February 7, 2019:
During the first week of 2019 Pakistan put its’ first locally made A-100E GPS guided 300mm rockets into service. These are fired from a truck carrying ten launch tubes. This rocket is similar to American 227mm GMLRS GPS guided rocket system, which was the inspiration for the Chinese A-100 and the Russian BM-30 before it. Pakistan first ordered 36 A-100 launchers from China in response to India ordering the original Russian BM-30 (which A-100 was a Chinese copy of). These were all unguided rockets. Pakistan later received a license to produce the guided 300mm rocket locally and now those are in service. Meanwhile, this category of guided rockets has continued to expand.
Since 2010 China has developed and offered for export, a growing number of guided missiles that use GPS and the Chinese Baidu satellite navigation system. In that time China has developed longer range guided rockets for the export customers. The latest of these is the AR3 which can handle a number of different size rockets that are stored and fired from pods designed to operate from the same AR3 8x8 heavy truck.
The latest of these guided rockets is the 750mm (diameter) Fire Dragon rocket with a 290 kilometer range and a half ton warhead. The AR3 launch vehicle can carry two Fire Dragon rockets. The AR3 can also carry a pod containing the 720 kg TL-7 anti-ship missiles. This is another version of the C-802 missile and has a range of 200 kilometers. It uses inertial guidance to get to the general area of the target and then radar to home in on a ship.
Other types of guided rockets include pods with four 370mm guided rockets (220 kilometer range). Two of these pods can be carried instead of the two Fire Dragon pods. Reload vehicles can remove empty pods and install loaded ones in about twenty minutes. The AR3 has a crew of three that can halt and fire a guided rocket at a specific target within five minutes.
Chinese introduced its first guided rocket system in 2010 as WM-120 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System). This has two pods, each containing four rockets, mounted on a 36 ton 8x8 truck. The 273mm rockets have a maximum range of 80 kilometers and use satellite guidance to land within 25 meters of the aiming point. Rockets can be fired within five minutes of receiving the target location. The truck contains a crane so that it takes eight minutes to load two new rocket pods.
The WM-120 is an upgrade of the older A-100 rocket system. The A100 was a reverse engineered Russian BM-30. Both use 300mm rockets and a 40 ton wheeled vehicle carrying 12 rockets and a crew of three. The BM-30 entered service in the late 1980s and was seen as the Russian answer to the U.S. MLRS (a 27 ton tracked vehicles carrying twelve, 200 kg/660 pound, 227mm rockets). All these rockets are more accurate than earlier generations of unguided rockets. The A100 fires 250 kg (550 pound) rockets as far as 80 kilometers. When first introduced there were still no satellite guided BM-30 or A100 rockets but that soon changed. Russia pioneered the development of modern battlefield rockets in the late 1930s, but the U.S. introduction of the high-tech MLRS in the early 1980s that made these weapons much more effective.
The U.S. took this one step further in 2008 when it stopped using unguided rockets. From then on only GPS guided MLRS rockets were used, which can reach out as far as 85 kilometers (and soon 135 kilometers). Because of the success of the GPS version of the U.S. MLRS rocket the smaller, truck mounted MLRS (HIMARS) rocket launcher system has become more popular. 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 heavier, tracked MLRS) and is much cheaper to operate. The first HIMARS entered service in 2005, about a year after GPS guided rockets did.
The GMLRS (guided multiple launch rocket system) missile is a GPS guided 227mm rocket that entered service in 2005. It was designed to land within meters of its intended target, at any range. This is possible because it uses GPS (plus a backup inertial guidance system) to find its target. In 2008 the army tested GMLRS at max range (about 85 kilometers) and found that it worked fine. This enabled 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 changes the way you deploy artillery in combat. It certainly changed the Chinese attitudes towards rocket launcher design and the use of satellite guidance. Chinese guided rockets used both GPS and the Chinese Baidu satellite navigation system.