Artillery: MLRSski


April 7, 2011: Russia is replacing its Cold War era Grad MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) with the new Tornado G family of weapons. The original, 1960s, Grad system was a truck mounted launcher holding 40 122mm, with a range of 20 kilometers. Later models got the range up to 40 kilometers. There were also some Grad systems with larger caliber rockets. All the Grads were unguided. These were replacements for the World War II models. Russia invented modern MLRS in the late 1930s.

The main Tornado G weapon is a truck mounted launcher with twelve 300mm rockets, each with a range of 90 kilometers and with satellite navigation (GPS and whatever else the buyer specifies). With Torpedo-G, the Russians are playing catch-up with the U.S. Army, which is into its second generation of MLRS. The original American MLRS entered service two decades after Grad, and was an unguided 227mm rocket, with two, six round, canisters mounted on a tracked vehicle. These had a range of 42 kilometers. MLRS used lots of electronics and automation, as does the new Tornado G.

The next generation, introduced in 2005, was truck mounted HIMARS rocket launchers. The army has a total of 375 HIMARs vehicles in service or on order. It was because of the success of the GPS version of the U.S. MLRS rocket, that the smaller, truck mounted MLRS (HIMARS) rocket launcher system became the most popular vehicle for launching the rocket. HIMARS carries only one, six MLRS rocket, container (instead of two in the original MLRS vehicle), but the 12 ton truck can fit into a C-130 transport (unlike the 22 ton tracked MLRS) and is much cheaper to operate. The first HIMARS entered service in 2005, about a year after GPS guided rockets did.

The 309 kg (680 pound) GMLRS (guided multiple launch rocket system) missile is a GPS guided 227mm rocket that entered service seven years ago. It was designed to have a range of 70 kilometers and the ability to land within meters of its intended target, at any range. This is possible because it uses GPS (plus a back up, less accurate, inertial guidance system) to find its target. Two years ago, the army tested GMLRS at max range (about 85 kilometers) and found that it worked fine. This enables one HIMARS vehicle to provide support over a frontage of 170 kilometers, or, in places like Afghanistan, where the fighting can be anywhere, an area of over 20,000 square kilometers. This is a huge footprint for a single weapon (an individual HIMARS vehicle), and fundamentally changed the way you deploy artillery in combat. Russia and China have followed suit and converted many of their unguided rockets systems to ones that use GPS guided versions.

The U.S. Army is getting most of the 900 HIMARS vehicles planned, with the marines getting the rest. There are also several export customers. The U.S. Army is buying 100,000 GMLRS rockets, most of them fitted with a 89 kg (196 pound) high explosive warhead. These have been used with great success in Iraq and Afghanistan, where over a thousand have been fired so far. The guided rocket is much more effective than the older, unguided, version, and is replacing it in most cases. No more of the unguided rockets are being purchased by the U.S. The accuracy of GMLRS means that one or two rockets does the job that previously required a dozen or more of the unguided ones. That's why HIMARS is so popular. While it only carries six rockets, that's often enough to last for days, even when there's a lot of combat. HIMARS can be reloaded, with another container of six GPS guided rockets, in less than ten minutes.



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