The Russian BM-30 artillery system is one of its longest running multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) in service today. Originally developed by the Soviet Union, the Smerch (as it is dubbed by Russia) saw service in conflicts across the post-Soviet space, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
What is the BM-30 Smerch?
The BM-30 ultimately descended from a line of Russian and Soviet MLRS launchers such as the BM-21 Grad and 9A52-4 Tornado dating back to the famous World War II Katyusha launcher, nicknamed “Stalin’s Organ”. In its basic configuration, the BM-30 Smerch system consists of 12 launch tubes mounted on a MAZ-543M 8Ã8 wheeled truck chassis, and is piloted by a crew of four. The Smerch is able to fire a variety of rocket types, including cluster munitions, rockets that can lay mines over a wide area, and thermobaric munitions.
How was Smerch developed and used?
Developed and produced by the Splav state research and production enterprise in Tula, Russia, the Smerch was first accepted into Soviet service in 1987. Russia attempted to upgrade its BM-30 arsenal by modernizing its targeting and navigation systems. Modern examples of the Smerch operate in groups of six which are control via the Vivari fire control system. The Vivari system is contained in a separate KamAZ-4310 command vehicle, which is equipped with E-715-1 computers in their command vehicle configuration.
In addition to its service in the Russian armed forces, the Smerch is also in the arsenals of the armed forces of countries such as IndiaAzerbaijan, Armenia, Kuwait, and even Ukraine, to name a few. Ukraine has modernized its own BM-30 Smerch examples to enable them to fire guided munitions rockets to improve the range and accuracy of the system. These modernized BM-30s are known as Vilkha MLRS. The Smerch also saw significant service during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War on the Azerbaijani and Armenian side. In particular, Azerbaijani BM-30s using cluster munitions were would have used to strike civilian and urban targets.
How does it compare to HIMARS?
Today, artillery forms a central element of Russian military strategy in the Donbass, where most of the fighting in Ukraine is concentrated. Since the war began to take on the character of a massive attrition war, Russia has made extensive use of artillery to facilitate its gradual advance into Donbass, firing tens of thousands of shells daily at Ukrainian targets. . In addition to using its pre-existing arsenal of Soviet-made artillery, Ukraine also made extensive use of US and Western weapon deliveries of artillery systems.
One of the most notable examples of this is the American-made and designed High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). As a guided artillery system designed for precision strikes on specific targets, the HIMARS is not designed to fulfill the same role as the Smerch, which is intended to fire over a much wider area.
In some ways, the new Ukrainian HIMARS are a answer to the Smerch, whose maximum ranges of 90 to even 120 kilometers previously left Ukraine overwhelmed (with the exception of its own Smerch examples), because the HIMARS is capable of hitting targets within a radius of 70 kilometers with its base GMLRS-unitary precision rockets. Ukraine continues to request the Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) longer-range rockets, which HIMARS is capable of firing.
So far, the Biden administration has refuse to send a Ukrainian ATACMS as interval of approximately 186 miles (corresponding to the updated Block 1A ATACMS version), Ukraine would strike well-located targets in Russia with their existing HIMARS.
With roughly similar ranges, the new Ukrainian HIMARS offers Kyiv some recourse against Smerch. Although they have not yet been used to destroy copies of the Smerch (no Russian BM-30s have been destroyed in Ukraine to date), Russian forces in Ukraine no longer have an unrivaled advantage in terms of artillery range during their invasion.
Wesley Culp is a researcher at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He writes regularly on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as the Diplomatic Courier. It can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.