Multiple Rocket Launcher Systems (MLRS)

The idea of a Multiple rocket Launcher systems is far from new and can be traced back to the invention of gunpowder.
The earliest examples were Chinese arrow firing rocket launchers used against the Mongols in the 13th century. The next major step forward was during the Napoleonic wars with the work of Sir William Congreve and his famous Congreve rockets which despite some success and use at the battle of Leipzig in 1813 never proved popular. Until the 20th century the mass use of rockets took a back site to the firearm and conventional artillery. Compared to traditional 'tube' artillery the rocket system lacked accuracy but was much cheaper and could cover a larger area faster at short and medium ranges, as the technology improved during the 1930's the usefulness of rocket systems started to increase.

During World War II the Germans developed simple launchers based on light spin stabilised rockets originally designed to be smoke projectors called Nebelwerfer. Meanwhile the Russians developed even simpler fin stabilised rockets mounted on the backs of trucks for greater mobility nicknamed 'Katyusha'. The Russians quickly developed tactics using massed batteries quickly driven into position and then moved after firing while the Germans soon copied the idea themselves. The Russians continued this development after the Second World War and remained the world leader for some time supplying these cheap but effective weapon systems to their client states. MRLS fit Russian tactics of a sudden heavy impact and offensive warfare with cheap mass produced weapons but the reload time (10 minutes for some systems) is slow although they can be used to deliver chemical munitions effectively since they can cover an area quickly.

Due to their cheap and simple nature MRLS have seen action in most wars since 1945, including Vietnam and Korea as well as many low-intensity wars. Many Third World countries have developed their own systems or adapted Russian ones. In the West as frequently the simplicity has been lost as more sophisticated weapon systems with specialist roles have been developed. The use of the MRLS in the Gulf War by Britain and the US proved how far the system had evolved, now coupled to highly advanced targeting and GPS systems the modern MRLS is lethally accurate and able to deploy anti armour submuntions form its highly accurate free flight rockets. For example a full load of 12 rockets could deliver no less than 8,000 M77 submunitions over a maximum area of 25000 m2 (30,000 sq yds). these submuntions could be anything form anti tank mines to guided anti tanks warheads to high explosive for use against enemy artillery batteries or air defences. The use of MRLS to deliver mines has fallen out of favour due to political reasons in the West but there is no doubt that the Multiple Rocket Launch system has come of age and may now be the future of modern battlefield artillery.

How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (24 March 2002 ), Multiple Rocket Launcher Systems (MLRS),

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