Air defense guns have been a controversial weapon in the past, as the guns could not cope effectively with fast, highly maneuvering targets. Yet, with the introduction of slow but illusive UAVs, military forces are wiping the dust from their old cannons, in hope they will be effective against this new threat. Merging trends including new types ammunition, cannons with higher firing accuracy and better command and control are turning these evolving trends into reality.
Thales is developing a new air defense cannon designed to counter small targets including fighter aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), cruise missiles and aerial guided munitions. The self-propelled gun is part of a comprehensive family of products addressing five different pillars of the air defense domain. The new gun dubbed ‘RAPIDFire’ is developed by Thales, Nexter and the Anglo-French joint venture company CTA, providing the 40mm cannon and its unique cased telescoped ammunition. Nexter is developing a dedicated Anti-Aerial Air Burst (AA-AB) projectile designed specifically for the air-defense application, adding to existing armor piercing and high explosive rounds. The new gun went through French Air Force testing in 2011, demonstrating good results. The new ammunition is currently in development, with follow-on testing scheduled for later in 2012.
The new projectile contains a load of tungsten pellets dispersed by a time fuse few seconds after firing (equivalent to range). The scattered pellets create a lethal cloud of steel likely to destroy the target as it flies into it. The unmanned turret mounts the gun, ammunition feed and electro-optical multi-sensor payload providing the target acquisition for RAPIDFire. This system can spot a fighter size aircraft at a distance of 30 km and a helicopter target at half that range.
The system receives target information and intercept assignments from an associated CONTROL Master 60 surveillance radar and CONTROL View command and control module, both provided by Thales. This C2 system controls up to six RAPIDFire units simultaneously. To enter firing mode the RAPIDFire vehicle stops and sets up communications link with the control, a task that generally takes about one minute. According to Thales, the gun can open fire within 4.5 seconds from the target detection by the radar.
The gun has an effective range of 4000 meters against aerial targets and 2,500 m against ground targets. While the gun can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, only one to ten rounds would be required to take out a target. Augmenting the gun, the turret can also carry up to six Starstreak air defense missiles.
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