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Spain applies pressure on Switzerland to approve the transfer of vital 35mm anti-aircraft guns to aid in the defense of Ukraine.

Despite having been refused twice in the past six months, the Spanish government has again asked Switzerland to allow the delivery of Swiss-made erlikon 35 mm towed anti-aircraft gun to Ukraine. Previous vetoes on the delivery of Swiss-made equipment to Ukraine were not made public. The request covers twin-35mm anti-aircraft cannons, and the request has been acknowledged by the Swiss Secretariat of State for Economic Affairs (SECO), which controls arms exports. In June 2022, the Switzerland had already blocked the re-export of Swiss weapons to Ukraine due to the principle of equal treatment under its neutrality law and the War Material Act. Under War Material Act, Swiss Federal Council must refuse weapons exports if the country of destination is involved in an international armed conflict. Russia and Ukraine have been in such a conflict since February 2022.

Spain had previously asked Switzerland to allow the re-export to Ukraine of Aspide missiles that are part of the Skyguard system developed and produced by Swiss company Oerlikon Contraves (Rheinmetall Air Defence) which also includes twin-35mm Oerlikon cannons. For the same reason, Switzerland is also preventing Italy from giving Ukraine the Skyguard Aspide and Spada systems that are being retired by the Italian Army and Air Force. Switzerland has also blocked delivery to Ukraine of the 35mm ammunition used by the Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle delivered by Germany to Ukraine, and which heavily contributed to Ukraine’s effective air defense. This ammunition is only produced in Switzerland.

The urgent need to set up 35mm production outside of Switzerland is one of the main reasons for which Rheinmetall in mid-November acquired Spanish ammunition manufacturer Expal Systems. The deal was based on an enterprise value of €1.2 billion. The acquisition will almost certainly be profitable because, as the war in Ukraine and the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh have amply demonstrated, anti-aircraft artillery remains the most effective weapons against drones and loitering munitions. Expal has the production capacity to double its turnover, and customers are already turning up, as just last week an export customer awarded Rheinmetall a contract worth several hundred million euros to upgrade its 35mm cannon-based air defence systems.

The Oerlikon GDF or Oerlikon 35 mm twin cannon is a towed anti-aircraft gun made by Oerlikon Contraves (renamed as Rheinmetall Air Defence AG following the merger with Rheinmetall in 2009). It was developed in the late 1950s and is used by around 30 countries. The system uses twin autocannons, firing 35×228mm NATO-standard ammunition. It was originally designated 353 MK and is now designated as the KD series.

The Spanish Army operated 92 GDF-007 upgraded from GDF-005 between 2003 and 2006. With 27 Skydor and 18 Skyguard FC radars. The Skyguard fire control system performs air surveillance, target acquisition, calculation of the derivative-action values and control of the twin 35 mm guns. In Spanish service, Toledo is a Skyguard system with Aspide launchers where the fire control unit has been replaced with Skydor from Navantia.

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