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Frankenstein vs drones: Hybrid tanks and their potential to strengthen Ukraine's air defense

Frankenstein vs drones: Hybrid tanks and their potential to strengthen Ukraine's air defense Photo: German Frankenstein project, but based on a more modern Leopard 2 tank (

The leading German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall offers Ukraine the Frankenstein anti-aircraft tanks. The concept involves supplying the latest Skyranger 35 system to combat drones and missiles based on the Leopard 1 chassis.

RBC-Ukraine reports on how Frankensteins could enhance Ukraine's air defense capabilities.


Plans or just an idea - What Rheinmetall says

The plan to install the Skyranger 35 combat modules on Leopard 1 tanks was announced by Rheinmetall's Head of Ground Systems, Björn Bernhard.

"We still have many Leopard 1 combat vehicles, on whose chassis we could install the Skyranger turret with a 35mm cannon," he stated in an interview with Bild.

He also clarified that efforts regarding the modification are currently a secondary priority, indicating it's an experimental project at this stage.

It's worth noting that Germany doesn't use the Leopard 1, however, some are kept in storage. The Ukrainian army received over a hundred Leopards, though they haven't seen widespread combat use. The tank was designed with a focus on mobility; it can accelerate up to 62 km/h and has good off-road capabilities.

However, the true strength of the Frankenstein is in the Skyranger artillery turret. The combat module features 360-degree radar, and a 35mm cannon, and can include launchers for anti-aircraft missiles. According to Rheinmetall, this combination will enable the rapid deployment of a highly effective system against Russian drones and missiles in Ukraine.

Frankenstein vs дроны. Что известно о танках-гибридах и как они могут усилить ПВО Украины

Photo: Possible appearance of future Frankenstein on Leopard 1 (

The idea was announced after the launch of an armored vehicle repair shop in the western part of our country. And this fact brings its implementation closer.

"We plan long-term activity in Ukraine. We don't just supply equipment and then withdraw. We show that we will be there permanently and support Ukraine," added Bernhard.

According to military expert Valerii Riabykh, for now, it seems more like an idea than a real plan.

"Previously, we heard about a factory for manufacturing Panthera tanks, now they want to install Skyranger on Leopards. The idea is good, but most likely it's just the testing of this model," he said in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

The main strength of Frankenstein: what is known about the Skyranger combat module

The idea is not new. Rheinmetall is implementing a similar project for Hungary but with the simplified Skyranger 30 module based on the Lynx infantry fighting vehicle. Additionally, there is a project with the Skyranger 35 on the chassis of modern Leopard 2 tanks.

"The Germans want to promote such systems on the market. Essentially, Skyranger is a ready-made combat module with a very high-speed cannon. Additionally, the turret can be equipped with launchers for Stinger or Mistral missiles, which enhance combat effectiveness," noted Riabykh.

It is worth mentioning that the 35mm anti-aircraft gun can fire single shots at a rate of 200 rounds per minute. The maximum rate is up to 1,000 rounds per minute. The effective firing range is 4,000 meters. In addition to the basic gun, the module can also accommodate the lightweight Skyranger 30 with a range of up to 3,000 meters.

The module is equipped with various sensors, including a radar with a target detection radius of up to 30 km, an electro-optical sensor, an infrared camera with a laser ranger, and automatic tracking. Moreover, thanks to the Skymaster command and control system (which includes "friend-or-foe" identification components), it integrates into a broader air defense network.

The high-speed guns are equipped with programmable AHEAD airburst munition, releasing a cloud of submunitions before the target, increasing the probability of hitting.

"This allows to shoot down aerodynamic targets like drones and cruise missiles with minimal expenditure, but at short distances. It's a close-range air defense system for ground troops or specific objects. However, the ability to automatically detect and engage targets due to the Skymaster architecture and shoot them down in a repetitive mode is an advantage," emphasizes the expert.

Earlier reports it was reported about deliveries of Skynex air defense systems from Rheinmetall. There, combat modules are mounted on wheeled trucks, equipped with X-TAR3D radars with a detection range of up to 50 km, a Skymaster control system, and 35mm anti-aircraft turrets (also with AHEAD ammunition) but without anti-aircraft missile integration.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal spoke positively of Skynex, calling them effective weapons against Russian drones. "Such batteries are already on combat duty in Ukraine," he said in April 2023. According to the German government data, two systems have been delivered overall.

New life for Leopard: Why the choice of chassis looks optimal

The choice of Leopard 1 tank as the chassis for Frankenstein seems optimal in terms of compatibility. Ukrainian military already uses German self-propelled anti-aircraft guns Gepard, which are also based on Leopards.

"But there is still a question. There are not many of these chassis left. We were promised to receive about 200 units of Leopard 1, more than a hundred have already been transferred. There are also integration issues to consider, although I think it's not a problem if Skyrangers work as ground modules or are installed on wheeled chassis," believes Valerii Riabykh.

According to recent data, Ukraine could have received at least 135 Leopard 1 tanks from stockpiles in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Additionally, there is information about purchasing a batch from a private dealer in Belgium. Deliveries have been ongoing since at least the summer of 2023, but it looks like they are not often used in combat operations.

This is likely due to their age, insufficient armor protection, and potential issues with obtaining ammunition for the 105mm gun. These factors make the Leopard 1 attractive for conversion into a short-range air defense vehicle, according to the specialized portal The War Zone.

The implementation of the project will depend on the actual needs of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Currently, nothing is known about a contract, and it seems Rheinmetall is promoting it through the media to facilitate negotiations with potential customers, notes Riabykh.

"Negotiations will start if the customer, represented by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, decides that such vehicles are needed exactly on this chassis. This is possible because when ordering, weapon standardization needs to be considered. In theory, Frankenstein could be supplied to units equipped with Leopard 1 tanks. It's too early to talk about volumes now, but it's clear that many such vehicles will be needed," he added.

How Frankenstein could strengthen Ukraine's air defense

Rheinmetall's proposal is noteworthy given the experience of using Gepard self-propelled guns in Ukraine against Russian drones, and in some cases, cruise missiles. In fact, Frankenstein would be an enhanced version capable of firing not only anti-aircraft artillery shells but also anti-aircraft missiles.

Like the Gepard, they could be useful for covering ground troops and stationary objects, Riabykh noted.

"However, it should be noted that these tasks can be addressed by providing the necessary number of portable air defense missile systems, which shoot down targets at much greater distances. One of the main disadvantages of Frankenstein is its limited operational radius," he said.

Nevertheless, the decision will be made after all calculations. If a mass installation of Skyranger on Leopard 1 proves economically feasible, it cannot be ruled out that Frankensteins will appear in Ukraine.

"They can be highly effective in terms of the cost of destroying an enemy target. To shoot down one drone, up to three programmable AHEAD ammunition shells costing several thousand euros may be required. At the same time, the cost of one Stinger missile is $120,000 to $150,000," the expert added.

Sources: information from open sources, materials from Bild, the specialized portal The War Zone, and comments from Defense Express military expert Valerii Riabykh.