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.
Its possible rival is Russia’s SS-26 Iskander-E export variant, whose maximum range is 280 km in order to comply with the Missile Technology control Regime treaty. Guidance is reportedly inertial plus optical terminal guidance, rather than GPS/INS for the ATACMS. Warhead options reportedly include conventional, cluster munitions (Finland hasn’t signed any treaties barring them), and thermobaric explosive. The Iskander’s vehicle carries 2 missiles, and a companion transporter/loader adds another 2 missiles. The tradeoff is that unlike MLRS systems, the SS-26 lacks the option to mount both a long-range missile and a 6-pack of shorter-range rockets.
Contracts & Key Events
February 10/16: Finland has approved the purchase of missiles for its 22 recently upgraded Lockheed Martin M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs). 90 M31A1 Unitary Missiles and 150 M30A1 Alternative Warhead Missiles are expected to be delivered at a cost of $78.4 million. The Finnish Ministry of Defense had initially set a maximum budget of $150 million for the acquisition when their procurement intentions were made known last November. Deliveries of the warheads are expected to be completed by 2018. Finland, along with other Baltic and Nordic allies, are in the midst of major missile defense and equipment acquisitions, as fears regarding Russia’s military capabilities continue to be reported. NATO recently announced that the Russian air force had successfully simulated a mock nuclear attack of Swedish installations during war games in 2013.
April 3/14: Buy Russian? Pressure to drop the ATACMS missile option reportedly came from Finland’s Finance Ministry, as part of more than $3 billion in public spending cuts across various departments. Opening the door to Russia right now seems like jaw-droppingly poor timing, but a June 2013 agreement actually began the process of looking at resuming buys from Russia, and even offering subcontracting capacity to Russia’s equipment modernization programs. That would offer Finland some minor economic boosts, and give Russia a way to build reliability into key parts of its systems more effectively. Do the Finns really want to do that?
An updated export version of the Iskander-E surface-to-surface missile is reportedly among the list of weapon systems that working groups are pegging as purchase options for Finland, and Russia is reportedly interested in resuming its role as a supplier of combat aircraft. Sources: Defense News, “Finns May Turn to Russia for Tactical Missile System”.
March 29/14: Suspended. Arto Koski, a commercial counsellor at Finnish Defence Forces Materiel Command:
“The project has been put on hold due to budgetary reasons, due to high unit price. It’s a very expensive and relatively old system. We must now evaluate our entire materiel development…. In the years to come, we’ll explore other, more affordable ways of obtaining long-range capabilities…. We know of alternatives that would fulfil the same technological need…”
The price isn’t exactly a new development. Granted, Finland is buying stealthy JASSM cruise missiles for its F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet, with similar range. On the other hand, it’s much easier to target air bases and prevent the Hornets from launching, compared to strikes against the kind of dispersable rocket launchers that give even the USA a lot of difficulty. Timing this kind of decision right after Russia annexes Crimea from the Ukraine doesn’t send a great signal. sources: Helsinki Times, “Finland aborts missile acquisition from United States”.
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.
DSCA: 70 ATACMS
* 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
* Military Today – Iskander (SS-26 Stone).
* RIA Novosti Infographic – Iskander (SS-26 Stone) tactical missile system and its coverage in Europe.
* 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.