By Kevin Wilson
This article first appeared in Ranger Up’s The Rhino Den
One of the many upsides to the community of writers that produces content for The Rhino Den and Unapologetically American is that we have a diverse array of branches and MOSs represented in the group. This means that, for almost any subject that comes up, we have a subject matter expert on hand who can intelligently explain the nuances of it, while the rest of us sit around and make dick jokes.
I am the group’s token artilleryman. Specifically, I work with HIMARS, and before that, MLRS. I know some of you tube artillery guys are probably thinking “Ha! That’s not real artillery.” Don’t worry, the headache from forming a thought more complex than “pull string, get boom” will pass soon enough. At any rate, I don’t get a chance to talk about anything field specific much, because honestly, there’s not a lot that goes on that the average reader gives a shit about. It’s all boring and technical, and plenty of it is classified to boot, so mostly I stick to sweary rants about current events.
But now, ladies and gentlemen, there is something I can trot out to you guys. Behold: the Jabaria Defense Systems Multiple Cradle Launcher.
Just look at that thing. It looks like Octomom had a threesome with a HET and a Turkish T-122. Which is basically what happened, minus the Octomom part. Now the manufacturer of the TR-122 rockets which this thing is designed to fire calls it, and I quote, “…the most effective artillery rockets with the longest range in the world…” to which any 13Ms or 13Ps in the crowd reply with hysterical laughter after reading the manufacturer claimed 40km/25.8 mile max range.
Congrats, Rocketsan, you beat our reduced range practice rockets. That’s only a little farther than a standard Paladin can fire shells. Rocketsan is basically the Trump of the rocket artillery world, apparently. “Trust me, guys, my rockets are like, the best. The range us YUGE.”
The concept, as noted from the picture, marries 4 launcher cradles to a single trailer, which is then towed by a HET. This provides a seemingly astounding 240 rockets on call at the push of a button. Nevermind that they’re not particularly good rockets, that’s a fuck ton of firepower.
And it’s also, basically, useless.
See, the whole point of the MLRS and HIMARS systems, aside from being able to scrub all life from a given grid square at ranges that make the TR-122 look like an anemic child’s science experiment, is to be able to fire, and then get the hell away from the firing point. Rockets leave a massive visual signature on firing, and they’re not particularly hard to track on radar. Thus, any rocket artillery system is going to be vulnerable to return fire. A mobile, all terrain platform goes a long way towards making sure that every fire mission isn’t a suicide mission as well.
The MCL is, technically, mobile. It’s pulled by a HET and everything. However, unlike the manufacturer’s claim about the range, it is fucking huge. You’re not taking that thing off the beaten path looking for fire and hide points. I’m aware that the HET doesn’t necessarily have to travel on improved roads, but this system isn’t anywhere close to being all terrain capable.
In other words, it’s basically a sitting duck, probably only really useful on either fixed firebases or travelling on paved or well maintained gravel roads behind (but not too far behind) the lines. And it’ll be a prime target for everything from enemy aircraft to a kid with a slingshot and a herd of angry goats. Get it into position and it’ll unleash an absolutely punishing barrage of fire. Once. Maybe twice. Then it’s just a barely mobile target.
But nevermind the fact that the crew are, for all practical intents and purposes, target practice. If that wasn’t bad enough, take a moment to pity the poor bastards who have to work on the system. I’ve never personally worked with the T-122 launchers. They’re only used by a handful of Arab countries, and we don’t exactly do a lot of cross training. However, I can tell you that the HIMARS and MLRS are maintenance nightmares.
Any military vehicle is, almost by definition, going to be a high maintenance item. Sealed bearings and gaskets that don’t degrade if you look at them wrong are for pussies, apparently. If they sit for any length of time, shit just breaks. This is one problem we’re especially familiar with in the Guard. Our launchers get rolled out once a month, and we can expect, with some degree of certainty, that something new will be fucked up when we go out into the field. At that’s just on the vehicle itself. The launcher part of the vehicle is even more complex, and just about anything major that goes wrong with it means a trip to the shop.
This thing doesn’t have one launcher that’ll almost inevitably go tits up at the worst possible moment. It has four.
And good luck trying to reload the thing in a timely manner. Reloading just one HIMARS is a tedious, time consuming process that takes a great deal of coordination between the crew. This thing doesn’t have one launcher with one pod. It has four, and each launcher has three pods. By my math, a full reload will take somewhere between two to four years, assuming nothing goes wrong. And, since we’ve already discussed the part about them being huge targets of opportunity, we can safely assume that something will go wrong. Probably several somethings, shaped like incoming fire.
I really could go on for ages, but we don’t have time and if our editor rolls his eyes any harder at my artillerant, his retinas will detach. So I’ll note that, at this time, no one is currently planning on buying the MCL. Certainly the US has no plans to field it, and hopefully no one else will, either. Which is a good thing, because in its current form, it’s worse than useless. It’s the Good Idea Fairy in artillery mode. They say that God fights on the side with the best artillery. If that’s true, any country that tries to use this thing might as well convert to atheism, because no deity worth the title is going to have anything to do with this great big blob of stupid.