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By Scott R. Gourley

04 Oct 12. Against an increasingly ominous background of future funding uncertainties, BATTLESPACE is taking a somewhat different approach for this year’s annual field artillery update. Rather than solely focusing on recent hardware developments, this piece will offer a brief history of representative developments that have taken place on one field artillery weapon system – the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) – and provide an industry perspective on how the continuing program partnering between government and industry is helping to save customers money while maintaining an affordable product line and continuing to support warfighters with a viable and reliable tactical capability.

Scott Arnold, Vice President of Precision Fires at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, began by pointing to recent ceremonies at Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville, Alabama) designed to recognize the 30th anniversary of the MLRS system. A second function of the event was to mark the retirement of the original M270 tracked MLRS launchers.

“It was interesting as I listened to some of the speakers and what the customers had to say, to hear that even after 30 years the system is clearly relevant, reliable, and affordable,” he said. “And I think those are the system characteristics that customers are looking for in today’s environment. Moreover, I think that’s why the Army has said that they intend to keep the system fielded until 2050. So we’re not even half way through the life of this system yet.”

Reflecting back over three decades of system history, Arnold related, “It was first fielded in 1982 with the M270 [launcher] and M26 basic rocket. And also during the 1980s was when the original ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile System] Block 1 was fielded.”

“Then our customers started to express interest in more range and eventually in precision as well,” he continued. “That’s why you saw, in the 1990s, the IPDS [Improved Position Determining System] version of the M270 launcher, followed by the M270A1 coming on line to give it a GPS capability for precision navigation in the launch platform.”

“In the 1990s we also introduced the first ATACMS Block 1A,” he added. “That was the first ‘precision area capability’ with GPS on the munition. And then along came Guided MLRS (GMLRS), bringing that GPS precision to the rocket family.”

“And then of course today we have HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System], which is the C-130-transportable launch platform that also is GPS enabled and shoots Guided MLRS and ATACMS. And we’re in production today with the M57 ATACMS Unitary [missile] and the M31 Guided MLRS Unitary rocket, as well as HIMARS. And on the international front we continue to do upgrades of M270s up to ‘A1 equivalent’ launchers, actually called ‘C1,’ that gives customers that capability to shoot Guided MLRS and ATACMS,” he said.

“If you look at how we got to where we are today, it was really a case of the customer anticipating an evolving threat and developing requirements that reflected that threat evolution,” he explained. “Then we worked with them to try to bring technology to bear to ‘evolve the system’ in an affordable way, not throwing away the equipment but instead affordably modernizing it and upgrading it to be relevant to the newest threats. Of course those have recently been counterinsurgency type operations, and that’s where the interest in precision and the unitary warheads came in.”

Shifting toward a future focus, Arnold noted, “The Army intends to keep M270A1s in their inventory. They have 225 of them fielded along with HIMARS. So again, working with the Army, we have started this year to develop an improved armored cab for the ‘heavy launcher’ [M270A1]. It increases the volume of the cab by 40 percent. It changes the crew layout to be just like it is on the HIMARS – with the three-man crew with

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