GMLRS Developments

The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA.

An interesting piece of news this week on the G/MLRS system.

First was from Lockheed Martin about the testing of a new GMLRS warhead, called the rather unimaginative ‘Alternative Warhead’

They test fired the first one, it flew 30km and blew up, sorted then!

The Alternative Warhead is designed to achieve the same area effect as the older M26/DPICM sub-munition warhead but with a single unitary ‘effector’ thus reducing the unexploded ordnance hazard that characterised the older system. The engineering, manufacturing and design contract was actually awarded in early 2012  and Lockheed martin subcontracted the development to ATK (who had already self funded much of the development)

The new warhead is insensitive and will be simple to ‘drop in’ to an existing rocket, set to achieve initial operating capability in 2016 with US forces.

The UK has long since removed the sub munition warhead from use and so only has the single 200 pounds unitary warhead available. This has seen much use in Afghanistan, replacing Close Air Support in many cases, but it remains to be seen if we take this new area warhead.

The second piece of interesting news was also an update on an earlier idea.

Boeing is progressing with an earlier development of their Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) such that it can be fired from a GMLR rocket. The rocket gets the bomb to altitude upon which it is ejected and the wing kit deploys, the bomb is then guided to the target. Both the GMLRS and SDB Increment I warhead weigh about the same, just under a hundred kilograms.

By using the wing kit the intention is to extend the range of the already long range GMLRS and provide additional guidance options.

What makes this possible at a reasonable cost is the much reduced G forces experienced by rocket warheads compared to artillery. Engineering a precision guidance kit for a tube launched warhead is a considerable challenge.

The benefits of these kinds of precision rocket systems are obvious and they encroach onto traditional close air support territory. Given the huge cost of maintaining and operating fast jets, and also unmanned systems, the time must surely be coming where guided rockets equipped with unitary or cargo type warheads replace many of the fire support tasks traditionally carried out by aircraft.

The larger ATACMS rocket can fly even further and was used for many SEAD/DEAD missions in the Gulf.

Combine this larger rocket with something like an SDB, SPEAR Cap 3 or LMM and many of the deep strike missions that traditionally require fast jets can be covered by simple and cheap rockets, lobbing precision warheads.

In the naval domain, they might even replace many of the missions of the fast jets carried aboard aircraft carriers.

No one is suggesting the completely replace fast jets or UAV’s and as ever, there are overlapping rings to consider but this is a trend that seems to be picking up pace and in harsh financial times, has to be given priority.

Is it now time to adjust the balance of funding between aircraft and rockets?

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