Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
GMLRS is a precision guided rocket system currently in service with the Royal Artillery
Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) is described by the British Army as;
The Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), nicknamed the ’70km Sniper’, provides pinpoint accuracy delivering a 200lb high explosive warhead to its target, with twice the range of other artillery systems used by the British Army
It is currently in service with the Royal Artillery.
Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) History
The evolution of MLRS, the grid square removal service, to GMLRS, the 70km sniper, is a perfect illustration of the trends in complex weapons over the last twenty odd years.
GMLRS has its origins in a joint German (MBB), Italian (Oto Melara) and British (Hunting Engineering) project that proposed a tracked launcher that could fire six 280mm rockets with a range of 40-60km, called RS-80. Each rocket could carry either a single warhead or more commonly a submunition dispenser. Although initial development went well, differences between the partner nations and concerns over logistics led to the project being cancelled.
The US General Support Rocket System (GSRS) requirement was defined in the mid-seventies. From 1976, the Ling Tempco Vought (LTV) Corporation and Boeing Aerospace entered a competition to select a single system that could deliver large volumes of fire in a short space of time. The first flight took place in December 1977 and from then, the systems development progressed.
The UK, France and Germany joined the programme during its initial development phase, the system was renamed Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and in 1980, Vought was named as the winner.
As development progressed the roadmap was defined to include three phases;
- Phase 1; dual-purpose anti-tank/anti-personnel with M42 sub-munitions
- Phase 2; the German AT-2 scatterable anti-tank mine
- Phase 3; a new terminal homing warhead
The first production Phase 1 round was delivered to the US Army in mid-1982. Italy also joined the programme in July 1982 with full-scale production starting the year after. The first UK order of 64 launchers, 5,400 Phase 1 rocket and 1,404 reduced range practice rockets was £544 million.
During the 1991 liberation of Kuwait, the US and British Army made extensive use of MLRS, to devastating effect.
The sheer destructive capability of MLRS was often a surprise, even to those manning them, generally because, in training, the scale of ammunition expenditure was significantly lower than employed in Op GRANBY. Although not connected to G/MLRS, the performance of the British 155mm L15 shell, often fuzed to detonate 9m from the ground, was reported of even greater influence on Iraqi forces. The UK also experimented with a concept borrowed from Soviet doctrine, called Recce Strike. In addition to conventional deep fires and counter-battery, MLRS was tasked by reconnaissance forces to ensure momentum in the advance was maintained. On the 26th February elements of 16th/5th Lancers called divisional MLRS fire directly onto Iraqi forces at Objective LEAD.
Operations in the Middle East in 1991 were a double-edged sword in some regards, they reaffirmed the artillery lessons from history but clearly demonstrated that fighting the West on conventional terms was a losing proposition. Opponents would therefore start thinking about fighting beneath the threshold for such massive military intervention, or above it.
The UK also participated with the partner nations in a programme to develop the MLRS Terminally Guided Weapon (TGW), Phase 3, that contained three sub-munitions but the US withdrew in 1993 and the programme was cancelled.
The first AT-2 scatterable mine version was test-fired in 1992.
The year after, Modified (MOD) Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) Advanced Concept Technical Demonstration (ACTD) was initiated. The Extended Range MLRS rocket entered low rate initial production the year after.
The UK purchased both Phase 1 and Phase 2 rockets.
The introduction of MLRS was closely tied with the emerging NATO AirLand Battle doctrine, specifically, fighting at long range with ground forces firing deep into Warsaw Pact second echelon forces, whilst remaining masked and able to deliver significant volumes of counter fires. The Phase 3 missile, with its terminally guided anti-tank munitions, was key to this but with the end of the Cold War, momentum, and funding, evaporated.
With the various terminally guided projects all mostly cancelled, the requirement for a guided MLRS emerged by the end of the nineties. This programme included the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy, MBDA signed an MOU in 2001 as the European Prime Contractor. Guided MLRS was intended to have a maximum range of 60km but still using the submunition payload. The US contributed 50% of the funding for GMLRS and Italy, the UK, Germany and France providing the balance, equally.
A number of improvements to the vehicles and fire control system were implemented, significantly, the use of GPS.
The influence of the Ottawa Treaty and increasingly rigorous interpretation of laws of armed combat resulted in a general trend towards the withdrawal of cluster and submunition weapons. The UK signed in December 1997. Although the AT-2 scatterable mine was only intended to be initiated by heavy vehicles, it was fitted with an anti-handling device. As such, it was not considered to be an anti-personnel mine (APM) but this would eventually change.
Independent research also demonstrated the unexploded rate for sub-munitions, especially when subject to realistic handling and operational conditions, was much higher than expected. In operations where they were likely to be deployed, the potential for civilian and military casualties in the inevitable post-conflict period was thought to be counter-productive, and not worth the military advantage they provided.
Following the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, the MoD invited Lockheed Martin, LFK, Alenia Marconi, BAE Systems, Hunting Engineering and Matra BAE Dynamics to submit a proposal for the Lightweight Mobile Artillery Weapon System – Rocket LIMAWS(R). BAE Systems and Hunting Engineering were selected to complete risk reduction studies (by 2001, Hunting Engineering became part of Lockheed Martin)
The Assessment Phase contract was won by Lockheed Martin INSYS. LIMAWS-R used a single MLRS pod of six missiles and was intended to be air portable.
In 2005, the US Army raised an Urgent Needs Statement in early 2005 for a single, or unitary, warhead version of Guided MLRS. The first unitary warhead GMLRS was delivered to the US Army in June 2005.
The first use was in September 2005.
Whilst GMLRS was in low rate initial production for the US Army, in September 2005, the UK became its first export customer.
Soon after the £55m order was placed, the UK changed the content from the improved DPICM submunitions warhead to the unitary warhead.
Also in 2005, the UK obtained a number of Future Fire Control System (FFCS) in a £10 million FMS deal. A separate contract was also awarded to DRS to upgrade the launcher traverse and elevation drive systems. Four vehicles were also converted to Repair and Recovery in this contract.
The required quantity of GMLRS rockets was set at 4,080 but only 1,488 were funded as part of the GMLRS programme, the balance was transferred to the unfunded Indirect Fire Precision Attack (IFPA) programme.
The LIMAWS(R) Assessment Phase was completed in 2006.
The UK withdrew its M77 bomblet and AT-2 rockets in April 2007, they had been effectively out of service for some time, quantity revealed in a Parliamentary Question was 7,200.
A troop of GMLRS was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2007, a month before ISD was declared. Before deploying to Afghanistan, the vehicles received a Theatre Entry Specification (TES) upgrade that included improved protection and environmental mitigation systems.
LIMAWS-R was cancelled in 2008.
As of March 2010, the UK had 36 MLRS launch vehicles in service, down from 64 in 2000 and 59 in 2007.
In 2011, the MoD placed a contract for the latest ‘Universal Fire Control’ system
Commodore Mark Roberts, Head of Capability Deep Target Attack said;
Guided MLRS coupled with the Universal Fire Control System has given us an extremely precise all-weather capability. Combined with the M270B1 launcher, GMLRS has become the weapon of choice for land forces when long range (up to 70km) precision strike is required and has already proved its effectiveness in Operation Herrrick.
Several thousand GMLRS rockets have been fired in Iraq and Afghanistan by the US Army, USMC and Royal Artillery, reliability has been in excess of 98%. Over 25% of GMLRS firings have been conducted in response to ‘troops in contact’ requests.
HERRICK Video 1
HERRICK Video 2
HERRICK Video 3
The US Army has been behind development efforts to bring back an area capability and extend the range of the MLRS. The Alternate Warhead Programme is currently in development and early production, the Increment 4 programme will potentially incorporate this into a longer-range rocket, up to 250km.
Initial contracts for the production of the Alternative Warhead was issued by the US DoD in 2016 with first the production munitions delivered the same year.
This first GMLRS Alternative Warhead round coming off our Camden Operations production line represents another example of Lockheed Martin’s commitment to constantly evolve the MLRS family of munitions to meet the ever-changing requirements of our customers
GMLRS is currently in service with 1 Royal Horse Artillery, 19 Regiment Royal Artillery, 26 Regiment Royal Artillery and 101 Regiment Royal Artillery (Army Reserve).
In 2021, the MoD announced an upgrade programme for MLRS
Following a recent agreement struck with the United States Department of Defense, we will be embarking on a five-year programme to update our M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS).
Upgrades will be made to 44 launchers, which are currently in-service, and will include a new armoured cab and upgraded automotive and launch mechanism components.
The upgrades will ensure that the Army’s Land Deep Fires capability remains strong for the next three decades and that the British Army has the technological capability to quickly meet the threats of today and tomorrow.
Taking advantage of the long-standing MLRS collaboration with the US and key allies, work will start on upgrading the first tranche of launchers in March 2022 with the fleet going through production over a four-year period. The upgrades will keep the equipment in service until 2050.
The work will be carried out under an existing production contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control with the work being carried out at Red River Army Depot and Lockheed Martin’s facility in Camden, Arkansas.
The UK is also developing UK-specific systems for the new launchers, including Composite Rubber Tracks (CRT), and a vehicle camera and radar system. A new Fire Control System will be developed collaboratively with the US, UK, Italy, and Finland.
The CRT will provide better fuel economy and allow the launcher to travel further, giving greater operational and tactical mobility to support deployed troops in a range of operating environments. A single launcher will be used to fire many payloads.
To ensure soldiers are not outranged, the Army will develop a new extended range missile with MLRS partners, to be fired from the updated launchers, which should be in-service by 2025. The Guided MLRS Extended Range (GMLRS-ER) missile will extend the Army’s reach from 84 to 150km.
The 44 updated launchers will also be able to fire the US’s Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) which has a range of 499km and is expected in-service from 2024. These weapons will place the British Army at the cutting edge of global deep fires capability, ready to respond to long range air defence and missile threats presented by hostile actors.
DSTL is working (in 2021) with Thales on a Future Deep Fires Rocket System concept study that will comprise an MLRS rocket booster and a number of payloads.
Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) Capabilities
The GMLRS rocket consists of three main components; the rocket motor, warhead and guidance system.
The IM compliant M31A1 GMLRS rocket is 3.94m long, 227mm in diameter and weighs 302kg.
Of that 302kg, 90kg is the single blast fragmentation warhead. The rocket has a stated maximum range of 70km although recent developments have seen this pushed out to 120km.
The 120km option, GMLRS+, is not in service with the UK although it is planned. The minimum range is 10-15km.
The guidance system uses a combination of inertial navigation and jam-resistant GPS, accuracy is reportedly extremely high and some reports from Afghanistan indicated that rounds were fired into wells (where the wells were used as entrances to storage complexes). The near-vertical terminal trajectory has also proven to be extremely useful in urban environments.
The fuze has three modes; point, delay and air burst (selectable at 3m and 10m)
Although one should never compare US prices with UK prices, the 2014 cost for a single M31 GMLRS rocket is $110, 255.
Each rocket is stored and fired from a six-round Launch Pod Container. The M270B1 launch vehicle carries two LPC’s for a total of twelve rounds. The 300km range ATACM rocket is also available in the same dimensions as the GMLRS LPC. Each LPC is self loaded onto the launch vehicle using an integral crane.
The Alternative Warhead Programme
By removing the dependence on distance for accuracy, GMLRS allows fewer munitions to be used for a given target. It also means that the firing point can be vacated much quicker than might otherwise be the case, even with the fast-firing M270B1 launch vehicle.
However, because the only version the UK now has in service is the unitary warhead GMLRS, the UK no longer has the capability for area suppression or destruction of dispersed targets without accurate targeting data. In a post-cold-war COIN environment, the sparseness of area targets neatly dovetailed with the desire to reduce post-conflict effects of UXO’s. Instead of deep fires, the majority of GMLRS use has been in support of ‘troops in contact’, often as a surrogate
This desire to return GMLRS to the wide-area game has resulted in the Alternative Warhead Programme, lately given a big push by Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. Area effects were back in fashion.
Although the UK does not have in service the Orbital ATK GMLRS-AW (M30E1) Milestone C warhead, in theory, it should be a relatively simple drop-in for the unitary variant as the rocket motor and guidance system are common to both. Instead of the unitary warhead, the AW carries 160,000 preformed tungsten fragments.
The AW would be available to the UK if so selected.
Anti-armour submunitions, especially the German SMArt, have long been on the Royal Artillery’s wish list in various programmes but has always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. GIWS have proposed the development of GMLRS to include four anti-armour guided submunitions, called G-SMArt.
G-SMArt Image 1
G-SMArt Image 2
ATACMS is more of a short-range semi-ballistic missile and used for interdiction type missions, it was extensively used by US forces in Iraq in 2003 for the destruction of Iraqi air defences in the initial stages of the operation. With a range of over 160km (M57 variant), it can carry either a 230kg (5oo lbs) unitary warhead or 274 M74 sub-munitions. The latest Block IVa version increases the range to in excess of 300km.
ATACMS was also at one point on the UK wishlist.
The US DoD started investigations a few years ago into a smaller long-range rocket called Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF). The intent was to retain the 300km range of ATACMS but in a smaller package, specifically, with two rockets per LPC. Warhead size was intended to be the same as GMLRS. Both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin proposed designs, the Raytheon version pictured below.
Think of LRPF as a longer range GMLRS or a smaller warhead ATACMS, seeker options remain to be confirmed, and importantly.
This evolved into the ‘Precision Strike Missile’
The Precision Strike Missile (PrSM)is a surface-to-surface, all weather, precision strike guided missile fired from the M270A1 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). PrSM is intended to replace current MLRS and HIMARS missiles and doubles the current rate-of fire,with two missiles per launch pod.
Lockheed Martin are now the prime contractor for PrSM, a missile with a range of in excess of 500km. Initial Operating Capability for the US Army is planned for 2025.
The Army plans to start operational testing in August 2024 and achieve Initial Operational Capability in August 2025.46 Estimated program costs and quantities (in FY2020 dollars in millions) are $895 million for development and $2,038 million for procurement, for a total of 51 missiles for testing and 2,422 for the approved acquisition objective.
Approximately $800k per missile
Testing has also continued with a multimode seeker for PrSM, allowing it to hit targets such as moving ships at sea.
A 400km plus test firing was completed in May 2021
Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb
Included for reference, the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb was a development by Boeing and Saab that used the M270 rocket as a booster for the Small Diameter Bomb.
Saab continued to develop this, including with an ISO container-based launcher
Although not directly connected, Germany has released some imagery of their Joint Fire Support Missile that will use an MLRS rocket as a booster
Both the US Army and US Marine Corps have developed concepts for using uncrewed launch vehicles.
Army Demonstrates Autonomous Multi-Domain Launcher Concept https://t.co/IJHVFuwWKt— Defense Daily (@DefenseDaily) June 18, 2021
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