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Rocket revolution: multiple rocket launchers were originally designed to saturate area targets. The introduction of new lightweight launchers and precision-guided munitions is making them a weapon of choice for asymmetric warfare.

The Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) is capable of ripple firing a full load of twelve rockets in less than a minute. Each M26 rocket is tipped with a 156-kg warhead carrying 644 M77 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition shaped-charge blast fragmentation bomblets. A single salvo of twelve rockets can completely blanket one square kilometre with these submunitions at ranges up to 31,600 metres. During the 1990-91 Gulf War more than 230 US Army and 12 British Army launchers showered bomblets upon shell-shocked Iraqi troops who nicknamed the weapon 'steel rain'. The effect was devastating to materiel and morale. One Iraqi division lost 97 of its 100 guns to a bombardment by 1800 rockets and two battalions of 203 mm M110 howitzers.

The MLRS, and other multiple rocket launchers (MRL), were designed to rapidly unleash large volumes of fire against critical, time sensitive targets such as artillery batteries, air defence units and command centres. The MLRS was developed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Systems (then Ling Tempco Vought) and its European partners for the armies of Britain, Germany, France, Italy and America. Intended to support heavy mechanised forces the M270 MLRS launcher is based on a stretched M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle which carries an elevating turntable launch mechanism that can accommodate two pods each of six 227 mm rockets. With a maximum range of 31,600 metres the M26 was the longest-range artillery munition used by Nato when it came into service. The American production line built 1000 launchers for the US Army, while a further 292 systems were built in Europe and the United States for the European partners: France (55), Germany (150), Italy (24) and Britain (63). The MLRS was subsequently bought by Bahrain (9 launchers), Denmark (8), Egypt (26), Greece (41), Israel (54), Japan (77), South Korea (29), Netherlands (22, being phased out), Norway (12) and Turkey (15).

American commanders were pleased with the performance of the MLRS during the 1990-91 Gulf War, but concern that several Iraqi 155 mm artillery systems outranged US army guns prompted the development of the 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 at much longer ranges the US Army uses the Lockheed Martin Advanced Tactical Missile System (Atacms); two Atacms can be launched from an MLRS. The M39 Block 1 missiles, 32 of which were launched during the 1991 campaign, carry a 591-kg warhead, containing 950 M74 anti-personnel/anti-materiel bomblets, to a maximum range of 165 km. In American service since the late 1990s is the M39A1 Block IA missile which has a minimum range of 70 km and a maximum range of 300 km, although to achieve this range the number of M74s carried is reduced to 300. The Atacms has also been bought by Greece, South Korea and Turkey.

Operations since the Cold War have seen a shift from saturation fire to precision fire. In November 1998 Lockheed Martin, partnered with Diehl, MBDA and Flat Avio, received a 48-month contract for the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the XM30 Guided MLRS (GMLRS) rocket. The US provided half of the development cost, while each of the four European partners contributed 12.5%. Using the ER-MLRS 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 of probability beyond 70 km. The first warhead fielded for the GMLRS carries 404 M85 DPICM submunitions. Low-rate initial production of the M30 for the US Army began in mid-2003.

To launch GMLRS rockets the US Army is upgrading 226 MLRS launchers to the M270A1 configuration, which incorporates an improved fire control system (IFCS) and an improved launcher mechanical system (ILMS) which allows the launcher to be aimed six times faster that the original M270. The first upgraded launchers were returned to service in 2002. South Korea is also receiving M270A1 launchers.

The GMLRS will be the primary rocket used with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars). Lockheed Martin began development of the Himars in the early 1990s to provide 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 Stewart & Stevenson five-tonne Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) 6 x 6 chassis. Designed to launch the GMLRS, the Himars incorporates both the IFCS and the ILMS. Three of four prototypes built under a 1996 contract were delivered to the XVIIIth Airborne Corps for a two-year evaluation, although the army later directed the prototypes remain with the corps MLRS battalion until replaced by production launchers. These Himars launched more than 12,000 227 mm rockets and 450 Atacms during Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' in 2003. Two artillery battalions of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps became the first units to be fully equipped with the Himars in fiscal year 2005. Stewart & Stevenson has recently developed a version of its Low Signature Armored Cab for the Himars launcher and resupply vehicle, also based on a 6 x 6 FMTV chassis. The US Army and US Marine Corps are expected to order 900 launchers. In September 2006 the Bush administration notified Congress of the proposed $ 752 million sale of 20 Himars launchers to the United Arab Emirates, including missiles and a training and support package.

The second GMLRS rocket variant is the XM31 GMLRS Unitary, which provides a point strike capability. Following a successful flight test in 2002 Lockheed Martin received a $119 million contract in October 2003 for the SDD phase, after which General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems was subcontracted to develop the 89-kg high-explosive fragmentation warhead. A new tri-mode fuze can be programmed for airburst, point-impact and delayed detonation. In January 2005, following army approval of an urgent need statement from US commanders in Iraq, deliveries began five months later of a Unitary Urgent Materiel Release (UMR) rocket fitted with an interim simple point-detonation/delay fuze. These made their combat debut on 9 September 2005 in the Tal Afar region of western Iraq in support of Operation 'Restoring Rights' when eight GMLRS UMR rockets destroyed two insurgent strongholds more than 50 km away. The following day six rockets destroyed the Mish'al Bridge to prevent insurgents from using it.

A weapon originally developed to 'take out grid squares' is now being referred to as a 'long-range sniper system' and is one which offers significant advantages over close air support, including faster response time. The authors of an article on artillery precision guided munitions (PGM) in the May-June 2006 issue of the US Army's Field Artillery magazine believe a revolution has begun, << Although rockets traditionally have not been used in the close support role, the precision effects demonstrated by GMLRS unitary rockets are causing commanders and planners to rethink attack matrices. The range, limited collateral damage and accuracy of GMLRS Unitary can impact safely within 200 metres of friendly forces--sometimes even closer, depending on circumstances. >> The US Army announced in January 2006 that as the dud rate of the M85 DPICM bomblets could not be brought below one per cent, most if not all GMLRS rockets bought in the future would be M31s.

Lockheed Martin conducted the first test in July 2006 of a unitary Enhanced Blast Warhead (EBW) intended to further improve GMLRS effectiveness against urban targets.

A unitary warhead is also being developed to exploit the extended range of the Atacms missile; this consists of the 213-kg unitary warhead and fuze used in the Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon Stand-Off Land Attack Missile. The first prototype of the M48 Atacms Block 1A Quick Reaction Unitary was tested in April 2001 and 13 were fired against command centres during the initial phase of Operation 'Iraqi Freedom'. Lockheed Martin plans to test the Atacms Unitary Product Improvement rocket fitted with the tri-mode fuze similar to the GMLRS Unitary Rocket in January 2008.

The British Army became the first export customer for the GMLRS when it placed a $ 55 million order in mid-2005 for rockets equipped with unitary warheads with deliveries beginning in 2006. The initial rockets were fitted with the Unitary UMR warhead. Brian Hardy, the Future Artillery Weapons Systems programme manager within the Defence Procurement Agency, described some of the advantages of the new warhead, << Hazardous dud submunitions from a bomblet warhead continue to pose a danger after the battle has been fought. By replacing the existing bomblet rocket with this unitary warhead we are completely removing this danger. What's more, the new rocket gives us huge improvements in range and accuracy over its predecessor, meaning it will take 80% fewer rockets to defeat our targets >>. Britain has bought 15 Lockheed Martin Future Fire Control System (FFCS) units to upgrade a portion of its launchers to the M270A1 configuration to launch the GMLRS. Eads-Dornier is developing 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.

As Armada went to press the British Ministry of Defence was expected to notify Lockheed Martin UK Insys of a production contract for the rocket launcher component of the Lightweight Mobile Artillery Weapons System (Limaws). The Limaws (Rocket), designed to fire the GMLRS and Atacms, and the 155 mm Limaws (Gun) are intended to provide a major boost in fire support for the rapid reaction forces--5 Airborne Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines--as well as the new medium brigades. It is expected that the British Army will order 24 Limaws(R) launchers to enter service from 2010. The key user requirement stipulated that the Limaws(R) design must be compact enough to enable a single launcher with its rocket pod to be carried beneath a CH-47 Chinook medium lift helicopter and two launchers, without rocket pods, to be airlifted inside a stretched C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft. The Limaws(R) demonstrator was completed in January 2005 and underwent an extensive series of mobility and firing trials. In order to save weight the design is based on a Stewart & Stevenson HMT Supacat 600 series 6 x 4 high mobility vehicle, although a 6 x 6 chassis would provide greater mobility. A new lightweight launcher developed by Lockheed Martin can be loaded with a single pod of six MLRS rockets or one Atacms. The three-strong crew, including the driver, rides in a forward control cab that can be fitted with passive applique armour when the threat dictates. To further reduce weight no azimuth system is fitted, although the design includes a precision levelling system. To enable them to fire the GMLRS all launchers will be fitted with the FFCS. The demonstrator weighs 8.8 tonnes without armour.

Although it dates back to the late 1950s the 122-mm Soviet BM-21 launcher, and its derivatives, is in service with many armies including those of several of the Central and East Europe countries that have joined Nato over the past decade. With a range of only 20,380 metres the unguided 122-mm Grad rocket has long been outranged by many 152 mm and 155 mm cannon systems. Several projects are underway to modernise these Warsaw Pact legacy MRLs. One of the more ambitious is the Larom 160 upgrade package developed by Aerostar of Romania in collaboration with Israel Military Industries (IMI) for the Romanian Army's 122 mm Apra 40 launcher. Aerostar originally built 160 of these MRLs, which mount the BM-21 launch unit on the Romanian DAC 665T 6 x 6 truck for the army. With the country strapped for cash the government was keen to modernise the armed forces and, in so doing, develop upgrade packages that could be marketed abroad. The upgrade retains the Apra 40's ability to launch 122 mm rockets from its two 20-round pods and also gives it the capability to launch IMI's 160 mm Lar 160 unguided rockets from two 13-round pods. To enable the Lar 160 rocket to be integrated on various tracked and wheeled platforms IMI developed a modular launch unit able to accommodate one or two sealed pods of 8, 10 or 13 rockets. The most compact design can be towed by a light utility vehicle such as a Jeep or Hummer.

The 122 mm rockets could be used for cost-effective training and the more capable 160 mm rockets reserved for operational use, thereby doubling the launcher's range to over 40 km. Each Lar 160 rocket carries 104 anti-personnel/anti-materiel bomblets with self-destruct fuzes. Rockets can be launched individually, in groups or in full 26-round salvos. The army has received 18 Larom 160 launchers to date and the service has indicated its intention to upgrade its complete fleet if funding permits.

In 2004 Romania became the first customer for IMI's corrected trajectory Accular (for Accurate Lar) 160 mm rocket. This incorporates a trajectory correction system that IMI has manufactured since the early 1990s to improve the accuracy of the Israel Defence Force's 227 mm MLRS rockets. The corrective steering unit, mounted toward the rocket's nose, transmits environmental data to a ground control unit, which calculates course corrections and relays the data back to the steering unit. Incorporating Accular technology reduces the number of rockets required to destroy a target by 95%, according to IMI.

Slovakia selected Germany's Diehl Munitionssysteme, teamed with local company Konstrukta Defence and Honeywell Deutschland, to modernise its Czech-designed RM-70 and RM-70/85 40-round 122 mm MRL, based on the Tatra 813 series 8 x 8 high mobility truck chassis. The Morak project has two stages. The first of these upgrades the RM-70 or RM-70/85 launcher to the RM70/85M Morak configuration through the integration of a new computerised navigation and targeting system. The second stage involves the installation of an interchangeable turntable launcher for a standard 227 mm MLRS 'six-pack' and the integration of the necessary fire control software to create the Modular Morak. In a similar manner to the Romanian Larom 160 project, 122 mm rockets are used for training and 227 mm rockets can be used operationally. A further enhancement to the Modular Morak is the installation of a fully enclosed armoured cab. The last of 26 launchers being modernised for the Slovak Army will be completed later this year. The partners in the project believe the Morak upgrade will appeal to the several armies that use the RM-70 system as well as those using the BM-21.

Roxel of France has developed a new solid-propellant composite rocket motor that increases the range of the 122 mm Grad rocket from 20,380 metres to 41,000 metres. This has been selected by the Polish Land Forces to boost the performance of its Soviet-supplied BM-21 MRLs. At least a portion of the army's 200 or so BM-21 launch units will be transferred from the original Soviet 6 x 6 Rual-375D truck to the Polish-built 6 x 6 Star 1466 chassis. The fully enclosed cab of the new vehicle is able to accommodate the launcher's three crew and three additional personnel.

China North Industries developed the twelve-round, Type 63, towed multiple rocket launcher in the late 1950s and, although it is no longer believed to be in frontline service with the People's Liberation Army, the weapon was widely exported and also copied in several countries. Its compact size makes it a popular weapon with guerrilla groups and the launcher can easily be mounted on the back of small vehicles. Turkey's Mkek produced 48 towed Mkek 107 launchers for the Turkish Land Forces Command and Roketsan has developed an extended range 107 mm rocket family for the Mkek 107, the Type 63 and similar launchers. The TR-107 high-explosive warhead scatters more than 500 lethal fragments over a 14-metre radius and the TRB-107 high-explosive fragmentation warhead scatters 2800 steel balls over a lethal radius of 25 metres. Both unguided rockets have a minimum range of 3000 metres and a maximum range of more than 11,000. A complete salvo of twelve rockets can be launched in seven to nine seconds.

The Splav 300 mm BM 9A52 twelve-round Smerch multiple rocket launcher entered Soviet service in 1987 and the system has subsequently been given or sold to Algeria (18 launchers), Belarus (40), Kuwait (27), Ukraine (94) and the United Arab Emirates (six 9A52 Smerch-M). Rocket types include the 9M525 which carries 72 submunitions, the 9M526 which carries five parachute-retarded anti-armour submunitions, the 9M527 which carries 25 anti-tank mines, the 9M528 which has a single parachute-retarded high-explosive (HE) fragmentation warhead, the 9M529 which carries a thermobaric warhead, the 9M530 has a hardened HE warhead designed to penetrate a target before exploding and the 9M531 has an HE fragmentation warhead with 646 submunitions. The Smerch takes less than three minutes to come into action but up to 20 minutes to reload. Russian sources have indicated for the past few years that a podded system similar to the Lockheed Martin MLRS is under development which would reduce the time required to reload the launcher.
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Title Annotation:Guided munitions
Author:Kemp, Ian
Publication:Armada International
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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