The 50,000th Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rocket rolled off the industry partner’s production line in Camden, Arkansas in mid-November 2020, marking a historic occasion for the U.S. Army and the field artillery community. GMLRS postures as a battle-tested, long-range munition and is available to Army division and corps commanders, swiftly delivering a precision strike capability against critical, time-sensitive threats. With increased range and additional munition components, GMLRS is ever-evolving to address the Army’s modernization strategy and serve in joint all-domain operations. Variants of the guided system have been deeply embedded within the Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and among allied partner nations and foreign military units worldwide for almost 20 years.
GMLRS celebrates a long history of success. The early stages of the system date back to 1980, originally known as Multiple Launch Rocket System, Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition, M26 basic rocket and its M26A2 extended range version. The M26 flew up to 32 km with the M26A2 honing its 45-km range. By June 1984, the MLRS weapon system, to include the M270 rocket launcher and rockets, was fielded to the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, representing the largest single increase in raw firepower for the Eighth U.S. Army in almost five years. Right on its heels, the C Battery of the 1st Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, then stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, with the 4th Infantry Division, received its MLRS equipment in April 1985 – the first formal continental United States fielding of an MLRS battery.
Decades later in the early 2000s, the M30 DPICM rocket emerged with increased accuracy and range as well as a GPS-aided navigation – donning its new and current name, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System. Two new variants were welcomed to the MLRS family of munitions, the GMLRS Unitary M31/M31A1 and the GMLRS Alternative Warhead M30A1; AW later replaced DPICM altogether. The initial Unitary M31A1 and AW M30A1 rockets were recently superseded by improved models with the Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System, the M31A2 Unitary and M30A2 AW IMPS. The AW rocket began its development in 2008 addressing the Department of Defense plans to phase out submunitions in compliance with provisions of the Convention on Cluster Munitions international treaty. GMLRS AW proved its ability to eliminate the lingering danger of unexploded ordnance on the battlefield while also maintaining the same area effect.
“I commend our STORM Project Office, government teammates and industry partners alike for achieving this phenomenal GMLRS program milestone,” said Col. Guy Yelverton III, Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles Project Office project manager. “Often referred to as the 70-kilometer sniper rifle for its incredible accuracy, the Army and Marine Corps heavily rely on this combat-proven munition, which delivers a distinct battlefield advantage. The 50,000th GMLRS rocket is a testament to not only its proven strength in theater but also the combined team’s unfathomable commitment to deliver the best, most reliable and modernized weapon system to the warfighter”
Both GMLRS Unitary and AW boast a single 200-pound-class high explosive charge with ranges now exceeding 70 km. Unitary rockets impact point targets with low collateral damage while AW services area targets along with lethality-enhancing preformed fragments. With increased capabilities, Unitary and AW have established a reputation for affordability and reliability. Demand for GMLRS remains unyielding as the Army has contracted with industry partners to procure more than 9,000 GMLRS Unitary and AW rockets during 2021. GMLRS continues to build on its legacy architecture. Extended Range GMLRS is a modernized variant designed to fly up to 150 kilometers. Retaining the current warheads, ERG will incorporate a new rocket motor and a side-mounted proximity sensor to improve performance against area targets. ERG is currently undergoing a series of rigorous tests, and the Army is on track to begin procurement in 2022. Accompanying ERG development is the unique Launch Pod Container. The LPC will be built to support the larger diameter of the ERG’s rocket motor, which provides its greater range.
Deployed stateside and internationally, the MLRS weapon system was initiated in 1979 as a Memorandum of Understanding (International Cooperative Partnership) between the U.S., United Kingdom, France and Germany. After 41 years, the agreement is still in place today. The partnership served to develop the M270 rocket launcher and the M26 and M30 rockets. GMLRS global presence has expanded to include foreign military sales to U.S. allies and partner nations. Abroad, the system has demonstrated its critical significance during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and continues to prove its relevance and accuracy in support of current overseas contingency operations. Engineers, software experts, logisticians, cost analysts and test technicians are just a few of the integrated roles required to launch these rockets. As GMLRS remains a pillar in the field artillery community, generations of these rockets continue to combat and deter current and emerging threats for the U.S., its partner allies and international customers.