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The 300mm Solution
by James Dunnigan
September 15, 2012

Russia has agreed to allow India to build five types of artillery rockets under license. India has long produced Russian rocket launchers and some older types of rockets under license. India prefers to build Russian equipment itself because the Russians are terrible at supplying spare parts, technical assistance, and honoring warranties.

An example of this was their experience with the BM-30 (or 9K58) 300mm rocket launcher system. India bought some of these seven years ago and four years ago obtained manufacturing licenses for them. But there are still warranty problems on some of the systems purchased and some components that are still obtained from Russia.

The 9K58 entered service in the late 1980s, just before the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved. Think of this as Russians answer to the American MLRS. Nicknamed Smerch (Tornado), this twelve tube launcher fires 300mm rockets that have a max range of 90 kilometers and weigh about 250 kg/550 pounds (depending on type). A 44 ton wheeled vehicle carries the launcher and the three man crew. The vehicle can be ready to fire in three minutes and can move on within two minutes of firing. All twelve rounds can be fired within 38 seconds. It takes twenty minutes to reload.

Russia has been selling the BM-30 vehicles for about $12 million each (including a supply of rockets and technical support). Russia has about 300 BM-30s. Over 200 have been exported so far. China reverse engineered the BM-30 as the A100, which was introduced in 2002. But the A100 was inferior to the BM-30, especially in terms of reliability. China bought a manufacturing license four years ago so that it could improve the effectiveness of its A100 systems, especially the propellant in the rockets (which the Chinese have had a lot of trouble with).

The competition is the U.S. M270 MLRS, which entered service in 1982. This system fires twelve 227mm (295 kg/650 pound) or two 610mm (1.6 ton) rockets. The smaller rockets have a max range of 70 kilometers, the larger ones 300 kilometers. The rockets are carried on a 25 ton tracked vehicle and has a crew of three. There is also a lighter, wheeled vehicle, that carries six 227mm or one 610mm rockets. The MLRS costs about the same as the BM-30 and now has GPS guided rockets, which provides a major advantage over the BM-30.

India is satisfied with its Russian rocket launchers, especially when they, and their ammunition, can be built locally. While India has been tempted to buy the MLRS, especially because of the new GPS guided rockets, Russia responded with promises to eventually provide its own GPS guided rocket that would be cheaper than the American one. Many Indian artillery officers are aware of the success of the American GPS guided MLRS (GMLRS) in Iraq and Afghanistan and would like a similar weapon. So far nothing has happened in that area.


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