Artillery: Distant Thunder Finally Arrives


August 3, 2012: The Taiwanese Army is finally receiving their long-delayed Ray Ting (RT) 2000 (Thunder 2000) multiple rocket launchers. RT 2000 was supposed to enter service a decade ago but politics and some development problems kept delaying service.

RT 2000 replaces a much older 117mm multiple rocket system. RT2000 costs less than half as much as the American MLRS system (largely because RT 2000 is mounted on a truck, not a tracked vehicle). The RT2000 is mounted on an American M977 HEMTT truck, each carrying two rocket pods.

There are three types of rockets available. The 117mm Mk15 (20 per pod) has a range of 15 kilometers, the 180mm Mk30 (9 per pod) has a range of 30 kilometers, and the 230mm Mk45 (six per pod) has a range of 45 kilometers. The Mk45 is closest in size to the American 227mm MLRS rockets.

Last year Taiwan did buy some of the MLRS ammunition for the RT 2000. This was a hundred MGM140 ATACMS or Army Tactical Missile Systems artillery rockets. While Taiwan does not have any MLRS rocket launchers, which the ATACMS is launched from, the RT2000 is compatible enough to carry and fire ATACMS.

Taiwan is getting the ATACMS equipped with a 227 kg (500 pound) high explosive warhead. The U.S. used over 700 ATACMS in Iraq and Afghanistan. These rockets use GPS guidance to hit targets up to 300 kilometers away. Sort of like the popular 500 pound JDAM smart bomb used by the air force but not requiring an aircraft to deliver it.

When the U.S. Army first introduced its long range ATACMS rocket 24 years ago, it designed fancy warheads that distributed lots of smaller bomblets. While these worked, there was always a problem with some of the bomblets not self-destructing and later going off when civilians, or American troops, came along. Not a popular weapon. Then, when a version with GPS guidance and a single 500 pound high explosive (or "unitary") warhead was introduced, it proved very popular. These rockets cost about a million dollars each. A 500 pound JDAM costs about $28,000, although you can add a few thousand dollars more to cover the expense of operating the jet bomber that delivered it.

ATACMS is a 610mm rocket that fits in the same size container that normally holds six 227mm MLRS rockets. It has sufficient range to reach Chinese coastal targets.


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