The Multiple Launch Rocket System is a mobile tracked rocket launcher which can fire a variety of US Army rockets. Concept definition contracts were issued in 1976. Following a competitive development program, Vought was selected as prime contractor in 1980. Initial operational capability was in 1983. Each MLRS tracked vehicle carries two launch boxes, each of which can be loaded with six MLRS-compatible rockets or one ATACMS missile. In 2005 a wheeled vehicle with a single launch box went into service. Rockets compatible with MLRS are:
Maximum range: 30 km (18 mi). Boost Propulsion: Solid rocket.
Historical Essay © Andreas Parsch
Lockheed Martin (Vought) MLRS Rockets (M26-M30)
The MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) is a mobile rocket launcher which can fire a variety of rockets from the MLRS Familiy of Munitons (MFOM) as well as the MGM-140 ATACMS guided missile family.
MLRS started life as the U.S. Army's GSRS (General Support Rocket System) program in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Concept Definition Study contracts were let to several companies, and in 1977, Vought and Boeing were selected for competitive development. In December 1979, GSRS was renamed as MLRS, and May 1980, Vought was announced as prime contractor for further development and production of the MLRS launcher and rockets. MLRS reached initial operational capability with the U.S. Army in 1983.
The original MLRS launcher is the M270, also known as the SPLL (Self-Propelled Loader-Launcher). The M270 is a tracked vehicle, whose major components are the FCS (Fire Control System) and two launch boxes which can house six MFOM rockets or one ATACMS missile each. Beginning around 1995, an improved M270A1 SPLL was developed, and the operational test phase was conducted in 1999. The M270A1 has an improved fire control system (IFCS) with more modern electronics, and the ILMS (Improved Launcher Mechanical System) which provides for faster loading and aiming of the rocket launchers. Existing M270 units will be converted to M270A1 standard.
Another launcher for the MLRS rockets is the XM142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), a wheeled vehicle with a single launch box (for six rockets or one ATACMS). The HIMARS Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program started in 1996, and the EMD (Engineering and Manufacturing Development) phase, begun in January 2000, was successfully completed in September 2002. In April 2003, Lockheed Martin received the first HIMARS LRIP (Low-Rate Initial Production) contract, and the fielding of the first U.S. Army unit is scheduled for early 2005. HIMARS uses the same IFCS and ILMS components as the M270A1.
The first MLRS rocket was the unguided M26 rocket. The M26 is spin-stabilized by 4 fins, has a range of 32 km (20 miles) and is armed with 644 M77 DPICM (Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions) anti-personnel-anti-materiel grenades. The M77 submunitions are dispensed over the target in mid-air, are drag-ribbon stabilized during free fall, and detonate on impact. The MLRS-M26 was first used operationally during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, where it acquired the nickname "steel rain".
The Extended Range MLRS Rocket (ER-MLRS) is a derivative of the M26 with a longer motor and only 518 grenades. This improves the range to more than 45 km (28 miles). The first ER-MLRS rocket was planned to be the M26A1, which uses improved M85 DPICM submunitions. The original M77 has a relatively high dud rate (about 5%), and the M85 is a derivative with a self-destruct fuze to lower this rate significantly (< 1%). However, the development of the XM85 progressed slower than expected, and therefore the initial ER-MLRS rockets (first production contract was awarded in July 1996) were armed with M77 bomblets. The M77-equipped ER-MLRS is designated M26A2. By 1999, the M85 grenade was ready for production, and the final 1200 of a total of about 4300 ER-MLRS rockets for the U.S. Army were built as M26A1.
The M28 is a training version of the M26, which replaces the warhead with steel ballast and three smoke canisters. The M28A1 RRPR (Reduced Range Practice Rocket) is a derivative of the M28 with a blunt high-drag nose. This reduces the rocket's maximum range to 15 km (9 miles), making it suitable for use on smaller firing ranges.
In 1994, the U.S. Army initiated the GMLRS (Guided MLRS) ATD (Advanced Technology Demonstration) program to develop a guided derivative of the M26 MLRS rocket. The M30 GLMRS rocket uses a guidance system with an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) and a GPS receiver, and has four small additional control fins in the nose. To make full use of the much improved accuracy of the weapon over long distances, only 402 M85 DPICM bomblets are carried for a range of more than 60 km (37 miles). Minimum effective range for the GMLRS is about 10 km (6 miles). The first fully guided test launch of an XM30 occurred in May 1998.
In late 1998, the GMLRS program entered a four-year SDD (Systems Development and Demonstration) phase, and the final production qualification tests were successfully completed in December 2002. In March 2003, the M30 GMLRS rocket was approved for low-rate initial production, and initial operational capability is scheduled for 2005. A variant of the M30 with a unitary warhead is currently in the SDD phase.
Designation Note: Although the M26, M28 and M30 MLRS rockets could have been designated within the MDS system for rockets and missiles (as MGR-nnn, MTR-nnn and MGM-nnn, respectively), the U.S. Army allocated only the "M" nomenclature.Specifications
Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!
Data for M26, M26A1, M26A2, XM30:
|Length||3.94 m (12 ft 11 in)|
|Diameter||22.7 cm (8.94 in)|
|Weight||306 kg (675 lb)||296 kg (650 lb)||?|
|Range||32 km (20 miles)||> 45 km (28 miles)||> 60 km (37 miles)|
|Warhead||644 M77 DPICM bomblets||518 M85 DPICM bomblets||518 M77 DPICM bomblets||402 M85 DPICM bomblets|
 R.T. Pretty (ed.): "Jane's Weapon Systems 1982-83", Jane's, 1983
 Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Website
 GlobalSecurity.org Website
AKA: XM-270; M26; MLRS.
Location: Sunnyvale, CA, USA.
Gross mass: 318 kg (701 lb).
Height: 3.96 m (13.00 ft).
Diameter: 0.23 m (0.75 ft).
Span: 0.46 m (1.50 ft).