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Steel rain. (Ground Warfare).

Conventional artillery is heavy but has the attraction of delivering an effective warhead against a point target with reasonable accuracy and consistency, allowing fire to be adjusted to correct errors in the fall of shot. However, in many cases ground targets are distributed over a large area. Multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) are a relatively light, mobile and economical means to saturate an area target.

The multiple-launch rocket system concept is widely considered to have been pioneered by the Soviet Union, and the patent granted in 1938 to the Russian engineers Gway, Kostikov and Kleimenov certainly supports this idea. However, the first operational use of an MLRS is thought to have been made by a Wurfgerat of Hitler's Wehrmacht on June 22, 1941, at the start of the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviets began using their famous 132 mm BM-13 Katyusha (a diminutive form of the name Ekaterina) in the following month, and it went on to become one of the most important weapons in the ground war. Interestingly, the Russians favour the term `multiple rocket launch system'--or MRLS.

In the late 1950s the Tula-based Splav State Research and Production Association was commissioned to develop a new system to replace the post war 140 mm BM-14 and that would provide two or three times the effectiveness of existing systems. The result was the 9K51 Grad (Hail) system of 1963, with 40 tubes on a BM-21 launch vehicle, a modified Ural-375D truck. The 122 mm, 66.5-kg rocket, designated 9M22U or M-21 OF, is spun first by a groove in the launch-tube and then by folding fins. It delivers an 18.4 kg blast-fragmentation warhead over a distance of 20.4 km. Whereas earlier rockets had cast bodies, this new design was made from sheet metal making use of the shell cases production technology, significantly reducing cost. It may be noted that Iraq has modified 122 mm rockets to carry biological and nerve agents. These may well have been the M-21 series, but Iraq also has the Egyptian Sakr-30 (Falcon-30) and the Italian Firos 25, using a Snia-BPD rocket.

Launcher variations include the twelve-tube BM-21V Grad-V for airborne forces, the Grad-M for surface ships and the Grad-P for insurgent forces. In 1974, the BM-21-1 Grad-1 appeared with 36 rockets on a tracked launcher. Several countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia) produced the Grad under licence, while others (including China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and South Africa) developed and marketed very similar systems. The Czech RM-70 launch vehicle is based on a Tatra 813 truck and carries 40 reloads. Other variations include the North Korean BM-11 with 30 tubes, the Chinese Type 81, and the Egyptian Sakr-18. The Grad system is the world's most widely used multiple-launch rocket system, serving in at least 50 countries. In 2003 it will be 40 years since the Grad entered service with the Red Army.

The Splav 9A51 Prima (First) is a derivative of the Grad with a 50-tube launcher on a Zil-131 chassis. It fires a 70 kg rocket with a 26 kg warhead, allowing a salvo to saturate an area of 19 hectares, compared to 3.5 for the earlier rocket. The Prima entered service in 1987.

The Splav enterprise subsequently upgraded the Grad system by developing new rockets to dispense anti-personnel and anti-armour mines, generate smoke screens, illuminate the battlefield and jam communications. Improved propellants have increased maximum firing range from around 20 to 40 km. A second line of development employs a warhead that separates from the rocket body and descends on a parachute to provide a vertical impact. A third development releases two autonomously guided anti-armour submunitions.

The launch system has been improved, with the introduction of two 20-tube disposable launch clusters that can be replaced within five minutes. Announced in 1996, a joint development programme with France's Celerg was to benefit from an improved propellant, increased firing range and enhanced accuracy. The programme has since been terminated. Rosoboronexport is currently marketing five upgraded rockets with a range of up to 40 km. Israel Military Industries (IMI) markets a Gradalar upgrade for the BM-21, retaining the launch vehicle, but introducing two 13-tube pods from its own 160 mm Lar (Light Artillery Rocket) system which gives a range of up to 45 km.

Demands for longer firing ranges led to the Splav enterprise developing the 220 mm Uragan (Hurricane) 9K57 system capable of up to 35 km. It entered service with the Red Army in 1975 and was claimed to be superior to the US Army's MLRS, which appeared eight years later. Exported to Afghanistan, Syria and the Unita rebels in Angola, the 9K57 employs a 16-tube 9M140 launcher on a Zil-135LM truck, as used by the Frog-7, and can saturate an area of 46.2 hectares with a full salvo. The baseline rocket is the 280 kg 9M27F with a 100 kg blast-fragmentation warhead. Other types include the thermobaric 9M27S. The 9K57 is claimed to have been the first MLRS with a cargo warhead. The 9M27K2 rocket contains 312 PFM-1 anti-personnel mines, each weighing 75 gm. The 9M27K3 has 24 PTM-1 anti-tank mines weighing 1.6 kg, and the 9M59 has nine PTM-3 shaped-charge warheads weighing 4.9 kg. Each of the dispensing rockets weighs 280 kg.

The latest of the Splav MLRS family is the 9K58 Smerch (Whirlwind), which has a 9A52-2 launch vehicle (based on a Maz-543M truck) with twelve 300 mm 9M55 rockets and capable of saturating an area of 67.2 hectares. With a launch weight of 800 kg, the base 9M55F blast-fragmentation rocket delivers a 258 kg warhead. Unlike its predecessors it has a sustainer motor that increases maximum range to 70 km. The rocket is inertially guided, with so-called `gas-dynamic devices' (jet reaction controls) modifying pitch and yaw. Available rockets include the thermobaric 9M55S and several cargo rounds: the 9M55K with 72 1.81 kg anti-personnel bomblets, the 9M55K4 with 25 4.85 kg anti-armour mines and the 9M55K1 with five 15kg Bazalt Motiv-3M sensor-fuzed submunitions with twin-wavelength IR seekers.

The Smerch entered service with the Red Army in 1988 and was also supplied to Belarus and the Ukraine. Kuwait has purchased 27 systems, and the UAE has six. In 2002 the Indian Army evaluated the improved Smerch-M, which is highly automated and fires the 9M528 rocket, using an improved propellant to increase maximum range to 90km. Reports indicate that a small UAV, designated R-90, is being developed specifically for use with the Smerch. It may be noted that, although export sales of Russian MLRS have so far been made through state agencies (initially Rosvoorouzhenie and more recently Rosoboronexport), Splav has recently been granted the right to deal directly with foreign states in regard to product support, maintenance and the upgrading of previously supplied MLRS.


Of the many nations that produce their own variations of MLRS, it is possible to mention only a few illustrative examples. Brazil's Avibras Aerospacial produces the Astros II artillery saturation rocket system in which the launcher carries either 32 SS-30 rockets of 127 mm, 16 SS-40s of 180 mm or four SS-60/80s of 300 mm. The three rocket categories provide ranges of 30, 35 and 80 km respectively. The Astros was used by Iraq in the war with Iran and the 1991 Gulf War. In the latter conflict the system was also employed by Saudi Arabia. Having purchased around 65 Astros systems from Avibras, Iraq is licence-producing its own version under the designation Sajeel 30/40/60. Bahrain and Qatar are other Astros users.

South Africa's Denel produces the 127 mm Valkiri system, which has been operational since 1981 and has a firing range of 36 km. The launch unit has a 24-tube assembly on a 4 x 4 chassis, resulting in a vehicle that weighs only 6.4 tonnes fully loaded compared to 13.7 for the standard Grad, 20 for the Uragan and 43.7 for the Smerch.

China has produced a number of MLRS types, of which the 107 mm series appears to have been widely exported. The Type 63 launcher carries twelve of these rockets on a trailer and the Type 81 has twelve on a 4 x 4 chassis. Norinco markets the Type 90A, a 122 mm system based on a 6 x 6 chassis that carries 40 reloads, giving a total of 80 missiles. A family of twelve 122 mm rockets is available, including a 67 kg cargo round with a range of 40 km. At the upper end of the range, the 300 mm CPMIEC-built WS-1 is in service with the People's Liberation Army. The rocket weighs 520 kg and delivers a 150 kg warhead over a range of 80 km. CPMIEC now offers the 708 kg WS-1B rocket, which delivers a 150 kg warhead out to 180 km. It is available with either a ZDB-2 blast-fragmentation warhead or an SZB-1 anti-armour submunition dispenser. The HF-4 launch vehicle carries four or eight tubes.


The US Army came much later than the Red Army to artillery rockets, and opted for a tracked system--namely the M270 launcher weighing 25.2 tonnes with twelve 227 mm rockets. In 1980, what is now Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was selected as prime contractor and supplied the first MLRS units that entered service with the US Army in 1983. A consortium of European companies was established to serve the needs of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, and the first systems were handed over in 1989. The US Army deployed 230 MLRS launchers during Operation Desert Storm and the British Army 16. They fired a total of over 10,000 M26 rockets and 32 Atacms (discussed later). Bahrain, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Turkey have also adopted the M270.

The base M26 rocket weighs 306 kg and can carry, out to 32 km, a 156 kg warhead that dispenses 644, .213-kg M77 anti-personnel/anti-materiel (AP/ AM) bomblets. The 258.5 kg Phase II rocket carries a 108 kg warhead with 28 AT2 anti-tank mines out to 40 km.

The M270 firing unit is based on the United Defense M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and provides NBC protection for its three-man crew. In 2002, the US Army began upgrading its launchers to M270A1 standard, with improvements to the mechanics and fire control system (with embedded GPS/INS).

Sparked off by the 40 km range of Iraqi artillery, a 296 kg M26A1 ERR (extended range rocket) with a reduced load of 518 M77 grenades and a range of 45.5 km was first tested in late 1991. A 302 kg guided rocket (GMLRS) with 404 M77 grenades, GPS/INS navigation and canard controls has been the subject of six EMD firings, and is scheduled to enter service in 2005. The system gives an accuracy of ten metres at a 60 km range. The US Army is funding an extended-range guided (ER-G) rocket to deliver 450 XM85 submunitions to between 60 and 70 km. Lockheed Martin is funding the development of a guided unitary MLRS (Gum), using differential GPS to deliver a 90 kg warhead with an accuracy of two metres. Israel's IMI produces a Trajectory Correction System (TCS) upgrade kit for the MLRS.

The need for ease of deployment has encouraged the development of lighter wheeled launchers. The Lockheed Martin Himars (High Mobility Rocket System) places the improved M270A1 fire control system and a single six-pack of rockets on a Stewart & Stevenson 6 x 6 chassis. The Himars can be transported in C-130s and is scheduled to enter service in 2005. Looking further ahead, Limaws(R) is part of the British Army's proposed Light Mobile Artillery Weapons System and is aimed at producing a firing unit of two 4100-kg helicopter loads.

The Lockheed Martin Atacms (Army Tactical Missile System) has a much longer range but employs the same MLRS series of launch vehicles. The Atacms missile of around 600 mm diameter is packaged in a launch pod similar to that for six MLRS rounds, hence two Atacms are carried by the M270A1 and one by Himars. The Block I Atacms delivers a 591 kg warhead, with 950 M74 AP/AM submunitions weighing 0.59 kg, over a distance of 165 km. First firing took place in 1988 and full-rate production was ordered in 1991. Some 32 were fired during Operation Desert Storm. The Block IA carries a reduced load of 300 M74 submunitions out to 300 km, receiving GPS updates in flight. It was first fired in January 1995, and has been ordered by Greece, South Korea and Turkey. The Block II, which has GPS/INS guidance from the Block IA and attained IOC in October 2000, carries 13 Northrop Grumman Bat anti-armour missiles to 140 km. The Block IIA (which is currently on hold) would carry the P3I Bat. Lockheed Martin has already tested a Block IA Unitary Missile with GPS/INS guidance and the WAU-23/B blast-fragmentation warhead from the Harpoon/Slam missile. A penetrator version with Tacms 2000 guidance and a range of up to 220 km is projected.
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Author:Braybrook, Roy
Publication:Armada International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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