets without emitting a radar signature out to 5 kilometres

This new vehicle, if it becomes a reality, could potentially replace older mobile air defense systems such as the Gepard anti-aircraft gun, which is also based on the Leopard chassis, or other less advanced short-range air defense (SHORAD) systems for which this new gun outperforms in every aspect.

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