M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System

The M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (M270 MLRS) is an armored, self-propelled, multiple rocket launcher; a type of rocket artillery.

M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS)
M270 MLRS formerly of the Royal Netherlands Army at the Nationaal Militair Museum in 2015
TypeMultiple rocket launcher
Place of originUnited States, United Kingdom, West Germany, France, and Italy
Service history
In serviceSince March 31, 1983
Used bySee Operators
WarsPersian Gulf War
War in Afghanistan
Iraq War
Production history
DesignerVought Corporation
ManufacturerLockheed Martin, Diehl BGT Defence, Aérospatiale
VariantsM270A1 and M270B1
Mass55,000 lb (24,950 kg)
Length22 ft 6 in (6.85 m)
Width9 ft 9 in (2.97 m)
Height8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)

Rate of fireRockets: 12 rounds in < 40 sec Missiles: 2 rounds in 10 sec
Effective firing rangeM26: 32 km (20 mi)
M26A1/A2: 45 km (28 mi)
M30/31: 70 km (43 mi)
Maximum firing rangeATACMS: 165 or 300 km (103 or 186 mi)

M269 Launcher Loader Module
EngineCummins Diesel engine
500 hp (368 kW)
300 miles (480 km)
Speed40 mph (64.3 km/h)

Since the first M270s were delivered to the U.S. Army in 1983, the MLRS has been adopted by several NATO countries. Some 1,300 M270 systems have been manufactured in the United States and in Europe, along with more than 700,000 rockets. The production of the M270 ended in 2003, when a last batch was delivered to the Egyptian Army.



In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union had a clear advantage over U.S. and NATO forces in terms of rocket artillery. Soviet tactics of bombardment by large numbers of truck-mounted MRLs, such as the BM-21, would saturate a target area with thousands of rockets, ensuring some would hit specific targets while delivering a psychological impact. By contrast, U.S. artillerists favored cannon artillery for its relative accuracy and ammunition conservation over "area fire" rockets, and as a result were left with a small amount of World War 2 vintage rocket artillery.[1]

This mindset began to change following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which saw high loss rates, especially from rear-area weapons like Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), as well as the effective Israeli tactic of hitting such sites with MRLs. This combined with the realization that such an experience would happen on a larger scale in the event of war in Europe, in March 1974 the U.S. Army wrote a requirement for a new rocket launcher called General Support Rocket System (GSRS). It would be used to engage enemy air defenses and for counterbattery fire, freeing cannon units to provide close support for ground forces. NATO allies including the United Kingdom, France, and West Germany were consulted on the project, and since they had already been looking to create a similar system independently, their name for it was adopted, changing GSRS to MLRS.[1]

Development began in September 1977 by Boeing and Vought Aerospace, and first production models were delivered in August 1982. The first operational M270 battery was formed in March 1983, and the first unit was sent to West Germany that September. Originally, a battery consisted of three platoons with three launchers each for nine launchers per battery; by 1987, 25 MLRS batteries were in service. In the 1990s, a battery was reduced to six launchers.[1]


MLRS was developed jointly by the United Kingdom, United States, West Germany, France and Italy, developed from the older General Support Rocket System (GSRS). The M270 MLRS weapons system is collectively known as the M270 MLRS Self-propelled Loader/Launcher (SPLL). The SPLL is composed of three primary subsystems: the M269 Loader Launcher Module (LLM), which also houses the electronic Fire Control System, is mated to the M993 Carrier Vehicle. The M993 is a derivative of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle chassis.[2][3]

Cold War doctrine for the M270 was for the vehicles to spread out individually and hide until needed, then move to a firing position and launch their rockets, immediately move away to a reloading point, then move to a completely new hiding position near a different firing point. These shoot-and-scoot tactics were planned to avoid susceptibility to Soviet counterbattery fire. One M270 firing 12 M26 rockets would drop 7,728 bomblets, and one MLRS battery firing 108 rockets had the equivalent firepower of 33 battalions of cannon artillery.[1]

The system can fire rockets or MGM-140 ATACMS missiles, which are contained in interchangeable pods. Each pod contains six standard rockets or one guided ATACMS missile; the two types cannot be mixed. The LLM can hold two pods at a time, which are hand-loaded using an integrated winch system. All twelve rockets or two ATACMS missiles can be fired in under a minute. One launcher firing twelve rockets can completely blanket one square kilometer with submunitions. For this reason, the MLRS is sometimes referred to as the "Grid Square Removal System" (metric maps are usually divided up into 1 km grids).[4] Or informally among artillery personnel as "the finger of God", since a single launcher can sanitize an entire grid square, which is about the size of a fingertip on a typical map. A typical MLRS cluster salvo consisted of three M270 vehicles each firing all 12 rockets. With each rocket containing 644 M77 grenades, the entire salvo would drop 23,184 grenades in the target area. However, with a two percent dud rate, that would leave approximately 400 undetonated bombs scattered over the area, which could endanger friendly troops and civilians.[5]

In 2006, MLRS was upgraded to fire guided rounds. Phase I testing of a guided unitary round (XM31) was completed on an accelerated schedule in March 2006. Due to an Urgent Need Statement, the guided unitary round was quickly fielded and used in action in Iraq.[6] Lockheed Martin also received a contract to convert existing M30 DPICM GMLRS rockets to the XM31 unitary variant.[7]

The M31 GMLRS Unitary rocket transformed the M270 into a point target artillery system for the first time. Due to GPS guidance and a single 200 lb (91 kg) high-explosive warhead, the M31 could hit targets accurately with less chance of collateral damage while needing fewer rockets to be fired, reducing logistical requirements. The unitary warhead also made the MLRS able to be used in urban environments. The M31 had a dual-mode fuse with point detonation and delay options to defeat soft targets and lightly fortified bunkers respectively, with the upgraded M31A1 equipped with a multi-mode fuse adding a proximity airburst mode for use against personnel in the open; proximity mode can be set for 3 or 10 metres (9.8 or 32.8 ft) height of burst (HOB). The GMLRS has a minimum engagement range of 15 km (9.3 mi) and can hit a target out to 70 km (43 mi), impacting at a speed of Mach 2.5.[8][9]

A German developmental artillery system, called the Artillery Gun Module, has used the MLRS chassis on its developmental vehicles.[10]

In 2012, a contract was issued to improve the armor of the M270s and improve the fire control to the standards of the HIMARS.[11] In June 2015, the M270A1 conducted tests of firing rockets after upgrades from the Improved Armored Cab project, which provides the vehicle with an enhanced armored cab and windows.[12]

Service history

When first deployed with the U.S. Army, the MLRS was used in a composite battalion consisting of two batteries of traditional artillery (howitzers) and one battery of MLRS SPLLs (self-propelled loader/launchers). The first operational Battery was C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division in 1982. The first operational organic or "all MLRS" unit was 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery.[13]

The 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery was reactivated as the Army's first Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) battalion on 1 October 1984, and became known as the "Proud Rockets". In March 1990, the unit deployed to White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico to conduct the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation of the Army Tactical Missile System. The success of the test provided the Army with a highly accurate, long range fire support asset.

Gulf War

On 2 September 1990, the 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield. Assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery, the unit played a critical role in the early defense of Saudi Arabia. As Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm, the Battalion was the first U.S. Field Artillery unit to fire into Kuwait. Over the course of the war, the 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery provided timely and accurate rocket and missile fires for both U.S. corps in the theater, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 6th French Light Armored Division, the 1st Armored, 1st Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized).

A Battery 92nd Field Artillery (MLRS) was deployed to the Gulf War in 1990 from Ft. Hood Texas. 3/27th FA (MLRS) out of Fort Bragg deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield in August 1990. A/21st Field Artillery (MLRS) – 1st Cavalry Division Artillery deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield in September 1990. In December 1990, A-40th Field Artillery (MLRS) – 3rd Armored Division Artillery (Hanau), 1/27th FA (MLRS) part of the 41st Field Artillery Brigade (Babenhausen) and 4/27th FA (MLRS) (Wertheim) deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield from their bases in Germany and 1/158th Field Artillery from the Oklahoma Army National Guard deployed in January 1991.

89 MLRS launchers were deployed during Operation Desert Storm. Its first use was on 18 January 1991, when Battery A of the 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery fired eight ATACMS missiles at Iraqi SAM sites. In one engagement, three MLRS batteries fired 287 rockets at 24 separate targets in less than five minutes, an amount that would have taken a cannon battalion over an hour to fire.[1] In early February 1991, 4-27 FA launched the biggest MLRS night fire mission in history,[14] firing 312 rockets in a single mission.[15] When ground operations began on 24 February 1991, 414 rockets were fired as the U.S. VII Corps advanced. Out of the 57,000 artillery rounds fired by the end of the war, 6,000 were MLRS rockets plus 32 ATACMS.[1]

Other operations

The MLRS has since been used in numerous military engagements, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In March 2007, the British Ministry of Defence decided to send a troop of MLRS to support ongoing operations in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand; they would use newly developed guided munitions.

The first use of the GMLRS was in September 2005 in Iraq, when two rockets were fired in Tal Afar over 50 km and hit insurgent strongholds, killing 48 fighters.[1]

In April 2011, the first modernized MLRS II and M31 GMLRS rocket were handed over to the German Army's Artillery School in Idar Oberstein. The German Army operates the M31 rocket up to a range of 90 km.[16]


(right vehicle)

  • M270 is the original version, which carries a weapon load of 12 rockets in two six-pack launch pod containers. This armored, tracked mobile launcher uses a stretched Bradley chassis and has a high cross-country capability.
  • M270 IPDS was an interim upgrade applied to a select number of launchers to provide the ability to fire the longer-range GPS-aided ATACMS Block IA, quick-reaction unitary and Block II missiles until sufficient M270A1 launchers were fielded.
  • M270A1 was the result of a 2005 upgrade program for the U.S. Army, and later on for several other states. The launcher appears identical to M270, but incorporates an improved fire control system (IFCS) and an improved launcher mechanical system (ILMS). This allows for significantly faster launch procedures and the firing of new types of munitions, including GPS guided missiles.
  • M270B1 is a British Army upgrade, similar to the A1, but it also includes an enhanced armor package, which gives the crew better protection against IED attacks.
  • M270C1 was an upgrade proposal from Lockheed Martin involving HIMARS Universal Fire Control System (UFCS) instead of IFCS
  • MARS2 / LRU is a European upgrade of M270 involving Germany, Italy and France. MARS2 is equipped with a new fire control system (EFCS - European Fire Control System) designed par Airbus Defense and Space. EFCS enables firing of M31, M31A1, M32, AT2 and 110 mm rockets, but not of M26, M26A1, and M30, so as to ensure full compliance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
  • M270D1 includes a new fire control system that allows for firing GPS-guided rockets, such as GMLRS and ATACMS. The update package consists of a new computer, locating device, GPS antenna, launch control unit, displays and remote control device. Current operators include United States, United Kingdom, Bahrain, and Finland.

MLRS rockets and missiles

The M270 system can fire MLRS Family Of Munition (MFOM) rockets and artillery missiles, which are manufactured and used by a number of platforms and countries. These include:

  • M26 (United States): Rocket with 644 M77 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions, range of 32 km.
    • M26A1 (United States): Extended Range Rocket (ERR), with range of 45 km and 518 M85 submunitions (an improved version of the M77 DPICM submunition).
    • M26A2 (United States): As M26A1, but using M77 submunitions. Interim use until M85 submunition entered service.
    • Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb: Boeing and Saab Group[17] have modified the Small Diameter Bomb with a rocket motor to be launched from ground-based missile systems such as the M270 MLRS. With the Army demilitarizing cluster munitions from M26 rockets, the company says a special adapter case could reuse the rocket to launch the SDB.
  • M27 (United States): Completely inert training Launch Pod/Container to allow full loading cycle training.
  • M28 (United States): Training rocket. M26 with three ballast containers and three smoke marking containers in place of submunition payload.
    • M28A1 (United States): Reduced Range Practice Rocket (RRPR) with blunt nose. Range reduced to 9 km.
  • XM29 (United States): Rocket with Sense and Destroy Armor (SADARM) submunitions. Not standardized.
  • M30 (United States): Guided MLRS (GMLRS). A precision guided rocket, range over 60 km with a standard load of 404 M85 submunitions.[18]
  • M31 (United States): Guided Unitary MLRS. Derivative of the M30 with a unitary high-explosive warhead for use in urban and mountainous terrain.[19][20]
    • M31A1 (United States): Evolved version of M31.
  • GMLRS-ER (United States): Extended range version increased to 150 km (93 mi), set to enter service in 2020.[21]
  • M32 SMArt (Germany): Retrofit of M30 rocket by Diehl Defence with 4 SMArt anti-tank submunitions and new flight software. Demonstrated but never ordered. M32 was not an official designation
  • AT2 MLRS rocket (Germany): SCATMIN Rocket derived from M26 with 28 AT2 mine anti-tank mines and range of 38 km
  • 110 mm rocket (Germany): explosive warhead 110 mm rocket from phased out LARS2 system reused for training purpose. It requires a training kit, which includes a specific 6 rocket pod.
  • M39 (MGM-140) (United States): Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). A large guided missile using the M270 launcher, with a variety of warheads.
  • XM135 (United States): Rocket with binary chemical warhead (VX (nerve agent)). Not standardized.

Reverse engineering

Turkey, in order to obtain M26 supply without USA consensus and because USA was reluctant to share technologies, started reverse engineering M26 rockets under SAGE 227 project in order to have its own supply of rockets. During SAGE-227 project A/B/C/D medium range composite fuel artillery rocket and SAGE-227 F experimental guided rocket were developed.

  •  Turkey PARS SAGE-227 F (Turkey): Experimental Guided MLRS (GMLRS) developed by TUBITAK-SAGE to replace the M26 rockets.

Israeli rockets

Israel developed its own rockets to be used in the "Menatetz", an upgraded version of the M270 MLRS. The rockets are developed and manufactured by IMI Systems.

  • Trajectory Corrected Rocket (TCS/RAMAM): In-flight trajectory corrected for enhanced accuracy.
  • Romach: GPS-guided rocket with 35 km (22 mi) range, 20 kg (44 lb) warhead, and accuracy of less than 10 meters.[22]
  • Ra'am Eithan ("Strong Thunder") : an improved version of the TCS/RAMAM (in-flight trajectory corrected for enhanced accuracy) with significantly decreased percentage of duds.

Selected rocket specifications

Name Weight Range (max) Guidance Warhead
M26 306 kg (675 lb) 32 km (20 mi) 644 M77 DPICM submunitions
M26A1/A2 296 kg (650 lb) over 45 km (28 mi) M26A1: 518 M85 DPICM submunitions
M26A2: 518 M77 DPICM submunitions
M30/M31 70 km (43 mi) GPS/INS M30: 404 M85 DPICM submunitions
M31: 90 kg (200 lb) unitary HE
AT2 SCATMIN 254 kg (561 lb) 39 km (24 mi) AT2 mine
PARS SAGE-227 F over 300 kg/160 kg 70 km (43 mi)

Alternative Warhead Program

In April 2012, Lockheed Martin received a $79.4 million contract to develop a GMLRS incorporating an Alliant Techsystems-designed alternative warhead to replace DPICM cluster warheads. The AW version is designed as a drop-in replacement with little modification needed to existing rockets. An Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) program was to last 36 months, with the alternative warhead GMLRS expected to enter service in late 2016.[23] The AW warhead is a large airburst fragmentation warhead that explodes 30 ft (9.1 m) over a target area to disperse penetrating projectiles. Considerable damage is caused to a large area while leaving behind only solid metal penetrators and inert rocket fragments[24] from a 90 kg (200 lb) warhead containing approximately 182,000 preformed tungsten fragments.[25]

On 22 May 2013, Lockheed and ATK test fired a GMLRS rocket with a new cluster munition warhead developed under the Alternative Warhead Program (AWP), aimed at producing a drop-in replacement for DPICM bomblets in M30 guided rockets. It was fired by an M142 HIMARS and traveled 35 km (22 mi) before detonating. The AWP warhead will have equal or greater effect against materiel and personnel targets, while leaving no unexploded ordnance behind.[26]

On 23 October 2013, Lockheed conducted the third and final engineering development test flight of the GMLRS alternative warhead. Three rockets were fired from 17 kilometres (11 mi) away and destroyed their ground targets. The Alternative Warhead Program then moved to production qualification testing.[27] The fifth and final Production Qualification Test (PQT) for the AW GMLRS was conducted in April 2014, firing four rockets from a HIMARS at targets 65 kilometres (40 mi) away.[28]

On 28 July 2014, Lockheed successfully completed all Developmental Test/Operational Test (DT/OT) flight tests for the AW GMLRS. They were the first tests conducted with soldiers operating the fire control system, firing rockets at mid and long-range from a HIMARS. The Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) exercise was to be conducted in fall 2014.[29]

On 15 September 2015, Lockheed received a contract for Lot 10 production of the GMLRS unitary rocket, which includes the first order for AW production.[30]

M993 Launcher specifications

  • Entered service: 1982 (U.S. Army)
  • First used in action: 1991 (First Gulf War)
  • Crew: 3
  • Weight loaded: 24,756 kg
  • Length: 6.86 metres (22 ft 6 in)
  • Width: 2.97 metres (9 ft 9 in)[31]
  • Height (stowed): 2.57 m (8 ft 5 in)[32]
  • Height (max elevation): not available
  • Max road speed: 64 km/h
  • Cruise range: 480 km
  • Reload time: 4 min (M270) 3 min (M270A1)
  • Engine: Turbo-charged V8 Cummins VTA903 diesel 500 hp ver2.
  • Cross-drive turbo transmission fully electronically controlled
  • Average unit cost: $2.3 million[2]


Current operators

Former operators

Potential future operators

  •  Lithuania: Lithuanian media announced Lithuania as possible operator [45]
  •  Croatia: Croatia is in an advanced stage of negotiations for 16 systems for the Croatian Army, where they will replace the Grad based MLRS currently in use.


U.S. military operators refer to the M270 as "the commander's personal shotgun" or as "battlefield buckshot". It is also commonly referred to as the "Gypsy Wagon", because crews store additional equipment, such as camouflage netting, cots, coolers, and personal items, on top of the vehicle as the launcher itself lacks adequate storage space for the crew. Within the British military, a common nickname is "Grid Square Removal System", a play on the initialism GSRS (from the older General Support Rocket System). With the adoption of the new M30 GPS guided rocket, it is now being referred to as the "70 kilometer sniper rifle".[46]

See also


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