the first successes and the future of US rocket artillery

ER GMLRS rocket design

In the interests of the ground artillery of the US Army and foreign customers, a new guided missile for multiple launch rocket systems is being created. The ER GMLRS product is a further development of the existing GMLRS missile, featuring an increased firing range. By now, the development company Lockheed Martin has completed design work and has begun flight tests.

“Increased range”

In 2004, the M30 GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) guided projectile was adopted by the US rocket artillery. This product received a new engine that provides firing at a range of up to 60 km, as well as an inertial and satellite guidance system. The M30 projectile made it possible to seriously improve the combat characteristics of the M270 MLRS and M142 HIMARS MLRS. In the future, they created several of its modifications with different combat equipment.

In the mid-tenths, the Pentagon ordered the development of the next version of the rocket with an increased range – up to 150 km. This project was named ER GMLRS (Extended Range GMLRS); the contract for its development was received by Lockheed Martin. Over the past several years, the contractor has carried out the necessary design work, and at the end of last year, the project moved to a new stage.

Guided missile ER GMLRS: early successes and the future of US rocket artillery

Launching a GMLRS rocket with the M270

In October 2020, the Lockheed-Martin company announced the start of preparatory work for the subsequent flight tests of the new rocket. After the necessary ground checks, test firing was supposed to begin in November. Despite all the difficulties, these plans were carried out, although their results were unsatisfactory.

Flight tests

The first test launch of the new ER GMLRS rocket took place in November last year, on time, but ended in failure. After leaving the transport and launch container, the stabilizer broke down, due to which the rocket could not continue its flight. Lockheed Martin had to spend several months figuring out the causes of the accident and finding a way to prevent it in new launches.

The first successful launch took place on March 4 at the White Sands test site. The tests involved a HIMARS-type launcher and one experimental ammunition. The rocket went off the guide, without any problems or malfunctions went to the required trajectory and, having passed the intended route, fell in the calculated area. The firing range was 80 km – a third more than the maximum range of M30 / 31 shells.

The development company reports that the experimental rocket has confirmed all the calculated characteristics. Full compatibility with the equipment of the serial launcher was confirmed, and the calculated flight path and the desired range were obtained. The first launch was recognized as completely successful, which allows the continuation of flight tests.

Future plans

According to the test plan, the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin are to conduct four test launches at the end of this fiscal year. As the tests continue, it is planned to increase the firing range and work out various design features. The fourth launch will be carried out at the end of the second quarter, and the experimental ER GMLRS missile will have to hit a conditional target at a distance of 150 km.

In the near future, Lockheed Martin will begin mass production of new missiles at its plant in Camden, Arkansas. The line will start in early FY2022. The production and transfer of the first batch of weapons to the customer will take no more than a few weeks. Serial products for the army will receive indexes M30A2 and M31A2, depending on the combat equipment.

The use of an unguided missile of the old model by the M142 installation

It is expected that the launch of mass production of new missiles will not face any problems. To date, Lockheed Martin has manufactured and handed over to the army and foreign customers more than 50 thousand M30 and M30A1 GMLRS guided missiles, over 9 thousand newer M31 (A1) and 1800 practical shells. The ER GMLRS project provides for the modernization of the basic projectile by installing several new units, and, apparently, this does not lead to a critical complication of production.

The first export order has already been received. Finland will be the first foreign operator of such weapons. Its army wants 25 transport and launch containers with M30A2 missiles and 10 TPK with M31A2 products, six missiles each. The total value of the contract exceeds $ 91 million. It should be noted that since 2015, the Finnish army has been armed with M30A1 and M31A1 GMLRS missiles.

Technical features

The ER GMLRS guided missile is created on the basis of the GMLRS serial product and should show significant advantages in firing range. For its use, an updated TPK for six missiles has been developed with the ability to be installed on MLRS and HIMARS vehicles. Long range shooting requires a software update of the launcher.

The process of reloading the M142 installation using a standard TPK

The main innovation of the project with the letters “ER” is a new solid-fuel engine with an increased diameter with increased thrust parameters. According to calculations, it should provide a flight at a range of up to 150 km. So far, in practice, more modest characteristics have been shown, but even in this case, the upgraded rocket outperforms existing production models.

The controls have been radically rebuilt. The production GMLRS are equipped with a fold-out tail stabilizer and rudders. In the ER GMLRS project, steering surfaces are transferred to the tail section. Navigation and calculation of flight commands is carried out using the inertial system and GPS. By changing the guidance systems, it was possible to increase the maneuverability and control accuracy, which makes it possible to more fully realize the energy potential of the rocket and obtain the maximum possible flight range.

The new project retains the already existing options for combat equipment. M30A2 and M31A2 missiles can carry a cluster warhead with 40 M85 elements or one of three unitary high-explosive fragmentation charges with different characteristics. Rocket projectiles with such warheads are suitable for attacking point or area targets with known coordinates.

Expected benefits

Currently, the range of fire of rocket artillery of the United States and friendly countries in the form of M270 and M142 is limited to 60 km. To attack more distant targets, it is proposed to use ATACMS operational-tactical missiles, compatible with the same launchers. The use of such missiles, with all their advantages, is not always justified in terms of complexity and cost. In addition, the US Army plans to gradually abandon the ATACMS OTRK in favor of newer systems of the same class.

The advent of ER GMLRS rockets will increase the firing range of smaller caliber ammunition without sacrificing volley size, accuracy and other combat qualities. At the same time, this will lead to an expansion of the range of ammunition for combat MLRS, which will have a positive effect on the flexibility of use and simplify the preparation of strikes.

Thus, in the near future, the US rocket artillery is waiting for an important and necessary, as well as an uncomplicated and not the most expensive upgrade. However, while the new ER GMLRS missiles are not ready for the launch of the series and acceptance into service. Of the four planned test launches, only two were carried out, and only one of them was successful and did not confirm the maximum design range.

Probably, the next two launches, scheduled for this year, will go smoothly and lead to the launch of rearmament. With a favorable set of circumstances, the Pentagon will even be able to meet the planned deadlines. How the current project will end, and whether the customer and the contractor can count on a quick and high-quality completion of the work, will become known in the coming months.

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