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