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Posting his thanks on X (formerly Twitter) on 4 January 2024, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made public the delivery of the first of two Skynex air defence systems to the Ukrainian armed forces.

The delivery – a timely one in that it focuses on air defence as a key Ukrainian priority – was supplemented by an undisclosed number of IRIS-T SLM missiles, two more TRML-4D air surveillance radars and other defence equipment.

“The German aid is helping to save lives and restore normal and just peace in Ukraine and throughout Europe more quickly,” Zelensky said.

In its current ‘List of military support services’ Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) has confirmed the delivery and announced the supply of another Skynex system, based on a contract from December 2022. At the time the manufacturer, Rheinmetall, announced that two Skynex air defence systems with an order value of EUR 182 million would be delivered at the beginning of 2024, possibly with additional HX series logistics trucks for a further EUR 12 million.

According to Rheinmetall’s description, Skynex is an open-architecture system that relies on cannon-based air defence and is therefore particularly suitable for close-range protection where guided weapons cannot be effective. The programmable 35 mm Advanced Hit Efficiency And Destruction (AHEAD) ammunition developed by the company for this purpose is significantly cheaper than comparable missile-based systems. Furthermore, it is not possible to influence or even deflect the 35 mm ammunition through electronic countermeasures. The successes of the Gepard 35 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft gun system in Ukraine underline the efficiency with which cannon-based air defences can protect against air attack, especially in relation to cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

According to Rheinmetall, the Skynex concept separates air surveillance and effectors. This means that the required resources can be connected to the command-and-control system depending on the mission. Both radar systems from various manufacturers and a large number of effectors can be integrated into the system, provided a dedicated tracking unit is available.

The Skynex system essentially consists of the powerful Oerlikon Revolver Gun Mk3 with tracking radar and the Oerlikon X-TAR3D tactical acquisition radar, which are controlled via the Oerlikon Skymaster battle management system. The subsystems are integrated on all-terrain HX trucks with swap-body systems for Ukraine. By integrating additional sensors and effectors such as surface-to-air missiles, as well as the means to use active and passive electronic warfare and future high-energy lasers, the open and modular system can be expanded into a highly effective, multi-layered protective shield against a broad spectrum of air threats, Rheinmetall states. It could thus provide the necessary response to future Russian missile and UAV saturation attacks.

The Oerlikon Revolver Gun Mk3 with tracking radar from the Skynex system on a 6×6 HX truck at Rheinmetall’s Ochsenboden firing range in Switzerland. (Photo: Rheinmetall)

The second Skynex system is nearing completion at manufacturer Rheinmetall Italia, with its delivery scheduled for the near future.

During his visit to the Skynex production facility in Rome last April, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced his intention to procure further systems and participate in the joint production of components.

“We are working on getting more of these effective air defence systems,” he said. “They will form a reliable protective shield around our strategic infrastructure facilities.”