C-RAM (counter rocket artillery mortar) hard kill technology is on the wish lists of Western forces and first examples are in use - but how much is it worth?

Let's first look back and get the historical picture:

The first missile kill (air defense firing at munitions instead of against the launcher systems; aircraft) happened probably in 1943 when German Hs 293 anti-ship missiles were used against allied groups of destroyers in the Atlantic. The first confirmed missile kills that I'm sure about happened in 1944 when British AAA downed many V-1 (Fi 103) - the mother of all cruise missiles - over South-East England. That was the beginning of the shift from anti-aircraft to anti-munitions air defense.

Another milestone was achieved in late WW2 - 1943 or later - when Allied radar operators were able to see battleship's main gun shells (14-16") on radar screens. That was the first radar detection of gun shells. Regular mortar locating radars that measured the external ballistics of enemy mortars appeared late in the Korean War as far as I know. Artillery gun shells of normal calibers (3-6") were difficult to track for artillery locating purposes due to their velocity, aspect angles, ballistic path and lack of fins (which are good radar reflectors on mortar bombs and artillery rockets).

The interception of anti-ship missiles became quite common in the 60's an 70's (at least on firing ranges), but it took till the early 80's or late 70's for the next true milestone; a reported kill of a 114mm cannon shell (British naval gun caliber) by a British SeaWolf missile (British close-range ship defense missile).

The THEL laser system was used against munitions since 1996 (first test), but this quite immobile high-tech approach - apparently a late offspring of SDI - was apparently a dead end for C-RAM.

The next milestone had to wait till the Iraq War 2003-? when a Phalanx CIWS-based C-RAM system "Centurion" was used to intercept mortar bombs for base protection. The Phalanx system was a six barrel gatling gun with integrated sensors, originally meant and procured as last ditch defense against Soviet anti-ship missiles.

Comparable systems are under development: The Israelis consider missiles, the Germans a 35mm system (first graphic), for example.
The Afghanistan/Iraq wars also finally brought us a necessary improvement in the area of counter-mortar radars; 360° surveillance, a feature that most such radars lack due to the probably too linear front-thinking of the Cold War.

Now we're finally in the present again, so what will C-RAM mean for us in the future?

Will it be a general C-RAM defense like the navies have a general anti-missile defense with little tolerance for failure?

Will C-RAM only be able to counter old RAM munitions, being countered by new munition designs (insensitive munitions, low radar cross section designs, guided munitions with evasive movement patterns?)

Will C-RAM be able to provide cover over more than bases, probably as area protection over a battlefield? Or will it remain a point defense?

Will C-RAM be able to cope with saturation attacks?

Will C-RAM be useful as mobile protection, like battlefield air defense vehicles like SPAAG (self-propelled anti-air guns, 'Flakpanzer'?

Will C-RAM be part of the artillery, part of the air defense organization or part of actual line-of-sight ground combat forces?

C-RAM is probably just an impractical boondoggle for conventional warfare, with its niche in small war fort defense.
It's highly interesting, though. C-RAM challenges a fundamental aspect of warfare that began to dominate tactics since the Napoleonic Age; dispersion.

Dispersion in itself is disadvantageous as it is contrary to the requirement to concentrate power to overwhelm an otherwise not inferior opponent. It was and is extremely important as a reaction against otherwise unbearable enemy firepower. Only well-protected armored forces were able to escape the need to disperse, at least till the nuclear age, during their high time in WW2.

Infantry divisions on the attack were in practice two dozen infantry platoons advancing on a broad front, fighting their own platoon-level mini-battles quite individually. An armored division on the attack was a much more concentrated, powerful and almost irresistible force.

C-RAM technology could - if it works well enough - give us back the ability to concentrate, remove some of the need to disperse - it could be extremely important and turn brigades into cohesive packages of combat power instead of the dispersed, loose organizations they're today. C-RAM could change the face of conventional ground war. IF C-RAM turns out to be capable enough to really stand up against enemy rocket, howitzer and mortar firepower in conventional war, teaming up with counterfires to protect against enemy indirect fires.

C-RAM might be as revolutionary as the combination of armor plating, internal combustion engine and guns once was - or it's just a niche application.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: That b/w photo wasn't my first choice. I was too unlucky and wasn't able to find the one that I really wanted as illustration of "concentration"; an insane armour concentration at a staging are in 1940.
Both photos actually show bad tactics anyway, as too much concentration becomes disadvantageous even without opposition of enemy indirect fires.


  1. nice blog site! but on the subject of C-RAM and future warfare, i kinda and politely disagree. you forgot the one munition that will defeat that weapon system by sheer numbers and without much effort-cluster bombs or munitions that carry the bomblets. unless a laser with a "star trek" like recharge time is developed then dispersal will be the mode of operation for the foreseeable future.

  2. Cargo munitions must not release their submunition early or else they won't hit the target zone. It should be possible to intercept cargo munitions before that point.

    I don't know about the effect of hard kill on cargo munitions before release, though.

  3. As far as I know, Oerlikon is still busy trying to fing a solution to the problem of how to kill an artillery shell (depending on the fuze). It works fine on Mortars and Rockets, but the 152 subprojectiles with 3.3 g each per round are (still) to small to destroy / disable an art shell. Oerlikon said that they will be able to solve that problem in near future (probably with larger subprojectiles). The threat of submunition like bomblets is obviously there, but C-RAM is a good choice when it comes to protecting field camps. Mortars and the 122s of the Taliban do not use bomblets (to my knowledge)... And to be quite honest, I dont know what happens when the fuze of an art shell is destroyed, does it still disperse its submunition??

  4. Shyshield doesn't use the standard Ahead shell, it uses different submunitions than the 3.3 gram tungsten cylinders.
    I suspect they turned to something that's incindiary to set off the explosives in the target.

    The standard cylinders would fall back to earth like AK74 bullets and could kill if they hit an unprotected head.
    That's acceptable for air defence in major wars, but would create huge no-fire zones in camp defence in Afghanistan.

  5. These weapons are fine for countering small attacks by insurgents, but I doubt they'll be useful in a conventional conflict with dozens or hundreds of rounds falling within a very short time frame.

  6. We'll see. Consider C-RAM as last-ditch defence as CIWS on ships.
    The outer layer of naval defence has its counterpart in the counter-artillery/mortar fires.

    It might not work unless the own side has several other advantages, but it might be large enough to plug the defence gap that other capabilities left open.
    Perfection is not necessary anyway; this is about warfare, after all. Shit happens in war. That's part of the enemy's plan.

    We'll see (regrettably) if it works in one of the next major conventional wars.

  7. Please take a look at the sample cost calculation that put some questionmarks on a C-RAM solution for camp protection (in German).

    Section: "SKYSHIELD: billig" vom 13. Feb 2009


  8. I know this, it's one of the still relatively few meaningful sources about C-RAM.

    The cost comparison uses a wrong approach, though. The costs of incoming and defending munitions can be compared, but it doesn't tell enough about the utility of hard kill. It merely tells a bit about the prospects of saturation attacks.

    A proper appraisal needs to be more complex. It needs to take into account
    - the disabling effects on the enemy
    - the enabling effects on the own forces
    - the value of protection it offers
    - the burden on the own forces
    - the costs
    - the efficiency of alternative uses for manpower, logistical capacity and funds

    Saturation is a problem for every defence, but not easy to accomplish.

  9. The whole concept of protecting the troops of incoming rounds is pretty new to the bundeswehr. So C-RAM, as promising as it may sound, has only one task right now. Protecting a field camp! When it comes to protecting troops in the field, on the move, in a regular (whatever that is) battlefield, C-RAM can only be one small part in a protective system. Incoming rounds can be countered by counter battery fire (takes the shooter out for good), taking out the sensor (f.e. the JFSTeam) or taking out the shell itself. There are for expample a few (soft kill) systems that target the proximity fuze of art shells and detonate them way beyond their effective range, by telling the fuze it has reached the target. Or even Active Protection Systems for individual vehicles. C-RAM cannot be the only solution to a new problem that didnt exist before the system was available. C-RAM gives the troops some kind of IOC for protection, but since "protection" (against artillery) was never quite a topic other than "more armour", it is just one part of a possible future protective system. Question is: is the bundeswehr officially interrested in such a system of systems... Looking at what the bundeswehr is buying in the next couple of years, i dont see the "warfighterneeds" as a top priority. As long as it does its job in AFG, thats fine! Conventional warfare is another topic and a single system will never achive perfection when doing its job, there will always be ways to counter it. So I totally agree with S. Ortmann: shit happens in war. And the discussion of where and how to protect th soldiers just started. Would be a shame if it already stopped with C-RAM as the "best solution".

  10. C-RAM is a "colonial" weapon.
    It can be useful in a colonial war, when your adverary is firing a couple of rocket or mortar bombs at a long interval (like in Iraq or Palestine or Afghanistan).
    But against a decent adversary it's almost useless.
    It can be saturated too easily (and cheaply). Think about the BM-21/Grad, which has 40 122mm tubes. A battery with 6 BM-21 will launch 240 rockets at the same time: the C-RAMs will be saturated and the force they defend will be slaughtered.
    But Talibans and Hamas don't have batteries of BM-21, even if this a very simple and cheap weapon, one that almost every _nation_ can built in quatities.
    Colonial weapons for colonial wars.

  11. BM-21 is an exceptionally quick-firing MRL with firing intervals of IIRC only 0.5 sec.
    That's still a long shot from 6 MRL firing 240 rockets "at once".
    The firing intervals of many other and especially longer-ranged MRLs (and BM-21 in a more accurate mode) look more like 2 sec.

    Let's assume 3 sec per intercept and 50% missing rockets (due to dispersion). That's about one C-RAM neutralizing one MRL that fires on the unit.

    Now assume that C-RAM is really just part of the protection.

    You can use camouflage, deception, jamming, counter-reconnaissance, preventive fires, counterfire, soft kill, reactive armour, passive armour and damage control (fire extinguishers) to mitigate indirect fire effects.

    C-RAM as of today is indeed an occupation fort defence only.
    I speculated about its long-term potential and the trends from air and naval warfare tell me that the principle is an important one.

  12. "I speculated about its long-term potential and the trends from air and naval warfare tell me that the principle is an important one."
    The problem I see moving from naval warfare to ground warfare is that "numbers" are quite different, and makes the concept or C-RAMs quite doubtful, for me (outside of colonial warfare). Missiles launched against a ship are counted in ones, rockets launched against a mech battalion/company are counted in tens or hundreds. There can be a niche for C-RAMs, such as defending high value targets (the usual C4ISAR assets) from long range artillery; a widespread diffusion of these systems is of doubtful utility. The cost factor is awful: using a weapon with a price tag of some millions against weapons that are two order of magnitude cheaper.

    Another note: C-RAMs is a technological answer to a tactical problem. Which problem? That someone is firing a mortar or MRL at you. What are the possible solutions? Counterbattery fire, infantry assault, etc. Each of these (tactical) solution is not effective or usable in current (colonial) wars, for a number of reason. So comes the C-RAMs.
    My guess is that it's not a solution.
    Regards from Italy

  13. It's certainly not easy, and no safe bet.

    Most tactical responses aren't sufficient (counterfire against shoot&scoot or MRL can be ineffective - or becomes sophisticated enough to fail the KISS test).

    The tactical response of dispersion comes at a such a high price (lack of concentration and its advantages) that I'd like it to go away.
    It's not always possible anyway. The Russians couldn't have dispersed much in South Ossetia because they had only one road to choose from.

    The necessity of quantity to saturate already forces the enemy to pay a high price in its own: Logistical and fiscal problems.
    Plans for firing few high-value guided RAM munitions to defeat entire battalions are bound to fail if a C-RAM defence needs to be overcome by saturation.

    It's certainly a complicated topic for operational analysis and we won't know for sure until maybe 2030.

  14. I count on Israel to evaluate these systems under realistic conditions.