Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers have proved their worth in ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict
The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has highlighted the utility of Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher Systems/Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MBRLS/MLRS) on the battlefield. Both Russia and the Ukraine have extensively used MBRLS on the battlefield to degrade each other’s logistics and command and control centres, in addition to softening up targets prior to a major advance. These wheeled rocket systems are also able to redeploy at short notice, enhancing their battlefield survivability.
The Indian Army presently operates three MBRLS types in the indigenously developed Pinaka and Russian BM-30 SMERCH and legacy BM-21 GRAD. The first two regiments of the Pinaka MBRLS were inducted and became fully operational in 2010. User trials of Pinaka Mk-I were successfully completed in July 2002 and bulk production of the rocket system began in 2006. The ministry of defence (MoD) entered into two contracts with Rosoboronexport, Russia in December 2005 and March 2007 for the import of a total of 42 Smerch MBRLS.
The United States, which has been supplying Ukraine with sophisticated defence equipment, had announced in July 2022 that the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) being used by the Ukrainian armed forces were making an impact on the battlefield. The M142 HIMARS system allows for the launching of multiple, precision-guided rockets. During a background briefing in July 2022 at the Pentagon, a senior US military official said the department of defence (DoD) believed the HIMARS systems were having an indirect, but significant impact on front line operations.
“I think there has been significant impact on what’s going on, on the front lines,” the official said. “If you think about the fact that the Ukrainians have been talking about a number of the targets (they) are hitting… they’re spending a lot of time striking targets like ammunition, supplies, other logistical supplies, command and control. And all those things have a direct impact on the ability to conduct operations on the front line… Although they’re not shooting the HIMARS at the front lines, they are having a very, very significant effect on that.”
US supplies to Ukraine of the M142 HIMARS have depleted its own inventory of these systems and in December 2022, the US Army awarded Lockheed Martin with a USD 431 million order for full-rate production of the rocket systems to more rapidly replenish DoD stocks and support US allies and partners. “This award will enable us to replenish our own inventory while providing critical capabilities for our allies and international partners,” said Douglas R. Bush, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. “We remain committed to getting things on contract as quickly as possible to ensure our stocks are rapidly replenished.”
The M142 HIMARS entered service in 2005 and today can launch all US MLRS family of munitions, rockets and missiles. Each vehicle carries one launch pod containing either six Guided MLRS rockets or one Army Tactical Missile System missile. HIMARS can engage targets at ranges of 70-plus km. Export customers include Jordan, Poland, Romania, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Lockheed Martin delivered the 500th launcher produced in the HIMARS franchise to Romania in September 2020.
Developed in Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) labs, the Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) in association with High Energy Materials Research Laboratory, Vehicles Research and Development Establishment and the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, the Pinaka MBRLS can be considered as an indigenous weapons development success story, having been inducted into the Indian Army and gaining an export order from Armenia.
The latest version of the indigenous MBRLS is the Pinaka Mk-I (Enhanced) Rocket System which can destroy targets at distances of up to 45 km and will replace the existing Pinaka Mk-I rockets which are currently under production. The ARDE has also developed the Guided Pinaka with a range of 60 km and features improvements to the missile such as the integration of a navigation, control and guidance system, which is also aided by the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System. The Guided Pinaka has an accuracy of <60 m (CEP) making it suitable for engaging high value targets.
The Pinaka Mk-I is a free flight artillery rocket system with a range of 37.5 km. It can fire 12 rockets in 44 seconds. Each launcher vehicle contains two pods with six rockets each. A battery of six launchers can fire a salvo of 72 free flight rockets in 44 seconds, delivering 7.2 tons of payload in the form of lethal warheads which can effectively neutralise a target area of 800×1,000m. A Pinaka battery comprises six launchers, six loader-cum replenishment vehicles, three replenishment vehicles, two battery command post vehicles and one DIGICORA MET Radar.
The Pinaka MBRLS is in series production with its ground systems under bulk production at Ordnance Factories, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) Defence. The launchers and battery command post vehicles are being manufactured by L&T and Tata, whereas the loader-cum-replenishment vehicle and replenishment vehicle are manufactured by BEML. In April 2013, the government had sanctioned the capacity expansion for manufacture of Pinaka rockets to 5,000 rockets per annum at a total cost of Rs 1,388.80 crore.
The army will induct a total of 22 Pinaka MBRLS regiments with 1.89 lakh rockets. In August 2020, the MoD inked contracts with the BEL, TASL and L&T Defence for the supply of six Pinaka regiments to the army at an approximate cost of Rs 2,580 crore. These regiments will be inducted into the army by 2024 and be operationalised along the northern and eastern borders. The Six Pinaka regiments comprise 114 launchers with automated gun aiming & positioning system and 45 command posts to be procured from Tata Power and L&T, while BEML will supply 330 vehicles.
The DRDO announced the successful flight test of the Pinaka Mk-I EPRS and Pinaka Area Denial Munition in April 2022. It stated that with these trials, the initial phase of technology absorption of EPRS by the Indian industry has successfully been completed and industry partners were now ready for user trials/series production of the rocket system. The technology was transferred to the industries viz. Munitions India Limited and Economic Explosives Limited Nagpur.
THE BM-30 Smerch MBRLS is a potent battlefield weapon of the Indian Army with its ability to engage targets as far away as 90 km. It can fire 12 300mm rockets in 40 seconds. The Smerch MBRLS was designed to engage critical area targets whose vulnerable elements are unsheltered and sheltered manpower, soft-skinned, light-armoured and armoured vehicles of motor-rifle and tank companies, artillery, tactical missile and air defence units, helicopters on the landing areas, destroy command posts, communications centres and military-industrial installations.
The Smerch MBRLS comprises a launch vehicle, transloader vehicle, command and staff vehicle, meteorological support complex vehicle and workshop repair vehicle. The launch vehicle provides firing, survey control, ground navigation with data display on the electronic map and automated launch tube cluster laying on the target. In urgent fire position displacement mode, the launch vehicle is capable of leaving the fire position within one minute. A wide range of trajectory-corrected rockets has been developed, which share the same design and differ from each other only in the type warhead used (cluster warhead with fragmentation submunitions, separable and non-separable HE warhead, thermobaric warhead, cluster warhead with shaped-charge/fragmentation submunitions, cluster warhead with sensor-fused submunitions). Some components for the Smerch MBRLS were earlier made in Ukraine such as the rocket launcher tubes.
The cost of 42 Smerch MBRLS ordered in December 2005 and March 2007 amounted to Rs 2,633 crore, which included spares and rocket projectiles of different ranges. Supplies against the first contract commenced from June 2007 and were completed by 2008-09. The supplies of systems against the second contract were completed in May 2009 except a few rocket projectiles. Russia delivered the first consignment of Smerch MBRLS in July 2007, and these were inducted in three rocket regiments of the army.
In April 2018, Ashok Leyland was awarded a contract by the MoD for the supply high mobility 10×10 vehicles as launchers for the Smerch rockets. In 2012, the erstwhile Ordnance Factory Board entered into a Memorandum of Understanding for a Joint Venture with Rosoboronexport, Russia and Splav Russia to manufacture five versions of Smerch rockets based on transfer of technology received from Russia.