The IRIS-T SLM air defense system is relatively unknown, but it is far more modern than the USA’s Patriot missiles. The Diehl Defense weapon builds up a protective shield of 40 kilometers that no jet can enter.

The federal government is already supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons. These systems are still in Germany because they are being made technically fit here and the crews are being trained here. For Ukraine, this is a far better deal than if Berlin had delivered the weapons immediately but in “as is” condition.

Now Scholz has announced another “donation”. Ukraine will receive a complete and state-of-the-art air defense system. Berlin thus remains true to the principle of primarily supplying defensive systems. The IRIS system greatly strengthens Ukraine’s air defenses. It’s not an old shopkeeper from the Cold War, but highly modern. It is capable of blocking airspace over an entire region. It can be a big city, but together with the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, it can also provide cover for a Ukrainian corps.

IRIS-T: system of a new generation

IRIS-T SLM was largely developed by the German company Diehl Defence. It was presented for the first time in 2014. Several criteria are noteworthy about the IRIS-T SLM. The first thing to mention is the shape. The air defense is housed in several 60-foot standard containers. In general, there is a trend to house missile weapons in containers. IRIS-T SLM thus works independently of a carrier vehicle. Only light containers need to be transported, for example by plane. They can then be mounted on any truck in the target area. As a result, the system can quickly be used worldwide.

An operational IRIS system consists of at least one launcher with eight missiles each, a 360-degree radar and a command module. It forms a protective bell 25 kilometers high and 40 kilometers in radius.

Development from the Eurofighter

The actual missiles – IRIS-T SL – are a further development of the air-to-air missile of the Eurofighter. They are very new and are considered one of the best short-range anti-aircraft weapons. The weapons of the IRIS-T family can attack an enemy aircraft from any direction, they do not rely on the favorable firing position behind the enemy. A data connection makes it possible to launch the rockets and only assign them a target as they approach. This significantly improves defense against low-flying opponents, because the missile’s sensors can detect the target from above. Even if the battery’s mother radar can’t see the target.

This is a big step for Ukraine’s air defenses. It has since been decimated and is based on the old Soviet-era weapons. For the Russian jets and helicopters, IRIS-T SLM is a deadly opponent.

An air defense always has to be integrated into complex systems. It remains questionable whether Ukraine is still capable of doing this. But it is an open secret that US surveillance planes are providing target data to Ukrainian forces.

However, IRIS-T SL can be switched off. It would be defenseless against ballistic missiles or even hypersonic weapons. In addition, the battery should be protected by a close-range defense such as cheetahs. Otherwise, a swarm of small kamikaze drones could easily overcome the missile defenses.