GLOBAL DEFENSE MARKET
IDEX NEWS: How Does Russia’s Newest MRLS Stack Up Against HIMARS?
ABU DHABI — Russia is showing off its newest military technologies to potential customers at the Middle East’s largest defense trade show this week, including the country’s latest guided multiple rocket launcher system.
Russian state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec displayed a model of the Tornado-S multiple launch rocket system, or MLRS, and accompanying projectiles during the International Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi. The platform is part of a family of systems developed by NPO Slav for the Russian army.
The organization touted the control system unit of the Tornado-S, which allows users to program multiple guided rockets within a single salvo to strike various targets. A statement from Rostec highlighted the system’s improved range and effectiveness when compared to the Soviet-made BM-30 Smerch MRLS it is replacing.
“The precision-strike rockets have an effective range of over 100 km and the fire accuracy of Tornado-S projectiles is 15-20 times higher than that of the munitions used by the Smerch predecessor,” Rostec said in a statement.
Scott Boston, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corp. who studies land warfare and Russian military capabilities, noted that the Tornado-S is outwardly similar to the United States Army’s M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System made by Lockheed Martin — currently being used by Ukrainians to fend off Russian forces.
As a newer platform that evolved from the Smerch system, “Tornado-S has some important upgrades to its fire control and it can fire a more modern suite of rockets,” Boston said in an email.
HIMARS is built off of a medium tactical truck, Russia’s platforms are built off heavier trucks that can carry twice as many rockets as HIMARS, he noted. In addition, the 300 mm rockets Russia fires from Tornado-S are much larger than today’s guided multiple rocket launcher systems or older multiple rocket launcher systems, he said.
In addition, “Smerch and Tornado-S both have a tube-based rocket that is reloaded individually with a specialized vehicle,” Boston noted. “HIMARS (and MLRS for that matter) is reloaded much more quickly because it reloads an entire pod of six rockets at one time.”
He added that the pod-based reloading system also allows users to fire other munitions, like the Army’s Tactical Missile System or the upcoming Precision Strike Missile.
Although the Russians have used Tornado-S during its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, “despite them talking up its capabilities it certainly hasn’t changed the tide of the war in the way the introduction of HIMARS did last summer,” Patrick Bury, senior lecturer at the University of Bath specializing in warfare and counter-terrorism, said in an email.
The United States began supplying HIMARS to Ukraine in June 2022, and the platform’s extended ranges have since given Ukraine momentum in the war. In total, the United States has sent 20 HIMARS to Ukraine as part of various military assistance packages.
Because both Tornado-S and HIMARS use multiple types of munitions that can cover varying ranges, Russia’s platform could outrange HIMARS rockets, Bury said.
“But as a much newer system it is not as proven as HIMARS either,” he added.
Boston noted that Russia may not have a significant amount of the newer Tornado-S available yet, but the older rockets from both sides are still proving capable.
“Tornado-S is probably one of the systems we would have been most concerned about, and although I have no doubt they have been used, Ukraine has not been publicly showing the battlefield effects of these weapons,” he said, noting that is likely to prevent Russians from knowing if their attacks are working as intended.