American MLRS as an idea of doctrinal superiority
What could be more important in a weapon than the iron from which it is made? ideas. concept. The doctrine under which it is created.
American multiple launch rocket systems were fundamentally different from their Soviet counterparts even at the design stage. In the USSR, MLRS were considered as a means of creating a dense fire shaft. The United States conceived its offspring as a tool capable of breaking the overwhelming numerical superiority of the artillery of the Warsaw Pact bloc with speedy and surgically accurate strikes.
The Soviet defense industry continued to think in terms of the Second World War, while the States, realizing the conceptual impasse of the symmetrical arms race, relied on the creation of a new generation of weapons. This is how the M270 MLRS appeared – the installation on the basis of which HIMARS was subsequently created (it should be noted that this is de facto the same system, which has a difference only in the type of conveyor and the number of launchers). At the time of its first combat use in 1991, the M270 was a weapon of a slightly different order than its modern variants. At that time, this multiple launch rocket system performed primarily the tasks of counter-battery combat – it was the M270 MLRS that became the main tool of the US Army in the fight against the numerous, well-equipped and experienced Iraqi artillery using M26 unguided missiles. The scheme for the destruction of Iraqi batteries was, on the whole, simple and elegant – small mobile groups of armored vehicles provoked the Iraqis to use artillery, the positions of which were detected using mobile counter-battery radars. Further, the MLRS entered the work, suppressing the positions of the enemy, while being out of the reach of his firepower.
By itself, from the point of view of technology, the M270 at that time was not something that would be an order of magnitude superior to its competitors – on the contrary, the impressive results of its combat use were dictated primarily by advanced tactics and an extremely competent concept. The installation did not have a radical superiority in range over Soviet weapons (relatively speaking, 30 km versus 20 km) – its trump card was accuracy, mobility and constant work in conjunction with reconnaissance equipment.
The main advantage of American multiple launch rocket systems over competitors from other countries was reloading with packages. If the Soviet “Grad” required from 30 to 50 minutes to fully recharge (each rocket is loaded manually), then the M270 – only about five minutes; at the same time, the process itself does not physically burden the crew of the installation.
The combat path of the American MLRS in Iraq and Afghanistan as a prologue to the use in the current war
As a result of the wars with Iraq, the United States took the path of modernizing the M270 – firstly, a lighter version of the installation was created in the face of HIMARS, and secondly, emphasis was placed on developing the key qualities of the system – its range and accuracy.
America completely stopped the production of unguided rockets – they were replaced by heavy guided missiles M30 / M31, which significantly increased the potential of the system, making it extremely accurate and long-range.
As a result of their evolution, the M270 and HIMARS have occupied the niche of tactical aviation in terms of combat capabilities – in order to be convinced of this, it is enough to track the combat path of the vehicles during the conflicts against the Taliban and ISIS. MLRS were actively used in conjunction with raid groups, striking both at targets identified by intelligence (warehouses, barracks, communication and control points, drug laboratories), and as a tool for direct fire support of units of the Special Operations Forces or the Marine Corps . The high speed of deployment and the correction of the course of missiles using GPS made it possible to strike less than 100 meters from American positions within 5-7 minutes after requesting ground forces for fire support.
During the fighting against the forces of the Islamic State, the American Special Operations Forces stormed the cities of Iraq, relying primarily on HIMARS. Small groups of SSOs infiltrated through the lines of defense of the militants, identifying the positions of the latter, after which they transmitted the coordinates to the calculations of the MLRS. This tactic made it possible to deliver pinpoint strikes in an urban environment, achieving the maximum effect in the destruction of militants, while significantly minimizing losses among the civilian population.
Why are we even interested in the combat path of HIMARS and its progenitor in the Middle East conflicts? Because it is directly related to the use of the system by the Ukrainian army. To be more precise, we are talking about embedding this MLRS into the staffing and organizational structure of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Judging by a number of signs, the HIMARS transferred to Ukraine are used precisely based on the experience of their use in Iraq and Afghanistan – the installations are at the disposal of the Special Operations Forces and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine . This, in turn, determines the choice of targets for which Hymars is used – these are headquarters, ammunition depots of the divisional level and above, as well as air defense systems.
The pattern of action is more than transparent – after careful reconnaissance, the installations strike at the most vulnerable places of any army – command and supply, paralyzing its actions in the long term and preventing it from conducting offensive operations.
As the Ukrainian army becomes saturated with the M270 MLRS and HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems, we should expect that a significant part of the installations will be transferred to the command of the army command (as a brigade-level weapon) and will begin to be used as a means of counter-battery combat in the most dangerous areas – that is, to do what , for which they were originally created: to suppress the numerically superior, but much less technologically advanced Soviet-style artillery.
As a counter-battery asset, the Hymars in their current form are a practically invulnerable weapon – they can quickly change positions and fire beyond the reach of almost the entire Russian missile and artillery arsenal (with the exception of the OTRK).
Moreover, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are trained to implement American counter-battery tactics and are equipped with appropriate equipment: network-centric command and control systems, massive digital radio communications, mobile radars and unmanned reconnaissance systems.
All this will have a very strong impact on the combat work of Russian artillery – it will be forced to resort to “hit and run” tactics, abandoning its usual tactics of massing and super-concentration of firepower in narrow sections of the front. This will require a completely different level of organizational quality and competencies – for the implementation of “hit and run” a functioning reconnaissance circuit is needed (fewer ammunition fired requires more thorough reconnaissance and target selection), logistics of at least the level of the 80s of the last century (and not the First World war), high qualifications and initiative of the personnel (in the face of a constant threat from the enemy’s design bureaus, it is necessary to carefully equip firing positions, knowledge of camouflage, covert movement and deployment,
HIMARS – what’s next?
Separately, it is worth noting that HIMARS is an extremely unpleasant target for reconnaissance. It is extremely difficult to calculate the complex using data from satellite images, aerial reconnaissance (and sometimes ground reconnaissance) due to the visual similarity with an ordinary army truck – and this is a very useful feature for a system that can fire, including using operational -tactical missiles MGM-146 at a range of more than 300 km (like the “younger” M30 / 31, this missile has GPS correction and can fly several hundred kilometers, landing, say, in a house. Or a bunker. Or an ammunition depot. Or … continue themselves).
Ukraine does not currently have this type of ammunition, but this is probably only a matter of time. Most likely, they will be transferred by the Americans upon reaching a certain threshold of Russian air defense losses – ballistic missiles, due to their easily calculated trajectory, are a rather vulnerable target for air defense systems, however, with a general decrease in the density of Russian air defense, they can be used with a much higher probability of success.
In fact, the strikes of the Ukrainian army specifically on the positions of the Russian air defense were also more than predictable and explainable – and the point here is not even the high priority of the air defense system as, no doubt, an important goal, but the fact that HIMARS have been considered by the Pentagon over the past few years precisely as a means of breaking through Russian restricted access zones and the subsequent implementation of an air-ground offensive: ground forces pave the way for aviation, destroying dangerous enemy assets , and aviation, in turn, does the same for ground forces. We are seeing something similar in Ukraine – most of the HIMARS strikes are accompanied by the active work of Ukrainian tactical aviation.
Frankly, calling HIMARS “just MLRS” is stupidity of the highest order. This is by no means an ordinary weapon system, which, even at the dawn of its appearance in the face of the M270, surpassed everything that was created by the Soviet Union (whose weapons make up the arsenal of the RF Armed Forces). It is no less mistaken to consider it a miracle weapon – no, like any weapon, HIMARS is good exactly within the framework of the doctrine and concept for which it was created. Its value is determined primarily by the qualifications and competence of the army that uses the system in combat.
For the Armed Forces of Ukraine, these installations are of great importance – after all, they, in fact, can successfully perform the tasks of attack aircraft, conduct direct fire support for offensives and ensure parity with the fight against numerous Russian artillery (which is the central force of the Russian offensive). It is also important that, thanks to the American MLRS, the Ukrainian army literally in a week returned to the most convenient and familiar asymmetric type of hostilities for it – by striking at Russian military logistics, the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not allow themselves to be drawn into exhausting battles of attraction.
However, I will refrain from making any predictions about the impact of HIMARS and M270 on the strategic picture of hostilities for the time being – this requires time and observation of the practice of combat use of MLRS data in the conflict.