The NATO alliance clearly has a big conventional military advantage over Russia. Here are some of the best weapons the alliance would use if war broke out: Rocket artillery is one of the most destructive weapons on the modern battlefield. Designed to pump out a high volume of fire in a short time, rocket artillery systems are particularly dangerous in their ability to annihilate a position before units have a chance to take cover.
This capability, while less relevant in Western counterinsurgency doctrine, has proven useful in recent conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. However, most rocket artillery systems used in these conflicts are Russian or Soviet. What should NATO compare?
Here are what could be considered the best rocket artillery systems NATO has to offer:
In the 1980s, the United States developed the M270 MLRS, NATO’s most common rocket artillery system. It is fielded by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Turkey.
It fires 227mm rockets, twelve of which are contained in two six-rocket pods. During the Cold War, the standard rocket was the M26 cluster rocket, which contained 644 dual-purpose submunitions. Nowadays, due to the treaties on cluster munitions, a new rocket with a unitary explosive warhead is put into service.
The system is designed to be quickly recharged by swapping the pods. The MLRS is also designed to fire the ATACMS tactical guided missile, which can be installed in place of a rocket pod.
2. HIMARS M142
The HIMARS can in some ways be considered the smaller cousin of the MLRS. Featuring more modern fire control (which is being retrofitted to the M270 in the M270A1 variant), the HIMARS can only mount one six-rocket module out of the two of the MLRS.
The system is much more strategically mobile than the M270, as it is C-130 transportable. It is also cheaper to maintain than the M270 because it is mounted on a truck chassis. However, this limits his tactical mobility.
The system has attracted recent interest from NATO countries, with Poland purchasing twenty launchers in late 2018. Romania also purchased the HIMARS in early 2018.
Although designed for the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War, the RM-70 launchers continue to serve in NATO arsenals in Central Europe.
Based on the proven Tatra truck chassis, the RM-70 launchers can even serve as an economical alternative to the HIMARS, as Slovak companies have offered to convert the RM-70s to be able to mount a 227mm 6-round rocket pack to the NATO standards.
However, even with the original 122mm rockets (the same as the Soviet BM-21 Grad), the RM-70 is a formidable launcher. Unlike the Grad, the long 8×8 truck chassis allows the transport of a single full reload of 40 rockets in front of the launcher.
In addition to HIMARS, Romania is also fielding a lighter Grad-like rocket system. The LAROM is a version of the Israeli LAR-160 rocket launcher mounted on a simple truck chassis. The ability to use Israeli 160mm rockets provides a significant increase in capability over a regular Grad launcher.
Israeli rockets have cluster warheads and are mounted on pods to allow rapid reloading in the field. In contrast, an ordinary Grad launcher like those found on the BM-21 or RM-70 must be loaded tube by tube by a crew. However, a pod reload requires a crane on an ammunition carrier vehicle.
The LAROM can use both a standard Grad array and Israeli pods depending on its configuration.
5. T-300 Kasirga
The Turkish T-300 Kasirga is perhaps the only NATO rocket artillery system that could truly be considered a “heavy” system like the Russian/Soviet BM-30 Smerch.
Firing massive 300mm rockets, the T-300 is one of the longest range rocket artillery systems in NATO’s arsenal, with rockets capable of reaching 100 km. This is significantly longer than the 70 km the M270 can achieve with the M30/M31 GMLRS rockets, although rockets in development can extend the range of the M270 to 150 km.
The T-300 also has one of the largest artillery rocket warheads in NATO’s inventory. The M31 has a unit warhead weight of 90 kg. This is far less than the 150 kg warhead of the T-300 or the massive 243 kg of the Smerch.
Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.