One big surprise during the recent Balikatan 2016 Military Exercise was how the United States (US) Army decided to bring and highlight their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS. This is the first time they have brought over the system to the annual, joint US-Philippine exercises, and it literally made quite a splash as it was all over the local news. One wonders if this has something to do with the revelation made last year by Israel Military Industries (IMI) that the Philippines was set to buy a similar system, the Lynx armed with EXTRA Missiles.
That deal did not push thru as the then incoming Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Hernando Irriberi decided to cancel it in favor of buying more Force Protection Equipment (FPE) for the Philippine Army. It ended up being a “Lose-Lose” situation as not only did we not end up with the Lynx, but we also did not end up with any of the FPEs he wanted bought instead. Irriberi had the opportunity to be remembered as the AFP Chief of Staff to usher in the “Missile Age” for the Army, but instead he will be remembered as the one who had DELAYED it.
That delay allowed the US to showcase their Missile Artillery system, so much so that the AFP has publicly stated that they are now seriously considering buying the HIMARS. So time to take a closer look at the system.
The HIMARS starts out as a 6 x 6 version of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) made by the American company Oshkosh Corporation. The United Kingdom (UK) based company BAE Systems then modifies it to accept a missile launcher and related systems, and then finally the missiles are built by the American company Lockheed Martin. The system first entered service with the US Army and US Marine Corps (USMC) in 2003, so it is a fairly new design, and its official designation in the US armed forces is the M142.
The HIMARS is a lighter, wheeled and aircraft-transportable version of the US armed forces’ bigger, heavier and tracked M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). As a consequence of it being smaller and lighter though, it carries only about half the missile load than that of the MLRS. The HIMARS is combat-proven, having seen action first in Afghanistan in 2010, and then subsequently in Iraq in 2015 and Syria in 2016. Aside from the US, the HIMARS is also in service with three other countries: Singapore, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
There are mainly two types of missiles used by the system, the smaller Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS, or “Gimlers”) and the bigger Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS or “Atakums”, naturally). These missiles usually comes in two types: A version with a “Unitary” or just one, large warhead, and a version with multiple Munitions or “Bomblets”. The Philippines is a signatory to the “Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM)”, an international treaty prohibiting the use of Submunitions, so it doesn’t look like we will be able to use the missiles with Submunition warheads for the HIMARS. I wish we could since I think they are more effective against some targets, but, well …
Over the years there has been a number of different version of the HIMARS’ missiles, but the latest ones with Unitary warheads are the M31 GMLRS and the MGM-168 ATACMS. The M31 has a 90 kg warhead and a range of 70 km, while the M168 has a 230 kg warhead and a range of 300 km. The previous models of these missiles had lower ranges, so it is important that we get the latest models.
’HIMARS versus Lynx’
So the biggest question now is … How does it compare to the EXTRA/Lynx system? Let’s do a comparison starting with the launchers:
I actually wanted to do a more comprehensive comparison than the one above, but unfortunately while information on the HIMARS is readily available, the same is not true for the Lynx. I did try to contact IMI directly for some information, but they have not replied to my query, hence we will have to go with the few, scant information available, and also try to make good assumptions if possible whenever we can. First off, we can see that the Lynx carries more missiles than the HIMARS, so major advantage there for it since it will be able to have more firepower between reloads.
However, there is a good reason also why the HIMARS carries fewer missiles, and that is because it is designed to be “Air-Transportable”. And not only is it air-transportable, it is so by the C-130, an aircraft that we have in our inventory. Thus its dimensions were carefully considered so that it can fit into a C-130, with the tradeoff being that it will have to carry less rounds.
On the other hand, there is no mention anywhere of the Lynx being air-transportable, at least not by a C-130. From the pictures and articles, I assume that IMI will be using the 6 x 6 version of the Mercedes Benz Actros, making it a bigger and heavier vehicle with a maximum payload of 12 tons compared to the lighter 6 x 6 HIMARS truck which only has a 5-ton payload. The Actros can carry bigger and longer missiles, and can carry more of them, hence the safe assumption is that its dimensions are unlikely to fit into a C-130.
This is important because from one end of the Philippines to the other can be reached by aircraft in only around 2-3 hours, hence deploying the HIMARS will be just be in a matter of hours. On the other hand, with the Lynx not likely to be C-130-transportable, its deployment will have to be done by ship, and that means it will take days for it to reach the other end of the country. It can be pre-deployed into certain areas, of course, but if there are rapidly developing tactical situations in other areas, then its redeployment will take longer.
Here we can see that the EXTRA is a longer and bigger missile, which is why it has more than 50% more range and has 33% heavier warhead than the GMLRS. The GMLRS is about 50% more accurate than the EXTRA, but then again when you are talking about a 120 kg warhead, I don’t think it will matter very much if it lands 5 m further away since its not much of a consolation to be “less obliterated”. Hence overall advantage for medium sized missiles goes to the EXTRA.
There is the option for the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) for the HIMARS, it is a version of the aircraft launched SDB, but it is still under development as of this writing so there is still some uncertainty whether or not it will go into full production. If it does, then it will enable the HIMARS to match up with the EXTRA missile as the GLSDB has a range of around 150 km. The GLSDB’s warhead though is only around the same as that of the GMLRS at 93 kg, which is less than that of the EXTRA.
The Predator Hawk is a longer but thinner missile than the ATACMS, hence it has a slightly lower range. Its warhead size is also slightly less than that of the ATACMS. Accuracy is just about even, thus I would give the advantage here to the ATACMs.
’Moving Targets, and Missile Models’
One big difference between the missiles of both systems is when it comes to the issue of moving targets: The HIMARS missiles are basically limited to static or stationary targets only for now whereas the Lynx as claimed by IMI has the ability to hit moving targets as well. This means that the Lynx missiles can be used to target ships whereas the same cannot be said of the HIMARS’ missiles.
Of course some will say that the Anti-Ship role would be best left with Cruise Missiles instead of the Ballistic Guided Missiles used in the Lynx or HIMARS, and they may be right, but at the same time I think having a weapon that is more flexible is more advantageous, despite its limitations. That way whatever targets of opportunity crops up, you can use the same missile battery. So here I would give the advantage to the Lynx.
Another advantage of the Lynx is that it can fire more variety of missiles. Aside from the EXTRA and the Predator Hawk, the Lynx can also be loaded with the smaller Accular Guided Missile; The BM-21 Grad and LAR-160 Rockets (unguided); And the Delilah-GL Anti-Ship Cruise Missile.
The HIMARS on the other hand for now is advertised as being able to carry only the GMLRS and ATACMS, and in the future the GLSDB. It has been tested to carry and fire the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM), but that program has been cancelled. An interesting development for the GLSDB though is that from its version II onwards, it is designed to hit moving targets as well. And not only that, plans for more advanced guidance systems like Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) and active Millimeter Wave Radar are also in the works for the GLSDB. But again the development of that and integration into the HIMARS is something that is not here now, it is somewhere in the future, exactly how many years from now we are not sure.
’Familiarity and Training’
One advantage for the HIMARS is “familiarity”, with the US bringing over some “demo” samples with them during the last Balikatan Exercise. I’m just kidding, of course, but it did serve that purpose. The units are there, you can see it, touch it, ask the Servicemen questions about it, etc. So there are less “surprises” about it, you basically know almost everything you need to know, more or less, to buy the unit.
Furthermore, with the US basing some HIMARS units in the country, then Training for our troops will be a LOT easier. In theory our troops will be able to ask questions or tips from the American HIMARS Operators almost anytime and go into Joint Trainings with them more frequently. It would be like having “Long-Term, In-Country Technical Consultants” … but for free. And I think this is VERY important for an Army like ours which had very limited exposure to such High-Tech equipment before.
On the other hand, IMI will probably have to do nothing short of bringing over a Lynx and stationing long term consultants in the country to reach the same level of familiarity and support with the system by our Army, and I am not so sure that can or will be done because that will increase the logistical cost on their side.
Since the HIMARS is already in their inventory, in theory it will be easier for the US armed forces to support us in terms of the GMLRS and ATACMS ammunition, or HIMARS Spare Parts in times of war. They could just get stocks from their inventory and give or “loan” it to us if needed. However, unless that is written in some sort of contract somewhere, then this is NOT a sure thing. Maybe it will happen, maybe it will not, it all depends on how generous they would be. If they feel generous they might do it, but then again they could just say they want to prioritize American troops first and then that would be the end of that.
As for comparing the cost of each system, right now we can only try to get a general idea, or rough estimate of how much each system costs. I couldn’t find any cost details about the two customers (Vietnam and Azerbaijan) who bought the Lynx with the EXTRA missiles, but we can use our own Shore Based Missile System (SBMS) program for reference. Our budget was for USD 144 million for twelve launchers, or USD 12 million per launcher. No details like how many and what rounds came with each launcher, but we do know that the package included a Coastal Radar System and at least one Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
Getting cost details for the HIMARS is more tricky, some sources claim that the Unit Price of the HIMARS was USD 3.48 million each, the GLMRS at USD 110k each and the ATACMS at USD 758k, but a quick check at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) website shows that these figures are too low, they don’t jibe with the actual prices that were bought by export customers. No information for the derivation of the approximate price of the HIMARS launcher only is available, but the package prices of the GMLRS missiles as sold to Finland, France, Jordan and Singapore averaged USD 432,000 per round.
For the ATACMS, average package price to Finland and Bahrain costs USD 2.1 million per round. And if we look at the HIMARS SET sales that included both the Launchers, GMLRS, ATACMS, etc. to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the average package price was USD 66 million per set, way higher than our budget of USD 12 million.
The package price for Jordan’s HIMARS though is closer to our budget at only USD 18 million per launcher, but that did not include the ATACMS, only the GMLRS. Of course we don’t know if IMI’s offer to us for the Lynx also included the Predator Hawk, but even if they only included the EXTRA missiles, that still meant longer ranged missiles for us. And IMI’s offer included a Coastal Radar and UAV whereas Jordan’s package only consisted on the Launchers, GMLRS and Support Vehicles.
Of course the figures cited above from the DSCA website are “Package Prices” which include a lot of other stuff, but then again there’s a reason why those “other stuff” are there, and that’s because you need them and you can’t buy just the Launchers and Missiles without Support Vehicles, Training, Logistics, etc. The package prices of course can be reduced, but not by much IMHO because then you would cutting corners off all those other stuff, which may not be good in the long run. But anyway, we’ll probably never know how much exactly the cost of the systems are unless we go out and hold a bidding, or get a quote thru a Government to Government (G2G) negotiations.
Having a long-range Guided Missile System like the HIMARS would be important for our Army not only because it can be used against external aggressors, but also against our local insurgents and separatists. For example, during the recent ambush by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) of Army forces in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, a system like the HIMARS could have provided the needed Fire Support. Close Air Support (CAS) supposedly was not possible due to bad weather at that time, but the HIMARS is an all-weather, day and night system.
As long as the troops can provide the proper and correct GPS coordinates of the enemy positions, then they can be supported. And with the long, 70 km range of the system, it will make the Army much less dependent of the Air Force for Fire Support. Of course, with the expected high cost of the GMLRS, the Army will tend to be “choosy” on when and where to use them, but saving the lives of troops pinned down by enemy fire I think is about as justifiable as one can get to use such weapons.
To summarize the Pros and Cons of the HIMARS and the Lynx:
– Air-Transportable by C-130, making its deployment and redeployment being measured in just a matter of hours.
– Carries less missiles in between reloading.
– Has lower ranged and with less powerful warhead “medium”-sized missiles.
– Has slightly longer ranged and with slightly more powerful warhead “large”-sized missiles.
– Missiles are limited to static or stationary targets only.
– Can carry less types of missiles or rockets.
– Much better familiarity and technical support if HIMARS units are continued to be stationed in the country.
– More chances and easier possibility of support for parts and ammunition from the US.
– Rough, initial estimate seems to show it to be the more expensive option.
– Unlikely to be air-transportable by C-130, making its deployment and redeployment measured in a matter of days.
– Carries more missiles in between reloading.
– Has longer ranged and with more powerful warhead “medium”-sized missiles.
– Has slightly lower ranged and with slightly less powerful warhead “large”-sized missiles.
– Missiles can hit both static/stationary and moving targets.
– Can carry more of other types of missiles or rockets.
– Won’t likely be able to match the level of familiarity and support of US troops with HIMARS stationed in the country.
– Less chances and more complicated possibility of support for parts and ammunition by the US.
– Rough, initial estimate seems to show it to be the cheaper option.
Compared to the Lynx, the HIMARS now has less number of rounds between reloads, much shorter ranged medium sized missiles and are able to hit static targets only. The GLSDB will cut that gap since it can match the range of the EXTRA and can hit moving targets, but that is still in development. Then there is also the issue of cost, it seems that the HIMARS missiles are quite expensive.
The only real advantage of the HIMARS is its air-mobility with the C-130 and easier Training with technical support from the Americans. There is also the possibility of them providing us with Parts and Ammo in case of war, but that is not guaranteed and may not happen. So it all now depends if the HIMARS’ advantages are enough of a premium to overlook its disadvantages, and that will have to be decided by our government. I don’t admire them, though, that is not an easy decision to make.
As for my opinion … its quick deployment and the ability to have our technically-challenged troops work and train better with the Americans is enticing, but then again that might make us a little bit too complacent and too dependent on them. A lot of promise also for the HIMARS once the GLSDB program goes into full production. But I worry about the cost as the rounds does seem to be quite expensive. The Lynx right now, as in right now only, has the better missile options, and they seem to be cheaper. If we were a richer country, I think the HIMARS would be great system to have, but unfortunately we are not.
Anyway, whether it is the HIMARS or the Lynx, hopefully our Army will finally get a Guided Missile System of their own soon …
^ EXTRA Missiles for the Philippine Army?
^ AFP mulls acquisition of US rocket launchers,
^ Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles – Cargo, 4 x 4 and 6 x 6,
^ HIMARS – High Mobility Artillery Rocket System,
^ Convention on Cluster Munitions Convention Status,
^ Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System,
^ Mercedes Benz Actros,
^ EXTRA – Extended Range Artillery and Predator Hawk Missiles,
^ Precision Guided Missiles and Rockets Program Review,
^ Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) – Sweden,
^ “An Accurate Rocket with an Optimal Warhead Changes the Battlefield”,
^ PA to get more bigger, powerful guns –DND,
^ Jordan – HIMARS, GMLRS, AFATDS, SINCGARS,
^ 18 soldiers killed in Sayyaf ambush,