Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS)
Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) is described by the British Army as;
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 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 winners.
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 rounds were 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 rockets 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 reportedly 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 were 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 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. 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 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 at 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;
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 firing have been conducted in response to ‘troops in contact’ requests.
The US Army has been behind development effort 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 production of the Alternative Warhead have now been issued by the US DoD.
The first Alternative Warhead rolled off the production line in September 2016.
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)
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. 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 are 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 a development of GMLRS to include four anti-armour guided submunitions, called G-SMArt.
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 have 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, whether the maximum range will be limited to 300km, or pushed out to Iskander like INF Treat busting 500km. Raytheon have confirmed their design has 500km range.
Whether the UK will buy it is another matter.