March 8, 2007: The British army is finally sending
some heavy artillery to Afghanistan. Not big (155mm) guns, but big rockets.
Several MLRS launchers are being sent, equipped with GPS guided rockets (MLRS).
Despite requests from the troops for heavier artillery, the British have only
sent a few 105mm howitzers. Finally, the commanders convinced the brass back
home that some heavier stuff was needed. The American GMLRS (officially the
"GMLRS Unitary rocket") rockets has been a great success. In the last year,
U.S. Army artillery units in Iraq have been firing about ten GPS guided 227mm
MLRS rockets a month. When the GMLRS (Guided MLRS) first went into action, the
troops realized that this was a near-perfect artillery weapon. There have been
no reliability problems with the GMLRS, which has a range of 70 kilometers and,
because of the GPS guidance has the same accuracy at any range. Unguided
rockets become less accurate the farther they go. The GMLRS is designed to put
each rocket within a 16 foot circle (the center of which is the GPS coordinates
the rocket is programmed to go for). In nearly all cases, the GMLRS rocket
appears to land less than ten feet from the aiming point.
What makes the GMLRS most useful is not just its
accuracy, which is about the same as air force JDAM GPS guided smart bombs, but
because the 200 pound GMLRS warhead produces a smaller bang than the smallest
JDAM (500 pounds). When it comes to urban fighting, smaller is better. Less
collateral damage, and your troops can be closer to the target when the
explosion occurs. In Iraq, the 200 pound GMLRS warhead is just the right size
for your average Iraqi building. The structure, and the bad guys within, are
destroyed, and adjacent structures suffer minimal, or no, damage. For that
reason, even some Iraqi politicians have come out in praise of the GMLRS. In
Afghanistan, most of the fighting is outside urban areas, but even there, in
many cases the bad guys are in one building of a compound, while innocent
civilians are in another. In such cases, the GMLRS could take out one building,
without destroying the other.
In order to get more GMLRS rockets, all new MLRS
rocket production is being switched to GMLRS, and a retrofit kit, that will
turn unguided MLRS rockets into GMLRS, has been introduced. The army believes
that GMLRS will remain the most useful smart weapon, even with the coming
introduction of the hundred pound 155mm GPS guided Excalibur artillery shell,
and the U.S. Air Forces 250 pound JDAM (the SDB, or small diameter bomb). Both
of these weapons pack a smaller punch than the GMLRS, and that may be a
drawback in some situations. Ground troops are certain that the GMLRS warhead
is just right, at least in most cases.