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The lethality of the multiple launch rocket system.

"Hot Action! Hot Action! Hot Action!" Six Soldiers sprang to their feet. "Go! Go! Go!" Everything in their paths was strewn across the hide in their exodus. This meant only one thing. It was code for a fire mission, and upon hearing this, the section sprinted to get to their launcher. The MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) track spun to life as SGT Marcoux screamed in the headset to take off, leaving a 20foot-tall dust trail behind, obscuring everything in sight.

Marcoux looked out through the chiefs hatch over the earth-filled Hesco barriers at the never ending bone yard of rusted metal cars and remains of Iraqi Army equipment from the 2003 invasion. They were ready for this--excited. Marcoux heard a familiar sound through his headset. His gunner, CPL Hobbs, echoed back their call sign, "One-Two, fire mission." The fire direction center (FDC) called over the radio "One-Two, you're primary." Marcoux couldn't have asked for a better crew that day.

His three-man section had rehearsed this battle drill dozens of times in the month since they arrived at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. This mission was unlike those previous rehearsals--the grid and target data was different, unfamiliar The launcher came to a sudden halt as the hydraulic pump kicked on and put the launcher module (LM) into its deliberate rotation. Forty six seconds later the launcher was laid on the target. Six XM3I rockets pointed down range. Marcoux suddenly realized why everything seemed so different. The LM came to rest with a high quadrant elevation and pointed in an unfamiliar direction. "Wow, we are pointed at Baghdad," he said over the headset.

It had taken less than three minutes to arrive at the fire point, lay the launcher, and verify the target data with the FDC. It was slow from there though, waiting for the air to be cleared. Usually after about 10 minutes of waiting, they wouldn't fire. The crew waited. And waited. Finally, the command squawked over the radio "Air is cleared, waiting on the fire command."

Excitement turned to focus as the alarm went off on the fire control panel. The launcher chief announced, "Receivedfire command."

Marcoux took one last look at the LM, signaled to start the process to prepare the cab to fire, and slammed the hatch shut. SPC Schofell gave the signal that the cab was ready. Marcoux looked at Hobbs and announced, "Fire!"

The fire mission described above was part of Operation Tomahawk Strike II in Baghdad on 24 January 2007. U.S. Soldiers from the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division alongside Iraqi soldiers from the 6th Iraqi Army Division engaged insurgents from a high-rise in the Haifa Street area during security operations. Operation Tomahawk Strike 11 was one of a series of targeted raids to disrupt illegal militia activity.

In this particular operation, both U.S. and Iraqi forces were denied freedom of maneuver because of heavy machine gun fire. Apache helicopters were on station but could not get a clear shot because of the proximity of friendly forces. Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) XM31 rockets were called in to provide the solution. For this mission, Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery Regiment fired one GMLRS-Unitary XM31 round, which neutralized the enemy and granted instant freedom of maneuver to the Soldiers and Iraqi forces participating in the operation.

The current version of the XM31 is the M31A1. The M31A1 GMLRS-U was specifically designed for urban warfare to minimize collateral damage. The M31 Al requires an M270A1 MLRS or an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher.

When a fire mission is received, individual aim points are assigned to each rocket by the launcher depending on which sheaf is requested by the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System. GPS and mission critical data are also sent to the rocket. Once the programming has been received, the munition is able to calculate ail parameters necessary to guide itself to the target with precision, including controlling its own impact angle for detonation on, below, or above the target surface. Upon launch, the programmed destination is refined by way of canards on the front end of the rocket housing. These fins move to adjust the flight path of the rocket while in flight, using the GPS data to ensure accurate impact. Upon reaching the target, the fuse setting determines how far from the aim point the warhead will detonate. Supported fuse settings are point detonate (surface), delay (below surface), and proximity (above surface).

Soldiers may have seen a video that has been circulating of an M31 GMLRS-Unitary rocket detonating through the roof of a building. A woman and a child were walking in the street no more than 75 meters away at the time. When the M31 impacts, they are startled and run a few paces and then continue walking. The design of the unitary warhead is designed to kill those in one room but minimize effects in the next. This design is what made it the problem solver on Haifa Street or in any urban environment where collateral damage or proximity to friendly troops is a consideration for risk mitigation.

Typically, the closer the target is the more predictable the accuracy. Typical tube artillery or mortar systems describe the change in accuracy at different ranges as probable error in range (PER). This could be compared to the beaten zone for small arms weapons The bottom line is when GPS guidance is used. MLRS launchers firing GMLRS M31Als are accurate within five meters at all ranges. That level of accuracy combined with the fuse options available with GMLRS gives any maneuver commander the ability to remove obstacles and regain or establish freedom of maneuver.

One of the challenges to enjoying the range, speed, and accuracy of M31 Al GMLRS munitions as part of your daily kinetic strike package is the fact that it is inorganic to the company-level maneuver unit. It is, in fact, a division-level asset. This presents a couple of other challenges that must be overcome--awareness and clearance of air.

Field Artillery officers attached or assigned to your unit can play a large part in awareness by learning as much as they can about MLRS capabilities. They can then grease the skids for fire missions to happen as smoothly and quickly as possible.

When considering the clearance of air, two courses of actionexist for MLRS fire missions. The first course of action is for pre-planned targets, which become kinetic strike packages and are sent to the firing unit for execution. Clearance of air becomes part of that process. The liaison officer (LNO) is your quarterback for achieving clearance of air in an efficient and timely manner. Therefore, you must regularly interface with your LNO, if you know who they are. Once you've made the acquaintance, then your challenge is to feed them with the critical information they need to get the mission approved and cleared in a timely manner.

The second course of action is for troops in contact (TIC). These missions do not utilize the LNO path but are sent directly from the maneuver unit to the joint operations center that handles your area of operations (AO). Since the hand-off goes to a joint unit, they are already part of the clearance-of-air process for ground units. This is what expedites fire missions sent through this method.

MLRS units have great mobility in any terrain and are trained to execute missions in minutes with unmatched range and accuracy. They can be employed for pre-planned targets or targets of opportunity. For these simple reasons, MLRS should be part of any maneuver mission no matter the scope.

1LT Brad Pemberton is currently the First Fires MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) platoon leader for C Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Sill, Okla.
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Title Annotation:Professional Forum
Author:Pemberton, Brad
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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