TechUkraine hails new German-sourced Gepard ammunition as effective defense against Iranian and Russian threats

Ukraine hails new German-sourced Gepard ammunition as effective defense against Iranian and Russian threats

Gepard system somewhere in Ukraine.
Gepard system somewhere in Ukraine.
Images source: © Getty Images | Libkos
9:55 AM EST, February 11, 2024

Initially, Germany encountered considerable difficulties in supplying ammunition for the Gepard sets. The former supplier, the Swiss section of the Rheinmetall Air Defense conglomerate, was constrained by a Swiss ban on exporting ammunition to Ukraine. This led the Germans to source an alternative supplier in Norway. Concurrently, they initiated the construction of a new factory, which commenced production in the second half of 2023.

The recently inaugurated factory specializes in producing a different type of ammunition than that manufactured by the Norwegian company, Nammo. Nammo produces SAPHEI-T (armor-piercing with explosive charge, trailing, and incendiary) and HEI-T (shrapnel-incendiary with trailing) ammunition.

In Germany, the production of sub-caliber APDS-T (armor-piercing with sub-caliber gyroscopically stabilized projectile with tracer) ammunition was launched. This new type of ammunition has been particularly well-received by Ukrainians. The APDS-T not only counters airborne targets but also combats armored vehicles. Ukrainians appreciate its higher muzzle velocity, which aids in engaging targets, and its advanced anti-armor capabilities compared to ammunition from earlier supplies.

How APDS-T Ammunition Outperforms SAPHEI-T and HEI-T: A Single Variable Makes a Huge Difference

APDS-T rounds differ significantly from SAPHEI-T and HEI-T varieties. They do not contain a traditional bullet with a penetrator or an exploding-incendiary charge. Instead, they contain a tungsten penetrator shaped like an arrow with a diameter smaller than the barrel caliber. This penetrator is housed in a sabot, an aluminum or polymer casing that fits the barrel diameter and disintegrates after the round is fired.

Before exiting the barrel, both the traditional and the sub-caliber projectiles behave similarly. However, after leaving the barrel, the sub-caliber projectile, being lighter and encountering less air resistance, achieves a much higher velocity. For the Gepard system, the muzzle speed of SAPHEI-T and HEI-T ammunition is approximately 3871 ft/s, whereas for sub-caliber ammunition, it reaches 4724 ft/s.

In the case of a direct hit, targets are damaged solely by the kinetic energy of the tungsten arrow. However, there are versions of this kind of ammunition available on the market that, after penetrating the first barrier, have a core that breaks down into smaller fragments. The FAPDS-T ammunition produced by the Polish company Mesko, which contains a rotating sub-caliber projectile with a fragmenting core and tracer, is an example of this.

One primary advantage of the sub-caliber ammunition used in the Gepard systems, apart from rapid target engagement due to higher muzzle velocity, is the increased range to just above 3.1 miles. This is an improvement compared to traditional methods that reach ranges up to 2.5 miles. This notable enhancement of the Gepard system's capabilities ensures the high accuracy necessary for effectively using this type of ammunition.

The Gepard sets supplied to Ukraine have proven to be among the most cost-effective means of combating targets, with a per-unit shot-down cost of just a few thousand dollars or euros. In contrast, anti-aircraft systems like the RBS-70, Polish Piorun, or FIM-92 Stinger have a shot-down cost of tens of thousands of dollars, while for Patriot systems, it exceeds $1 million per shot.

While these higher costs may be justified when combating advanced targets like airplanes or helicopters, the situation becomes less favorable when shooting down simpler drones like the Iranian Shahed. In this context, the lower shot-down cost offered by the Gepard systems presents a clear advantage.

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