The U.S Military’s HIMARS Might Get an Upgrade

In the early 1980s the U.S military, along with several other nations adopted the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System or MLRS. Known to many as “steel rain” due to the cluster munition it fires, the M270 can fire either 12 rockets or two tactical missiles from two pods mounted on a rotating turret. Later upgrades allowed for the use of the M30 and M31 precision guided 227 mm rockets, each fitted with a 90 kg explosive warheads or cluster munitions.

The system can fire it’s entire rocket payload in under a minute and hit targets 70 km away. With the MGM-140 ATACMS tactical missile this range can be extended up to 300 km and the payload increased to over 230 kg.

800px-ATACMSMay2006
A M270 MLRS fires an ATACMS tactical rocket

Problems

While the M270’s firepower is impressive, it has issues. The MLRS is built on a modified Bradley IFV chassis. Because of this, the system weighs 14 and a half tons loaded. Exceeding the  C-130Js maximum allowable payload by four and a half tons. It is also several feet wider than a C-130Js cargo bay.

To airlift the the M270 into a warzone requires either a C-17 Globemaster or the monstrous C-5 Galaxy. The immense size of these planes means the number of runways they can land on to deploy the system are going to be limited. If you need to put a guided rocket system inside a small country but the major airport has been destroyed by Isklander missile attacks you might be out of luck.

The HIMARS

To solve the M270’s mobility problem the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) was conceived. The HIMARS uses the same rocket containers as the heavier M270 but weighs half as much. This was achieved by mounting a single six rocket pod onto a five ton Medium Tactical Vehicle (basically a truck) instead of an IFV chassis.

Rapid Force Projection Initiative (RFPI)
Soldiers from Charlie Company, 3/27 Field Artillery Regiment out of Fort Bragg, N.C., get ready to aim their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) as part of the Rapid Force Projection Initiative Field Experiment (RFPI). This experiment is being used to test new equipment and its usefulness with the light forces in the field. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Russell J. Good) (Released)

The HIMARS is thin and light enough to be transported on a C-130. This means that it can taken to more places by more aircraft and requires less infrastructure to place in position.

Limitations

Although being lighter makes the HIMARS more mobile, it comes with some drawbacks. To achieve the necessary width to make the launcher C-130 transportable, the M142 only has a single rocket pod. Because of this, its rocket and missile capacity is cut in half along with it’s weight. It can hold either a single MGM-140 missile or six rockets.

The problem with this is that unlike gun artillery the M142 requires a new pod of munitions after each tactical missile shot or every six rockets . You can’t simply shove another round into the breach and keep firing.

If want to fire a new missile you have use the integrated crane to load a new pod. You have to move away from your firing position and then go through the reloading process. After the process is finished the M142 can return to it’s position a launch a new missileThis process can take several minutes and basically means the launcher is out of action until the process is completed and the launcher is back in position.

The upgrade

The new tactical missile proposed by Raytheon would double the amount of tactical missiles in a single pod to two. It would also increase the maximum range to 500 km. The HIMARS would not only be able to hit targets at longer ranges but could hold as many missiles as it’s bigger brother does currently.

Implications

With more missiles the HIMARS will be able to achieve higher readiness than it does now. After firing a tactical missile the crew would not need to immediately reload. They could stand by in case another missile strike is needed.

The proposed missile would also increase the range of the weapon system. At 500 km a Battery of HIMARS launchers based in Firebase Bell in Makhmur Iraq could strike targets in Raqqa Syria without having to redeploy the launchers closer to the front and build a new base. Overall, the new missile would make the HIMARS a more versatile and capable system.


 

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