Artillery: Russian GMLRS Enters Service

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June 11, 2019: In early 2019 the Russian Army activated its first artillery brigade equipped with 300mm Tornado-S GPS guided rockets. This system had completed development and in late 2018 it was confirmed that they had used their new (since 2014) unguided 300mm Tornado-G MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) rockets in Syria, fired from the same six cell launch vehicle used for Tornado-S. This six-cell launch vehicle has a GPS equipped guidance system so that the three man crew can quickly determine the exact launcher location before positioning the vehicle and raising the launch cells when firing unguided rockets. For firing GPS guided the fire control needed to confirm the range from the launcher to the GPS coordinates for the target, to ensure the target was within range.

The older Tornado-G is an 800 kg (1,760 pound) rockets with a range of 90 kilometers. In 2016 the GPS guided version of the 300mm rockets, called Tornado-S, appeared and began a long period of testing and development before entering service. Tornado-S rockets weigh 820 kg each and have a max range of 120 kilometers.

The six-cell Tornado rocket launcher was developed from a variant of the BM-30 Tornado launcher vehicle. The original BM-30 entered service in the late 1980s using a 42 ton 8x8 (or 10x10) vehicle carrying twelve launch cells for 300mm rockets. In 2007 a lighter, six-cell BM-30 launch vehicle was developed and was called Tornado-M. While also using an 8x8 truck it was a model that weighed half as much, was more agile and cheaper and easier to transport by air. Tornado-M ultimately proved more popular and effective, especially when using the GPS guided 300mm rocket.

By 2011 the success of the Tornado-M launch vehicle led Russia to replace its Cold War era Grad MLRS with the new launcher vehicle that could handle 122mm, 220mm or 300m rockets by simply carrying a different launch cell pod. This mounted launcher could carry fifteen, eight or six launch tubes, depending on the rocket diameter. The original, 1960s, Grad system was a truck-mounted launcher holding forty 122mm with a range of 20 kilometers. Later models got the range up to 40 kilometers. There were also some Grad systems with larger caliber rockets, like the BM-30. All the Grads were unguided. These were replacements for the World War II models. Russia invented modern MLRS in the late 1930s.

The Tornado G truck-mounted launcher with twelve 300mm unguided rockets was Russia playing catch-up with the U.S. Army, which had earlier developed two generations of MLRS launcher vehicles. The original American MLRS entered service in 1982 fired an unguided 227mm rocket from two, six round, canisters mounted on a tracked vehicle. These had a range of 42 kilometers. MLRS used lots of electronics and automation, as does the 12 cell and six cell Tornado launcher vehicles.

The BM-30 (or 9K58) was popular with existing Russian customers. India bought some of these in 2005 and in 2008 obtained manufacturing licenses for them, as did China. But there are still warranty problems on some of the systems purchased plus some components that are still obtained from Russia. The BM-30 was nicknamed Smerch (Tornado) and that became the popular name for both twelve and six cell versions. The Tornado launch vehicles had more automation and only required a three-man crew. The vehicle can be ready to fire in three minutes and can move on within two minutes of firing. The original BM-30 could fire all twelve rounds within 38 seconds and required only twenty minutes to reload.

Russia has been selling the BM-30 vehicles for about $12 million each (including a supply of rockets and technical support). Russia has about 300 BM-30s. Over 200 have been exported so far and China initially reverse engineered the BM-30 as the A100, which was introduced in 2002. But the A100 was inferior to the BM-30, especially in terms of reliability. China bought a manufacturing license in 2008 so that it could improve the effectiveness of its A100 systems, especially the propellant in the rockets (which the Chinese have had a lot of trouble with). Pakistan builds the A100 under license.

Then there is the U.S. M270 MLRS, firing either twelve 227mm (295 kg/650 pound) or two 610mm (1.6 ton) rockets. The smaller rockets had a max range of 70 kilometers, the larger ones 300 kilometers. The rockets are carried on a 25 ton tracked vehicle with a crew of three. The big breakthrough was the lighter, wheeled HIMARS version of the MLRS launcher. Only costing about $3 million each, these smaller, truck mounted MLRS (HIMARS) rocket launcher systems were so popular they replaced the original MLRS. HIMARS carries only one, six rocket, pod instead of two in the original MLRS vehicle. But the 12 ton truck can fit into a C-130 transport (unlike the 25 ton tracked MLRS) and is much cheaper to operate. The first HIMARS entered service in 2005, about a year after GMLRS (GPS guided MLRS rockets) did. At that point, Russia was the follower in the MLRS department, after being the leader since the 1930s.

But the Russians did catch up and both their 300mm rocket launcher vehicles are popular export items and both can fire guided or unguided rockets.

 


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