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Naval Version of MLRS

This is a discussion on Naval Version of MLRS within the Missiles & WMDs forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; Originally Posted by Todjaeger MRLS does indeed have its place in support of battlefield operations. However, tube artillery also still ...


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Old January 13th, 2011   #16
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Originally Posted by Todjaeger View Post
MRLS does indeed have its place in support of battlefield operations. However, tube artillery also still has its place.

One of the things which has been learned as a result of WWII operational experiences, as well as exercises since then, is that the massive unguided rocket barrages fired at the opening of amphibious landings did not actually do much damage.

Another thing which has also changed, is that the level of fire support available from a modern naval cannon can delivery roughly the same level of fire support as a rocket barrage system, but in a more sustainable fashion.

Now, if the actual desire was just to be able to deliver the maximum amount of ordnance in a single salvo, then yes, a MRLS with multiple rocket tubes would win.

What has been attempted to point out, is that a MRLS which would be ship-mounted on something like a corvette, frigate or destroyer, would be in place of a naval gun system due to space and weight considerations. This would be to the detriment of the operational use of the naval vessel, since instead of having a dual purpose naval cannon which can provide a comparable fire support capability, a rocket launcher which can realistically only conduct shore bombardment would be in its place.

What would need to be determined, is just how much of a priority saturation shore bombardment has in amphibious landings, vs. other types of naval fires missions.

Given that the Soviet Union/Russia had equipped some of their landing craft/vehicles with such rocket launcher systems for use during ship-to-shore contested landings, it would suggest that the space and weight aboard and ocean-going vessel could be put to better use.

-Cheers
I agree with most of what you say. On a naval ship, a ship made and used for naval missions, naval guns are much better than rockets for so many reasons. But I would point out that the reason that the rocket bombardment tactics of the past were not as effective as they could on been, is because the rockets that were used back then, were quite small, low velocity, and has low yield with little penetrating ability (they were hand loaded on rackes for God's sake). They would be mostly effective only against troops in the open or lined up in trenches. The rockets were equal to only a small caliber man portable mortar and were not suited to destroying heavy fortified positions.

The problem remains, if the problem is addressed or not, how do you quickly take on a heavily dug in, in depth and spread out objective that for some reason cannot be bypassed. Those wonderful bunker buster’s they have today which cost great sums of money, requiring expensive sophisticated platforms to deliver, and whose supply is not unlimited work well for high value far behind the lines targets but are a complete waste for beach assaults and other things like them. Assaults were you do not have your own tube artillery already on land to assist you troops on the groud that must attack the target and where the big naval guns that once had that job no longer exist. I am interested in you solution to this problem but please don’t give me the argument about vertical envelopment and vertical supply options because for large operations in a real war that is just wishful thinking.
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Old January 14th, 2011   #17
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I agree with most of what you say. On a naval ship, a ship made and used for naval missions, naval guns are much better than rockets for so many reasons. But I would point out that the reason that the rocket bombardment tactics of the past were not as effective as they could on been, is because the rockets that were used back then, were quite small, low velocity, and has low yield with little penetrating ability (they were hand loaded on rackes for God's sake). They would be mostly effective only against troops in the open or lined up in trenches. The rockets were equal to only a small caliber man portable mortar and were not suited to destroying heavy fortified positions.

The problem remains, if the problem is addressed or not, how do you quickly take on a heavily dug in, in depth and spread out objective that for some reason cannot be bypassed. Those wonderful bunker buster’s they have today which cost great sums of money, requiring expensive sophisticated platforms to deliver, and whose supply is not unlimited work well for high value far behind the lines targets but are a complete waste for beach assaults and other things like them. Assaults were you do not have your own tube artillery already on land to assist you troops on the groud that must attack the target and where the big naval guns that once had that job no longer exist. I am interested in you solution to this problem but please don’t give me the argument about vertical envelopment and vertical supply options because for large operations in a real war that is just wishful thinking.
The problem does not remain, or at least not as originally asked. A naval vessel needs to be kitted out in a manner appropriate to fufilling naval roles/requirements. In this case, a corvette, frigate, destroyer or cruiser-type warship needs to be capable of engaging enemy shipping, as well as providing naval gunfire support. A rocket launching system for shore bombardment does not meet that sort of requirement.

The proposal which comes closest to mind to meet a requirement for massive shore bombardment would have been the 'Arsenal ship' which in one potential configuration was basically just a large ocean-going barge with a massive number of rockets. It has since been dropped due to a confluence of reasons. Amongst them are cost, complexity, and limited viability as a result of over-specialization for a role.

As things stand now, there has not been a need to conduct an opposed amphibious landing against a hardened, dug-in opponent as described since WWII. This suggests that there is little requirement for a dedicated ship-mounted rocket launcher system to support amphibious landings, particularly when proper consideration is given to the existing capabilities of naval gun support, which AFAIK was most recently demonstrated ~2003 in Iraq/the Persian Gulf.

With regards to the type and 'quality' of the bombardment available from rocket launchers, a few things need to be kept in mind. The first is that for employment against dug-in and hardened positions where penetration is a concerned, there are better munitions available than the ~200 lb warhead of an M31 rocket. JDAM and JSOW come to mind, with the added benefit of being air launched/dropped munitions, which means that the shooter can spot as well. Incidentally, the price tag for a single M31 guided rocket is ~US$137,000, which on a per round basis does not compare all that well to the ~US$35,000 per GBU-38 500 lb JDAM.

As things stand now, if I had to plan an opposed amphibious landing against a dug-in opponent in hardened structures, I would first have air strikes using 'bunker buster' munitioned to neutralize as many of that hardened positions as would be found. This would be done as opposed to having rocket attacks made against the same bunkers, because there is available air-dropped ordnance designed to damage/destroy such positions. Rocket artillery with 200 lb HE warheads might be able to do so with direct hits, but also might be insufficient. Once those structures had been dealt with from the air, then I would have the landings commence, supported by air and naval gunfire support.

Every way that I look at it, the only advantage I currently see a ship-mounted rocket launcher system having over current naval guns, is the fact that a rocket launch system utilizing multiple launch tubes can fire more ordnance in one shot than a single naval gun can. That sort of advantage seems too narrow at present for such a system to be worth developing, never mind putting onto a ship.

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Old January 14th, 2011   #18
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I agree with most of what you say. On a naval ship, a ship made and used for naval missions, naval guns are much better than rockets for so many reasons. But I would point out that the reason that the rocket bombardment tactics of the past were not as effective as they could on been, is because the rockets that were used back then, were quite small, low velocity, and has low yield with little penetrating ability (they were hand loaded on rackes for God's sake). They would be mostly effective only against troops in the open or lined up in trenches. The rockets were equal to only a small caliber man portable mortar and were not suited to destroying heavy fortified positions.
Some other things came to mind. The LSMR which provided rocket fire support during WWII and again later during Vietnam where only actually employed in 'green water' and 'brown water' environments, they were only mounted on a landing ship to allow them to be moved over open water to where they could be positioned.

Also, the rockets fired were 5"/130 mm rockets, comparable in diameter to the 5" shells fired during naval fire support missions from battleships, cruisers and destroyers. While I have not been able to locate the exact type of 5" rockets used then, or the size/weight of the warhead, the later 5"/130mm Zuni rocket had a warhead which is approximately the same explosive weight as that found in 5"/127mm naval cannon shells. I therefore do not think it likely that the rockets used during landings in Normandy and elsewhere were comparable to 60mm mortar rounds.

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Old January 14th, 2011   #19
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While I have not been able to locate the exact type of 5" rockets used then
The rockets used from LCT(R), LSM(R) and other rocket-equipped ships varied extremely. In use were:

- 7.2-inch rockets T37 and T24 (used in South France invasion, atrocious range; 32 lb warhead)
- 4.5-inch BBR (20-lb GP bombs on a Mousetrap rocket, considered obsolete by end of WW2)
- 6-inch RP-3 (British aircraft rockets, used at Normandy, with 60 lb warhead)
- 5-inch FFAR (interim use in 1944 in the Pacific instead of BOMROC, 45-lb warhead)
- 5-inch HVSR/BOMROC (up till 1973 on LSM(R) and IFR-1, probably ~25 to ~30-lb warhead)

The HVSR/BOMROC looked more like a rocket-assisted 5-inch round actually - being only 75cm long, on a Zuni just the warhead alone is longer! - even though it was all rocket.

A 5-inch naval gun projectile for comparison weighs 70 lbs btw.

The Mk102 and Mk105 automatic rocket launchers used on LSM(R) in the 50s and 60s were pretty complicated systems btw, easily comparable to a gun turret (with hoists, magazine etc) in complexity. Actually did take a lot of technology transferred from gun turrets.
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Old January 14th, 2011   #20
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- 7.2-inch and 4.5-inch were adapted ASW rockets originally used with DCs
- FFAR and RP-3 were aircraft rockets launched from rails
- HVSR was the only system used after 1945 afaik, and fired from either MLRS (8-cell trainable launcher) or twin-tube rocket turrets (Mk102 with 30 rpm and Mk105 with 48 rpm).

HVSR is probably best comparable to a recoilless rifle round in a way. It was usually fired from bulky trainable tube launchers, the multi-cell trainable launcher was intended for PTs.
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Old January 14th, 2011   #21
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Is that kind of heavy naval fire support needed anymore? i think, i may be very wrong here but in the early days of the Iraq invasion that Australian ships were of the few that were trained to support ground forces? Is there any room for conventional naval bombardment in a world brimming with missiles and stealth long range bombers?
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Old January 14th, 2011   #22
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Is that kind of heavy naval fire support needed anymore? i think, i may be very wrong here but in the early days of the Iraq invasion that Australian ships were of the few that were trained to support ground forces? Is there any room for conventional naval bombardment in a world brimming with missiles and stealth long range bombers?
I see the same pattern over and over in military history. Because a new and better form of war fighting is developed, it is falsely assumed that the old types simply disappear. Everyone wants to jump on the next best thing and not be left behind, so important things and lessons hard learned are then forgotten. If fact what happens is this, the old types of warfare are just useful for fewer things. I know that the very idea of having so much added complication to each new stage of the game and so many different special skills required, is mind boggling but you need what you need. You just need it less often.

For instance, how many times has Sniper skills and tactics been abandon by the US Army and Marines and then have to be reinvented all over again? At least three times that I know of. And there are literally dozens of other examples of, tactics, doctrines, and weapons that have come and gone and come back again. The same basic problems in warfare NEVER CHANGE only the current methods of solving them. Like the startling necessity (sometimes call suicide missions) of assaulting a heavily fortified position with too few troops and with too few heavy weapons, where you cannot count upon the factor of surprise to make the difference. They are only suicide mission’s for one reason and for one reason only because they were not envisioned within the doctrine, tactics, and hence were pressed without suitable weapon’s development to accomplish the objective. Old ideas become new and new become old by implementing those same basic ideas in different ways. Life goes on or it doesn’t.

The supper weapon augment does not hold water in a sustained combat environment because of cost of the weapons and the length of time needed to produce them in mass quanities which at this point no manufacture in the world has the ability to do.
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Old January 14th, 2011   #23
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The supper weapon augment does not hold water in a sustained combat environment because of cost of the weapons and the length of time needed to produce them in mass quanities which at this point no manufacture in the world has the ability to do.
The per round cost of a GPS/INS-guided 500 lb JDAM is ~US$35,000 while
the cost of a M31A GPS/INS-guided rocket is ~US$137,000. As such, the cost per weapon is not favourable for precision rockets over bombs. Plus the JDAM has a larger explosive warhead. When comparing 'dumb' bombs, rockets and artillery (naval or land-based) shells, the cost per round to provide a given amount of explosives is still to in favour of rockets.

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Old January 16th, 2011   #24
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The per round cost of a GPS/INS-guided 500 lb JDAM is ~US$35,000 while the cost of a M31A GPS/INS-guided rocket is ~US$137,000. As such, the cost per weapon is not favourable for precision rockets over bombs. Plus the JDAM has a larger explosive warhead. When comparing 'dumb' bombs, rockets and artillery (naval or land-based) shells, the cost per round to provide a given amount of explosives is still to in favour of rockets.
The value of any munition is is zero if you cannot deliver it to the target in a timely fashion. Getting a JDAM delivered to support a ground unit under fire within 5 minutes requires an aircraft equipped with one already on station, a forward controller from the appropriate service on hand to direct it, and at least 2 different services and a minimum of 4 levels of command to sign off on the weapon release.

Fire support from land based M31A guided missiles is easier to get, you do not have to cross service lines, need less than half the approvals, and person authorized to guide it in is much more likely to be available. That is why troops on the ground prefer GPS guided rockets and shells over aircraft, when available. Fire support from ship based MLRS systems may not much more available than from aircraft, but could still also be available for smaller actions where a supporting aircraft carrier would not be available. Aircraft still have longer range.

There is also the question of collateral damage. A 500 lb JDAM has much greater potential in this area than the 200 lb M31A, making it even harder to get the weapon released even if available.
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Old January 16th, 2011   #25
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The value of any munition is is zero if you cannot deliver it to the target in a timely fashion. Getting a JDAM delivered to support a ground unit under fire within 5 minutes requires an aircraft equipped with one already on station, a forward controller from the appropriate service on hand to direct it, and at least 2 different services and a minimum of 4 levels of command to sign off on the weapon release.

Fire support from land based M31A guided missiles is easier to get, you do not have to cross service lines, need less than half the approvals, and person authorized to guide it in is much more likely to be available. That is why troops on the ground prefer GPS guided rockets and shells over aircraft, when available. Fire support from ship based MLRS systems may not much more available than from aircraft, but could still also be available for smaller actions where a supporting aircraft carrier would not be available. Aircraft still have longer range.

There is also the question of collateral damage. A 500 lb JDAM has much greater potential in this area than the 200 lb M31A, making it even harder to get the weapon released even if available.
The arguments that have been getting put forward here though, are whether or not there could/should be a rocket launcher system aboard warships, to provide a bombardment capability, particularly for amphibious landings.

A MRLS does a very good job supporting engaged ground units, it compliments tube artillery in that fashion by performing the same function in a slightly different manner.

What I was attempting to illustrate, is that for a precision bombardment prior to the actual landing, especially of hardened targets where collateral damage is not a significant concern, aircraft PGMs are a much better weapon. The aircraft can get a view of the target area, which would be needed to fire precision munitions for accuracy's sake whether they were JDAMs or rockets, aircraft also have larger ordnances available than a rocket system does.

Ground-based mobile rocket artillery has its place on the battlefied, it just does not seem appropriate aboard a warship. Now, if there were to be suggestions made to construct some form of floating artillery barge, which had rocket launchers on it, that might be different. Such a system, if the intent was to be able to move the rocket launchers around over water, then anchor the barge in a littoral or riverine area to provide fire support, could be viable.

That sort of design and method of operations would be different than aboard a warship, since the barge would not be expected to respond or be involved in incidents on the open ocean, since it would be operating strictly in confined waterways. Also, it would not be operating without naval support from other vessels, and/or the area would have already been sanitized.

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Old January 16th, 2011   #26
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Doesn't have to be a barge. A specialized MLRS ship can work. Doesn't have to be helpless too. The onboard rocket launcher can fire various type of round, guided or unguided, land target or sea target, direct or indirect. Now if you ask me about putting an MLRS onboard LHD, i'll say it's unfeasible. But if it's a specialized MLRS ship, that's another story. The only question whether there's country out there with the will and the capital to build such a highly specialized ship.
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Old January 16th, 2011   #27
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What I was attempting to illustrate, is that for a precision bombardment prior to the actual landing, especially of hardened targets where collateral damage is not a significant concern, aircraft PGMs are a much better weapon. The aircraft can get a view of the target area, which would be needed to fire precision munitions for accuracy's sake whether they were JDAMs or rockets, aircraft also have larger ordnances available than a rocket system does.
Aircraft have poorly performance at spotting competently camouflaged targets and identifying decoys. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, and Georgia, with as few as 2% of the available targets being successfully detected and destroyed by aircraft alone. You need observers on the ground and that means minimum safe distance becomes critical. For attacks on defensive bunkers using ground spotters the SDB is a better choice than the JDAM, but it is even more expensive than the M31A.

And yes, aircraft are better because they can use larger ordinance, when it is required, and have longer range. But they cannot find bunkers on their own. And they require a dedicated launch platform in a naval environment, which may not be available, particularly for small operations.

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The arguments that have been getting put forward here though, are whether or not there could/should be a rocket launcher system aboard warships, to provide a bombardment capability, particularly for amphibious landings.

A MRLS does a very good job supporting engaged ground units, it compliments tube artillery in that fashion by performing the same function in a slightly different manner.
The MLRS is a flexible weapon system due to the way the munitions are handled. For example it has been demonstrated as a launcher for the SLAMRAAM system, so it should be capable of handling the ESSM. And there is no reason an imaging seeker could not be easily developed for long range ship-to-ship use. But the ammunition is bulkier than for a VLS system, so there is no way MLRS system can have a small footprint.

The solution might be to develop a MLRS variant that can be used in quad packs that can fit in Mk-41 cells. Otherwise modular systems could be installed suitable vessels or specialized ships created by modifying existing designs, probably by replacing the helicopter hanger(s).

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Ground-based mobile rocket artillery has its place on the battlefied, it just does not seem appropriate aboard a warship. Now, if there were to be suggestions made to construct some form of floating artillery barge, which had rocket launchers on it, that might be different. Such a system, if the intent was to be able to move the rocket launchers around over water, then anchor the barge in a littoral or riverine area to provide fire support, could be viable.

That sort of design and method of operations would be different than aboard a warship, since the barge would not be expected to respond or be involved in incidents on the open ocean, since it would be operating strictly in confined waterways. Also, it would not be operating without naval support from other vessels, and/or the area would have already been sanitized.
A barge certainly would have advantages in a littoral environment as a floating fire base, but there is no good way to get it there. So you find a local barge and lash a HIMARS on it, which is probably still unworkable to support a landing if any kind of surprise is required. In confined waterways less so, mainly because the ammunition is vulnerable to small arms fire, you would need some kind of armored sidewalls, probably for the offshore work as well. Forget about tactical maneuvering and it is just too slow.
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Old January 17th, 2011   #28
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Doesn't have to be a barge. A specialized MLRS ship can work. Doesn't have to be helpless too. The onboard rocket launcher can fire various type of round, guided or unguided, land target or sea target, direct or indirect. Now if you ask me about putting an MLRS onboard LHD, i'll say it's unfeasible. But if it's a specialized MLRS ship, that's another story. The only question whether there's country out there with the will and the capital to build such a highly specialized ship.
The way I interpreted the question as originally worded, was why a rocket launcher system was not fitted to most naval vessels to support amphibious landings. The question then seemed to morph into whether or not a 'simple' conversion could be done to adapt a MRLS to be used from a vessel, to fufill a potential hole in capabilities with respect to opposed landings against hardened targets.

Could such specialized vessel and weapon system be developed? Of course. Given how a battlespace is now handled, the US (the only country likely to develop such a specialized bombardment system) has other capabilities available to reduce the effectiveness of a hardened defence in an opposed landing.

The scenario also overlooks the circumstances and historical backdrop of the prior hardened defences employed during opposed landings, and the changes in capabilities between then and now.

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Old January 18th, 2011   #29
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The USN looked at a naval MLRS but decided it wasn't worth it. Your best bet for information about the proposed system and ships designed for it would be Norman Friedmans "U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft: An Illustrated Design History ".
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Old January 19th, 2011   #30
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The USN looked at a naval MLRS but decided it wasn't worth it. Your best bet for information about the proposed system and ships designed for it would be Norman Friedmans "U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft: An Illustrated Design History ".
I would like to comment that the use of MLRS in the shore bombardment roil as I proposed it, as just a simple self-propelled barge mated with the land designed MLRS has been highly misrepresented here on this thread.

Here is the problem; a capacity that is seldom needed and has not been needed for some time, is now missing from our naval forces. The cost of modern warships, which do all the things that modern warships are expected to do most of the time, are now so expensive that there is not enough money to acquire enough of them for the major common naval requirements that exist every day and everywhere, much less is there to buy new expensive specialized hulls for missions that are seldom seen but nevertheless cannot be said to have gone away forever.

The only reason that the proposal of taking a system like MLRS and marring it with a water born platform of any kind is that we cannot afford a special build hull to accomplish that mission. Putting something like MLRS on a standard size ocean going barge with as little modification as possible does not create a warship of any kind but just a specialized gun platform for a specific but difficult mission. The barrages are cheap and do not require any new technology, maybe some modification about stabilization, ether in the barge or the rocket launcher maybe.

The original idea for this is not mine. I read about a proposal that could put together several different kinds of specialized barges, mix and match them, and deploy them by ocean going tugboats 25 years ago (THe barge ship) in an article in The Institute of Naval Proceedings, and I thought it was sound idea then and is even a better idea now with our now much smaller fleet.
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