Wednesday, October 25, 2017

HIMARS For The Navy

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, 24-Oct-2017,


  1. Even with that range this requires a $2 billion LPD amphib or $2 billion destroyer to come within anti-ship missile range to pound a few targets. I've always argued for putting the HiMars on an LCU and letting that move close to shore. It already has a stabilizing system since the vehicle rocks while firing, although some have told me it may not be enough to adjust for ocean movements.

    1. An LCU probably isn't big enough to mount the weapon and carry a useful reload capacity.

  2. Those old Tomahawk launch boxes came first to my mind when i saw this article.

    And a more important thing, the current range of the ATACMS is limited by treaty obligations.
    However, if developing a specialized naval version those treaty obligations do not come into effect so you could double or even triple the range.

    1. Treaties. Yeah. That's an issue we need to deal with. The Chinese are not signatories and the Russians seem to be ignoring it. We need to terminate the treaty.

      The treaty was between the defunct Soviet Union and the US. It is legally unclear whether the treaty has any force given that the original signatory no longer exists.

      The treaty appears to apply to missiles with a range greater than 310 miles and does not cover ship launched missiles.

      I'm not a legal expert so I could be mistaken.

    2. They are developing a replacement for the ATACMS that has a much better range: Deepstrike.

    3. A little bit offtopic, so let me bring you up to speed with recent events.

      As far as Russia ignoring the intermediate missiles treaty.
      They have developed the Iskander-K GLCM, but they say that it only uses a missile with a range less than 500km. When the US started to question that, the Russians simply said : " And how do we know that you VLS, cells on the Aegis Ashore site in Romania cannot use Tomahawks' ;)


    5. "they say that it only uses a missile with a range less than 500km."

      Well, if you can't trust the Russians, who can you trust?

    6. I note that the descriptions of DeepStrike cite a range of 309 miles. The cruise missile treaty limit is 310 miles. Nice bit of legal contortion there!

      I'm not a land combat expert but a 300 mile range seems well beyond the Army's area of responsibility. I don't know it off the top of my head but the services have fairly rigidly mapped out zones of responsibility. The Army is responsible for the forward line of battle and out to 50(?) miles beyond. Further than that is considered strategic ranges and the responsibility of the Air Force.

      I kind of see the logic in that. Why should the Army worry about events far beyond their immmediate zone of action? The services are engaging in more and more duplication of effort and it's not efficient. I understand that it's all about budget grabs but still, it's wrong.

    7. "Well, if you can't trust the Russians, who can you trust?"
      This days, it seems you can trust the Russians more than the Chinese, heck you might trust the Russians more then some biased politicans in the US.

    8. "I'm not a land combat expert but a 300 mile range seems well beyond the Army's area of responsibility."

      Its not about ranges but about quick response times, in a dynamic high-tech combat environment, a Tactical ballistic missile can hit a target within minutes, be it a high value asset, a new discovered position of enemy troops/equipment.
      A, TBM gives you reaction times no fighter jet can match. Now under witch responsibilities those systems are is a formality.

    9. "Its not about ranges but about quick response times,"

      No, it's about overall coordination. If that quick response jeopardizes friendly aircraft flying through the same space as that ballistic missile, it's a problem. There is a reason why infantry squads don't have control over nuclear weapons. A higher level of command and control is required to coordinate and deconflict actions. The Army doesn't know what the Air Force and Navy are doing. That's where ranges come in. The Army is given responsibility for actions within a defined range. The AF and Navy have their defined ranges or areas of operation. The Army can't just go flinging ballistic missiles 300+ miles around the region.

      If a target needs to be hit quickly then the overall command will provide that capability on a standby basis in the form of aircraft, submarines, ships, or whatever is deemed appropriate. That might include an Army ballistic missile but that's not the Army's call.

      Similarly, the Army/Marines can't just go flinging cruise or ballistic missiles 300 miles out to sea just because they got a sniff of an enemy ship. There might be friendly ships in the area that the Army doesn't know about. Again, this is what command and control does.

      The Army is concerned with, and responsible for, enemy actions to its front, not enemy actions 300 miles downrange. That's the strategic and operational level and is the purview of the upper level command and control.

      Flinging "quick response" ballistic missiles around is what leads to friendly fire and, possibly, undesirable enemy reactions (do they know that ballistic missile is not an intermediate range nuclear missile? - again, a concern for command and control at a higher level).

    10. "you might trust the Russians more then some biased politicans in the US."


    11. "If that quick response jeopardizes friendly aircraft flying through the same space as that ballistic missile, it's a problem. "
      Thats, a one in a million.

      During a real high intensity operation the joint command center of the operation - of course authorities a TBM launch.
      But historically TBM's are generally under US army control just like in china and in russia the short range TBM's are under ground forces commanders control.

    12. On ranges, I would rather see them develop something in the 100-200 mile range that was capable of bunker busting/airfield destruction. That is something the Tomahawk isnt really good at. Imagine if that airfield in Syria had been hit with 40 bunker busters. The runways would still probably be out of commission.

    13. The only US politicians you should trust less than the Russians are the ones who insist you can trust the Russians! ;)

    14. "Thats, a one in a million."

      Any mid-air collision, even in heavily trafficed air lanes, is a one in a million event but that does not prevent us from imposing control to prevent that unlikely occurrence. Military C2 won't even allow helos or aircraft to fly in the same general area as artillery because of the remote possibility of a collision. No military commander would authorize a ballistic missile launch in an area with possible friendly aircraft flights and vice versa.

      This is what deconfliction is all about!

    15. "The runways would still probably be out of commission."

      That airfield attack was a political message, not a military operation. The attack was limited to almost peripheral damage and seemed mainly intended to destroy aircraft rather than permanently destroy the airbase. Given Syria's small air force, that's not an unreasonable "message".

    16. Regarding the INF treaty the US is also in breach as the longer drone strikes are within the meaning of a 'winged weapons system' covered by the INF. And no the Treaty doesnt have have an out clause for 'wasnt invented at the time' as they were thinking of 'winged cruise missiles'. The other category of
      short range ballistic missiles is where Russia is in breach

    17. I wasnt doubting the effectiveness of the message (certainly seems like it has accomplished its goal), more pointing out that it would have been very difficult for us to carry out more than a political message without risking much more. And that a short range sea launched ballistic missile (especially one that could be fired inside contested waters) could come in very handy in ways that the Tomahawk cant.

    18. "Regarding the INF treaty the US is also in breach as the longer drone strikes ... Russia is in breach"

      I've never heard anyone claim that drones are a violation of the treaty. Do you have a reference or is this your own interpretation. Without a reference or a clarification that this is your own opinion, I'm going to delete this comment as inaccurate.

      Regarding either Russia or the US being in breach, I refer you back to my comment that it is highly questionable whether the treaty remains in force since the original signatory, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. After the fall of the SU, the US stated that it would continue to abide by the treaty but never said that it was still bound by it. Russia has been ambiguous about whether it believes it is bound. Legally, the treaty probably terminated when the SU collapsed.

    19. The text of the INF treaty is easily obtained and the wording is specific about range and the wording ' winged weapons system'
      '2. The term "cruise missile" means an unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path. The term "ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM)" means a ground-launched cruise missile that is a weapon-delivery vehicle.'

      Are you saying a 'drone' isnt a 'unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path.'
      There is no mention in the treaty that cruise missiles arent allowed to return to base, ie are a one way system.

      For successor states the Vienna Convention covers their legal obligations so that rules out INF no longer applying

    20. Okay, clearly your inclusion of drones is your opinion and is unsupported by any authoritative legal position. I suspect that very few legalists would view a drone as a cruise missile! You are welcome to your opinion on this matter but, in the future, please make it clear that it is your unsupported opinion.

      The Vienna Convention that you refer to was never signed by the US or Soviet Union/Russia. Further, it deals with the case of newly independent countries formed by the de-colonization process or states that have succeeded. It does not cover the dissolution of a country as happened to the Soviet Union. Thus, the US and Russia are in absolutely no way bound or guided by this treaty.

      My opinion remains that the cruise missile treaty is likely void due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

    21. Obviously Im no international law expert, but the comments on the Treaty say this
      "Article 16 states that newly independent states receive a "clean slate", such that the new state does not inherit the treaty obligations of the colonial power, whereas article 34(1) states that all other new states remain bound by the treaty obligations of the state from which they separated."
      You are quite right the US isnt a party to the Convention which does raise issues.
      I think that Russia has raised the Drone issue as an example of US 'breach'
      "After the charge was leveled two years ago, the Russians insisted that the United States provide more information about the allegation, and also responded with their own allegations — including charges that American armed drones violate the I.N.F. treaty."
      and does the Treaty still apply?
      "Russia inherited the treaty obligations of the Soviet Union. Other former Soviet states that also are a party to the treaty — Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan — will also send representatives to the meeting of the commission, its first since 2003.

      The US strangely makes armed drone strikes a 'top secret' when they are common knowledge, thats why Obama never mentioned them even though they were one of his favourite methods.
      Of course, officially admitting to armed drone strikes ( recon drones arent weapon systems) could be off the table because of the INF problem

    22. Newly independent states covers colonies that were granted independence. It was not intended to cover disintegrated states. Russia was a remnant, not a newly independent state. Whether it would even be covered is ambiguous.


      No one but you would believe that a drone is covered under a cruise missile treaty!

      You're just way off base on this issue.

  3. Back in the 90s I think they experimented with launching ATACMS from Los Angeles class subs, but it seems like it wasnt pursued very much. Seems like it would be a great capability expansion (well it would be great if we were getting a proper replacement guided missile boat) if they designed the Deepstrike replacement to be easily launched from VPTs.

    1. Really, that sound interesting , do you have some info on that, did they try actual launches?

    2. I dont think they ever went through with any launches. Here is the study paper I found on it:

      The download link has the whole thing, and it doesnt seem to be a corrupted file.

      Seems like a no-brainer capability since they could fit into the same tubes as Tomahawks.

    3. Fascinating! Did not know about that. Thanks for the link.

    4. I would presume an issue is that the sub would have to surface and the scary part would be it could be confused with a real Boomer launch by the spy satellites who watch for these things

    5. Why would a sub have to surface? We do submerged launches of Tomahawks.

    6. Thats right. I thought there was a problem with rocket motors firing under water but wasnt an issue with subroc. The Trident uses compressed air/steam to breach the surface first before igniting the rocket.


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