GMLRS Developments

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.

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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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Peter Elliott
May 26, 2013 11:54 am

The missing piece in the jigsaw looks like the ‘navalisation’ of the GMLRS launch vehicle. Corrosion resistance, exhuast gas issues, stabilisation etc. When you can plonk a container or a wheeled truck down on the deck of lightly armed ship (patrol ship, amphib or fleet auxiliary) and have it acheive effective precision fires far inland then that will be somehting of a game changer for Naval fire support.

But I suspect the problems won’t be so very easy to solve. Warships plumb their long range weapons into the ship’s radars and combat system for a reason. And if you have to add all that functionity to the GMLRS system you might as well fit a full naval VLS and have done.

Maybe the true answer will come with CAMM (L). The use of the same basic system as Sea Cepor should enable a contianter or two of CAMM (L) to ‘plonked’ onto an under-armed ship, and accept guidance either from a nearby warship or from some other from of fire control in the sky. Any chance of operating watchkeeper from the sea?

It then comes back to ISTAR of course. Which is so much less exciting than whizzy things that go bang. But some sort of future navalised ISTAR capability able to replicate the work of Sentinel and Watchkeeper would seem like a pretty essential investment to acheive viable power projection over the land using rockets.

Now would we really go down that route given we are committed to two carriers and 48+ F35B, with their integral sensors, targeting and A2G weapons? Maybe not.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
May 26, 2013 1:00 pm

I am always dubious about future systems that such as this that promise greater range and accuracy without mentioning cost, accuracy, actual range and or payload.

If it really does deliver a long range accurate usable payload at a good distance it will be incredibly useful but a “priority”?

The first issue I have is ROE/Press. Look at the scrutiny UAV ops come under and then times it by 1000 the first time you land one of these on what was actually a “wedding”.

The second is duplication of air launched systems and something like future surface launched SCALP. It will have to be cheaper because unlike an aircraft that can launch a couple of storm shadow and engage in AAR on the same mission.
Another day provide an ISTAR option and 2 months later intercept and escort a Pakistani Airline A330 these things are a 1 trick 1 shot deal.
Incredibly useful as a first strike weapon in a proper conflict but at the expense of manned FJ and UAV development? Not for me.

May 26, 2013 3:29 pm

@TD: I can see these replacing a lot of fighter sorties too. But the biggest impact will probably be on naval NGS, since either a unitary or wide area warhead looks like a much better solution than a relatively slow firing large gun that requires large amounts of maintenance and under and over deck space: just add some more MK41 silo’s with GMLRS quad packed and you can hit all your NGS targets at the same standoff as even a Volcano 5in round but will more impact and all at once

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
May 26, 2013 3:30 pm


“ROE is of course a concern but I would say two things to that, first, not every operation will have very tight ROE’s”

Exactly what I was talking about when I said it would be an “Incredibly useful as a first strike weapon in a proper conflict”.

What sort of range between launch and impact are we talking about?

May 26, 2013 3:33 pm

@TD: we could also see this as a way of making small stealthy UAV’s very useful. No need for them to carry large weapons, they can call them up on three minutes notice on our side of the lines. That being said, I suspect the current range of 100k or so is probably a sweet spot for this: longer range starts looking rather expensive from the point of view of the missiles themselves and the “lock time” is going to make them far less effective

May 26, 2013 3:46 pm

Seems the UK’s MRLS batteries are most shy when it comes to being in the public, you don’t hear nor see much of them.

When I was in Afghan, I interpreted them as a sorta ‘reverse SAM’ – area *ground* defense of an location in which FOB’s would call it in if trouble arrived, so yes; this can work as a alternative to CAS in some respects, allowing the FJ and attack helicopter to roam further afield and it certainly has greater persistence.

But the issue with using them as an alternative to CAS was PID, a tornado/typhoon or Apache has the advantage of having personnel observe the situation on the ground and calling the shot, along with the JTAC/FAC, so several pov’s and minds to tackle the situation. With a system like the MRLS, we take away that part of the loop, unless a UAV is roaming in co-operation, so a reaper (which carries weapons anyway) or a watch-keeper – the latter would make good sense, then we’d have an all army loop, from JTAC, to UAV, to the weapons platform. Then we enter the munition area, at the moment the weapons these use are still too large for use in collateral critical situations.

Its certainly a good idea to expand them and their munition capability though, but as with almost all things; it compliments, not replaces.

As with a naval version, unsure but weren’t the soviets all for massed missile launches from their ships? As with simply parking one on the deck of a lightly armed tub, I imagine waves the moving of said vessel would render the system useless?

May 26, 2013 4:21 pm

Naval GMLRS would be very welcome. I really think its a pitty we binned all our sub munitions weapons. Understand the tree hugging need for it but if we ever had to fight an actual war without the USA who still have there’s we would be kind of f**ked. Good job the defence assumptions are always correct and there is no need for anything beyond a berry and a good hard look from an army officer to win a conflict these days :-)

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
May 26, 2013 5:11 pm

@ Martin

“Naval GMLRS would be very welcome@

The capability would be extremely welcome though it would undoubtedly have another name. What scares me about it is that it will cost money to develop a “niche” capability. and what we would be expected to give up.
The conversation goes something along the lines of.
“we want to develop a Naval version of GMLRS so we can fire a rocket/missile out of a strike length tube to be able to hit targets between x and y nm away”
“Can you not hit those targets now?”
“Well yes we can hit targets at X range with the Gun and at Y range with TLAM/SCALP N or an air strike or an attack helicopter””
“Excellent so if we get this we can get rid of air strikes/TLAM and attack helicopter then?”
@”No because all of them do other things, TLAM can strike much longer range targets, FJ can do ISTAR/CAP/ and longer range strikes and AH are excellent at eyes on CAS”
“Ok so remind me again why I need to fund this capability when it duplicates others”

A bit of an extreme example but?

Now do not get me wrong I think the development has massive potential and especially from an army view point but from a Naval one I think that it smacks a little bit of duplication and gold plating in the current economic climate.

May 26, 2013 6:26 pm

Peter E – ref naval weapons system being plugged into a “command system” – yes they are, for many reasons, but dont over analyze it. Any GMLRS target is well beyond line of site radar range, so the “Command System” would provide range and bearing / target coordinates – fall back “local control” would use the same kit found in the armoured GMLRS launcher.

The G in GMLRS would probably counter-act the ship movement to some extent, but building a stabilized launcher if hardly rocket science – however unless a VL capability could be built in for very dense packing of rockets, then the medium calibre gun actually wins on number of rounds carried.

APATS – rocket lofted SDB can address ROE – Semi-Active Laser “beam riding” for example (GPS gets it to the right area to pick the reflections)

Mike – ROE again ? Wont always need to worry about man in the loop, but even without Apache, Tornado/Typhoon or a UAV, there are such things as man packed HF radios, satcom and even man packed laser designators :-)

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
May 26, 2013 6:39 pm


I have no doubt about its ability to fulfill ROE to a military requirement, I highlighted what would happen when we hit a b”wedding” with one of these things given the hysteria that greets drone usage. Whatever we know to be the truth we have moved from using manned aircraft to unmanned aircraft to simply firing rockets.

That is what will be on the front page of the newspapers. and outside of a major conflict that is what we have to deal with.

I have written several ROE profiles over the years and they have been changing for some time. The common factor is that unless you have friendly lives at stake then they are becoming tighter and tighter.

May 26, 2013 7:36 pm

Oh, well:
they did the LMRS extended range from ships = POLAR
and they “did” one better

but none of these got funded (in the good old USA where the overlapping capabilities are seen as a good insurance)

May 26, 2013 7:49 pm

How big would the tubes need to be? Could they go on a deck relatively easily?

May 26, 2013 10:50 pm

Almsot five years after the cluster munitions ban for most countries the arms industry is finally catching up more seriously with the issue.

GUMLRS and similar missiles are too large (logistics) and expensive (qty in stock) for general support, though. What’s really needed is a LAR-160-style alternative pod (compatible with MLRS/HIMARS/MARS) with a modestly sized rocket / missile.

Glide bombs are moving into ATACMS / LORA territory; that’s an alternative to non-CAS air strikes, not for combat support for troops in contact.

MRL systems of MLRS’ size should be versatile; long-range large missiles as a kind of precision SRBM for strikes that fit into the air war strategy, 127-160 mm missiles for good-range general support during peak demand (with the more logistics-efficient SPGs handling the base load) and finally large short range rockets à la TOS to crush the most stubborn resistance in difficult terrain.
The MLRS system with its ability to switch calibres during normal reload action is well-suited for this.

I basically wrote the same on my blog in late 2009 already.

May 26, 2013 11:56 pm

TD – didn’t you also once try to sell us on the idea of CRV7 in the ground to ground role ? Even smaller warhead for those tough ROE days…..

May 27, 2013 2:45 am

…or Ray Ting 2000, Israeli Lynx, LAROM…

May 27, 2013 5:16 am

“The capability would be extremely welcome though it would undoubtedly have another name. What scares me about it is that it will cost money to develop a “niche” capability. and what we would be expected to give up.”

Your such a kill joy with your common sense approach :-)

I was hoping our buddies in the USN might develop it for a Mk41 VLS and we could just buy a few. Although I doubt I would put much effort into it on our part. As you say is a niche capability very much in the nice to have section of the white board in Phil’s office.

Definitely one reason I hope we select the Mk41 for the T26 and eventually the T45 because there are an increasing range of missiles that would be nice to have in the niche category if we can just plug and play them for a small cost such as LRASM B.

Peter Elliott
May 27, 2013 6:03 am

The thread is making it more and more clear to me that the choice of launch method for the rocket/missile/shell is actually small beer.

If the ship can’t also launch and recover a gadget that can see the target then the weapon likely to be of no use to man nor beast.

Which is what the wash-up report for Libya said and is why the RN is now procuring UAS demonstrators.

That’s the critical path here: any news? Scan Eagle? Firescout? Hummingbird? Weren’t we supposed to get an announcement about this procurement some time soon?

Jeremy M H
May 27, 2013 2:56 pm

There was some concept killing issue with MLRS on ships (POLAR). I don’t recall exactly what it was though. I think it had to do with the fact that it really needs to be launched from a stable platform to perform with accuracy and ships are generally not stable. It could have been an exhaust issue as well. I don’t really recall. I just know the general consensus was that MLRS on ships was not going to work out for whatever reason. I don’t recall it getting any run at all since then either.

May 27, 2013 6:53 pm

An 8in shell is about the same size as a SDB.

All Politicians are The same
All Politicians are The same
May 27, 2013 7:14 pm


it would be an incredibly useful capability unfortunately as I highlighted in my tongue in cheek post yesterday, it will always be a better way of achieving what can be achieved by other systems.

I would say our only chance of ever obtaining it is if the US were to develop it to the stage where all that was required was to drop it into a Mk41 or Mk57 silo with a patch into the combat sytem or a specific terminal in the ops room (like harpoon).

Peter Elliott
May 27, 2013 7:36 pm

So come on guys. Quit talking about rockets casue we’ve established they’re (a) boring and (b) likely to be unaffordable. Tell us the latest gossip on:

“organic over the horizon ISTAR.”

Becuase thats the game changer that we both need and might be able to afford.

May 27, 2013 9:50 pm

I wonder if one could install a UAV onto a GMLRS to fly it out to range quickly. I think that the Russians did something like that with their large calibre MLRS. Ideally it would then be able to run back under its own steam over a longer period to save throwing away that rather costly electro-optic suite.

Regards rockets and efflux, it’s all rather dependent on the chemistry of the motor and not all are created equal. Compare Seawolf with Seadart or either with MLRS.