The Army and Marine Corps new lightweight artillery platform—scheduled
to enter low-rate production in early 2003—could be ready
for deployment within a few years. But despite an overall successful
testing of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, soldiers are
still concerned about some software bugs.
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, the contractor for HIMARS,
is expecting an order of 34 launchers from the Army and two from
the Marine Corps, said Becky Withrow, business development director.
The company is currently working under a $102 million engineering
and manufacturing development contract for eight launchers—six
for the Army and two for the Marine Corps. The company recently
delivered the two Marine launchers.
During a war-fighting experiment this summer called Millennium
Challenge, the Army employed in live combat exercises at Fort Irwin,
Calif., three HIMARS prototypes that have been undergoing testing
at Fort Bragg, N.C. for the past two and a half years. Future production
systems will include improvements, based on feedback from soldiers
who tested the prototypes, Withrow said.
HIMARS is a C-130 transportable, early-entry, artillery platform
that can launch the entire family of Multiple Launch Rocket System
(MLRS) and Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) munitions with
a range of eight to 300 km. The HIMARS is designed to engage and
defeat tube and rocket artillery, air defense concentrations, trucks,
light-armor and personnel carriers.
“The role of the HIMARS is to give us the capability to actually
deploy with the initial entry forces,” said Capt. Hurley Shields,
the commander of battery 327. “It gives the commander on the
ground a deep strike capability, which wasn’t there before
with forward MLRS, because it took a long time to actually get follow-on
forces back in country.”
Hurley’s unit was making last minute preparations for a mission
rehearsal late at night when they had to suppress the enemy’s
air defense artillery systems so that friendly attack helicopters
would have the freedom to maneuver in the air space.
The HIMARS is built on a 5-ton truck chassis and the cab is a modified
version of the basic truck steel cab used in the Army’s family
of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV). The cab was customized, to protect
HIMARS crews from shrapnel, fumes and other hazards that come with
The HIMARS consists of a carrier, a fire control system that computes
all fire mission data and a launcher-loader module. According to
Lockheed Martin, HIMARS will be fully interoperable with, and use
the same command and control systems as the heavy MLRS launchers,
known as the M270 and the M270A1.
However, the push for commonality created some software-related
problems, because the M270 and the HIMARS are entirely different
systems that don’t always interpret commands the same way,
said Sgt. Kevin Sellon. For example, Sellon told National Defense,
sometimes the HIMARS software does not range the targets and “just
The fire control panel is “basically the main problem here,”
he said. “When it freezes, you have to restart and realign.”
To get back up and running again, “it takes approximately
about nine minutes.” Such delays could have detrimental consequences
in actual combat, he said.
HIMARS and the 270 have some common software, but there are some
differences, said Craig Vanbebber, a Lockheed Martin spokesman.
While the M270A1 can fire two six-rocket pods and two ATACMS missiles,
HIMARS can only fire six rockets and one ATACMS missile. In terms
of firepower, HIMARS can cover approximately half a kilometer area,
compared to a full kilometer for the 270.
“There has to be some software difference to tell them that
they have only one pod,” he said. The soldiers helped redesign
the fire control panel so that it would be more user friendly, said
Vanbebber. The new systems entering low-rate production will have
the same software as the current prototypes, he added, but the bugs
will be fixed.
The fire-control system on the production model would have additional
memory, said Dan Hicks, who works at the Army’s G-8 force
development office. “The increased memory would allow it to
change munition types faster,” he said.
Other changes have been made to the ballistic algorithm of the
software, which was necessary for non-guided munitions.
“We obviously had to add in software to allow to fire the
newer smart munitions [such as] guided MLRS, ATACMS Block II and
also the guided unitary rocket currently under development, to allow
the HIMARS to fire those new munitions,” Vanbebber said.
Soldiers suggested several changes to the HIMARS, which will be
incorporated in the production vehicles, said Vanbebber.
For example, soldiers wanted the cab to be laid out so that radios
and other equipment could be within easy reach. Soldiers also asked
if the hinges could be modified to make it easier to open the cab
doors. That change is being implemented on all FMTV trucks, said
Vanbebber. Another suggested change was to redesign storage containers
to better accommodate battlefield gear.
To make it C-130 transportable, HIMARS had to be lightened to less
than 35,000 pounds. According to Hicks, the current prototypes are
well under that weight threshold.
“I was told that they are under 34,000 pounds with the EMD
model,” he said. “They have redesigned the boom and
hoist reload system—they are now using forged aluminum and
stainless steel castings in the base assembly of the chassis—and
they have also improved the cab.”
Nevertheless, for Millennium Challenge, the Army had to request
special waivers for the HIMARS prototypes to be flown in C-130s.
“We’ve got a few problems with some of the pilots saying,
no it’s not going to fit, but we have done it 100 times and
we never had a problem,” said Sellon.
He said the suspension system can lower the cab approximately 18
inches and with the central tire inflation system, almost all the
air can be let out of the tires. “It gives us about 6 inches
of clearance,” Sellon said. “It is not a lot of room,
but we get it on the plane.” The production models will be
lighter, he said.
HIMARS will be deployed with rapid reaction units, such as the
82nd Airborne Division or the 101st Mountain Division. Its primary
mission will be deep attack. The vehicles usually find hiding points
to prevent detection, but during the Millennium Challenge exercise
the designated fire point left the battery of three HIMARS completely
in the open, making them vulnerable to enemy attack.
The HIMARS can travel cross-country at 35 miles per hour and on
highways at 65 miles. In combat situations, he said, “we would
have better support and better coordination with our anti-air assets.”
Each HIMARS platform has to remain at a distance of at least 800
meters from each other, for safety reasons, explained Sellon. There
is a surface danger zone behind the launchers because of the blast,
while in front of the vehicle there are hazards posed by missile
It makes sense for the launchers to be spread out, so in case of
enemy attack, “you may lose one launcher but not lose all
Sellon said that the HIMARS can hit targets much faster than the
270. “The 270 is electro-mechanical and this here is hydro-mechanical,”
he said. “To lay on target or to get the launcher pointed
at the target that we need to shoot only takes 15 seconds. The M-270
takes about a minute to get it up and over, and once you lay on
the target it’s another 30 seconds.”
Each launcher may get a different mission. “One launcher
can be a counter battery player to help an infantry company that
is trying to assault a hill, while the next launcher might have
an anti-air defense mission to help helicopters where they need
to go,” Sellon said. “We know where to stay so that
we are not crossing each other.”