A Universal Missile and Rocket Launcher

It is not very often that I have an idea that I don’t think is a bit suspect, so these days, I tend to write about things and pose a question, but on this one, the more I think about it the more I like it so in time-honoured tradition of all defence bloggers, a modest suggestion…

What’s the Small Idea?

A demountable launcher for in-service and future rockets and missiles that can be carried by aircraft, ships and any in service or civilian truck.

In effect, a universal launcher.

Why bother?

There are four reasons; availability, deception, flexibility and deployability.


Rockets and missiles are becoming increasingly costly, and as with many expensive ‘payloads’ they are often carried on relatively low-cost vehicles that are subject to maintenance and damage. To illustrate this, take the example of a land based anti-aircraft missile like the CAMM/Land Ceptor system.

Future Light Anti Aircraft Defence System (Land) - FLAADS(L) using the MBDA Common Anti Air Missile

The cost of the missiles is far in excess of the cost of the truck but the truck can be rendered unserviceable by a myriad of relatively minor issues, taking the missiles with it.

In peacetime, this could be as trivial as an indicator bulb but in war time, a broken driveshaft or engine fault would do just the same. The value of the truck is low, we have thousands of them. But the value of the missiles, both in cost and operational terms, is very high, we have far fewer missiles than trucks.

If part of our land based air defence capability was taken out of action by a single trucks engine problem, the potential consequences could be dire, far in excess of the perceived impact of an engine fault.

So, simply being able to move the missiles from one truck to another has enormous value.

Now with the example above, they are not wholly tied into the vehicle and can be demounted, but the principle remains. Other weapon systems are more tightly integrated with their carriage.

This is the first reason, demountable systems separate the valuable payload from the less valuable and likely less reliable means of transportation.

The availability of the expensive payload is therefore, maximised.


Deception was an art form that we used to be very good at, because it was a necessity.

Inflatable Spitfire Decoy

Recent operations have been conducted in an environment where enemy observation and reconnaissance from the air has been practically non-existent.

So, it is a capability that we no longer practice.

However, with the ubiquity of aerial observation capabilities we must get used to operating in an environment where freedom from observation can no longer be assured.

Deception, therefore, should be fashionable again.

Yes, you guessed it, this means the exterior of the universal launcher must be constrained by the dimensions of either a 20ft, 30ft, 40ft or 45ft intermodal container. It must also have the appropriate corner fittings and look, pretty much, exactly like a container, possibly a reefer container.

Don’t groan!

There are millions of containers in use, their ubiquity allows the launcher to simply disappear into the civilian transport infrastructure background. This visual camouflage complicates enemy intelligence and targeting processes and in some circumstances, facilitate both tactical surprise and ambiguity of strategic intent.

This is nothing knew of course.

Making it look like a refrigerated container (reefer) would also provide cover for a thermal and audible signature of generators or batteries used for operation of the launchers on-board systems.

20ft reefer container



The objective is to provide launch platform flexibility, the same launcher could be used for land based anti-ship missiles, intermediate range cruise missiles, the GMLRS/ATACMS family of rockets, CAMM air aircraft missiles and future systems such as a GMLRS launched SPEAR/SDB.

This would allow a single launch system to be loaded with the required missiles or rockets, quickly.

Although it is unlikely to want to load the launcher with a CAMM pod and GMLRS pod, the ability to mix and match different calibre rockets would be very useful.

Platform diversity is never a bad thing and provides growth options for future systems.

We might also consider ensuring it can use enemy munitions.

With appropriate hooklift fittings, the launch container could be quickly loaded and unloading using DROPS/EPLS/Multilift type trucks. Conventional reloading using mobile cranes would be possible, but of rapid reloading is needed, simply swap containers.


For rapid deployment, there are many scenarios and possibilities.

They could be already attached to a military donor vehicle, in this scenario, the containerised launch system offers no logistic advantages over a bespoke platform, in fact; it might potentially mean a slightly increased weight.

Other scenarios could see it deployed using the civilian container infrastructure and transported at the destination using vehicles already in that location.

In a major conflict, the availability of military trucks might be constrained, for this reason, the ability to use vehicles of opportunity is an obvious benefit of a demountable launch mechanism.

Another advantage is such a self-contained (see what I did there!) launcher could be quickly fitted to vessels of opportunity.

Whilst not a return to the post Falklands era of containerised Seawolf it could be on the same same lines. The crucial difference is that Sea Ceptor/CAMM does not need a radar director and therefore, much more self-contained. In a task force, the inbound missile or aircraft location, identification and tracking would be performed by a Type 45 Destroyer, or possibly a Type 26 Frigate, with launch instruction and initial target location transmitted to the container over a tactical data link.

The ability to separate launch platform from the direction/control platform is one of the great strengths of the Sea Ceptor/CAMM system. Vessels with no organic air defence systems like auxiliaries or civilian vessels can now become part of the air defence bubble, in effect, they become missile trucks.

Against an inbound threat, the Type 45 does all the clever stuff and simply uses the best placed launch platform by remote control.

With GMLRS/ATACMS/GMLRS launched SDB/SPEAR Cap 3, there may also be some scenarios in which land attack precision fires could be delivered from a wider variety of military and civilian vessels.

A few thoughts on design

This isn’t a design as such, just a few ideas.

There are a few questions to ask, will it need a levelling mechanism, does the launcher need to be trainable, or will simple elevation be sufficient, how can efflux be managed and what about power and communication/interface requirements?

It is also clear that, despite looking like a standard container, it will not be one. This is not a proposal for a launch system that can be stuffed inside any container, instead, a launch system that looks like a standard container.

Because we know the dimensions of standard intermodal containers are the constraining factor, the number and types of missiles and rockets possible to be carried will be a product of these dimensions.

If we want more or larger, go up to the next standard container size.

Stabilisation and Demountability

Stabilisation and levelling legs will be required in addition to a hooklift and standard twistlock corner fittings. This is simple engineering and extremely common, European swap body containers, for example.

[tabs] [tab title=”Swapbody”]

Container Swapbody

[/tab] [tab title=”Loading”]

[/tab] [tab title=”Unloading”]

[/tab] [/tabs]

Hydraulic stabilisation, and levelling legs and pads are also commonplace, so nothing too challenging.

Power and Communication

An internal compartment would house appropriate communications, data link masts, power generation and conditioning equipment, cooling and battery systems. Each would also have external connectors for power, local diagnostics and data.

Power requirements would be relatively modest and potentially provided by a combination of lithium Ion battery packs, fuel cells or diesel generators, all widely available.

Whilst the norm would be for control via short to medium range in service secure tactical data links, emission free fibre optic cables can be used in excess of several thousand metres.


Some missile systems use a soft launch mechanism, such as CAMM. Efflux management becomes less of an issue, therefore.

GMLRS on the other hand, has a significant efflux.

A traditional shipborne VLS uses an efflux chamber with the products of combustion vented vertically through an exhaust adjacent to missile hatches. When I was doing a spot of random googling on the subject I came across another article on a very similar subject, great minds and all that!

Here it is, Firepower Capacity Building.

It talks about adding additional capacity for USN vessels using a containerised Mk41 VLS, but also describes a system for mounting GMLRS pods, image (stolen), below!


A similar arrangement could be used.

Alternatively, the efflux could be managed by simply directing it to the ground, perpendicular to the launch platform. This would require the launcher to be trainable so that the missiles/rockets were aligned in such a manner that the exhaust gases were directed to the side of the launcher. It would also cause problems for shipborne use, again, trade-offs.

Reading the linked article above, the suggestion to use a Mk41 VLS is interesting. They propose that the VLS is housed inside the container and raised prior to deployment. Nothing wrong with this but Mk41 is very expensive and it would result in a loss of flexibility for the most likely payloads. Mk41 also needs low-pressure air, fresh water, seawater, cooling, and three and single phase power., hardly conducive to the simplicity concept.

But it did get me thinking on the general subject and if you remember, Lockheed Martin have produced the Single Cell Launcher (SCL) and a standalone version of the ExLS launch system.

Lockheed Martin ExLS
Lockheed Martin ExLS

The standalone ExLS could be slotted into the launch mechanism and raised prior to launch.

Launch Mechanism

For unguided rockets, the mechanism must be able to position them in elevation and traverse. For guided missiles and rockets, the requirement for elevation AND traverse becomes reduced, if the launch vehicle itself can be used for positioning.

If the launch mechanism could only provide variation in elevation would be much less complex and compact, but for maximum flexibility it would be desirable to have both.

Something similar to the below, the Romanian LAROM system that can carry and fire legacy 122mm GRAD rockets or the newer 160m LAR 160mm rockets from IMI;

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[/tab] [tab title=”LAROM-LAR160″]


[/tab] [tab title=”Detail 2″]

[/tab] [tab title=”Detail 2″]


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With the HIMARS single pod GMLRS system, the thing that makes it wide is the self-loading rails. Accepting an external crane reload process means the Rocket Pod Container (RPC) can be loaded in pairs and still be fit inside a single container, the Korean RTK-2000 takes the same approach.

The larger rocket in the image below is the 300km range ATACMS.


Looking at the various possibilities and container dimensions, 20ft, 30ft and 40ft, it is clear that even including the height penalty of a trainable launch mechanism capacity can still be reasonably good for a variety of rockets and missiles.

In a 20ft container with an internal length of 5.9m, 2.4m width and 2.4m height, ATACMS, GMLRS, Naval Strike Missile, LAR-160, CAMM and CAMM-ER all fit. LRASM and SCALP would need a 30ft container. Even accounting for a recent stockpile reduction, the UK has a relatively large stock of Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles. The similar MBDA TAURUS missile has a ground launch system concept so I wonder if we could adopt the same approach?


[tabs] [tab title=”Ground Launched SDB”]

[/tab] [tab title=”TR-300″]

[/tab] [tab title=”ASTROS-II”]

[/tab] [tab title=”LAR-160″]

[/tab] [tab title=”ACCULAR”]

[/tab] [tab title=”LORA”]

[/tab] [tab title=”RTK-2000″]

[/tab] [/tabs]


[tabs] [tab title=”Naval Strilke Missile”]

Polish NSM

[/tab] [tab title=”Container NSM”]

Ground Launched NSM


[/tab] [tab title=”Delilah”]

[/tab] [tab title=”Ground Launched TAURUS”]

Ground launched TAURUS

[/tab] [tab title=”Fire Shadow”]

Fire Shadow Loitering Munition

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What is clear is there are many missiles and rockets that can be fired from such a ground launcher, make that a universal ground launcher than can be carried by standard trucks, and perhaps ships, and you have a very flexible system.

Some of those systems are in service, some not.

How would I pay for it, withdrawing the M/GMLRS launch vehicles would be a good start.


This is a bit of a hair brained idea that meets not a single defined military need or requirement, but still.

What could be in here?

container trailer

A load of toilet rolls, or;

  • 24 GMLRS,
  • 8 Naval Strike Missiles,
  • 4 ATACMS,
  • 24 CAMM,
  • Or combinations of these and others.

I like it!



My friend Sven, over at Defense and Freedom just reminded me that he thought of it first :)

“Old delineations may disappear. A single multiple rocket launcher may be capable of launching area fires rockets, pinpoint accuracy rockets, scatterable AT mines, coastal defence anti-ship missiles, anti-air missiles, anti-radar missiles, heavy thermobaric short range rockets, rockets with sensor drones and bomb strike-replacing bridge and bunker buster missiles.”

Mea Culpa, read more at the link…



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November 14, 2015 6:58 pm




Valkiri hid MRL component with tarpaulin:

A real container approach is troublesome for reloading process; acceptable for very expensive munitions, not acceptable for “dumb” MRL rounds that need be expended in quantity. Containers aren’t very common in a brigade or Bn battlegroup anyway. One could approximate the appearance of a PLS rack with 5,000 litres fuel, though – and indeed, it would be possible to have MRL modules designed for use on PLS lorries. 3 or 4 outrigger legs would need be part of the module, though.

November 14, 2015 9:12 pm

Didn’t Lockheed trial the AMRAAM in a MRLS launch module? In the same module as 227mm rockets much less.

The problem comes with the support systems needed to use the missile. You need to add a radar unit to the HIMARS battery et al. Same thing with all the artillery missiles, anti-ship missiles etc. They all have different support systems. An air defence unit will have a radar optimised for aerial tracking while an anti-ship missile would have a radar more appropriate for maritime usage. An artillery unit might have a counter-artillery radar. All different performances and function.

November 14, 2015 9:30 pm

Could this be the basis of a more general universal interface? If you have a universal interface that links weapon and platform (including radar), you could make sure the platforms are compatible with the interface and after that all future weapons only have to be designed to fit the interface rather than a bespoke platform fit. This could reduce integration costs and make cross platform/weapon coordination (like missile targetting hand offs) easier.

@Think Defence – There’s a problem where I can’t type in the Name and E-Mail boxes in Opera for Android. Chrome works though.

The Other Chris
November 14, 2015 9:40 pm

You probably want to also take a look at the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Multi-Mission Launcher (IFPC MML).

Think flexibility of a VLS in flatbed form, albeit a little smaller:



November 14, 2015 9:40 pm

Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace produce the NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) that uses a SL-AMRAAM (Surfaced Launched AMRAAM). They now offer an upgraded NASAMS-2.

Looking at the size the launcher it is quilt a bit larger then an MLRS tube.

November 14, 2015 9:58 pm

The LM Mk 41 VLS originally came with a collapsible crane which fitted in one of the cells. This was for reloading while at sea, but the idea lapsed as it was impracticable in those circumstances.
This could be revived for truck mounted versions

November 14, 2015 10:11 pm

I think I saw a picture with a HIMARS pod 4/2 (227mm/AMRAAM loadout) once, can’t find it anymore. Pity.

November 15, 2015 12:17 pm

I like the idea of this, deception could bring costs down a lot.

The idea of a submarine is based around the same mentality, it can be anywhere and so is a threat whether its there or not and so you need less of them than you would with a surface ship which needs to be seen to provide a threat.

You could imagine that we could put dozens of these containers around the Falkland’s at very little cost and make the island look significantly more defended that in reality it is. At the same time freeing up resources to be used elsewhere.

In addition we saw the advantage of universal system with the Phalanx and setting it up on land.

November 15, 2015 2:58 pm

Is this legal? If we have our cloudpunchers driving around in (presumably) unmarked civi container lorries, doesn’t that breach LOAC?

November 15, 2015 4:32 pm

We’d supply our armies with civilian lorries hauling goods of war anyway, as recently seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Maybe it would be legally required to kind of “show the flag” before firing the munition, but I’m not even aware of this. The requirement to mark combatants seems is limited to personnel (or else there won’t be legal protection once taken prisoner) and warships IIRC.

I think you could paint a tank in telecom service paintjob and drive around on a battlefield killing hostile troops without doing anything legally wrong. Only red cross and red half moon on white background would be off limit.

November 15, 2015 7:48 pm

Continuing the Observer/ as discussion, the next step for NASAMS (so, the 3rd step that would be):

“combine ESSM:n rocket body with the 120- C7:n homing head”. Strange? Not at all as the range will be doubled. Kongsberg (NASAMS) co-operating with Raytheon and IOC 2018 has so far been indicated for.

You could also borrow from the ASATs missile for near-orbital satellite killing as it puts the 9X imaging homer head on an AMRAAM body. Put that onto the second GMLRS cassette to deal with close to the ground targets that can evade radar guidance, but are employing the “old fashioned” flares to lure IR homing heads… so imaging will (in the end game) see through that trick.

Came to mind from this part of the leading-in article:
” provide launch platform flexibility, the same launcher could be used for land based anti-ship missiles, intermediate range cruise missiles, the GMLRS/ATACMS family of rockets, CAMM air aircraft missiles and future systems such as a GMLRS launched SPEAR/SDB.

This would allow a single launch system to be loaded with the required missiles or rockets, quickly.

Although it is unlikely to want to load the launcher with a CAMM pod and GMLRS pod, the ability to mix and match different calibre rockets would be very useful.

Platform diversity is never a bad thing and provides growth options for future systems.”

November 16, 2015 1:40 pm

“We’d supply our armies with civilian lorries hauling goods of war anyway, as recently seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Yeah… but those drivers aren’t combatants. They’re civilians.

“Maybe it would be legally required to kind of “show the flag” before firing the munition, but I’m not even aware of this. The requirement to mark combatants seems is limited to personnel (or else there won’t be legal protection once taken prisoner) and warships IIRC.”

The original conventions don’t explicitly cover armed military vehicles (because they were signed in 1899 and there weren’t any) but the general intent of the convention is clear: you should not disguise combatants as civilians, because it endangers civilians, and my guess would be that this extends to vehicles too. Even the Q-ships had to show the flag before opening fire.

There’s a detailed discussion here https://www.justsecurity.org/21285/disguising-military-weapons-civilian-equipment-perfidy-or-be/ of a similar case (assassinating a terrorist using a civilian vehicle containing a bomb) and the conclusion seems to be that it would count as “perfidy”. You’re deceiving the enemy into confusing civilian (protected) objects with combatant (non-protected) ones, and that’s not allowed. The case is surely even stronger when we’re talking about a manned vehicle launching a missile, rather than an apparently abandoned vehicle containing a bomb.

November 16, 2015 2:59 pm

As you mentioned, the Q-ships MERELY had to raise the navy flag in time.

It doesn’t really matter whether soldiers or civilians drive a civilian car. The German military even uses a leasing service and thus thousands of civilian (silver paintjob) cars.

Civilians are not endangered by soldiers being mistaken for civilians as long as the civilians vastly outnumber the soldiers in the theatre of operations, and that’s almost guaranteed.

Furthermore, there are no rules about how the military has to mark itself. Red Cross is defined, but a uniform isn’t. The military can say “look, this black 5 by 5 inch circle on a vehicle marks it as a military vehicle” and that would be effective legally just as a mere brassard is enough to make a soldier a combatant.

November 17, 2015 9:46 am

Civilians are not endangered by soldiers being mistaken for civilians as long as the civilians vastly outnumber the soldiers in the theatre of operations, and that’s almost guaranteed.

I completely disagree with this, for two reasons:

First, it’s true that there will always be more civilians than soldiers in theatre (where the theatre is, say, Iraq) but that’s irrelevant. There might well be fewer civilians than soldiers in the local area where operations are actually taking place, because it might be, e.g., a field. Or a village most of whose inhabitants have fled.
Second, of course civilians are endangered by soldiers being mistaken for civilians, because after you’ve made that mistake once, you risk mistaking civilians for soldiers. The whole point of the rules on uniforms is to protect civilians: if they’re followed, armies will know not to engage people dressed as civilians, because they will really be civilians. That’s why there are all the rules around perfidy.

(The rules do define markings; they have to be ‘clearly visible at a distance’.)

If you think it’s ethically OK for the military to disguise its vehicles as civi vehicles in order to protect them (against an enemy who will avoid targeting civilian vehicles), do you also think it’s OK for the troops to disguise themselves as civilians? And, if not, why not?

November 17, 2015 9:47 am

The military using civi vehicles in its own country, in peacetime, doesn’t really affect the issue. The German military doesn’t drive leased civi-painted vehicles on operations in order to blend in among the population.

November 17, 2015 10:05 am

If I understand correctly in a conflict where military forces are in action, any opposition soldier found in held territory who is not in recognised uniform is automatically branded ‘spy’ and generally dealt with very severely? To a degree the military uniform offers the soldier protection under international law should he/she be caught.

November 17, 2015 10:04 pm

TD’s plan doesn’t need to pretend to be civilian does it?
Not that he needs an excuse but if everything gets fitted into a container then it really doesn’t matter if they are all green. Is that a SAM battery or a laundry container??