The Point of Precision
Russian guided-artillery systems make the breakthrough
by Michal Fiszer& Jerzy Gruszczynski [www.edefenseonline.com]
Jul. 1, 2003
Red Rocket's Glare
By coordinating fires from dispersed batteries in range, it was possible to time the fires so that the rounds from different guns landed more or less simultaneously. This was desirable for instilling the shock required to achieve a breakthrough at a desired point on the battlefield. Not possessing such coordination, the Soviets found a solution in the multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS), where many tubes fired in a short period of time. The famous "Katyusha" and "Stalin's Organ" 82mm through 300mm rocket systems were produced in huge numbers and could drop thousands of rounds on the point of decision at a dizzying rate. It should be noted that Germany produced a number of "Nebelwerfer" rocket systems as well, although significantly fewer than the Red Army employed. The US Army experimented with 4.5-in. rockets, but much preferred cannon artillery.
Conventional artillery and unguided MLRS batteries showered the breakthrough area, leaving many holes in the ground, but only a small portion of the tens of thousands of shells fired found any targets. This was sufficient if an enormous mass of firepower was employed, as it was during WWII, but after the war, it was understood that alternatives needed be found. During the Cold War, nuclear strikes were the solution. But the return to conventional warfare doctrine in the 1970s brought the question of conventional firepower back to the front. The answer was found in precision engagement. The result was the extremely effective 9K58 Smerch MLRS system, as well as laser-guided munitions for field guns and howitzers.
Soviet technological progress during the 1970s enabled the development of a longer-range multi-barrel rocket launcher. The 9K57 Uragan system had twice the range of the then-standard BM-21 Grad, although it still used unguided rockets that were cousins to the weapons of the Great Patriotic War. In the 1980s, the 9K58 Smerch MLRS system employed a simplified inertial-navigation system (INS) for missile stabilization that resulted in increased accuracy.
The 9K58 Smerch was developed by the Splav State Research and Production Association (Tula, Russia), which also manufactured the Uragan, Grad, and Prima rocket launchers. The system was introduced to service in 1987 and equipped front-level MLRS brigades. A brigade was organized into three MLRS battalions, each with three batteries of two MLRSs and one reload vehicle. In total, a battalion has six launchers, and a brigade had 27. In 1989 a modernized 9K58-2 system was introduced to service and gradually replaced the older ones through modernization of existing systems. All subsequent production was conducted in this version.
Equipping the frontal brigades with Smersh MLRSs gives them tremendous precision, conventional firepower that could be projected into a zone between 20 km and 70 km. The Smersh brigades are intended to reinforce the armies and even divisions fighting on the main axes of battle. They are to engage armored and mechanized units, command posts, helicopter airfields, air-defense sites, and other high-value area targets.
Presently, the Smerch system is in service with the Russian Army. It is also in service with Belarus and the Ukraine and has been exported to Kuwait (27 systems) and the United Arab Emirates (six systems). In 2002 the Indian Army carried out a series of firing trials of the modernized Smerch-M system, which features an automatic rocket-preparing and -launching system and an increased range of up to 90 km (more below).
The ultimate 9K58-2 system consisted of a 12-barrel 300mm launcher (designated 9A52-2) that could fire various types of missiles, a reload vehicle (9T234-2), and a Vivari command-and-control (C2 ) system with E-715-1.1 computers. The Vivari was developed by the Kontur research-production facility (Tomsk, Russia). It has either one or two E-715 computers to calculate ballistic and targeting data for each launcher. The command vehicle has both satellite- and radio-communications systems to link to both subordinate units and headquarters.
The 9A52-2 combat vehicle is comprised of a 12-tube launcher system mounted on an 8x8 chassis with a powerful diesel engine, providing excellent cross-country capability. A single Smerch unit is capable of firing a complete 12-round salvo within 38 seconds, engaging an area of 672,000 sq. meters. High accuracy (maximum error of 220 meters and stated circular-error probable [CEP] of 120-150 meters at maximum range) of fire is provided by INS/gyro stabilization on the active part of the flight and an in-flight quick rotation technique later in the trajectory. Fire can be controlled from the special cabin of the combat vehicle or remotely.
The 9K58-2 system can use various types of guided missiles:
* 9M55K cluster projectile with 72 fragmentation submunitions (1.81 kg), intended to engage troops and soft targets.
* 9M55F with a separable HE warhead containing 95kg of explosive for use against lightly armored vehicles, fortifications, and personnel.
* 9M55K1 with five MOTIV-3M top-attack anti-armor submunitions, each of which are which is fitted with a dual-band infrared seeker. The MOTIV-3M is the MLRS version of the SPBE-D sensor-fuzed weapon, used in aerial cluster bombs. Each bomblet measures 284x255x186mm and weighs 15 kg. It is ejected and descends by parachute. The seeker detects a target, specifically armor, guides the submunitions to its vulnerable upper surfaces, and activates the warhead. The seeker's field of view is 30 degrees. The sensor triggers the warhead about 150 meters above its target. The 173mm copper plate forms a 1kg penetrator with a velocity of 2,000 m/s, able to penetrate 70mm of armor at an angle of 30 degrees.
* 9M55S 300mm rocket projectile with a thermobaric warhead is designed to defeat unsheltered troops, as well as personnel in light field fortifications and in soft-skinned/lightly armored vehicles. The warhead weight is 243 kg with 100 kg of explosives. The diameter of the thermobaric field (with the temperature in excess of 1,000° C) is 25 meters.
* 9M55K4 300mm rocket projectile is designed for remote laying of antitank minefields. Each rocket carries 25 mines. The mine weighs 4.85 kg, the weight of explosive is 1.85 kg. Time of mine self-destruction is 16-24 hours.
Splav has also developed a new 9M528 projectile for modernized Smerch-M systems that uses a high–energy composite propellant that will enable an increased range of 90 km. In addition, two new guidance systems were developed for the 9M528. One is a "true" INS, working all the way to impact, thereby reducing the maximum error from about 220 m at a range of 90 km to about 90 meters (CEP is unknown). The other method developed corrects the missile in flight via radio while the missile is observed by a radar system. Both systems have been tested but neither has been fielded.
It has been reported that a miniature aerial vehicle containing a stabilized camera, the R-90, is being developed that could be fired from the Smerch launcher, enabling real-time battlefield surveillance data to be relayed to the Smerch commander. The aerial vehicle, which uses Glonass or GPS, has the same 70-km range as the 9M55K rocket and can transmit data for up to 30 minutes. It is also disposable.