C-RAM Took Down Rockets Near Kabul Airport. Here's How It Works

In use since 2005, C-RAM systems have helped deter attacks from insurgent groups.
Ameya Paleja

Like the Iron Dome served as a reliable defense system in the Gaza conflict, the C-RAM is holding up the fort for the US forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), as evacuations continue on the last of the agreed deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Multiple rockets were fired at the airport from an abandoned car, Forbes reported. But the automated C-RAM system ensured that none hit the intended target and prevented casualties. The attacks were carried out by the extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), which has also claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed US troops as well as Afghan civilians waiting for evacuation at the HKIA.

Designed to counter threats such as rockets, artillery, and mortar (RAM), the C-RAM system is a modified version of the Phalanx Close In-Weapon Systems installed as the defense system on US Navy ships. Like its naval counterpart, the system autonomously detects incoming threats and fires to counter them, before they hit their target. With barely seconds available as response time, the system fires multiple shots at approaching threats, giving it a distinct drill-like sound, something that was heard in Kabul, Military Times reported.

The seamless and highly efficient system is made up of multiple individual components such as Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control (FAAD C2), Land-based Phalanx Weapon Systems (LPWS), Lightweight Counter Mortar Radars (LCMR), Firefinder radars, Air and Missile Defense Workstation (AMDWS), and Multi-Function Radio Frequency Systems (MFRFS). 

The FAAD C2 houses the sensors and warning systems to detect incoming threats and counters them using the onboard weapons systems. The M61A1 20mm Gatling gun, which is the major firing component of the C-RAM uses 20mm HEIT-SD (high-explosive incendiary tracer, self-destructing) ammunition. Capable of firing 4,500 rounds per minute, the Gatling gun sends these tracers rushing towards the incoming threat, making them appear, almost like a laser shot. 

The video below shows a test-fire of the C-RAM that was installed at the HKIA. 

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The tracers are designed to explode on impact and nullify the threat mid-air or simply burn out before hitting the ground. The burnout of the tracers, seen in the video at almost a fixed point, is an in-built mechanism to reduce collateral damage.

Apart from radars, the system also boasts of a thermal imaging system that can help in identifying approaching threats while the Firefinder and counter mortar radars track the shots fired by the Gatling gun. 

The US Army has deployed the C-RAM in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005 and is also supporting their adoption by other NATO allies

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