“A jointly developed air defense system (…) would also be a security gain for Europe as a whole, and an outstanding example of what we mean when we talk about strengthening the European pillar within NATO,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a speech at Charles University in Prague in the summer of 2022. With these words, he paved the way for the European Sky Shield Initiative. In this article, we explain what’s behind it exactly:
The European Sky Shield Initiative, or ESSI, aims to strengthen European air defense. This is because many European states have identified capability gaps in protecting against air attacks and lack sufficient technical equipment. The war of aggression in Ukraine changed the perception of the threat, with the result being that there is now an increased focus on the expansion of integrated air and missile defense, for example against enemy drones, missiles, and aircraft.
How did it come to this?
On October 13, 2022, 15 European nations signed the agreement on the European Sky Shield Initiative at NATO headquarters in Brussels. This also included Germany. In the meantime, a total of 19 countries have joined the initiative. The air defense systems will be acquired, operated, and maintained jointly in order to create synergies and reduce procurement costs through higher unit numbers.
How does a protective shield work?
An effective protective shield consists of several systems with different ranges that build on each other, are interconnected, and span across the protected area like a dome. One system has several components; in the case of Patriot, for example, this means a multi-radar unit that detects objects in the airspace, a fire control station and launcher for firing guided missiles, and a power generation unit and radio relay troops. Notable in this context is that VINCORION has been reliably supplying the power unit for Patriot’s radar system and launcher for decades.
Which systems does Germany plan to procure?
The German government has particularly identified capability gaps in short to medium-range and long-range ballistic missile defense. It intends to quickly remedy this situation with systems that are already available on the market and have been thoroughly tested in the field:
Iris-T SLM for medium ranges: The system from German manufacturer Diehl Defence is currently demonstrating its capabilities under real combat conditions in Ukraine. With a range of up to 40 kilometers, it defends against drones, helicopters, aircraft, and cruise missiles. The energy supply plays a crucial role in ensuring that the systems function reliably. VINCORION supplies the power supply unit for IRIS-T’s rocket launcher.
Patriot for long ranges: The German armed forces are already using the US Patriot system. The manufacturer intends to maintain its capabilities through 2048 and beyond and plans to modernize the system as part of the European Sky Shield Initiative. Equipped with a variety of guided missiles, Patriot can hold its own against large unmanned systems, cruise missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles with a range of up to 68 kilometers. As a long-standing partner of manufacturer RTX (Raytheon), VINCORION supplies power units for Patriot radars and launchers worldwide.
Arrow-3 for extremely long ranges: To date, there is also a gap in the defense against long and medium-range missiles that fly at high altitudes. To this end, Germany plans to procure the Arrow-3 system, which was jointly developed by Israel and the United States. It can intercept enemy missiles even outside the atmosphere at a distance of up to 2,400 kilometers. The German government signed a letter of intent to purchase it at the end of September 2023, and it is expected to be operational by 2025.
What You Need to Know About the European Sky Shield Initiative
VINCORION, a technology company based in Wedel near Hamburg, Germany, is supplying power for the most advanced air defense system: The IRIS-T SLM system receives its modules for power supply from Wedel, in the current as well as the coming year, as VINCORION announces. The manufacturer of IRIS-T SLM is the company Diehl Defence from Überlingen, which acts as general contractor and system integrator.
“For us, this is a very important order. Since the turn of the times, there has been a lot of talk about IRIS-T SLM,” says Dr. Stefan Stenzel, VINCORION’s managing director. “We are proud to be able to offer a modern energy supply for IRIS-T SLM. However, it is also an important concern for us to be able to contribute to the development of a new European air defense in the medium term.”
Protection for a major City
IRIS-T SLM and other current air defense systems complement each other. Diehl Defence’s system is used for medium-range missions – for example, to build up a protective screen over a major city. The system can then engage jets, helicopters, short-range missiles, drones and guided missiles at ranges of up to 40 kilometers.
VINCORION’s components are called the EVM or, in English, PSM (“power supply module”). This module is responsible for the complete power supply of the launcher, i.e. for all components that require a power supply. This includes the launcher’s rotation system, the weapon computer or the heating system. The system can achieve a continuous output of 10 kilowatts.
The modules are a new development, VINCORIONs product specialists report, made specifically for IRIS-T SLM. The plant’s diesel generator is not comparable to older systems, because it can be much smaller at high power.
VINCORION Advanced Systems GmbH
22880 Wedel, Germany
Phone: +49 4103 60-2250
After Russia invaded Ukraine, numerous countries – including Germany – began to discuss the possibility of acquiring a missile defense system. At a NATO meeting in October, fourteen other countries committed to jointly strengthening European air defense and closing existing gaps within the framework of the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI). But how does such a shield work? And what technologies are NATO’s proven defense systems, such as the Patriot and Arrow 3 systems, built on? In this article, we provide the answers.
How does a protective shield work?
An effective protective shield consists of several systems with different ranges that build on each other, are interconnected, and span across the protected area like a dome. In a given airspace, a radar detects all moving objects, such as aircraft, missiles, and drones. If any hostile contact is detected, a defensive missile is launched. This missile’s flight path can be continuously adjusted in conjunction with the radar until it finally hits the flying object and renders it harmless.
What role does the power supply play in this?
The challenge is to always supply just as much power as is needed. Defense systems rely on increasingly high-performance components, such as the latest generation of LTAMDS radar or complete protective shields that are capable of expanding and being linked with each other via plug-and-fight features. At the same time, there is a demand for resource-friendly components. As a result, emissions, fuel consumption, and thus operating costs need to be kept as low as possible. Hybrid systems can offer valuable benefits in this respect, as they can be operated in stationary mode connected to the grid and are therefore more efficient.
Did you know?
VINCORION supplies power for the Patriot radar system and missile launcher and the IRIS-T launcher.
Which defense systems does NATO currently have deployed?
Patriot (current version: Patriot PAC-3 MSE) is one of the best-known defense systems. It has been on the market since the 1980s and is continuously being advanced by manufacturer Raytheon. Patriot guided missiles can engage up to five targets, such as ballistic missiles, simultaneously. Patriot is available in different ranges. The version currently in use by the German Armed Forces has a range of 70 kilometers. Ukraine recently asked the US government to supply it with a Patriot system – the decision is still pending.
THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is a US system used by the US and the United Arab Emirates. With an average range of about 200 kilometers, THAAD can stop missiles in the final stages of their flight.
IRIS-T is still a relatively new addition to the market. The German defense system uses field-tested missiles, however, based on an earlier development for the Eurofighter. IRIS-T can engage jets, helicopters, short-range missiles, drones, and guided missiles with a range of up to 40 kilometers. The first of these systems was recently delivered to Ukraine, and three more are to follow in the course of 2023. Future deployment by the German Armed Forces is likely.
Arrow 3 has an extremely long flight range, and can intercept long-range and medium-range missiles. The defense system has proven to be very flexible, and is engineered to destroy enemy missiles via direct hits. Development began back in 1986 in Israel with support from the United States. Germany is currently planning to acquire Arrow 3 for the outer part of the protective shields, which are designed like domes.
SAMP/T has been in use since 2002. It is manufactured in France and Italy. The defense system can be equipped with different missiles that reach a range of between 30 and 120 kilometers (Aster 15 and Aster 30, respectively). The missiles are smaller than those used by the Patriot system.
NASAMS is not only used in Lithuania and the Netherlands, the United States is also supporting Ukraine with the defense system. One unit has already been delivered there, with up to seven more to follow. The current version, NASAMS 3, achieves a range of up to 50 kilometers. It can be coupled with Patriot, which is intended for longer ranges.
S-300 and S-400 are currently deployed by Russia in its war of aggression. NATO studies certified that the systems had lower hit rates than Patriot. In recent missile attacks, this system has achieved intercept rates of up to 50 percent. Ukraine also has the S-300 with a range of 75 to 100 km. This defense system recently made headlines when an errant missile caused an explosion in southeastern Poland.
The protection of major cities and settlements, energy plants, or infrastructure against threats from the air is the subject of controversial debate. Especially since the intensified Russian missile attacks on Ukraine, the question of what defense systems can do—and which ones are deployed in Germany—has become pressing. On the fringes of the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, 14 European countries and Germany have just signed the “Letter of Intent” to establish a European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) for air defense—because Germany has some catching up to do in defending itself against threats from the air and space. The technology company VINCORION from Wedel near Hamburg, itself a supplier of power for defense systems, provides an overview.
These Systems Are in Use in NATO
“An effective protective shield consists of several systems that build on each other, are linked, and span like a dome,” explains Dr. Stefan Stenzel, managing director of VINCORION. The best-known defense system is “Patriot” from the manufacturer Raytheon, which has been on the market since the 1980s and is constantly being further developed. The current version is “Patriot PAC-3 MSE.” The Patriot guided missile can engage up to five targets simultaneously, such as ballistic missiles, which it hits directly. There are versions with different ranges available. As Patriot is continuously improved, it will be in service beyond 2040.
“Energy supply plays a major role in the modernization and adaptation to current defense scenarios, as more and more powerful components are being used,” says Stefan Stenzel. “This is the case, for example, in the design of new radars such as the LTAMDS radar, or in the formation of entire protective shields, which are also expected to grow further and be interconnectable via plug-and-fight functionality.” At the same time, he said, resource-saving components are also required, in terms of emissions, but also fuel consumption, and thus deployment costs.
Another system is the U.S. “THAAD” (“Terminal High Altitude Area Defense”), which is deployed at the medium range of around 200 kilometers, by the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates. This system can stop missiles in the final phase of their flight.
The new “IRIS-T SLM” system from Germany has been hitting the headlines, as a first example of this system has just been delivered to Ukraine. So far, it has only been deployed in a few countries; it is likely, that the German Bundeswehr will be supplied with it. But the missiles it works with are proven, being based on a development for the Eurofighter. “IRIS-T” can engage jets, helicopters, short-range missiles, drones, and guided missiles with a range of up to 40 kilometers.
For the outer part of the protective shields, which build up like domes, Germany plans to acquire the Israeli “Arrow 3” system, which can intercept long- and medium-range missiles. Development began with the “Arrow” in 1986 in Israel with U.S. participation. The new “Arrow 3” is considered to be very flexible; enemy missiles are to be destroyed by direct hits. The protective shield of the new “European Sky Shield Initiative” could consist of three systems: “IRIS-T”, “Patriot,” and “Arrow 3.”
France and Italy manufacture the “SAMP/T” system, which has been operational since 2002. The defense system can be equipped with different missiles, which reach a range between 30 kilometers[AG1] (“Aster 15”) and up to 120 kilometers (“Aster 30”). The missiles are smaller than those of the “Patriot” system.
The U.S. now supplies the “NASAMS” system to Ukraine, which is built in Norway and the U.S. It can be coupled with “Patriot”, which is intended for the longer ranges. Currently, the “NASAMS 3” system reaches a range of up to 50 kilometers. In Europe, this system is used as a protective shield, for example, by Lithuania and the Netherlands.
These Systems Also Exist
The Israeli industry is also a leader, producing “David’s Sling” (up to 160 kilometers) and the “Iron Dome” (up to 17 kilometers), for example, which are two very advanced defense systems. However, they are not supplied to Ukraine.
On the Russian side, the S-300 and S-400 systems are in use, whose hit rates have performed less well in NATO studies than the Patriot system. Ukraine has the S-300 and achieved intercept rates of up to 50 percent with it in recent missile attacks. It has a range of 75 to 100 kilometers.
In the meantime, Germany planned to develop another system, the “TVLS,” which was based on the “MEADS” project. In 2020, however, the Bundestag passed a resolution halting further development. Other countries that develop and manufacture protective shields are India and China, as well as Taiwan.
How Does a Modern Defense System Work?
A radar looks at the airspace over a given area. It can perform friend/foe detection, which is interpreted. All aircraft are detected, because it not only concerns airplanes, but also missiles and larger drones. If the radar detects enemy contact, the defensive missile is launched. In cooperation with the radar, the missile can also be retargeted until it finally hits the flying object and renders it harmless.
A secure energy supply is essential at all times: VINCORION supplies the energy for the radar system and Patriot’s missile launcher and IRIS-T’s launcher. “What makes it special is the system’s load profile,” explains Stefan Stenzel. Over the course of the mission, he says, there are always special loads for which energy must be provided. Hybrid systems can be significantly more efficient because they allow operation on the grid when a system is stationary. “The challenge is to always provide as much energy as is needed – also an important undertaking from an environmental perspective,” says Stefan Stenzel.
Patriot is transportable, but future systems will also be housed in containers. The modules will have a standard 20-foot transport interface to the carrier vehicle—making logistics easier and the units readily deployable.
“IRIS-T,” for example, consists of three parts: the radar system, command post and missile launcher mounted on trucks. Multiple systems can be coupled to form a more effective protective shield.
What Can Help Ukraine?
Indeed, the IRIS-T equipment seems to be very helpful for Ukraine in the war with Russia. Initially, the first “IRIS-T” has been delivered, and three more are to be added in the course of 2023. However, it is still unclear whether Ukraine will get a “Patriot” system. The Kyiv government has been promoting the delivery of such a system to the U.S.
One unit of the “NASAMS-3” system has been delivered from the U.S., with up to seven more to follow. Concerns about a missile shield falling into Russia’s hands may also play a role in some systems, according to some experts. So far, France and Italy have refused to deliver their systems. However, movement has come into play there: France wants to deliver a system in principle, but is still holding back on details.
However, the systems that will be delivered to Ukraine, be it “IRIS-T” or “NASAMS,” have yet to be produced. Resource-saving components are required for production and operation, not only in terms of emissions, but also in terms of fuel consumption and operating costs. VINCORION benefits from its experience with mobile, hybrid power supply units, such as those it will supply to the German armed forces in the new power generation units SEA.
VINCORION Advanced Systems GmbH
22880 Wedel, Germany
Phone: +49 4103 60-2250