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New Weapons Carrier to Offer Highly Deployable Firing Platform

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2005 – A new weapons carrier that has already proven itself under fire in Iraq will give ground troops a more mobile platform for firing rockets and missiles when it's fielded to operational units beginning this spring.

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The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fires the Army's new guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during testing at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. U.S. Army photo

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The addition to the Army's and Marine Corps' inventories reflects a growing trend in the military's transformation: lighter, more easily deployable equipment better geared to the joint expeditionary forces that use it.

The new High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known by the acronym HIMARS, can roll onto an Air Force C-130 transport aircraft. Army Lt. Col. Darryl Colvin, product manager for field artillery launchers at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., said this capability will give joint expeditionary forces "a very lethal, very deployable system" that's also highly maneuverable on the battlefield.

The heavier, tracked system the HIMARS will replace, the 1981-vintage M-270 launch vehicle, was generally transported by ship and "took time to get to the fight," Colvin said. The only transport aircraft able to carry that launcher were Air Force C-141s and C-5s, neither of which shares the C-130's ability to land on short, unimproved runways.

During tests on the new lightweight, wheeled HIMARS, troops demonstrated a capability unimaginable with the older launch vehicle. They flew to Fort Sill, Okla., landed on a dirt runway, and then, within 15 minutes, they offloaded, set up and prepared to receive a fire mission.

Enabling troops to quickly set up, execute a fire mission, and then move away from their launch site reduces the risk of a counterattack, Colvin said.

In addition to its deployability, the new system also offers its three-person crews the ability to fire global positioning system-aided munitions, minimizing collateral damage. Colvin said HIMARS will also carry multiple-launch rockets and the Army Tactical Missile System and fire at ranges between eight and 300 kilometers, depending on the munitions used.

The new system will give troops more capability to operate on a "very dynamic, fast-flowing battlefield," he said.

Three prototypes of the HIMARS were "very successful" and "never missed a mission" when put to the test in Iraq with the 18th Airborne Corps' 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, Colvin said. This is the same battalion slated to receive the first new launchers, beginning in March.

Getting the opportunity to field-test the prototype in combat conditions revealed "a great deal" about the launchers and gave developers an opportunity to incorporate some late-stage changes, Colvin said. The launchers are now lighter and have an improved self-reloading capability better adapted to field conditions.

So far, the Army has ordered 89 HIMARS launchers and the Marine Corps, six. If the system goes to full-scale production, as expected, Colvin said the Army will ultimately buy 888 of the new systems and the Marine Corps, 40 within the next 15 years.

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Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

Click photo for screen-resolution imageA High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rolls off an Air Force C-130 transport aircraft at the assault landing zone at Fort Sill, Okla., demonstrating the system's transportability. U.S. Army photo  
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