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Artillery: Brits Bring Guided Rockets to Afghanistan
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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.

 

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hybrid       3/8/2007 10:26:11 PM
You know this is what I don't understand, using the gross weight of the bomb to compare to a warhead actual weight. A 500lb JDAM usually has 190 odd pounds of Tritonal explosives as a warhead, this compared to the GMLRS 200lb warhead (actually I believe the actual weights are 87kg and 90kg respectively).Which in turn means they are basically both equally destructive. Now on the other hand if you said the average JDAM is a whole lot more destructive you'd have a point. To give another comparison the M107 artillery projectile used by the US Army weighs in at about 44 kg with an explosive filler of about 6.62 kg, course in this case the main damage causer isn't the explosive but the fragmentation.
 
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Nichevo    Meanwhile   3/8/2007 10:48:33 PM
I haven't understood whether the 200lb GMLRS warhead is gross weight or explosive charge; what charge is used; what is used in the SDB and 155mm shells.  Couldn't yield be dialed up or down based on target selection, like magnum or +P+ loads in cartridges?  I don't mean dial-a-yield like a suitcase nuke, I mean loading as with .38 vs .357 in your revolver.

Meanwhile, I also imagine GMLRS is popular because it belongs directly to the Army - "the commander's personal shotgun" as per Tom Clancy - thus no joint issues.

They need SBDs and super-SDBs - between 50 and 250 lbs.  They should be loaded to user-specified yields and should be cranked out in huge numbers at the lowest possible cost.  They should be dropped from C-130s and other available, reliable, survivable, inexpensive aircraft at high altitudes beyond dinky guerilla AAA/MANPAD ranges.  Competition should be had to design cheaper seekers to bring the all-up unit weapon cost, or at least strap-on cost, below $1000.  If this implies acquisition quantities in the million range, so be it.  D'ye think we might use all those up some day? 

The long range, etc., of the SDB and follow-ons is attractive, but not always needed.  Though there is some use for loading up some fat a/c with an all-day load of 250s and 100s and such, or allowing some marginal attack bird or drone to service a sufficiency of targets per sortie.  But if the argument is that 500LB JDAMs are too powerful, remove half the filler.  Replace with inert material of equal density.  Does anyone in the Puzzle Palace understand that there is no blank check?

Actually, that reminds me - cheapo SBD from C-130 (AC-130?)  - Great.  But is this very much better than howitzer fire from the same craft?  Someone explain again why they can't use Spectre in the daytime, above MANPAD range as needed?  Put it on a freaking dirigible at Angels 50, there's your loiter time. 

I mean, why does it cost $50,000 or $150,000 to blow up a mud hut?  That shiite ain't right.

What do we think the Chinese smart bombs are costing?  Granting that we get more nines of reliability than they, this kind of logic, circuitry and actuation is approximately what is found in a Roomba robot vacuum.  Those go for $100-200 a crack and include vacuum/mop/etc.  A TomTom GPS is well under $500. 

I guess we all know this, but it is not fine for these doohickeys to cost the earth!  I daresay there are other uses for the money, no?  And not to be selfish, but if I could have one cent for every thousand dollars they would save, not cash in my pocket but just off my taxes, I think that would be fair.  Of course, there are probably hundreds of high school physics geeks with working designs right now.

THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!!!

/dismounts hobbyhorse

 
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hybrid       3/8/2007 11:02:31 PM
You know this is what I don't understand, using the gross weight of the bomb to compare to a warhead actual weight. A 500lb JDAM usually has 190 odd pounds of Tritonal explosives as a warhead, this compared to the GMLRS 200lb warhead (actually I believe the actual weights are 87kg and 90kg respectively).Which in turn means they are basically both equally destructive. Now on the other hand if you said the average JDAM is a whole lot more destructive you'd have a point. To give another comparison the M107 artillery projectile used by the US Army weighs in at about 44 kg with an explosive filler of about 6.62 kg, course in this case the main damage causer isn't the explosive but the fragmentation.
 
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Rasputin    A   3/8/2007 11:12:30 PM
 
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Rasputin    Air force artillery ain't cheap   3/8/2007 11:19:03 PM
It is always going to be cheaper to use artillery for fire support then to use the airforce. But you will have to use it when those needing help are out of range of the artillery.

The airforce can be used for anything else, espeacially b4 the soldiers get there, or a first strike capability.

But if you are the trooper on the ground asking for fire support.anything that comes in handy or is around first will be utilized regardless of cost.

To sound like Jeremy Clarkson, So on this bombshell, it seems to indicate that the 155mm howitzer as a means of a smart weapon delivery platform of artillery shells is  some what  redundent.  And  it best remain as a plain simple howitzer???????

 
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Rasputin    Air force artillery ain't cheap   3/8/2007 11:23:26 PM
Now if only someone in Norinco came out with their own version of the "eastern block" GPS guided rocket artillery.

And then  produce the retro kit for the thousands of "Stalin's Organ" rocket artllery system in use by eastern europe and the rest of the world, they would be able to erm make a killing so to speak.
 
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flamingknives       3/9/2007 9:44:31 AM
The individual doo-hickeys aren't necessarily that expensive. What adds the cost is:
* Trials and proving.
* Quality control (a fair bit higher than most commercial stuff, due to the safety implications)
* Explosives and propellant storage and handling.
* Security (as mandated by the government for any sensitive military information).
* Hardening against environmental and hostile action that your average Roomba robot will never see.
* Design and manufacture skill for stuff that has its own set of requirements and isn't produced too often.
 
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Nichevo       3/11/2007 3:36:02 AM
flamingknives, you speak some truth.  But at least in the case of the JDAM, dumb bombs are "cheaper than hamburger."  We probably have millions in store:  incremental cost = zero.  This is the WWII pattern, no?  250lb bombs and smaller from that era - we have the blueprints.  The control surface technology was used in Vietnam.  So I see little to proof in the munition itself.  What makes a dumb bomb a JDAM is the strap-on kit with a couple of motors, some sheetmetal, and I would presume a very small chipset and antenna.  Granted that the motors have to be more of Swiss-watch quality than Where's Waldo quality, a TAG Heuer watch costs less than a thousand - and probably has its movement from Japan anyway. 

Yes, there will be some trials - though much should be virtualized or extrapolated; after all IIRC the 787 is FAA certified from CAD drawings.  Pretty high standards at Boeing, eh?  Who happens to be the prime on SDB. 

Yes, security adds on.  Put another safe in the wall.  I think the principle of GPS actuated guidance is pretty much out of the bag, though.  China builds guided missiles, I think they can put fins on bombs.  The TomTom is probably made, albeit not designed, in China.

Yes, spec and quality has to be higher and more features like anti-jam and the backup INS.  As I said, some of your points are valid.  No doubt a lot of Chinese bombs will miss or will hang on the ejector rack or will fail in subzero weather, and who knows, a few may go off under the wing.  But proven technology is available and a chief rule of engineering is not to reinvent the wheel.

But this item is hardly a drug on the market - what else are we dropping these days but smart bombs?  Surely tech from the original JDAM can be repurposed.

I just don't think they should be in six figures, is all, even if SDB is sleeker and has a longer range and packs a bit better into bomb racks.  Against a first world power there would be more virtue in it; but we are not now fighting a first world power.  With the volume the USA can consume, we ought to have amortized a lot of fixed costs by now.  Nobody is whining about the Roomba's fixed costs.  Roomba, BTW, are the people who build the Packbot and other military robots.

The US owns all its designs, right?  Give the prints to Lockheed and see what they want for one (or a thousand, or a million).  Give it to IBM, to Colt, to Teledyne Ryan, to Northrop Grumman, to a thousand other US manufacturers, and see what it would run you.  Hell, offer it to Mattel.  It's a machine.  As I recall, in WWII, when the locomotive firms couldn't crank out tanks fast enough, the Army went to Chrysler and GM and Ford.

Better yet, tell Boeing you'll do that, then ask them just how much the really want for a production run, quantity 1 million.  After all, there's nothing wrong with those tankers, just the jiggery-pokery on the contracts.

I just think we could do better.  Hell, give me a million dollars and some sample hardware and I'll design a new one with prototypes.  Cost plus ten percent.  Then give me a few million to buy machine tools from dead factories in the Midwest.  I'll make you some damned genius bombs.

Now, that won't happen.  It is the way it is.  The fact that a bright twelve-year-old airplane modeler or R/C freak could do the job isn't really relevant.  For sure, six grad students at Virginia Tech could do it.  But featuritis and other artifacts of the procurement system are bleeding us.  We've got plenty of blood, but as I said, perhaps some of that blood could be used at Walter Reed.  Etc.,  etc., etc.

I think the moral is - nobody is pushing.

The individual doo-hickeys aren't necessarily that expensive. What adds the cost is:
* Trials and proving.
* Quality control (a fair bit higher than most commercial stuff, due to the safety implications)
* Explosives and propellant storage and handling.
* Security (as mandated by the government for any sensitive military information).
* Hardening against environmental and hostile action that your average Roomba robot will never see.
* Design and manufacture skill for stuff that has its own set of requirements and isn't produced too often.


 
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Sabre       3/12/2007 1:37:37 PM

It is always going to be cheaper to use artillery for fire support then to use the airforce. But you will have to use it when those needing help are out of range of the artillery.

The airforce can be used for anything else, espeacially b4 the soldiers get there, or a first strike capability.

But if you are the trooper on the ground asking for fire support.anything that comes in handy or is around first will be utilized regardless of cost.

To sound like Jeremy Clarkson, So on this bombshell, it seems to indicate that the 155mm howitzer as a means of a smart weapon delivery platform of artillery shells is  some what  redundent.  And  it best remain as a plain simple howitzer???????


"And it best remain as a plain simple howitzer". Sigh, I thought that we were beyond that, here...
 
Howitzers are ready day or night, in ANY weather, have a "loiter time" for as long as you could want, and don't get shot down, leaving a pilot or two stranded out in indian country.  In both Iraq and Afgahnistan, there are PLENTY of places you can drop off a couple guns, or a whole battery, in the middle of nowhere, still range your targets, and have little chance of being attacked.
 
For the accountants out there, by the time you figure in the cost of the delivery system - a fighter-bomber or a howitzer), the crew and what it costs to train them (millions for the fighter pilot), the support crew and costs - a bomb costs vastly more (at least 10 times more) than even an Excalibur 155mm shell.  Even if you want to kick shells out of an AC-130 or cargo C-130, you get far, far more bang for your defense dollar if you are using a howitzer.  Howitzers aren't as sexy as fighter bombers, and don't provide enough jobs in enough congressional districts to be popular with the US, unfortunately - and that is the real difference. Doing some rough calculations in my head, for the cost of just ONE F-22 Raptor, you can have an entire brigade of artillery, perhaps more.
 
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BadNews       3/12/2007 2:02:22 PM



It is always going to be cheaper to use artillery for fire support then to use the airforce. But you will have to use it when those needing help are out of range of the artillery.

The airforce can be used for anything else, espeacially b4 the soldiers get there, or a first strike capability.

But if you are the trooper on the ground asking for fire support.anything that comes in handy or is around first will be utilized regardless of cost.

To sound like Jeremy Clarkson, So on this bombshell, it seems to indicate that the 155mm howitzer as a means of a smart weapon delivery platform of artillery shells is  some what  redundent.  And  it best remain as a plain simple howitzer???????



"And it best remain as a plain simple howitzer". Sigh, I thought that we were beyond that, here...

 

Howitzers are ready day or night, in ANY weather, have a "loiter time" for as long as you could want, and don't get shot down, leaving a pilot or two stranded out in indian country.  In both Iraq and Afgahnistan, there are PLENTY of places you can drop off a couple guns, or a whole battery, in the middle of nowhere, still range your targets, and have little chance of being attacked.

 

For the accountants out there, by the time you figure in the cost of the delivery system - a fighter-bomber or a howitzer), the crew and what it costs to train them (millions for the fighter pilot), the support crew and costs - a bomb costs vastly more (at least 10 times more) than even an Excalibur 155mm shell.  Even if you want to kick shells out of an AC-130 or cargo C-130, you get far, far more bang for your defense dollar if you are using a howitzer.  Howitzers aren't as sexy as fighter bombers, and don't provide enough jobs in enough congressional districts to be popular with the US, unfortunately - and that is the real difference. Doing some rough calculations in my head, for the cost of just ONE F-22 Raptor, you can have an entire brigade of artillery, perhaps more.


The KEY phrase is there no matter the weather!
Additionally, howitzers are capable of sustained fire and laying smoke. To duplicate the sustained fire capablity of an arty bttry would require how many aircraft?
 
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