HIMARS--precision today and tomorrow.
The Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS) originally was fielded in 1983 as a general support or reinforcing weapon system. Designed to deliver rockets carrying a payload of dual-purpose, improved conventional munitions (DPICM) and scatterable mines at ranges up to 30 kilometers, the weapon system and its munitions were ideal for providing the maneuver commander with suppression of enemy air defense fires in depth beyond the forward line of troops and reinforcing fires in support of conventional cannon artillery. (1)
System Modifications. Throughout the 1990s, modifications in the weapon system and its munitions increased its lethality through the extension of rocket ranges out to 45 kilometers and through the introduction of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) with an impressive range of 300 kilometers. This system and its munitions proved themselves during Operation Desert Storm, earning a reputation for delivering "Steel Rain" on its adversaries.
This capability, however, was not without its limitations. As Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey L. Froysland accurately described in an article in Field Artillery, (2) the ability to deliver scatterable munitions, while beneficial in supporting large formations in maneuver warfare, is questionable, at best, when supporting stability and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.
Additionally, with a weight of 30 tons (including munitions), the M270 and M270A1 launchers presented significant challenges for repositioning within a theater of operations and were of little value to light-forcible and initial-entry forces. To mitigate these limitations, the Army identified the requirement for guided, unitary munitions and a lighter, more rapidly deployable delivery system. This requirement led to the parallel development of the Guided MLRS (GMLRS)Unitary rocket, the ATACMS-Unitary Missile and the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
Limitations Bridged. Through numerous validation exercises and operational deployments, HIMARS and its precision guided munitions (PGMs) have bridged these limitations and redefined the role of rocket and missile systems within the Field Artillery (FA). HIMARS, combined with the M31 GMLRS-Unitary and the M48 ATACMS-Unitary Missile, provides the maneuver commander a rapidly deployable, all-weather fire support platform for all roles and missions within FA, usable in environments ranging from complex, rapidly-changing forcible-entry operations to static COIN and stability operations.
HIMARS Fielded. Fielded as a prototype in 1998 and in its final design in 2005, HIMARS was designed to provide a long-range fires capability to light and forcible-entry headquarters. Unlike its much heavier predecessor, the M270A1 launcher, HIMARS weighs in at nearly half the weight, 17.5 tons. This results in a system that is light enough to be transported by a C-130 aircraft, even when fully uploaded. Additionally, as a wheeled vehicle, the system does not require heavy equipment transports for forward movement or for in intertheater stability operations. Finally, HIMARS is based on the family of medium tactical vehicles, reducing the number of systemspecific parts and mechanics required to maintain the system.
With an air-transportable platform, the HIMARS allows for a unique capability referred to as the "hot panel." The launcher's global-positioning system (GPS) can link into the transporting aircraft's GPS antenna via a cable attachment. This capability allows the launcher to remain fully GPS-aided while in flight and, therefore, fire-mission capable immediately upon landing. Initial testing of this capability yielded very positive results.
The maneuver commander can deploy an uploaded launcher with a guided munition and have a rapid-response fire support platform available immediately upon insertion. While this capability originally was intended for forcible-entry operations, it also can be used in operations where the repositioning of assets across great distances is time critical.
GMLRS-Unitary Warhead Designed. In conjunction with the fielding of HIMARS, the Army began stockpiling the GPS-aided GMLRS DPICM rocket. While well designed for destroying mass formations of armor and infantry, the original DPICM rockets were limited because the many DPICM bomblets in the rockets' payload could create unnecessary collateral damage and clutter the battlespace with unexploded submunitions. Subsequently, the Army began developing the GMLRS-Unitary warhead designed to provide the war-fighter with a precision strike capability where collateral damage and rules of engagement were of utmost importance. Congress had early directed procurement of the M48 ATACMS-Quick-Reaction-Unitary (QRU) missile in 2001.
Benefits in COIN and Stability Operations. These munitions have three key components that are essential for employment in COIN and stability operations. First and foremost, both munitions can engage targets with extreme accuracy, allowing commanders to engage targets with lethality yet limit and even prevent collateral damage. This results in the second benefit--the commander can employ them against targets in urban environments, where unintended collateral damage to surrounding civilian structures is of great concern. Lastly, as GPS-aided munitions, the munitions are not limited by weather concerns; and, because of their flight paths' altitudes and speeds of flight, both systems can attack their targets with little or no attack signature. These capabilities allow the GMLRS-Unitary and the ATACMS-QRU, when combined with the HIMARS platform, to bring an unimaginable capability to FA and to the modern battlefield.
The GMLRS rockets increased the flexibility of response by increasing the accuracy, range and payload of their predecessors. GMLRS rockets using GPS technology can strike within meters of their intended targets. Another key modification to the rocket was an increase of range, giving commanders the ability to engage targets out to 70 kilometers. The final modification to the rocket, making it indispensable, was the removal of the DPICM bomblets that were replaced with a unitary high-explosive warhead.
As GPS-aided munitions, the firing unit now has the flexibility to assign specific aimpoints for each rocket. In HIMARS' case, this allows the firing unit to strike up to six targets in close proximity almost simultaneously. The launchers only would need to park once, lay, arm and fire, and the launcher automatically would adjust to hit each individual target. Tests conducted in association with Lockheed Martin proved very promising--rounds impacted on cardboard boxes, destroyed soda cans and left neighboring structures covered in dust, but intact. Similar tests of the ATACMS-QRU proved equally accurate.
The ATACMS-QRU gives the HIMARS a much heavier warhead and much greater range. Its high-explosive warhead easily can strike within meters of targets at ranges from 70 to 270 kilometers, and the missile's speed approaches Mach 3 before its strike. These factors result in a strike that nearly is impossible to detect by the target on the ground. The ability to strike undetected allows for the engagement of high-value targets and time-sensitive targets who may flee or hide at the first sounds of a fixed-wing platform moving in overhead. The larger warhead allows for the destruction of entire structures with only one round, making it extremely useful for quick precision strikes. Though HIMARS is limited to only one ATACMS per launcher (in comparison to the M270A1's two), it overcomes this limitation through the ability to reload and be ready to fire within five to eight minutes.
Capabilities for Maneuver Commanders. When combined with PGMs, HIMARS offers the commander capabilities beyond the previously accepted, traditional roles of rocket and missile systems. For example, in forcible-entry scenarios, both littoral and airborne, the ground force commander can bring the launchers and their ammunition into the airhead or the amphibious objective area while stabilizing the lodgment before the introduction of follow on forces. Combined with internal reconnaissance forces as well as tactical and global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, this fire support platform will become central to the commander's plan for expanding the beachhead or airhead line.
Unlike previous rocket and missile systems employed in reinforcing, general support and general support reinforcing (GSR) roles, these units now can be employed in a direct support (DS) role to the maneuver commander. The rockets' and missiles' extensive ranges allow the HIMARS unit to operate from already-secured airfields and beachheads, reducing the requirement for additional security forces as the airhead or beachhead line is expanded. Furthermore, because the system is all-weather capable, the maneuver commander is not dependent on air platforms and clear skies for deep fires.
Under this concept, the commander can synchronize his rocket and missile fires with initial-entry cannon and mortar fires as he expands the airhead or force beachhead line even when the weather does not support close air support or air interdiction.
HIMARS' Proven Value. Since its introduction into the force in 1998, HIMARS has proven its value through both peacetime forcible-entry exercises and on operational deployments in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). As the first unit to field HIMARS, 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery (3-27 FA), tested integrating the system in air-land operations during quarterly joint forcible-entry exercises conducted in support of the 82nd Airborne Division.
During these operations, the battalion conducted the air-land operation with second--and third-echelon forces and immediately integrated rocket and missile fires into the ground commander's operation. Initially, the battalion deployed in a GSR role, working in support of the brigade's DS cannon artillery battalion. Later operations saw the battalion DS to the brigade.
Shortly after fielding, as the US prepared forces for the invasion of Iraq, 3-27 FA deployed its prototype HIMARS to Operation Iraqi Freedom to provide DS fires in support of a maneuver task force. During this deployment, the advantage of the system's mobility was evident as the battalion maintained the momentum of its supported maneuver force and provided both close and deep fires using both MLRS rockets and ATACMS missiles. Integrating the battalion's liaison officer cell with the supported maneuver commander facilitated a common situational awareness of the commander's battlespace and responsive fires from the firing unit.
By 2005, the Army completed the testing and development of the XM31 GMLRS-Unitary round and the M48 ATACMS--Unitary round and fielded them to forces in Iraq for employment. Initial results were impressive. The guided-unitary warheads provided ground force commanders an extremely accurate, responsive lethal munition. In addition, operational employment of this weapon proved that, contrary to initial fielding concerns, this weapon was effective in urban environments--collateral damage was minimized through its accuracy and angle of attack. (3)
Once the systems were validated, guided munitions were deployed with MLRS A1 launchers into Iraq and, later, with HIMARS to the CENTCOM theater of operations. The systems' responsiveness enable ground commanders throughout the CENTCOM AOR to respond lethally and accurately in support of an array of targets from counterfire strikes against mortars, to fires in support of troops--in-contact, to engaging high-value, time-sensitive targets.
HIMARS Training. In support of operations in the contemporary operational environment, the Field Artillery should reconsider employment considerations for HIMARS complemented with PGMs. Through training exercises and operational deployments, HIMARS has proven its responsiveness and lethality as well as its ability to function as DS to maneuver forces.
Maneuver commanders with forcible--and initial-entry forces should train regularly on HIMARS, GMLRS and ATACMS-U employment. Understanding these capabilities will lead to better integration of fires in support of initial-entry forces and dispel any myths related to responsiveness and collateral damage associated with rocket and ATACMS fires.
Finally, liaison sections in rocket artillery units need to ensure that they are proficient not only in technical fire direction and tactical weapons employment, but also in the employment of fires in support of maneuver forces. This is especially true of those in HIMARS battalions. Because HIMARS is a delivery system for PGMs and a rapid-deployment fire support platform, HIMARS battalion liaison sections will find themselves more frequently integrated into the maneuver battalion's and brigade headquarters' fires cells. Therefore, HIMARS liaison sections need to understand how best to integrate their weapons system and its capabilities into fires from all platforms supporting the ground force commander.
(1.) US Army, Redstone Arsenal, "MLRS," available at www.redstone.army.mil/history/systems/MLRS.html.
(2.) Jeffrey L. Froysland, "Transformation: Bringing Precision to MLRS Rockets," Field Artillery, March-April 2003.
(3.) Ibid., for a brief discussion of initial fielding concerns about employing GMLRS in urban environments.
By First Lieutenant Andrew M. Russo and Major Joseph E. Hilbert Jr., both FA
First Lieutenant Andrew M. Russo, Field Artillery (FA), is th Battalion Fire Direction Officer for 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery (3-27 FA) (High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS), 18th Fires Brigade, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). He helped in the fielding and deployment of the HIMARS M31 munition. He has a BA in History from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Major Joseph E. Hilbert Jr., FA, is the S3 for 3-27 FA, deployed in support of OEF. He has served as the Headquarters Battery Commander for 2-3 FA in Giessen, Germany, deploying in support of Task Force Falcon in Kosovo; and as the Assistant S3 for 3rd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry, Fort Polk, Louisiana, deploying in support of Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti. He is an Olmsted Scholar with a Masters Degree in European Studies from the University of Leipzig in Germany.