Rheinmetall to modernise South Africa’s air defence capabilities, enabling protection of civilian assets and events

Rheinmetall AG of Düsseldorf has just booked another important order in the field of military air defence. The Republic of South Africa has decided to embark on a modernisation of its existing air defence systems. Including logistics and training services, the complete package is scheduled for completion by 2017.

The modernisation of the SA Army’s twin 35 mm gun air defence artillery falls under a programme designated as Gbads Phase II. Gbads stands for ground based air defence system.

The SA Army currently operates twin 35 mm air defence guns acquired from Rheinmetall ancestor company Oerlikon. Reportedly, the army acquired 169 of these guns, along with 75 Superfledermaus fire control units (FCUs) in 1963. In 1990, 48 of these Mark (Mk) I guns were upgraded to Mk V status and the Superfledermaus FCUs replaced by Italian LPD20 radars.

Among other items, the contract encompasses the supply of Oerlikon Skyshield fire control units, which will substantially improve the performance and accuracy of South Africa’s current twin-gun systems as well as significantly expanding the operational spectrum of its air defence capabilities. In this context, a number of guns will also be retrofitted with upgrade kits to accommodate Rheinmetall’s state-of-the-art Ahead airburst ammunition.


Oerlikon Skyshield® is an all-weather short-range air defence system for protecting high-value assets

Each Ahead shell is composed of 152 tungsten spin-stabilised sub-projectiles, which, when released, form a cone-shaped metal cloud, placed so that the target, whether aircraft, missile or bomb, flies into it and is destroyed. Each shell knows when to detonate because its electronic timer is programmed, as it leaves the barrel, by an electromagnetic inductor in the gun muzzle. These inductors are fitted to the Mk VII guns.

The new Skyshield technology will enable the South African armed forces to protect sensitive installations such as the House of Parliament, power plants, stadiums and other critical military and civilian assets from a wide array of aerial threats, including asymmetric terrorist-type attacks. Because Skyshield air defence systems can be transported without much effort, they can basically be deployed anywhere depending on the evolving threat situation. Ever since the 1980s, South Africa has fielded air defence technology from the former Oerlikon Contraves, which Rheinmetall took over in 1999.

Rheinmetall is one of the world’s leading makers of sophisticated short-range air defence systems. In the field of gun-supported air defence it is the market leader as in fire control technology, anti-aircraft guns, integrated guided missile launchers and Ahead airburst ammunition.

Rheinmetall AG, through its Rheinmetall Waffe Munition subsidiary, owns 51% of South African company Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM). No details of any offsets or of any involvement by RDM in the programme have yet been released.