MSU S: increased short range air defence situational awareness from Rheinmetall

By Paolo Valpolini

Although the Panther MBT took the stage in the Rheinmetall exhibiting area at Eurosatory, calling it booth would definitely be reductive, this was definitely not the only new appearance at the Paris event. Beside heavy armour the Düsseldorf-headquartered company has many other areas in which it is pretty active, one of them being air defence, which core business is based in Switzerland.

Among many AD systems, some of them installed on armoured vehicles, one of the unveilings in Paris was the Multi Sensor Unit S (MSU S), installed over an HX3 6×6 truck, the company proposing it as the next generation sensor unit for systems such as the Oerlikon Skynex.

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During transport the MSU S is totally anonymous as it fits inside a standard ISO 1 D container, the system being therefore 2,991 mm long, 2,438 mm wide and 2,438 mm high. Inside the container we find a generator that provides electric power for all functions, however when stationary the MSU S can of course be linked to an external power source. The container is divided in two sections, the one where the generator and the electronic cabinet are located, and that hosting the structure fitted with the sensors, which is raised when the MSU S is deployed, which has a square section. The system can work remaining on top of the truck, if frequent redeployments are required, unloaded on the ground using a crane or a palletised loading system, or it can be integrated i.e. into an armoured vehicle to obtain a fully mobile system. When deployed, the first operation is the opening of the two hatches to allow the scissor mechanism to lift the sensors. The system allows raising the top sensor at 5.67 meters from the floor, to which we must add the height of the truck flatbed if the MSU S remains on the transport vehicle. Set-up time is under 20 minutes, while start-up time is less than 10 minutes.

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Sensors are installed on a flat top octagonal pyramidal structure, the main one being the 3D Oerlikon AESA Multi Mission Radar (Oerlikon AMMR) announced in early April, purposely developed by Rheinmetall Italia for SHORAD/VSHORAD applications. The MSU S is fitted with four AMMRs in the single tile staring configuration, which have a 550×380 mm antenna with a mass of 25 kg such, each module covering ±45° in azimuth. The four AESA antennas thus providing full 360° coverage and are installed on the structure, which has an angle of around 70° from horizontal, allowing an elevation coverage of –5° up to +70°. The S-band radar has a detection range of over 20 km on a 1 m2 RCS air target, data provided by the company showing an over 12 km detection range against hovering helicopters, 10 km against missiles and 5 km  against RAM targets and micro-UAS. The AMMR can track while scan up to 150 targets, with 40 high priority targets. Once a target has been detected, the electro-optical tracking head installed on top of the structure is used to automatically verify and classify the approaching threat thanks to Artificial Intelligence algorithms. The 2-axis stabilised head hosts a cooled MWIR HD thermal camera with three fields of view (FoV), narrow (1.3°), middle (4.6°) and wide (21.8°) as well as a Full HD TV day camera, black and white or colour depending on customer choice, with a continuous zoom allowing a FoV of 1° to 30°. The optronic head also contains a Class 1/1M eye safe laser rangefinder with a 5 Hz repetition rate and a maximum range of 20 km. The optronic tracker is optimised for air targets and rotates on 360° with an elevation arc of –5°/+85°.

Beside the aforementioned sensors, the MSU S can also be fitted with an e-scan IFF for identification of friend and foe, which flat antennas would be installed on the octagonal crown over the radar antennas. A passive electro-optical search module based on an array of fixed cameras with a –1°/+25° elevation coverage is offered as option, an X- or Ku-band tracking radar being also proposed as an add-on solution.

The prototype seen at Eurosatory was nearly in the final configuration, the skirt  used for environmental and visual protection of the scissor lift system being an interim solution.

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The MSU S is an unmanned module, and is linked to the command and control element via fibre-optic, up to 1.5 km distance, or via secure radio link. It is part of Rheinmetall’s Skynex air defence system, which main effector is currently the Oerlikon Revolver Gun Mk3 using AHEAD ammunition. Alternatively the GDF009 TREO 35 mm twin gun can be used, while in perspective the SkyKnight missile and high-energy laser might also become part of the kill chain, missiles availability being forecasted in 2025. The Skynex in the form presented in Paris is currently in development at Rheinmetall; according to information obtained by EDR On-Line, the first production units of the MSU S will be available in the second half of 2024.

Photos by P. Valpolini

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