The brigade's ideal MRL

First, let me dump a lot of links to previous and related blog posts (not last, as I do usually):

I also wrote before - and stand by it because physics didn't change - that traditional (area fires) multiple rocket launchers are a poor choice for mobile warfare. Their munitions are much more bulky and also heavier than howitzer munitions of equivalent effect - with and without packaging.
It's extremely difficult to reliably resupply a battalion battlegroup engaged in mobile warfare on every 2nd or 3rd day (forget daily resupply if you're in a defensive war*). Any force structure choice that makes logistical support even more difficult and/or less reliable is at least highly questionable. 
NATO armies largely gave up on multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) as area fires weapons, though; there's still no "dumb" HE rocket for MLRS in widespread use, even though the old cluster munitions were banned and phased out of service by most MLRS users in NATO.

Instead, the modern MRL tends to be a (not even necessarily well-protected) truck with a limited choice of guided missiles (PGMs) for point targets, often well out of range of conventional howitzer munitions (though this may change). PGMs are expensive and thus relatively few - compared to the old warstocks of DPICM rockets. The logistical concerns don't apply to MRLs in manoeuvre forces any more if the main munition are PGMs.

Years ago I mentioned - without appropriate emphasis - that a MRL could also be employed for area air defence (actually, modern 155 mm L/52 SPGs also have some serious potential in that role with PGMs). I'll put proper emphasis on this detail now.

The Western area fires weapon systems of today are - if there's any such thing left - most of the time self-propelled guns (SPGs). You can coordinate fires of dozens of dispersed SPGs to cover a large area with lethal fires, with all impacts arriving in a time window as short as 20 seconds. Modern communications, navigation systems and computing make this relatively easy. It once was almost an art and required detailed planning from 1916 till the early 1990's, but nowadays it can be done in a few minutes.
SPGs are also - as mentioned before - the logistically sound choice for the task. The increased rates of fire and the ability to concentrate "many" SPGs in one fire mission due to their much-increased ranges can substitute for the MRL's rate of fire advantage in the area fires mission. You do not need a high dispersion, inaccurate weapon such as a conventional MRL for an area fires mission; you can also use many accurate, small dispersion weapons and aim them at different points for the same effect with much less waste of munitions.

In short; SPGs have de facto taken over the area fires mission in the cluster munition ban countries and NATO as a whole, while the remnants of Western MRLs have escaped into a long range precision fires role.
This is hugely important, for it means that MRLs will rarely shoot, while SPG crews will be so busy 24/7 that we should consider double manning for them.

MRLs can take over other roles as well since they won't be dragged into hectic, ceaseless 24/7 activity.

One of these roles is battlefield air defence.

I wrote before about how lock on after launch missiles can engage targets without a line of sight between target and launcher, and how external sensors can deliver the necessary data for firing solutions (networked combat). This greatly reduces the expense for air defence hardware other than the munitions themselves and makes powerful battlefield air defences kind of affordable.
I also wrote about how the portable and barely-not portable air defences lack an effective ceiling to protect against strike aircraft that can detect, identify and engage with great precision from well above 15,000 ft altitude. Old school battlefield air defences such as the German Cold War systems Gepard and Roland can still push the opposing air power up, but then they can't do anything about it. Lock-on after launch/NLOS capability means that area air defences don't even need such short range complements; they can engage targets at low and lowest altitudes by themselves now.

Long story short; I'm in favour of introducing AMRAAM-ER as brigade-level air defences, launched by a MRL with a 360° traverse and +90/-0° elevation (minimum +60°/+10° elevation**).

AMRAAM-ER combines the ESSM's rocket motor (which is optimised for ground launch, unlike AMRAAM's) with AMRAAM's active radar seeker. The development costs till introduction into service could be limited to a tolerable level, and the costs per missile would be somewhat but not necessarily too much greater than for an equivalent seeker AMRAAM. The employment of AMRAAM's seeker means that any further upgrades for it (such as an AESA antenna) could be transferred with less development costs than a stand-alone design. AMRAAM-ER will likely be the best choice for brigade-level air defence against high value air targets until ESSM Block II is available.
An imaging infrared seeker missile would be a good complement, in order to mitigate the risk that AMRAAM's seeker may be defeated by countermeasures. IRIS-T SL would be the natural choice for Germany, but I suppose VL MICA IR is the better choice overall.

The launcher should be modular, mounted on a MULTI / EPLS rack, so many different platform vehicles (15 ton 8x8) are available AND it could be dropped on the ground (with its own power supply and secure digital radio). It could also be picked up by a tracked  and protected MULTI / EPLS vehicle, of course. Ideally, the 15 ton 8x8 MULTI vehicle would be able to disguise itself as a much lower-value container-carrying vehicle. The launcher rack could hydraulically-folding walls to achieve this. Long-range radar sensors could then not tell it apart from ordinary logistics vehicles.

I suppose the computer & control tasks could be handled with laptops and a radio kit (with LINK 16 mode) from within the vehicle's cabin. We would not need additional dedicated command & control vehicles or containers to add the air defence role to such MRL-carrying 8x8 vehicles.

The very same launcher could also be used to launch many other munitions, of course:
  • a 499 km PGM with HE warhead (~LRPF, MTCR-compliant by having a lighter than 500 kg warhead)
  • a 70-100 km PGM with HE warhead (P44, GUMRLS)
  • a 200-300 mm calibre short range (~10 km) rocket with thermobaric warhead
  • a 160 mm rocket with HE warhead and trajectory correction, range similar to SPGs
  • a 127 mm rocket with HE warhead (most efficient dumb munition in weight and volume)
  • a cargo rocket with smart AT mines 
  • a cargo rocket with leaflets
  • drones that lack an undercarriage (including decoy and RF jammer drones)
  • air-to-air missiles phased out by the air force in favour of better ones, also current missile types
  • surface-to-air missiles phased out by the navy (except SARH guidance) in favour of better ones, also current missile types
I mentioned dumb munitions in this list; not all warfare is mobile warfare, that's why. The dumb rounds would make much sense in the reduction of pockets.

- - - - -

Think about this; opposing forces could never know how much of the brigades' air defences they have knocked out because there would be no fixed amount of such air defences. 
Every brigade would have its ~50 km radius umbrella of air defences around every launcher, and with some dispersion the battalion battlegroups, the support elements and even some part of a main supply route could be protected against air attack to some degree.
The expenses would be largely limited to the launcher racks (about a million € per copy) and the missiles (might be less than a million € per copy for AMRAAM-ER). 200 launchers & 2,000 such air defence missiles could make a huge difference in Eastern Europe, and the program cost would be about two billion Euros in addition to what's being spend on MRLs anyway.
The air forces would need fewer missiles carried in the air (fewer per fighter and/or fewer fighters), as they could call on surface-to-air missiles of quite forward-located ground forces at least on defensive missions. They could themselves stay at a safe distance to the threat. This support would give the own side a substantial geographical advantage in defensive air warfare, which allows to make do with less fighters on defensive missions (or rather less distraction of fighters by defensive missions).
Opposing air forces would need to defeat two very different seeker types (which are the dominant air combat missile seeker types) to enable air attacks without expensive standoff PGMs or prohibitive attrition rates.
The crews and the launcher racks could shift their focus to the classic MRL role of area fires in support of  ground forces once the (few) expensive PGMs are expended and the threat of air attack much-degraded by successful air warfare. They could also focus more on the air defence mission if the air warfare went poorly (such as after surprise strikes by cruise missiles on air bases on day one). They could even use the air force's inventory of air-to-air missiles if the air force lost most of its fighters without expending many missiles.

This versatility means that a launcher couldn't do all missions at the same time, but its purpose could be adapted to the situation.

Such a launcher could establish itself as a more widespread and more important standard than the MLRS pods, which would greatly lower the bar for new PGM and rocket-assisted launch drones. These would not require any dedicated vehicle, but could be introduced into the forces with little more than a software update and some technical manuals. This could help keeping the forces' edge sharp at acceptable expenses.

- - - - -

I suppose that well-budgeted Western ground forces brigades should have a minimum of a dozen such MRL racks, with additional such racks as corps-level assets and in storage as a national attrition reserve. Less well-budgeted NATO brigades could enjoy support from such an air defence umbrella, particularly in fluid mobile warfare where adversaries would not know where the umbrellas end.

It would be a much more convincing concept than to keep MLRS with its few usable munitions, slavishly obeying organisational inertia. The current path-dependent force structures are lacking a good case for their weak MRL components and the all-too-often de facto absent battlefield air defences.
You may feel uneasy about the lack of organic sensors for air defence, but that's a topic for a different blog post.


P.S.: Needless to say, I was never a fan of MEADS or TLVS.

*: There's no point in preparing for wars of aggression, and aggressors are usually confident in their relative military power. This confidence is usually enough based in reality for them to really be a powerful adversary - nothing like Westerners beating up Arabs.

**: The elevation range may be reduced in the sector of the cabin.


  1. How'd you think the laucher-vehicle interface would be handled? Since the launcher isn't coupled to the platform and C2 would the crew need to use it from outside the vehicle? Bluetooth? Is it even secure? Anyway the vehicle would need some sort of command interface which would be connected to the launcher. Last time I checked trucks didn't come with their own computer for that purpose.

    Otherwise I like the idea and most modern MRLs already accept multiple calibers and types of rockets. Were thinking it would hold one pod of particular type or more than one type at a time?

    1. I don't know of any MRL on a MULTI or EPLS rack, and only the air defence launchers offer 90° elevation.

  2. Whoops, disregard that C2 part, should have a read second time before commenting.

  3. An idea that I agree highly with.

  4. I think that long range missiles could be more efficient with ramjet engines (not only rocket propulsion). So I guess that a Meteor could be a better option than AMRAAM-ER as SAM.

    Same principle for PGM: Better something like a CSV302 Hoplite (I think it's based on Meteor, but for surface targets) than a pure rocket missile (as P44). Besides, it could provide more flexibility in the fly path -> As MBDA indicates: a Hoplite could "fly 70km in under two minutes at low altitude or up to 160km at high altitude in under four minutes" ( http://www.mbda-systems.com/innovation/concept-visions/hoplite-2013/ ).
    NOTE: Probably Meteor and Hoplite could share some logistics -> an interesting path.

    So, for me, an effort should be done to launch Meteor/Hoplite from that "universal rocket launcher" proposed.

    Two thoughts about the list of ammunition for "the universal launcher" that you provided:
    1) The 160 mm guided rocket: I think that will be too similar to a 155 mm guided round of a SPG. I would not invest there. Better buy more PGM with >70-100 km range.

    2) The dumb 127 mm rocket: Could it be enough with a 120 mm? If yes, perhaps the idea you indicated in http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com.es/2015/03/battlefield-missile-artillery-from_19.html (semi-fixed rockets = common propulsion tail that can be combined with different noses) could be used with "semi-fixed mortar ammunition" too... and then we could get common warheads for mortars and rockets! (interesting, at least for logistics).

    1. 160 and 127 mm rockets exist already, that's why. No or little time is needed to develop such rockets, only to adapt them to the launcher pods.


      Eastern Europeans would even want to use 122 mm, which is another option.

      The semi-fixed rocket approach would need a long time for development.

      Mortars (even 120 mm) have muzzle velocity that's subsonic most of the time. Modern mortar bombs are streamlined, but not for the velocities that 30-40 km range rockets are meant for. The accelerations (wall strengths) are different as well, and mortars need a ring to seal off the propellant gasses as well as possible - which would only be an aerodynamic troublemaker for rockets.
      I doubt a common warhead section would make much sense.

      Maybe a common trajectory correcting fuse would make sense, though. MRL rockets loaded in pods (instead of singly) benefit greatly from such a thing because it acts as a drag ring; it reduces the minimum firing range.

      Hoplite can't fly to any range because it's but a PR video, not a real missile. To develop that thing and get it into war stocks in significant numbers could easily take till 2030. P44 had flight tests years ago already.

      Meteor is almost certainly more expensive than AMRAAM-ER and its engine is almost certainly less suited for the SAM mission profile.

      Land-based SAMs for battlefield air defence need to deter and ideally be able to reliably engage threats up to the maximum altitude at which they can use optical and thermal sensors for ground attack (with a decent no escape zone size). Extra expenses are worth little past this point.

      It's different with more "rear area" SAMs, which may need to protect airbases and bridges against Iskander et al. SAMs on warships and fighters justify gold-plating to some degree as well because the survival of extremely expensive platforms depends on them.

  5. The Multi Mission Launcher System of the US goes in this direction - using different missiles from the same platform. Mainly it fires MHTK and AIM-9X and also Longbow Hellfire Rockets. It can also fire Stinger and Tamir Missiles and could be adopted to fire other long range missiles too.

    Originally an Air Defence System it could be very easy modified to be used in an ground-to-ground use in fighting tanks with the Longbow Hellfire or also other missiles.

    So why not go to the same target the other way and give new air defence rocket launchers the ability to attack ground targets ? Because in my opinion it could be perhaps easier to qualify a air-defence launcher to attack ground targets than the other way to enable a ground to ground rocket launcher attacking air targets.

    1. Air defence launchers are not built for getting reloaded several times in a day. Look at how much effort went into making MLRS able to reload quickly.


      Furthermore, air defence launchers don't need 1 mil accuracy in laying.