The U.S. Army is testing a thermobaric (fuel air explosive) warhead
for its GMLRS (officially the "GMLRS Unitary rocket") rockets. In the last
year, U.S. Army artillery units in Iraq have been firing about ten GPS guided
227mm MLRS rockets a month in Iraq. 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 with in 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.
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.
new thermobaric warhead operates by dispersing an inflammable mist, then
igniting it. This produces an explosion that kills by sucking the oxygen
out of the surrounding areas, as well as with blast. Fired into a large
building, the thermobaric would kill more people inside, and do less damage to
adjacent structures. Thermobaric warheads have been used with great success in
shoulder fired rocket launchers.
order to get more GMLRS, all new MLRS 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 Force's 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. But the Excalibur
and SDB will get a workout anyway, and they will probably prove useful, even if
they have to compete with a thermobaric GMLRS.