Long Reach: Finland’s GPS-Guided Rocket Launchers
Finland is busy modernizing its forces within its limited budgets, from air defense upgrades to new stealthy cruise missiles and upgrades for its F/A-18 Hornet fighters. In June 2012, the Finns convinced the US State Department to issue its formal request to buy long-range ATACMS missiles, which are able to work with Finland’s newly-upgraded M270 tracked MLRS rocket launchers.
American 227mm MLRS systems offer shorter reach than Russia’s 300mm SMERCH-M rocket launchers, for now. By replacing a box of 6 MLRS rockets with a single Army TACMS missile, however, the equation changes dramatically.
Fired from a modified M270 MLRS launcher (2 missile capacity), the MGM-140/ M-39 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) is designed for deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces, at ranges beyond other cannons and rockets. Each ATACMS missile box replaces a similar-sized box of 6 guided or unguided, 40-70km range 227mm rockets, with a “steel rain” of 950 M74 bomblets that can be fired to a range of 128 km.
In contrast, the extended range M-57 Army TACMS Block IA uses an inertial system plus GPS to guide it accurately over the target area, delivering its 500-pound unitary warhead to hit the target in a final dive. That angled descent feature is specially well suited to urban targeting, a capability that proved itself out in battles like Tal Afar during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It operates at range up to 300 km day or night, and in all weather conditions.
In Finland’s case, ATACMS’ 300 km range gives it a tremendous radius of fire support for Finnish forces, which makes it very difficult for the Russians to find and suppress the launch vehicles. That fits well with Finland’s total defense strategy. It’s also worth noting that ATACMS’ range would allow it to be fired from Helsinki, and hit targets in St. Petersburg.
Contracts & Key Events
July 20/12: Correction… The US DSCA supersedes [PDF] Transmittal No. 12-25 from June 12/11, and clarifies the export as the ATACMS M57 Block IA T2K Unitary Missile, “which accurately reflects the Finnish request and is consistent with U.S. export policy.” It’s worth noting that neither Finland, nor Russia, nor the United States, have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions that prohibits their stockpile, sale, and use.
Finland still wants 70 missiles plus all of the stated ancillaries, and the estimated cost is still $132 million.
June 4/12: The US DSCA formally announces Finland’s official request [PDF] to buy 70 “M-39″ (MGM-140E?) Block 1A Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) T2K Unitary Missiles, Missile Common Test Device software, ATACMS Quality Assurance Team support, spare and repair parts, tools and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US government and contractor support. If a deal is negotiated, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Dallas, TX will be the prime contractor, and the estimated cost is up to $132 million.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require up to 2 U.S. Government or contractor representatives to travel to Finland for up to 1 week for equipment de-processing/ fielding, system checkout, and training.
If the contract goes through, Finland will join the USA, Britain, Greece, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and the UAE as ATACMS customers.
May 18/11: Finland gives Lockheed Martin a $45.3 million contract to upgrade its 22 M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers. The changes will incorporate the Universal Fire Control System and other enhancements, allowing Finland’s M270s to fire precision GPS-guided munitions for the first time. Finland has been operating the MLRS for about 4 years now. Lockheed Martin.
- Army Technology – MLRS Multiple Launch Rocket System, United States of America. The 2-pod M270 is the tracked vehicle the Finns use. The system can also be configured as a single rocket pod on an FMTV truck, becoming the M142 HIMARS.
- Encyclopedia Astronautica – ATACMS
- DID – ASTROS 2020: Brazil Moves to Revive Avibras. If Finland thought they really need long-range rockets, replacing or supplementing their M270s with Brazilian products would have been an expensive but available option.