Artillery: More Militarized Shipping Containers


July 6, 2017: Israel recently announced a successful test of a new version of its LORA (Long Range Artillery Rocket) system that can be mounted and fired from standard shipping containers. The test involved a truck hauling a shipping container parked on a ship deck. The containerized LORA uses a minimum of two containers; one containing four missiles each in the standard sealed container, and the standard electric (not hydraulic) system to point the missile skyward so it will be fired without the rocket blast damaging the ship. Another container contains the control center and some maintenance and test equipment. In the original ship launched version the launch center electronics were installed in the ship CIC (Combat Information Center) like other fire control equipment. A ship could carry four or more containers with launchers and the container version could also be used on land with the containers mounted on any heavy truck or tractor trailer designed to carry those containers. The new container system also makes it easier to add more firepower to existing warships or even unarmed naval support vessels.

Israel says it already has an export customer for the container version of LORA, but won’t say who it is or whether the containerized LORA was built at the request of an export customer, the Israeli military or both. Since Israel already has nuclear weapons mounted on its longer range Jericho ballistic missiles, similar warheads are an option for containerized LORA as used by the Israeli military. That is not likely, but is can be done. Meanwhile the LORA manufacturer mentioned a ground (and bunker) penetrating conventional warhead for LORA.

Israel introduced LORA in 2007 and back then it was noted that the Israeli weapon was similar to the U.S. ATACMS. Each LORA missile weighed up to 1.8 tons depending on which types of warhead carried. These weighed from 400 to 600 kg. Normally range is 300 kilometers but that can be extended 30 percent with a lighter warhead. GPS guidance is standard (with jam proof INS backup) which will land the warhead within 10 meters (30 feet) of the aim point.

LORA was an improvement on the American ATACMS (introduced in 1986) which was fired from a MLRS launcher that normally carries six of the standard 228mm MLRS rockets. Both LORA and ATACMs are 610mm rockets that weighed about the same and used GPS/INS guidance system. Both are basically short range ballistic missiles. Where LORA differed was in that it was carried, four to a sealed launcher, on a heavy truck. Moreover LORA was designed from the beginning to be operated from ships and to use additional guidance system options. The one that was known about was a two-way video link that enabled an operator to confirm the target, abort of necessary and also adjust aim to make it a bit more accurate. Israel has other guidance system options which are not advertised, like a pattern matching system that will provide even more accuracy and is jam proof (no GPS or radio link).

The containerized missile system is nothing new. In 2010 a Russian firm began marketing a version of the 3M54 Klub cruise missile that can be carried in a standard 40 foot (12.3 meter) shipping container. The launcher and the missile have to slide out of the container before firing, thus limiting where it can be placed on a ship, particularly your typical container ship. But you could get two or three of these shipping container Klubs on most cargo ships, turning the vessel into warship. The Klub missile is a key weapon for the Kilo submarine. Weighing two tons, and fired from a 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tube, the 3M54 has a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead. The anti-ship version has a range of 300 kilometers, and speeds up to 3,000 kilometers an hour during its last minute or so of flight. There is also an air launched and ship launched version. A land attack version does away with the high speed final approach feature, and has a 400 kg warhead.