ComNavOps, along with many readers, has called for looking into the possibility of mounting a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) on ships to provide firepower support for troops ashore.
To refresh your memory, the Army’s M270 MLRS can fire, among other munitions, 12 guided rockets with a range of 60+ km (37+ miles) with a unitary high explosive (HE) warhead or a payload of 404 M85 submunitions. Alternatively, the MLRS can fire the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) which is a ballistic missile with a range of 300 km (186 miles) and a 500 lb HE warhead. ATACMS is being upgraded with a new seeker to enable it to hit moving targets including targets at sea. The missile occupies the same space as six of the smaller rockets in the MLRS launcher enabling two to be fired from a single launcher.
The Army seems to be replacing the MLRS with the M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) which is a lighter version of the MLRS but with only half the weapon capacity. Thus, a HIMARS can fire 6 smaller rockets or 1 ATACMS.
We see, then, that the Army already has the long range rocket system that the Navy has spent $24 billion dollars on in the form of the Zumwalt program and which has totally failed due to the prohibitive cost of the rockets.
To bring us completely up to date, USNI News website reports that the Marines have test fired a HIMARS system from the deck of an amphibious ship (1). This is both good news and stupid news.
|HIMARS - Publicity Stunt With Potential|
First, the stupid … Firing HIMARS from the deck of a ship is a publicity stunt, at best. Such an application is unworkable for a variety of reasons. The HIMARS system includes a launcher vehicle, resupply vehicle, and two resupply trailers. This is space and volume that no ship has to spare. Someone, at least, seems to recognize this.
“And then,” said O’Connor [Rear Adm. Cathal O’Connor, ESG-3 commander], “there is the question of trade-offs because ships are limited in volume, weight and personnel. So in order to bring X, we’d have to give up Y. So it’s something to consider.” (1)
That’s why the idea of placing trucks on the deck of an amphibious ship is silly. The deck space is already completely accounted for and utilized. Some essential function, like helos and MV-22s, would have to be sacrificed to accommodate the MLRS.
Further, a non-marinized HIMARS truck sitting out on the deck of a ship, subject to saltwater and the elements, will quickly corrode into inoperability.
Frankly, this stunt just smacks of more of the Marine’s recent trend to try to be and do all things instead of concentrating on its unique role and doing it well.
Now, the good news … It appears that someone is at least thinking along the right lines. As stated in many previous posts and comments, a MLRS system adapted to naval vessels is an outstanding idea. The base system and munitions are already fully developed and in production with fully matured and understood costs.
The two main challenges to adapting MLRS to a ship are developing a naval launcher and writing code to allow the launcher to function on a constantly moving ship as opposed to the rock solid base of dry land.
Developing a permanent naval launcher, possibly a box launcher along the lines of the old Mk112 ASROC or the Mk29 Sea Sparrow launcher should not be that difficult. We already know how to build both if we can resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel and gold plate it.
The software, or at least the basis for it, has already been developed, according to the article.
Having noted the stupidity of a truck on the deck of an amphibious ship, a viable alternative is a purpose built ship designed to operate MLRS launchers. Such a system would possibly be a good fit for the LCS. The ample flight deck and hangar space could be converted to launchers, magazines, reload mechanisms, and support mechanisms. The resulting modified fire support LCS could be highly useful as a ground forces firepower support vessel. Add in three or four SeaRAM launchers for self-defense and the ship would be well suited for close in fire support work. There you have it – a useful purpose for the LCS!
(1)USNI News website, “Marines Fire HIMARS From Ship in Sea Control Experiment With Navy”, Gidget Fuentes,