Marines: Loitering Munitions At Sea

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October 31, 2021: The U.S. Marine Corps is converting some of their LAV-M 8x8 wheeled armored vehicles to carry an eight cell MCL (Multi-Canister Launcher) that will use the Hero-120 loitering munition, modified for USMC command and control systems. Hero-120 is one of many similar loitering munitions that Israeli firm Uvision has been developing and selling since 2011. The smallest Hero system is a family of small loitering munitions. The latest and largest of them is the Hero 120 that weighs 12.5 kg (27.5 pounds) including a 4.6 kg warhead. Max endurance is 60 minutes and max range of the control signal is 40 kilometers. The smallest is the Hero 20, which weighs 1.8 kg (four pounds) including a 200-gram (7 ounce) warhead, Endurance is 20 minutes and operator range is 10 kilometers. Hero 30 weighs 3 kg (6.6 pounds) with a .5 kg (1.1 pound) warhead, and 30 minutes endurance. Hero 70 weighs 7 kg (14.4 pounds) with a 1.2 kg (2.6 pound) warhead and 45 minutes endurance. All these weapons are stored and fired from a canister and the smaller three are designed to be carried by infantry. All use the same controller and digital camera. All use fold-out wings and an electric motor with the propeller in the rear that provides speeds of up to three kilometers a minute. Cruising speed, to obtain max endurance, is about half that.

The marines plan to use the MCL launcher on other vehicles or on ships. The Hero-120/MCL combination gives the marines a recon/attack UAV that can find and hit boats and other small craft as well as a wide variety of land targets. The MCL can be reloaded with different size cannisters carrying more of the smaller Hero 30s or fewer of the Hero 400.

Uvision has developed and produced numerous Hero munitions in different sizes. All are battery powered except the largest one; Hero 900. This one uses a gasoline engine; weighs 97 kg (213 pounds) and carries a 20 kg (44 pound) warhead. This Hero has seven-hour endurance and a max range (from the operator) of 250 kilometers. In 2015 the Hero 400 was introduced with four-hour endurance, weight of 40 kg (88 pounds) with an 8 kg (18 pound) warhead. This UAV is battery powered and can operate up to 150 kilometers from the operator. In 2017 a new version, the Hero 400EC was released that had improved software and a return and land (using a parachute) capability. All Hero models are reusable and can be sent on longer range missions against a target using the GPS location. This is what made Hero-120 so attractive for the marines: a portable, inexpensive guided weapon with a max range of over 100 kilometers.

The marines have been using the 13-ton 8x8 LAV25 since 1983 and most are personnel carriers (11 crew and passengers) but some have been converted to carry heavy weapons, like the LAV-M mortar carrier equipped with an 81mm mortar.

The marines have already tested use of M142 HIMARs (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) guided rocket vehicles on the flight deck of an amphibious ship. In 2017 the marines found that with a few modifications to the HIAMRS fire control software the vehicle could accurately fire GMLRS (GPS guided MLRS) rockets from the flight deck of one of an LHA or LHD ships. This is nothing new as during World War II U.S. forces fired unguided rockets from ships in support of amphibious operations. But the use of GMLRS meant HIMARS could provide precision fire support from a ship at sea and hit targets up to 85 kilometers away. Each HIMARS carries six rockets. The next version of GMLRS will have a range of 135 kilometers, making the ship-based version even more useful because it can support troops even farther inland. The new GMLRS has already been successfully tested at ranges up to 110 kilometers. This TC-GMLRS (Tail Controlled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) rocket is the same size as the current GMLRS rocket. Production begins in 2022 as the GMLRS-ER.

 


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