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June 19, 2020: Turkish weapons manufacturer Roketsan, like most Turkish defense firms, has had a hard time getting export orders for its new products. A recent example is the TRG-300 rocket system. This 300mm rocket has a range of 30 to 120 kilometers and comes in guided (by GPS) and unguided versions. Four rockets are carried on a 6x6 ten-ton truck. The rockets are stored and fired from box-like containers. The vehicle can carry either four 300mm rockets or 40 122mm rockets stored and fired from replaceable pods each containing two 300mm or twenty 122mm rockets.

TRG-300 first appeared in 2016 with just unguided rockets but a year later, as promised, the GPS guided version appeared. That produced one export sale of several TRG-300 vehicles to Azerbaijan. Turkism arms sales efforts are first directed at Moslem majority nations, especially those with money to spend. This approach tends to drag Turkey into some complicated and violent situations.

Azerbaijan needs better weapons, has wealth and has been losing a long war with neighboring Armenia over a property dispute. Armenia is poor but it is Christian and supported by Russia. Turkey suggested that the TRG-300 system would improve Azeri chances if the conflict with Armenia got violent again. Armenia has no oil and spends far less on defense than Azerbaijan. Although Azerbaijan has three times more people and much more money, the Armenians are better soldiers and the dispute has been stalemated.

In 2011 Armenia signed a pact with Russia that, in effect, puts it under the protection of Russia. The deal extends the lease on a Russian military base in Armenia from 2020 to 2044. The 3,000-man Russian force in Armenia may be increased and Russia, in effect, guarantees Armenia's security. Armenia needs all the help it can get, as it is a landlocked Christian nation surrounded by three hostile Moslem states (Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iran). To the north, there is Georgia which, while Christian, has its own problems with Russia. This deal makes any major move against Armenia by Azerbaijan very risky. While the Russians want to remain friendly with Azerbaijan, they have definitely taken sides here. In return for this security Armenia has to follow Russia's lead in diplomacy and any other area the Russians feel is important. Meanwhile, the Russians provide new weapons and equipment for the 43,000 troops in the Armenian military and help arm an even larger reserve force.

At the same time, Azerbaijan is making a serious effort to create an effective military and revive its economy. Azeri defeats at the hands of better trained, led, and organized Armenian troops were caused, in part, by Azerbaijani corruption and double-dealing among themselves. Moreover, the Armenians have a military tradition going back centuries. The Azeris are working hard to redress the military balance, thus the Armenian-Russian alliance and the sharp jump in Azeri military spending. But while Armenia only has to worry about one enemy, Azerbaijan has both Armenia and Iran to deal with. In response to that Azerbaijan has bought over a billion dollars’ worth of weapons from Russia and a smaller, but growing quantity of high-tech weapons from Israel. As a bonus, Iran hates Israel in a major way.

Up until 1813, modern Azerbaijan was part of Iran. Then the Russians showed up. Armenia and Azerbaijan were the last conquests of Russia as it advanced down the Caucasus Mountains (between the Black and Caspian Seas) in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Russians stopped when they ran into the Turkish and Iranian empires, but not before taking a chunk of Azerbaijan from Iran. The Iranians have not forgotten. It has not gone unnoticed that those TRG-300 guided rockets could be aimed at Iran if the need arose.

Turkey has other ties with Russia and many Turkish designed weapons are based on Russian models. For example, in 2018 Russia introduced its 300mm BM-30 (or 9K58) Tornado-S GPS guided rockets. Tornado guided rockets are based on the earlier unguided version. These entered service in 2014 and were later used in Syria as the Tornado-G MLRS (multiple launch rocket system). Both guided and unguided versions are fired from the same six-cell launch vehicle. 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 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.

The older Tornado-G is an 800 kg (1,760 pound) rocket 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 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.

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.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. put its first modern rocket system into service. The M270 MLRS, firing either twelve 227mm (295 kg/650 pound) or two 610mm (1.6 ton) rockets provided Russia with some needed competition. The smaller rockets had a max range of 70 kilometers, the larger ATACMS ones 300 kilometers. The rockets are carried on a 25-ton tracked vehicle with a crew of three.

In 2005 there was a big breakthrough as the lighter, wheeled HIMARS version of the MLRS launcher entered service. Only costing about $3 million each, these smaller, truck-mounted MLRS (HIMARS) rocket launcher systems were so popular they replaced the original tracked MLRS. HIMARS carries only one, six-rocket pod. 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 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. All this explains Turkish pride at finding an export customer for their own 300mm guided rocket system. The Turkish manufacturer would not have developed the TRG-300 without the expectation of orders from the Turkish military and the more remote possibility of export orders. Like Russia, Turkey used its TRG-300 in Syria so that there would be two new 300mm rocket systems that could claim to be “combat-tested.” Turkey will need all the help it can get because there are several other nations producing similar large GPS guided rockets. These are not high-tech items and competition for export sales is intense.

Since the 1990s Turkey has been encouraging local firms to develop, produce and export weapons and military equipment. Turkey has the industrial capacity for this and has produced most of its own weapons for centuries. Currently, about two-thirds of the weapons used by the Turkish military are locally made. Turkey does get sales because its weapons are “Moslem made” and with Moslem-majority nations that does make a difference.

 


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