M270 MLRS: A massive firepower in a matter of seconds

Eric Sof

The M270 MLRS is a US-made armored, self-propelled, multiple rocket launcher; a type of rocket artillery used in NATO countries. Both gun and rocket artillery supplement each other. Neither can totally replace the other. The main advantage of Rocket artillery is the massive firepower it can bring in a short time.

Introduction

The M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (M270 MLRS) provides the Army with an all-weather, indirect, area fire weapon system to strike counterfire, air defense, armored formations, and other high-payoff targets at all depths of the tactical battlefield. Primary missions of MLRS include the suppression, neutralization, and destruction of threat fire support and forward area air defense targets.

The M270 MLRS is a versatile weapon system that supplements traditional cannon artillery fires by delivering large volumes of firepower in a short time against critical, time-sensitive targets. These targets often include enemy artillery, air defense systems, mechanized units, and personnel. MLRS units can use their system’s “shoot and scoot” capability to survive while providing fire support for attacking maneuver elements. MLRS is not intended to replace cannon artillery but has been designed to complement it.

M270 MLRS performed exceptionally well in Operation Desert Storm, in which US Army deployed significant numbers of launchers. MLRS met all operational requirements and, in most cases, exceeded readiness, reliability, and maintainability levels. MLRS units from the United Kingdom were also involved in ODS and proved the value of this multi-national system. The new upgrade MLRS (Deep Attack Launcher) also demonstrated its enormous capability during the first operational firings of the longer-range ATACMS.

German battery of MLRS firing rockets
German battery of MLRS firing rockets (Photo: XY)

The Army has initiated an extensive improvements program to enhance MLRS’s basic capability. The improvements are in three areas–an extended range rocket (from 32 kilometers to 50 kilometers), an improved fire control system, and an enhanced launcher mechanical system. The extended range rocket has a reduced payload of M77 submunitions and a longer rocket motor to attain the additional 18 kilometers of flight.

The improved fire control system includes a meteorological sensor, a positioning navigation unit combined with a global positioning system, and a new launcher interface unit with increased throughput capacities in the main and communication processors. The improved launcher mechanical systems consist of non-developmental item improvements to the elevation transmission, azimuth motor, and motor control.

MLRS M270 Launcher

The MLRS M270 Launcher, a derivative of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV), is the standard US Army platform for firing surface-to-surface artillery rockets and missiles. The Armored Vehicle Mounted Rocket Launcher (M270 MLRS) is a full-tracked, self-propelled launcher/loader designed to launch 12 tactical rockets and re-deploy before enemy determination of launch position (shoot and scoot). The launch platform is also used to establish the Army Tactical Missile System (Army TACMS) and can launch all M270 Family of Munitions (MFOM) tactical rocket/missile variants.

The launcher consists of six rockets, each of which is mounted and controlled in both azimuth and elevation. It has an automated control system for aiming that automatically corrects for launcher cant and ambient temperature, a directional reference system to obtain azimuth elevation and cant angles, and an FCS, which is operated from a man-rated vehicle cab. The launcher platform structure provides a “self-loading” capability. The M270 launcher has a maximum speed of 64 Km/hour, with a maximum range of 435 Km. It can climb a 60-degree slope and a one-meter wall.

M270 MLRS firing rockets
M270 MLRS firing rockets (Photo: XY)

Ordnance options include the MFOM (all variants of the MLRS rocket and Army TACMS missile). The M270 MLRS can load, arm, and fire a 12 rocket ripple within ripple within five minutes. M270 MLRS launchers are deployed three per battery and 29 per battalion. The M270 MLRS launcher can be configured for transport by Air Force C-141 aircraft on a limited basis.

The M270 launcher is also transportable by Air Force C-5 and C-17 aircraft.MLRS consists of a self-loading launcher with an onboard fire control system (FCS). The launcher is mounted on a mobile track vehicle that carries 12 rockets or 2 Army Tactical Missile System (Army TACMS) missiles, which can be fired individually or simultaneously. Rockets have a range beyond 30 kilometers, and the Army TACMS Block IA missile can reach 300 kilometers.

M270 MLRS SPLL

The M270 MLRS, or SPLL (Self-Propelled Loader/Launcher), comprises two major units and an electronic fire control system (FCS). The SPLL is a mobile, self-propelled, self-loading, multiple-launch rocket-firing unit. It provides mobile extended-range artillery rocket support for ground forces. The M993 Carrier Vehicle and the M269 LLM are the two major units that make up the MLRS. The FCS is a computer control system with a built-in computer and memory system. The SPLL has a cruising range of 300 miles at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.

The total MLRS weighs approximately 52,990 pounds. The second multi-year procurement contract for FY89-93 in July 1989 for MLRS. The US initial operational capability for MLRS was achieved in 1983. Starting in FY89, MLRS has been co-produced by the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy. As of September 1995, 857 launchers have been delivered, 772 to the active Army and 185 to the National Guard.

Upgrades

The M270 MLRS launcher is being upgraded to accommodate a new MLRS family of munitions (MFOM), including the Army Tactical Missile System. The improvements provided by the M270A1 will enhance the field artillery’s support to armor and infantry units to reinforce the dominant maneuver force by improving the corps commander’s precision engagement capabilities for shaping the battlespace at extended ranges. The MLRS M270A1 program is on schedule to be fielded in September 2000.

  • 1QFY98 IFCS Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Decision
  • 2QFY99 Combined IFCS/ILMS operational test
  • 3QFY00 First unit equipped M270A1
  • 2QFY98 – First Extended Range Rocket MLRS rocket delivery

The M270A1 program includes two major upgrades to the current M270 MLRS launcher. Current plans for improvement to the system include the Improved Fire Control System (IFCS), the Improved Mechanical Launch System (ILMS), and the extended range rocket (ER-MLRS). An MLRS initiative to examine potential obsolescence revealed that by 2003, 92 percent of the microcircuits used in the system would no longer be available. To combat the growing obsolescence, the Army initiated the IFCS program with a Milestone II in 4QFY92.

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The IFCS will mitigate electronic obsolescence currently existing in the fire control system and will, accommodate the needs of the MFOM weapon systems under development, and provide growth for future weapon systems. Additionally, analysis following Operation Desert Storm identified a requirement for faster prosecution of highly mobile, short dwell targets by the M270 Launcher. In 4QFY95, the Program Manager, MLRS, received approval to proceed with the ILMS program.

The ILMS will provide rapid responses to time-critical targets by reducing the time to aim by 70% and by reducing reload times by 50%. The ER-MLRS will extend the current range of the basic rocket from 31.8 KM to a new range of approximately 45+ KM. The IFCS, the ILMS, and the ER-MLRS are in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development Phase.

Improved Fire Control System (IFCS)

It replaces obsolete, maintenance-intensive hardware and software, providing growth potential for future munitions and the potential for reduced launcher operation and support costs. A Global Positioning System-aided navigation system for the launcher is being developed as part of IFCS to supplement the existing inertial position-navigation system.

The IFCS modification will upgrade the electronic and navigation equipment, revise the software architecture, and add the capability of sensing local meteorological conditions 100 meters above ground level. This latter capability is intended to improve rocket accuracy by providing current, low-level wind measurements to the launcher just before launch.

Improved Launcher Mechanical System (ILMS) 

It is designed to decrease the time required to aim and load the launcher. This is achieved by providing a faster launcher drive system that moves simultaneously in azimuth and elevation. ILMS is expected to reduce the traverse time from the stowed position to the worst-case aimpoint by approximately 80 percent. It will also decrease the mechanical system contribution to reload time by about 40 percent.

Reducing time spent at the launch and reload points is intended to increase survivability. In addition to the IFCS and ILMS modifications, the M270A1 program includes remanufacturing selected components and applying selected Engineering Change Proposals to the basic M270 launcher to bring all launchers to the same configuration.

M270A1 System Integration

An M270A1 System Integration Update briefing was presented to COL (P) Holly, the Program Executive Officer (PEO), Tactical Missiles, on 26 Apr 99. This briefing addressed the status of Improved Launcher Mechanical System (ILMS) qualification testing and system-level testing to date. The M270A1 Acquisition Strategy is a three-phase strategy with Phases I & II completed and is on track to meet Phase III, which is the Milestone III Full-Rate Production Decision in FY 00. The Phase III decision authority has been delegated to the COL (P) Holly by the Army Acquisition Decision Authority.

The M270A1 Logistics Demonstration (Log Demo) began Oct 25, 98, and was completed on 15 Jan 99, accomplishing 239 maintenance tasks; 10 of these tasks were performed in MOPP IV. Soldiers from Ft. Sill, OK (13M operator and 27M-maintainer) participated in the Logistics Demonstration. The soldiers had no problems using the M270A1 Interactive Electronic Technical Manual (IETM) or the SPORT lightweight computer. The outcome of this extensive Logistics Demonstration indicates the M270A1 is supportable by the soldier in the field today.

The M270A1 began the Developmental Test/Operational Test (DT/OT) flight phase of the Operational Test (OT) on Apr 99. The DT/OT flight phase tests have included the successful firings of MLRS M26, M28 rockets, and Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) Block I and IA missions at White Sands Missile Range. Future planned flight test firings include Development Test firings of MLRS Guided Rocket (FY 00).

Deployment

In September 1997, the first US Army Command & Attack Battalion (CAB) Field Artillery (FA) unit was activated. This program, previously known as the MLRS “2×9,” fielded another MLRS firing battery and a Headquarters, Headquarters & Service (HHS) battery to the Division Artillery of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, TX. This change merged these new batteries with the existing MLRS Battery, A Btry, 21st FA, and the Target Acquisition Battery (TAB), B Battery, 26th FA. The new unit is known as 1st Bn, 21st FA (1-21 FA).

This program will not be unique to the 1st Cavalry Division. Over the upcoming years, fielding will take place in all of the current “heavy” divisions within the active Army. The direction to make this change resulted from a decision made by the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army on 29 Feb 96. The decision for this plan was put forward based on the Nov 93 release of the Legal Mix V Study with subsequent conclusions from the Army Science Board in Oct 95. The rationale was based on an analysis that indicated the need for additional firepower within the division.

The next unit to be changed was the conversion of B Btry, 20th FA (MLRS) and A Btry, 26th FA (TAB) to 2-20 FA at 4th Mechanized Infantry Division, Fort Hood, TX, in Jul 98. In 4QFY99, A Btry, 13th FA (MLRS) and A Btry, 39th FA (TAB) will convert to 1-39 FA at Fort Stewart, GA. After FY99, the remaining three (3) CAB fields are planned to be fielded with the M270A1 Launchers.

These systems will be remanufactured launchers, including the Improved Fire Control System (IFCS) and Improved Launcher Mechanical System (ILMS). These units are A Btry, 38th FA (MLRS) and F Btry, 26th FA (TAB) to 1-38 FA to be fielded in FY01in Korea; and in Germany, the fielding A Btry, 94th FA (MLRS) and C Btry, 25th FA (TAB) in FY03, and A Btry, 33 FA (TAB) and B Btry 25th FA (TAB) in FY05.

Technical specifications

Total program cost (TY$)$1,969.1M
Average unit cost (TY$):$2.3M
Full-rate Production:4QFY99
Prime Contractor:Lockheed Martin Vought Systems
Crew:3 man
Cruise Range:483 km
Computer:On-Board Fire Control and Position Determining System
Ammunition:12 Rockets; 644 M-77 Shaped Charges per Rocket
Reload Time:9 minutes
Rocket Range:31.8 km
References:TM 9-1450-646-10 Carrier Vehicle, MLRS, M993TM 9-1425-646-10 Launcher- Loader Module (LLM), M269

* Article was written from a few different sources, including man.fas.org

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