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Long-range snipers: Multiple-launch rocket systems were originally designed on both sides of the defunct iron curtain to saturate area targets during the Cold War (interestingly, they were designated multiple-rocket launch systems on the then soviet side). The introduction of precision-guided munitions has made it the weapon of choice for asymmetrical warfare.

According to Colonel David Rice, US Army Project Manager of Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems, *The GMLRS [Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System] has brought the field artillery back into the urban fight*. His statement reflects the transition of the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Systems Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) from a Cold War saturation weapon designed to 'clear grid squares' to a '70-km sniper system' which offers significant advantages over close air support, including faster response time and reduced collateral damage.

The MLRS was developed by Lockheed Martin (then Ling Tempco Vought) and its European partners for the armies of Britain, Germany, France, Italy and the United States. Like other multiple-rocket launchers, it was designed to rapidly unleash large volumes of fire against area targets. The original M26 MLRS rocket was tipped with a 156-kg warhead carrying 644 M77 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (Dpicm) shaped-charge blast fragmentation bomblets; a single salvo of twelve rockets can completely blanket a square kilometre with these submunitions. The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) requires the European MLRS partners to phase out weapons such as the Dpicm. Although the US Government is not a signatory to the CCM the Department of Defense's Policy on Cluster Munitions commits the department to phasing out cluster munitions which 'result in more than one per cent unexploded ordnance'.

The MLRS system now comprises the MLRS Family of Munitions, the Army Tactical Missile (Atacms) Family of Munitions and two launchers, the original tracked M270 MLRS launcher and the newer wheeled M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars).

Old and New Launchers

Designed to support heavy mechanised forces the M270 MLRS launcher is based on the stretched chassis of a BAE Systems M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle; an elevating turntable launch mechanism carries two pods each of six 227 mm rockets which can be 'ripple fired' in less than a minute. Before production finished Lockheed Martin built 1000 M270 launchers for the US Army, while a further 292 systems were built in Europe and the USA for the European partners: France (55), Germany (150), Italy (24), and the UK (63). Additional MLRS launchers were sold to Bahrain (9), Denmark (12), Egypt (26), Greece (36), Israel (54), Japan (77), South Korea (29), the Netherlands (22), Norway (12) and Turkey (15). Finland bought 18 of the Dutch launchers in 2006.

The US Army is upgrading its launchers to the M270A1 configuration which features the Universal Fire Control System (UFCS), which enables the weapon to launch the GMLRS while an Improved Launcher Mechanical System (ILMS) allows the launcher to be aimed six times faster than the original M270. The first upgraded launchers were returned to service in 2002. Several international customers are upgrading their launchers to the comparable M270C1 export configuration.

Britain installed the UFCS on 15 launchers to upgrade them to the M270B1 configuration and a battery of launchers has been deployed in Afghanistan since April 2007. These have received further upgrades including; bar armour around the cab with applique armour plates beneath and mine protection plating, new energy absorbing seats, an enhanced day and night vision capability from three thermal imaging cameras with screens for driver and vehicle commander, a roof-mounted machine gun and air conditioning. To support the extra weight the vehicle's suspension has been upgraded.

The US Army Aviation and Missile Command, on behalf of the British Ministry of Defence, awarded Lockheed Martin a $ 59 million contract in March 2009 for additional UFCS kits to upgrade another twelve launchers. This followed the ministry's decision in May 2008 to cancel the planned acquisition of the Lightweight Mobile Artillery Weapons System (Rocket) a lightweight launcher developed by Lockheed Martin UK Insys based on an HMT Supacat 600 series 6 x 4 high-mobility vehicle that could be loaded with a single MLRS 'six pack' or one Atacms.

Eads/Dornier developed the European Fire Control System, which was first fielded in 2006, to modernise the MLRS systems of the other European partners to enable them to launch the GMLRS. The industrial team includes Diehl BGT Defence, MBDA and Avio. Lockheed Martin received a $ 14.6 million contract in early March 2009 to upgrade six of Bahrain's M270 launchers to the M270C1 configuration, and anticipates that other export customers will request the same.

The Himars has been developed since the early 1990s to provide the US Army and US Army and US Marine Corps with MLRS firepower on a vehicle light enough to be carried by the C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft. The Himars consists of a turntable launcher, which carries a single 'six pack' of 227-mm rockets or one Atacms, mounted on a BAE Systems Tactical Vehicle Systems five-tonne Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) 6 x 6 chassis. Designed from the beginning to launch the GMLRS the Himars incorporates both the UFCS and the ILMS. Three of four prototypes built under a 1996 contract were delivered to the army's XVIIIth Airborne Corps and during Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' in 2003 launched more than 12,000 227-mm rockets and 450 Atacms. The army plans to order 375 Himars, while the US Marine Corps is seeking 40, although these figures are likely to change as the new Obama Administration reviews both force structure and procurement projects. On 31 December 2008 Lockheed Martin received its fourth full-rate production order, worth $ 180 million, for 57 army launchers and seven US Marine Corps launchers for delivery by March 2010.

The Himars is the focus for MLRS export efforts. In September 2006 the Bush Administration notified the US Congress of the proposed $ 752 million sale of 20 launchers to the United Arab Emirates including missiles and a training and support package. The following September Congress was notified of the proposed $ 330 million sale to Singapore of 18 launchers, 32 XM31 Unitary High Explosive GMLRS Pods, 30 M28A1 Practice Rocket Pods and support equipment. Deliveries to both countries are underway.


When it came into service in the early 1980s the unguided M26 MLRS rocket was the longest-range artillery munition used by Nato, able to strike targets out to 31,600 metres. During the 1991 US-led offensive to recapture Kuwait more than 230 US Army and twelve British Army MLRS launchers showered unguided rockets upon Iraqi troops with devastating effect.

Concern that several Iraqi 155-mm artillery systems outranged US cannon artillery guns prompted the US Army to fund development of the M26 Extended Range MLRS (ER-MLRS) 227-mm rocket which can carry a reduced load of 518 bomblets to a range of 45 km. To attack high-value targets in depth Lockheed Martin developed the Atacms for the army. The original M39 Block 1 missile, 32 of which were launched during the 1991 campaign, carried a 591-kg warhead, containing 950 M74 anti-personnel/antimateriel bomblets, to a maximum range of 165 km. In 1990 the M39A1 Block 1A missile was fielded, which has a minimum range of 70 km and a maximum range of 300 km although to achieve this the number of bomblets was reduced to 300. The Atacms has also been bought by Greece, South Korea and Turkey.

The transformation of the MLRS to a precision fire system began when the US Army and its European partners awarded a 48-month System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contact for the GMLRS in November 1998 to Lockheed Martin, partnered with Diehl, MBDA and Avio. Using the ER-MLRS rocket as a basis the consortium integrated an inertial measurement unit and a global positioning system into the rocket, along with canards in the nose, enabling the GMLRS rocket to deliver a warhead to within a five-metre circular error probable (CEP) at 70 km. Lockheed Martin has demonstrated the ability of the GMLRS to hit targets at 85 km and achieve a CEP of only three metres. Low-rate initial production of the M30 GMLRS, equipped with a cargo warhead carrying 404 M85 Dpicms, began in mid-2003, however the US Army announced in January 2006 production of GMLRS rockets would shift to the M31 Unitary model. The M31 features an 89-kg high-explosive fragmentation warhead, developed by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems under subcontract to Lockheed Martin, which provides a point strike capability. A new tri-mode fuze, which entered series production in 2009, can be programmed for point impact, delay detonation or airburst mode.

The weapon debuted in combat on 9 September 2005 when eight GMLRS Unitary Urgent Materiel Release rockets fitted with an interim point detonation/delay fuze destroyed two insurgent strongholds more than 50 km away.

About 95% of the more than 1200 GMLRS Unitary rockets fired by US (more than 700) and UK (about 500) forces in Afghanistan and Iraq until April 2009 were against targets in urban areas and one-quarter of all missions were in support of TIC. Both statistics reinforce the importance of precision. The US Army awarded Lockheed Martin a $ 372 million delivery order on 29 December 2008 for 3780 unitary and 4782 GMLRS Reduced Range Practise Rockets, which are expected to be delivered by the end of 2009.

In mid-2005 the British Army became the first export customer for the GMLRS with a $ 55 million order. As deliveries began in 2006 the initial rockets were fitted with the Unitary UMR warhead. The German Army, for its part, plans to procure 402 GMLRS Unitary rockets by 2012 and 600 fitted with the DM 702A1 Smart 155 mm sensor-fuzed ammunition being developed by Diehl for use with both the MLRS and cannon artillery. The GMLRS Smart warhead ejects four submunitions over the target, which are able to engage both mobile and stationary semi-hard and hard targets.

Future Developments

As the US Army intends to retain the MLRS system until 2050 it is planning a number of enhancement projects including a 'dial a yield' warhead which could be optimised for the planned target.

To replace the M30 Dpicm warhead it intends to field a GMLRS Alternative Warhead, which complies with the policy on cluster munitions. Two contractors are scheduled to receive contracts in the third quarter of FY09 for the 16-month integration and demonstration phase. Lockheed Martin will work with the chosen warhead designer for the subsequent 36-month engineering design, development and manufacturing phase. An initial operating capability is planned for the third quarter of FY15. The European Cooperative Development Partners have 'expressed a desire' to join the project, according to Amcom.

For the GMLRS+ project Lockheed Martin is using the semi-active laser (Sal) guidance kit that it developed for the 70-mm Direct Attack Guided Rocket. Among the promised advantages are: extended range, possibly 125 to 130 km, allazimuth target approach, simultaneous arrival of multiple rockets fired by the same launchers and 'over the shoulder' of the designator approach. Extending the range would allow users to employ the GMLRS instead of the Atacms, providing a number of operational, cost and logistical advantages. Incorporating an adverse weather tri-mode seeker (Sal/MMW/12R) the GMLRS Two (previously known as the P44) will provide the ability to attack moving targets, faster flight times (2.9 minutes to 40 km and five minutes to 60 km) and the ability to load ten missiles in a standard MLRS/Himars pod and all-azimuth target approach. Potential warheads could include a 7.7-kg shaped charge or the 12.7-kg Lockheed Martin Hellfire II Metal Augmented Charge thermobaric warhead.

Tests of the GMLRS Two are also planned to explore the weapon's use against airborne targets. In March the US Army conducted a 'common launcher' feasibility demonstration at White Sands Missile Range when two modified Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (Amraam) were launched from a Himars.

Collaboration with South Korea?

South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced on 22 April that it had decided to develop an indigenous 230-mm twelve-barrel MRL by 2013 to replace the 36-round 130-mm Daewoo Kooryong MRL that entered service in 1981. The Republic of Korea Army, concerned about the threat of massed North Korean forces, places an emphasis on both saturation and precision fire. Hanwha, which produces the 130-mm rockets for the Kooryong, will be responsible for system integration and the production of guided and unguided rockets while Doosan will build the launcher. South Korea has 156 Kooryongs in service alongside 29 M270 and M270A1 MLRS launchers. Lockheed Martin has discussed with the South Korean government and industry the potential for co-operation in the project.


Spin Out 1 of the US Army's Future Combat System project includes the XM501 Non Line-of-Sight--Launch System (Nlos-LS) being developed by Netfires, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Spin Out 1 technology is intended to reach operational brigades from 2011 and under present plans will be fielded at a rate of six brigades per year. The Nlos-LS consists of a 'platform-independent' Container Launch Unit (CLU) with a computer, communication system and 15 Precision Attack Missiles (Pam). The CLU's self-contained tactical fire control electronics and software enables remote and unmanned operation. The Pam is a 1.5-metre-long, 53.5-kg, modular missile that is effective against moving and stationary targets to a maximum range of 40 km using GPS/INS guidance. Once in the target area, the Pam uses a dual-mode uncooled imaging infrared/semi-active laser seeker to acquire and guide the missile to the target. Alternatively, the Pam can be programmed to attack a requested target position; targeting data can be updated during flight. The Pam has a two-stage boost sustain rocket motor and a fragmentation-wrapped, shaped-charge warhead designed to defeat armoured vehicles, soft targets and field fortifications. Netfires completed the first and second guided test flights of the Pam on 22 and 24 November 2008 at the US Army's White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
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Title Annotation:Artillery
Author:Kemp, Ian
Publication:Armada International
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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