Multiple Rocket Launcher systems

Added 10-12-01
Updated 26-9-15
Update For more details on light rocket systems see Mike Sparks’ Ground rocket page

        The M270 MLRS has proved to be a very useful long range multiple rocket system. Possibly because of such sucess many in the West have ignored the potential of shorter ranged multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) for smaller formations. Potent weapon though the rocket for the M270 is its minimum range of 10,000m precludes its use by forward maneuver elements so is usually used as a Corps or Divisional weapon.

        Medium Range MRLs.
        I've often thought that each battery of self-propelled guns or howitzers should also include a couple of vehicles mounting MRLs. These would have rockets of a similar range to the tube artillery they accompany and would offer the battery commander the option of deploying sustained or saturation fire as he sees fit. An argument can be made that MRL systems should be in the majority. Some modern systems are being offered with trajectory correction systems that are claimed to give them an accuracy equal to tube artillery. Terminal guidance systems for unitary rounds are also likely to see increased use for precision strike against point targets.

        Many Russian motor rifle brigades have a battery of MRLs in addition to a battalion of SPHs. Whether pairs of launchers are attached to the howitzer batteries I don't know, but the potential is there. Even of this is not done, the presence of these launchers greatly increases the indirect firepower available to the brigade commander.

        There are numerous medium range MRLs that are available “off the shelf” and with a performance complimentary to 155mm field artillery.
        These include.

        The possibility of creating rockets from 155mm shells has also been discussed under the topic of Indirect ARA. There are precedents for this. The World War Two “Land Mattress” system was built by mating the motors of 3" ground to air rockets with 5" naval gun shells. One launcher was claimed to deliver as much explosive as a whole a battery of medium guns.
        The 160mm rockets can use submunitions designed for 155mm howitzers.

        The use of a smaller calibre rocket than the M26 allows a greater number of rounds to be fired from each launcher, increasing target saturation.

        It is possible that medium range rockets could be produced that are compatible with the current M270 MRLS and HIMARS launchers.
        The M270 vehicle can carry a pair of rocket packs containers (RPCs) holding six 227mm rockets, often known as “six packs”. Each rocket weighs around 306kg and the six pack has a total weight of around 2,308kg. The HIMARS vehicle can carry one such six pack. The mounting for the rocket packs includes an extendable boom which is used to lift the rocket pack into position for loading. The vehicle has a crew of three but if necessary the system can be operated by a single man. In place of each six pack a single Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS or Army TACMS) can be loaded instead.
        Logically it should also be possible for the launcher mount to also be capable of holding a rocket pod containing a greater number of smaller calibre rockets. A conservative estimate would be that each pack could take 54 2.75" FFAR in a 9x6 array. Other possible loads would be 24 (6x4) 107mm (Chinese Type 63, Mechem RO-107, Turkish MKEK or Roketsan), 15 (5x3) 122mm or 127mm (Russian Grad, Brazilian SBAT-127, South African SOMCHEM Valkiri) or 8 (4x2) 160mm (Israeli IMI LAR or FAMAE/RO Rayo). There are obvious advantages to initially using existing designs of rocket that are already in service, many of which have been used for several decades.
        The Taiwanese Thunderbolt-2000 system can fire 117mm, 180mm and 227mm (eg M270) rockets. The Romainian LAROM vehicle can use either GRAD 122mm rockets or 160mm LAR rockets.
         In addition to the truck-based HIMARS and the Bradley-based M270 a launcher based on the M113 should be possible, creating an air-transportable all-terrain system.

Lighter MRLs.
        As well as the medium systems described above, there is also a requirement for lighter systems that can either be towed by or mounted on light vehicles.
        Good examples of just such a system are the Russian RPU-14, the Chinese Type 63 107mm and 130mm systems and the South African Mechem RO107 systems. Such weapon systems are ideal for airborne units, quick reaction and rapid deployment forces and raider units.

        The South African version of the Type 63 is fitted with a UHF proximity fuse and 80% of rounds fired to maximum range are claimed to fall within a 150 x 200m area. Lethal area for each rocket given as 120 square metres. Each rocket weighs 19kg and maximum range for the Mechem rocket is given as 8,500m. Minimum range is 1.5km. Rockets made by some other companies claim a range in excess of 10km. Range of the 107mm rocket compliments the performance of most 120mm mortars. In the Chinese army launchers are under the control of infantry regiments to provide a short-range, intensive area firepower. Several designs of single-tube launcher are also available for quasi-guerilla operations. It would not surprise me if a variant of this rocket that could be launched directly from its transport container in the manner of the Wurfgerät 40/41 is eventually developed.

        Light vehicles mounting such systems can give an air assault force a potent indirect fire capability to suppress enemy air defenses. The vehicles can be landed by helicopters, allowed to launch a barrage then heli-lifted out.

        The 2.75” FFAR rocket systems are normally used as aircraft armament but have great potential as ground weapons too. The 2.75" FFAR weighs around 13kg compared to the 18.8kg of the 107mm but has 4.8lbs of explosive content (M229) compared to 2.9lbs for the 107mm.

        Larry Altersitz: A 2.75"/ 70mm has a 17lb HE warhead good to 10km and one pod would cover a big area. (19x17lb = 323lb of metal on a target. That's half a 155mm battery and 1½ of a 105mm battery). Six pods on a single launcher towed by a Hummer is almost a ton on a big area target and really says “Thou Goofest” to those in the area of interest.

        PW: Or looked at another way, a 155mm shell has 15lb of HE, a 105mm 5lb of HE and a 2.75" M229 rocket 4.8lb, so a pod of 19 rockets is equivalent to a salvo from a whole battery of 155mm or a three batteries of 105mm.

        A copy of Jane’s Armour and Artillery 1994-95 reveals a number of 2.75"/ 70mm MRL systems in use or then available for production. These include:-        *These systems use 70mm rockets other than the 2.75" Hydra 70 FFAR.

        Systems such as the Brazilian SBAT-70 mount 36 such rockets on a light two-wheeled split carriage trailer. Range of this system is around 8,500m. Several of these 70mm systems use the same pods that are mounted on aircraft.
        The BEI RD-MRWS claims a minimum range of 700m and maximum range of over 15km. Mounting options include:        The South Africans have a similar system using the 68mm SNEB rocket, the 68mm Mechem RO68 with a range of 6,500m. This is offered with a six-round tripod mounted launcher assembly weighing only 45kg. Italy sold the 51mm BPD DIFESA E SPAZIO SpA “FIROS-6” which can have a 48 round launcher mounted on a light vehicle such as a Land Rover. Rockets can be launched at a rate of 10 per second to a maximun range of 6,550m. Another Brazilian system is the towed Avibras AV-LM-12/36 and vehicle mounted ASTROS Hawk. Range of these systems is 12km

        The SARMAC S.A “Rattlebox” was a Brandt-designed rocket system offered in the mid-1970s. It was a lightweight system intended “..in attack to support the infantry and in defence to break up the enemy attack. It can also be used to cover prepared obstacles with fire” (Jane’s Infantry Weapons 1976, p.506). A simple 7-9 kg stand was used to mount expendable launch packs. The early model mounts three packs but later sources describe a 16 round weapon so evidently this was increased to four. The entire assembly weighed 30-40 kg and could be moved by two men with a light trolley. Each launch unit contained four 50mm x 550mm, 1.3 kg rockets. A launch unit was 140 x 140 x 600mm and weighed under 8 kg. The 12-16 rockets could all be launched in under a second and range is given as 800m. A variety of rocket types were proposed but the standard would probably have been the HEAT-Frag “combination” round. Shaped-charge warhead penetration is given as 250mm (same as the FIROS-6 HEDP rocket).
        Rattleback and FIROS-6 suggest that a battalion-level system to supplement the infantry’s mortars would be practical, being a useful saturation fire system against infantry in the open and light armoured and softskin vehicles such as technicals. Possibly a single Rattlebox could be deployed by a single soldier?

        FFAR rocket pods have been mounted on vehicles as small as beach buggies (a.k.a. “fast attack vehicles”) and on various armoured vehicle turrets including USMC LAV-25s. Carlton Meyer has pointed out that FFAR pods can be mounted on the Avenger LAAD HMMWV for both direct and indirect fire. He also points out that a mounting that can take a FFAR rocket pod should also be able to mount a rack of four Hellfire missiles.

        Larry Altersitz has suggested mounting rocket pods on self propelled guns and howitzers. I’d prefer a system with complementary range, and modern SPG/ SPHs carry enough weight already. For lighter “artillery” such as mortar carriers the use of rocket pods may be more practical.
        I’ve often advocated that vehicles such as IFVs/ APCs and Tankitas should mount FFAR pods to give them a cost effective weapon for demolition and light armour. It possible that such an application could use a faster burning rocket motor for a high initial velocity.
        A slightly different application is to mount pods of rockets on MBTs. These would be fired “en masse” to soften up a position as the tanks move into attack.

Some Applications for MRLs.

Ground to Air shooting.
        The British 3" ground to air rocket system has already been mentioned, but this is a role seldom considered for modern rocket systems. Prototypes of the Blazer turret had a pod of four 2.75" rockets in addition to the cannon and Stingers. The published reason was that a rocket fired at a pilot would fool him into thinking he was under attack from a guided missile, and cause him to climb to an altitude more suited for Stinger lock-on.
        A pod of nineteen 2.75" flechette rockets fired at an aircraft could prove to be a considerable hazard. The British 3" system could fill the air around a target with 64 aerial mines, each trailing several hundred feet of cable attached to an explosive charge.
        A novel form of “ground to air” shooting occurred in Chechnya, when the Russians used their BM-21s as direct fire systems to attack tower blocks.

Counter Battery.
        Long ranged MRLS are already used in this role but there are also more local applications for such weapons, particularly against units armed with ATGWs.
        Best warhead for such a role is one containing multiple HEAT-frag bomblets suited to attacking both vehicles and personnel.
        An idea inspired by Carlton’s “Tethered Bombs” idea is to link the bomblets into a net, each cord being a shade under twice the fragmentation radius of a bomblet. This innovation will allow the optimum dispersal of the bomblets. The net will also tend to drape over vehicles, increasing the chances of a detonation near the vehicle rather than the bomblet bouncing off. Such a munition would also be useful against hovering helicopters.

        In counter-insurgency operations enemy forces are often fast moving foot troops. Against such fleeting targets saturation effect from a MRL strike may be more effective in destroying such units than conventional tube artillery.

Field Fortifications
        Rockets do not have the penetration of conventional shells. Againts enemies in buildings howitzers or heavy mortars may prove more effective. The First World War and the defence of places such as Iwo Jima illustrate that properly constructed fortifications can withstand sustained HE bombardment for days at a time. Other than nuclear weapons the only artillery system likely to prove effective in such situations are Fuel-Air explosive (Thermobaric). Multiple rockets are a good way to deliver an attack with thermobarics. The Russians already deploy the TOS weapon system for this purpose.
        Against entrenchments that lack such extensive preparation a rocket strike delivering submunitions may prove effective since there is a greater probability that the submunitions will enter trenches. A saturation attack with WP rockets may also considerably reduce a position’s effectiveness.

Smoke Screens.
        The usefulness of MRLs for delivering chemical weapons is well known and the same capabilities make them highly suited to laying large scale smoke screens.
        Some nations deploy launchers designed only for this purpose. The Egyptian 80mm D-3000 and 122mm D-6000 are examples of these. Twelve rockets from one D3000 launcher can lay a screen 1000yrds long up to 2.5km from the launch vehicle. Six rockets from the D-6000 will create a 400m cloud at up to 6km range. These clouds can last up to 15 minutes and maintaining a slow rate of fire can add to or sustain this cloud.

Mine Clearance
        The use of MRL systems to deploy scatterable mines is fairly well known. There also exist purpose-designed rockets intended for the clearance of minefields. China fields several such systems which are characterised by having proportionally large FAE warheads, modest flight velocity and a range of only 800-3,000m. These weapons have a secondary capability against personnel, buildings and field fortifications. The USMC once experimented with the CATFAE system mounted on a variant of the AAV-7A1. This mounted 21 104kg rockets with a range of 500m but I've currently no information as to whether this system was adopted.
        Mine clearing rockets mounted in a pod compatible with the M270, HIMARS and other systems should be possible.

Shore Defence.
        A novel application of MBRL is the Russian Damba system, a variant of the 122mm BM-21 Grad system. This is designed to defend against frogmen and swimmer delivery vehicles (SDV). The rockets are fitted with fuses that detonate the warhead at any depth from 3 to 200m. The rockets are obviously different from the standard models in other respects since minimum and maximum range is reduced to 300m and 5000m, which is more useful for their intended role.

Large-scale LLW
        On other pages I’ve advocated that ways to safely deliver large quantities of riot agents need to be investigated. Mortar and howitzer rounds need a certain degree of structural strength to withstand the stress of firing, which means that a CS round still contains a lot of dense components that can cause considerable damage if fired over an urban area. A rocket can be built with a lighter construction. A modification of the M264 could eject CS grenade submunitions and descend slowly to the ground using a braking parachute.

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