Germany To Give IRIS-T Air Defense System To Ukraine

Germany will send Ukraine advanced IRIS-T SLM surface-to-air missile systems, as well as rocket launchers and tracking radars to detect enemy howitzers, mortars and artillery, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced today.

“The government has decided to deliver the IRIS-T system, the most modern air defense system Germany has,” Scholz said in a speech to the German parliament, according to a translation by the German news site DW. “This will enable the Ukrainian government to defend entire cities from Russian missile attacks.”

Manufacturer Diehl Defence says the IRIS-T SL guided missile at the heart of the system can hit targets up to 25 miles away at altitudes of up to more than 12 miles. That would add much-needed capabilities to an aging Soviet-era air defense arsenal Ukraine has already used to great effect to prevent Russia from achieving air superiority. You can read much more about this system in our initial reporting that Germany was considering sending it to Ukraine.

Scholz also promised to deliver “state-of-the-art radar systems that can locate enemy mortars and artillery. This is a decision we’ve made which will ensure the safety of Ukraine with the most modern of weapons.”

In addition, Scholz said Berlin would send multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine in close coordination with the United States, according to DW

“Ukrainian officials have said these systems would not be used to target Russian territory,” DW reported Wednesday morning. “German news outlet DPA reported that Berlin plans to send four of the launchers to Ukraine, with the US training Ukrainian soldiers to use the systems.”

DW did not specify which radar or launcher systems Scholz referred to.

However, the German news agency Tagesspiegel reported Wednesday that Germany will send Ukraine “four MARS II multiple rocket launchers from the Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann armaments group from its own stocks.” 

Germany’s MARS II multiple launch rocket system is reportedly headed to Ukraine. (Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann photo.)

According to Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann (KMW), the MARS II system can fire a variety of projectiles, with a maximum combat range of about 43 miles for its Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.

“In addition to unguided rockets, the [European Fire Control System[ of the MARS II/MLRS-E – can currently fire the two GMLRS variants UNITARY (warhead) and SMArt (Sensor-fused Munition Artillery),” the company states on its website. These are the same M30 and M31 guided rockets used by the American HIMARS and MLRS systems. MARS and the upgraded MARS II are German-specific versions of U.S.-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). “Further GMLRS munitions types are currently in development,” KMW’s site adds.

Like the American M270, the MARS II system consists of a tracked rocket launcher that can be loaded with up to 12 rockets at a time.

Tagesspiegel cited “government circles” as the source of the information, adding that “Scholz had not previously mentioned this explicitly in his speech to the Bundestag, since a corresponding agreement with the USA was reached at very short notice.”

The news organization did not provide a timeline for delivery.

When contacted by The War Zone, Marine Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, deferred questions about the MARS II system to German officials. We asked the German government for comment and will update this story if they respond.

We also reached out directly to KMW to find out more about plans to deliver the MARS II system to Ukraine. We will update this story if they respond.

The IRIS-T system is arguably Germany’s most advanced surface-to-air weapon. Diehl Defence, which makes the IRIS-T air defense system, told The War Zone it is looking into the issue.

Germany promised that the IRIS-T SLM air defense system will be delivered to Ukraine. (Diehl Defence photo).

“As far as the Chancellor’s statement this morning is concerned, we are looking at a subject that the Federal Government has to decide on,” David Voskuhl, a spokesman for Diehl Defence, which manufactures the IRIS-T system told The War Zone Wednesday morning.

Voskuhl declined further comment, citing “confidentiality reasons.”

While these systems are quite advanced and provide a highly flexible air defense capability out to medium ranges, depending on the variant, they are in limited supply. It isn’t clear how many units would be available to send and if those units would be diverted from an existing customer’s order, such as the one from Egypt, or not.

“It will take a while, months,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told lawmakers, according to Reuters, adding the system, made by arms manufacturer Diehl, had indeed initially been intended for “another country.”

Regardless, the pledge of IRIS-T SLM to Ukraine would signify the most advanced surface-to-air missile system headed to the country yet.

Scholz’s announcement comes on the heels of a promise by U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday to deliver “more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield.” That same day, a senior U.S. official briefing reporters ahead of a more formal announcement scheduled to occur today further confirmed that the weapon systems in question were M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

As Russia is pressing its advance in the Donbas, Ukrainian requests for longer-range fires have grown more urgent.

“We appreciate U.S assistance which increases our capabilities to defend our country,” a Ukraine official told The War Zone Wednesday morning.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.