HIMARS vs Russian Smerch — Why HIMARS Is Not MLRS

Precision vs erasing grids

Editor’s note: On paper the two systems, the Russian and the American, are similar. But in reality, the Soviet-era Smerch is a “grid eraser” that disperses its missiles and showers an entire area with ordnance (which is what you want for certain things), whereas the American missile is a precision weapon.

They operate at the same ranges, but Smerch (it’s like Grad but much longer range) is artillery (just extremely long-range) whereas HIMARS is a Liliputan tactical ballistic missile. One way to think about HIMARS is as a poor man’s Iskander.

It performs the same role that the Russians would use their precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles for. But its range is far more limited and the warhead isn’t particularly powerful either. On the other hand, the missiles are cheaper.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainians have already expended a significant portion of the US stock of HIMARS missiles, and ammo availability is starting to be a limiting factor for them.

The Russians do have a relatively new system called Tornado-S that is similar to HIMARS, but its GLONASS satellite guidance isn’t quite on par with the American GPS, plus it only exists in small numbers so far. — But the Tornado-S does have a larger, more useful warhead.

Source: Voennoe Obozrenie

Machine translated from Russian.

Over the past months, a variety of opinions have been voiced about the HIMARS system. But no one paid attention to the main thing.

The use of HIMARS differs from other multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS)

Let’s start with such an example.

The estimated deflection of the Smerch shells at a range of 70 km does not exceed 150 m. This is not enough to hit point targets. But more than enough to provide a “controlled dispersion” of shells in a salvo. The Smerch shells must not fall into the same funnel. They should fall at some calculated distance from each other. In order for a full salvo from 12 guides to leave behind 672,000 sq. m of scorched space!

MLRS HIMARS, on the contrary, tends to heap “put” shells at one point. The projectile separation capability (estimated at 1-2 km at maximum firing distance) was provided for attacking several individual targets located in a narrow sector. In practice, such a coincidence is rare, so HIMARS fire volleys at the same target.

Pointing each missile at a specific target is contrary to the intent behind the MLRS installations. Their application does not require the calculation of coordinates for each individual target. Volley launch of many shells is guaranteed to cause damage to enemy forces dispersed over a large area.


This is the whole meaning and advantage of this type of weapon . The measure of success is fire performance. The blast wave weakens to the third power of distance. When shooting at areas, many explosions of lower power are always more effective than single explosions of high power.

The instructions of the Soviet period indicated that a salvo of three Smerch MLRS installations was comparable in efficiency to the work of two brigades armed with 9K79 Tochka-U missile systems. That is, one and a half to two dozen missiles fired, equipped with half-ton warheads!

Unlike the Smerchs, Grads and Hurricanes, the Hymars is deprived of the main quality of the MLRS – high fire performance. Instead, it provides a circular probable deviation of each ammunition within a dozen meters.

Sniping from MLRS is nonsense. This means that HIMARS belongs to a different type of weapon. The characteristics and purpose of HIMARS correspond to the complex of tactical surface-to-surface missiles. The impression is reinforced by the too small number of guides for the MLRS.

Are traces of MLRS still present in his pedigree? From its ancestors, the Chimera inherited only the ability to fire in a salvo, however, only six missiles.

This betrays the main weakness of the prodigy

Why fire missiles repeatedly at the same place?

HIMARS takes on the tasks of tactical (operational-tactical) missile systems using rockets with 90-kg warheads. For comparison, the missiles of the Tochka-U complex are equipped with high-explosive fragmentation warheads weighing 482 kg, containing over 160 kg of explosives!

The lack of power of HIMARS ammunition became especially noticeable from the results of their combat tour in Ukraine. The missiles turned out to be ineffective in solving the tasks of a strategic scale, which the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been putting before them for the second month already.

Perhaps the reason lies in the ridiculous attempts to use the complex beyond its capabilities. Disabling kilometer bridges was hardly taken into account when developing 227-mm GMLRS rockets.

To destroy capital structures, the MGM-140 ATACMS short-range ballistic missile was included in the HIMARS complex. The same “long arm of Hymars” with a launch range of 300 km, which so far no one is in a hurry to transfer to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The hull diameter is 610 mm with a launch weight of over one and a half tons. A 500-pound (230-kg) warhead is used as standard equipment.

In terms of its weight and dimensions, ATACMS approaches those of Tochka-U, and in terms of combat qualities (range and especially accuracy) it is expectedly superior. Still, 30 years of age difference.

The transport and launch container with the ATACMS missile has six decorative “guides” – outwardly it is difficult to distinguish from containers with GMLRS rockets that hit 70 km.

As of mid-September, there is no reliable evidence of the use of ATACMS in Ukraine.

In all other cases, this weapon, of course, deserves serious ratings.

Behind the swirling dust of tank biathlons, few people noticed that the “probable enemy” had a new method of warfare. Massed launches of guided missiles – at logistics hubs and “decision centers” in the near rear, to a depth of up to 70 km.

The Yankees guessed to create a complex of tactical missiles based on 227-mm shells of the former MLRS. This approach ensured relative mass character and the possibility of firing at targets that did not deserve the use of Tomahawks.

Unlike traditional multiple rocket launchers, in this case, only six guides were enough. And HIMARS itself fit on the chassis of a three-axle army truck.

This was followed by all the known qualities of HIMARS, which are drawn to so much attention. Stealth, mobility …

There is only one reason – “HIMARS” is not an analogue of traditional MLRS.

M270, early unguided HIMARS

On the technical side, the Hymars launcher is the “half” of the M270 installation. Multiple launch rocket system of the 1970s, built on the tracked chassis of the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. With its own advantages and disadvantages. And a dozen guides for 227 mm shells – a close analogue of our “Hurricane”.

In other words, the Hymars, like its predecessor, is capable of launching volleys of unguided rockets at targets at a distance of 30 km.

Was capable. And only in theory. With all the will, a competitor of the Grad MLRS will not come out of Hymars. It has a different purpose.

30 km is a very weak indicator for such a caliber. The Yankees have long abandoned the topic, never knowing what long-range unguided rockets are for.

The obsolete M26 shells were officially withdrawn from service in 2018. From that moment on, all M270s switched to tasks similar to the Hymars. With the advantage of better cross-country ability and density of a rocket salvo. And disadvantages in the form of a large mass and worse transportability.

In other words, across the ocean they completely abandoned the idea of ​​shooting at squares. How justified or premature this decision was will be shown by the coming conflicts. Decommissioned unguided shells were delivered in large numbers to … You guessed where.

How to find a needle in a haystack?

For the use of high-precision missiles, in the quantities that HIMARS allows, not only the missiles themselves are needed, but also effective means of issuing target designation. In Ukraine, HIMARS operate on an area of ​​one hundred thousand square kilometers. “Bayraktars” and quadrocopters will not help here.

Who provides the APU with so much data? Global Hawk drones do not hang over the front line around the clock and Blackbirds do not fly.

Many experts agree that the APU was able to use the Hymars so actively due to access to services that provide high-resolution satellite imagery. And daily data updates. Such as the commercial company Maxar, which has its own constellation of satellites and tools for data analysis.

Analyzing and processing hundreds of images allows you to track the movement of convoys, identify regular stopping places and even daily routes of individual trucks. Based on these observations, conclusions are drawn about the location of military equipment accumulations, warehouses and command posts of the RF Armed Forces.

If this turns out to be true, then our military strategists, apparently, “slapped their ears” on the next round in the development of modern weapons.

There is no intrigue left in this topic, so in the end – a blitz on the most interesting issues.

Does Hymars charge itself?

Back at the end of July, at a briefing by the Ministry of Defense, an account was opened for the destroyed HIMARS installations.

“Two launchers were eliminated near the settlement of Malotaranovka, another HIMARS and a transport-loading vehicle near Krasnoarmeysk, and a fourth launcher on the eastern outskirts of Konstantinovka of the Donetsk People’s Republic.”
(Briefing July 22)

What attracted the attention of experts? Unlike Gradov, Smerch and Hurricanes, which require special equipment to install rockets on rails, there are no transport-loading vehicles in the HIMARS complex.

HIMARS continues the tradition of its predecessor M270 and uses interchangeable transport and launch containers. The TPK is being changed … The process of changing ammunition can be seen in a short video.

What to do with the statement about the destruction of the “transport-loading vehicle”? It has its own explanation. Ammunition “Haymars” is not transported on conventional trucks.

Ammunition carriers are attached to each HIMARS battery – according to the state, two vehicles per launcher. These are ordinary 6×6 trucks, which are distinguished by the presence of a crane-manipulator and “shoes” for missile containers.

This technique bears the designation MK.37 Resupply Vehicle (literally – “resupply vehicle”). Her task is to lift and put the container on the ground in front of the launcher; further “Hymars” will do everything himself.

Probably, a machine of this type was discussed at the MoD briefing. No emphasis on technical details.

Hunt for the HIMARS

Installations with tactical missiles for the second month are dissected through the combat zone under the fire of Russian artillery and airborne forces. It is expected that among them there should be losses.

The question here is not in scoring, 5:3. The main question is why part of the “Chimera” is still on the move and shoots in all directions. As if not a couple of dozen, but hundreds and thousands of launchers were brought to Ukraine.

The enemy, of course, cares about the reputation of the “wunderwaffe” and will hide any data on losses.

From our side, the identification of the destroyed HIMARS is complicated by their external resemblance to trucks of the FMTV family. Dozens of such vehicles are used as part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for towing 777 howitzers.

Another circumstance preventing the public demonstration of the wreckage is the way the HIMARS are used in combat. Installations “work” from the depths of enemy territory. Unlike the hulking 777 howitzers, the Ukrainian MLRS are not so easy to capture and display at the exhibition of captured weapons.

Domestic sources also do not strive for high-quality coverage of the events of the “hunt for Hymars”. The presented footage of the destruction of HIMARS launchers is of such low quality and resolution that they could describe any event in any military conflict.

However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The Hymars had spent enough time in the war zone for casualties to form among them.

Russian analogue of HIMARS

An analogue of GMLRS rockets are 9M542 precision-guided munitions, designed for advanced MLRS 9K515 Tornado-S. The letter “S” indicates that the complex took the best from its progenitor – the Smerch MLRS.

The mass and caliber of the projectile are cubically related, for this reason, the 300-mm Tornado-S rockets have twice the power compared to the 227-mm GMLRS.

12 guides – instead of six for HIMARS. Due to its size and the use of a specific chassis, the Tornado-S is inferior in stealth and mobility. But it significantly surpasses HIMARS in terms of the power of ammunition, the firing range (120 km) and the density of the rocket salvo.

At the same time, the Russian complex retained the potential of the MLRS and the possibility of salvo firing of unguided rockets at targets dispersed over a large area.

The most important point is related to the issuance of target designation. As the events of the NMD demonstrate, control over the situation and movements of the Armed Forces of Ukraine leaves much to be desired.

And, as usual, the traditional question relates to the number of Tornado-S in service. 20 units are enough for parity with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but this is unacceptably low for a conflict with NATO countries.

As for ATACMS ballistic missiles, the advantage in this class of weapons remains with Russia. A complex that does not need a long introduction is the Iskander OTRK.

The world’s first HIMARS operator in terms of the number of installations promises to be… Poland. In June of this year, the Polish Ministry of Defense announced plans to acquire 500 launchers (more than the US has in service) to equip 80 missile batteries with them. The absurdity of the situation is that four full salvos of HIMARS are more expensive than the launcher itself. The Poles, apparently, forgot to count the ammunition load for 500 launchers.

  1. Blackledge says

    Interesting essay, thanks much for this.

  2. Agarwal says

    HIMARS by itself would be next to useless for Ukraine, because they would have no idea what to hit with it. It’s the many dozens of nato satellites resolving Russian targets in real time that make HIMARS a big thing. Russians unfortunately for them have no equivalent collection of dozens of satellites, so they are much more likely to hit empty buildings and generally static targets with their precision weapons (whether Iskanders or S-Tornadoes or Shaheds or whatever). It’s the real-time situational awareness that nato gives Ukraine which is the West’s greatest gift.

    If Russians use Shaheds in the human guided mode, then in practice they will acquire a similar ability to hunt targets of opportunity on the fly. If rumors of Russia producing 50-100 Iranian drones a day are true, they will be just as big of a game changer for Russia as HIMARS was for Ukraine. Ironic that the Iranian MIC is giving this big leg up to the Russians

  3. Tan says

    Dear Anti-Empire,

    Can you do a piece on who was the real culprit behind the assasination of Darya Dugina? Her father Aleksandr Dugin was a total embarrasmment for the more intelligent elements in Kremlin. One only needs to look at the Twitter rants and blog posts of his acolyte Andrew Korybko.

    Korybko does more to embarrass Russia than five divisions of US mainstream media trolls.

    1. Blackledge says

      What business does a grown man have on “Twitter?” It’s the realm of teenage girls.

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