British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced that the UK will donate three M270 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to Ukraine. This decision was made a few days after US President Joe Biden approved a new military aid package for Kyiv, which included four HIMARS MLRS installations. London seems to have taken this as a license and is now determined to get ahead of the Americans with supplies.
Germany also plans to provide four more similar installations by the end of June. The German MLRS MARS II differ from the American and British ones in that the Germans created missiles for them with a cluster warhead in the form of 28 AT2 anti-tank mines.
Thus, Kiev can receive eleven or even twelve American-designed multiple launch rocket systems designed to deliver missile strikes on areas at a distance of up to 80 kilometers.
In total, from the start of production until 2003, when it was discontinued, about 1300 M270 systems, as well as more than 700 thousand missiles for them, were produced in the USA and Europe. A significant part of them was spent in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. Currently, the British Army is armed with 44 M270B1 combat vehicles, which are a modification of the American version of the M270A1, the predecessor of HIMARS. The British improved the cockpit’s aluminum armor and installed a new fire control system that allows the use of precision-guided missiles.
The launcher is placed on an extended tracked chassis of the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. The installation, weighing about ten tons, is driven by an eight-cylinder Cummins VTA-903 diesel engine with a gas turbine supercharger with a capacity of 500 horsepower. The engine is located under the cab, which can be tilted forward to provide access for repairs.
Fire control is carried out from the cockpit, which houses the on-board MLRS positioning system and a computerized fire control system. Entering the flight task and corrections after each shot is carried out automatically. The crew is three people, but in emergency circumstances, the system can be controlled by one.
The artillery unit is mounted on a gyro-stabilized rotating platform and has its own loading module for two disposable transport and launch containers with six missiles each. Standard containers weigh over two tons. Six fiberglass guide tubes are rigidly fastened in an aluminum alloy cage. Inside the guides there are spiral metal skids to give unguided rockets rotation at a frequency of 10-12 revolutions per minute. This rotation ensures the stability of the projectile in flight.
The missiles are stored in these containers for 10 years. It takes five minutes to load, aim and launch all 12 projectiles.
Usually, two transport-loading vehicles with trailers are used to service one combat vehicle. They are also equipped with slewing cranes and carry four transport and launch containers.
Several types of unguided rockets with a firing range of 32, 40, 45 and 70 kilometers, as well as guided munitions, have been created for firing with the MLRS. To Kiev, the British intend to supply, as Wallace put it, «in large quantities» M31A1 guided missiles of 227 mm caliber. This missile carries a unitary high-explosive fragmentation warhead weighing 90 kilograms.
According to the conditional table of ranks, the American M270 MLRS stand between the Russian Uragan and Smerch installations. However, the M270 and HIMARS have two important features that give these deliveries a special military and political significance.
First of all, important accents are radically shifted into the danger zone by satellite guidance to the target, which is installed on the M31A1 missiles.
Kyiv does not have its own military satellites, and without accurate target designation, the supply of M31A1 missiles does not make sense. It is too expensive to shoot at the «white light» with high-precision weapons as simple blanks. For this, there are cheaper and no less destructive options.
However, the choice was made consciously. London, obviously with the support of Washington, is ready to participate in targeting MLRS to Russian targets, using the capabilities of its own space tracking equipment and, which cannot be ruled out, American ones. And this already qualifies as direct participation in hostilities with the corresponding consequences.
The second feature of the MLRS sent to Ukraine is that they can be fired with ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) operational-tactical missiles with a firing range of 165 to 300 kilometers. Each M270 installation can accommodate two containers with one ATACMS missile in each. Quantitatively, it does not look particularly intimidating, but the point is in the radius of their action — they can be hit not only in the Crimea, but also at remote important objects on the territory of a number of Russian regions.
Washington assured that it would not supply long-range missiles to Ukraine, but said nothing about other countries armed with M270 MLRS. In London and Berlin, the participants of the current pool, the composition of the salvo fire systems ammunition is not specified. In other words, anything can be in containers, and Washington will formally have nothing to do with it.
The White House also said that Kyiv had promised not to shoot at targets on Russian territory. However, the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Yegor Chernev, easily admitted such a possibility. And I think the same opinion is shared by all the current Ukrainian political and military leadership.
President Vladimir Putin immediately warned the West that the list of legitimate targets in connection with the supply of MLRS could be seriously expanded, and that statements by Western politicians about their unwillingness to be directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine in Moscow were previously regarded as an attempt to mask actual involvement. Now the situation will change dramatically.