European interest in rocket launchers results from lessons learned from the conflict in Ukraine. The introduction of HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) at the close of the previous year initially shifted the balance of power significantly in Ukraine’s favour. Using American rocket launchers, the Ukrainians began destroying Russian bases, ammunition depots, infrastructure, staging areas for vehicles, convoys, and individual targets, including air defence systems, electronic warfare systems, rocket launchers, and howitzers. Later, the Russians altered their deployment strategy and initiated HIMARS intercepts. However, HIMARS are still useful. Anything found on the battlefield can be swiftly eliminated.
The Baltic countries, Poland and Romania, are acquiring HIMARS rocket launchers. The Netherlands and Denmark have ordered the Israeli PULS (Precise & Universal Launching System) missile launchers. Poland is also receiving Chunmoo rocket launchers from South Korea. Also interested in rocket launchers are Spain, Norway, and Romania, with South Korean systems being preferable.
Hungary has expressed interest in HIMARS, but due to Viktor Orbán’s government’s pro-Russian stance, it is not notably favoured in the West. The United States has therefore prohibited the transfer of HIMARS rocket launchers to Hungary.
In any case, Europe is anticipated to place additional orders for HIMARS, PULS, and Chunmoo rocket launchers in the coming months and years.
Germany will choose between HIMARS and PULS rocket launchers to replace its tracked MARS (Mittleres Artillerieraketensystem), a Germanized American M270 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) variant.
This will be another confrontation between KMW and Rheinmetall, the intractable adversaries of the German defence industry. In collaboration with the Israeli firm Elbit Systems, the former offers the PULS missile launcher and the Euro-PULS “European” variant. In contrast, Rheinmetall offers the GMARS rocket launcher in partnership with the United States.
Euro-PULS offers several benefits. It will also be capable of launching Norwegian anti-ship and anti-surface missiles NSM (Naval Strike Missile) and, in the future, European missiles with a flat trajectory, such as JFS-M (Joint Fire Support Missile).
Germany intended to operate 40 modernised MARS II rocket launchers before the Ukraine conflict. Between 2008 and 2013, the first 22 MARS rocket launchers were converted to the “II” version. Modernisation of the remaining 18 launchers was authorised for 2020 to 2022. However, Berlin supplied the Ukrainian military with five MARS II missile launchers. Currently, Germany has 34 MARS II missile launchers, according to the US website Defence News, which cites a Bundeswehr spokesperson.
However, Berlin plans to eliminate all MARS II missile launchers from its arsenal. The Bundeswehr’s spokesperson told Defence News that preparations for replacement are ongoing. The German army intends to mount the rocket launchers on wheeled chassis this time.
Howard Bromberg, Vice President and Deputy of Strategy and Business Development in the Air and Missile Defence division of Lockheed Martin, told Defence News that the German army wants to rapidly replenish the donated systems and then transition to modernised rocket artillery.
In contrast to the 6×6 wheeled M142 HIMARS rocket launcher, the GMARS (German MARS) is available on the German RMMV HX 8×8 wheeled chassis with an armoured superstructure and a pair of M269 LLM (Launcher Loading Module) launchers. The GMARS measures 12 metres in length, whereas the M142 measures only 7 metres. Poland similarly integrated a dual launcher from the South Korean Chunmoo rocket launcher onto their Jelcz 8×8 wheeled chassis.
The HX 8×8 vehicle will be produced in a factory near Vienna, while the vehicle and launcher will be completely integrated in Germany. The US appears to retain M269 launcher production, including incorporating lifting and sliding mechanisms and ammunition.
Bromberg said that Lockheed Martin would be entering the European market with a new type of rocket artillery produced in Europe and made available across the continent.
The American-German team is also in discussions with Diehl, a German company known for producing missiles for the IRIS-T SLM, regarding the production of additional GMARS components.
The platform, the superstructure, the launcher, the rockets (and the transport-launch container, if one is used), and the fire control/combat system are the five basic parts of a rocket launcher. All of these parts can be made in Germany. The problem, though, is with the rockets themselves.
Most rocket launchers’ primary and most costly component is the rocket itself. In the case of the HIMARS launcher, the price of the rocket launcher is nearly equivalent to the price of six GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) missiles and the transport-launch container.
The projected price tag on a single GMLRS missile for the US Army is $100,000. However, international buyers purchase the complete “rocket ecosystem,” not just the missiles. This includes everything from replacement parts and training ammunition to storage systems and a wide range of tools, equipment, measurement technology, simulators, and technical support. As evidenced by Finland’s approved purchase of GMLRS last year, the consumer pays twice as much for a single missile when the entire package is considered.
However, Bromberg says that manufacturing rocket motors is a genuine possibility, and Rheinmetall has shown interest in the field. Diehl can provide some varieties of bombs. According to the Defence News story, however, the US has no plans to outsource all of its rocket manufacturing to Germany.
This is understandable, given that ammunition sales generate greater revenues for the defence industry than weapon sales. Therefore, the transfer of know-how regarding weapon systems is more readily negotiated, whereas companies and states are reluctant to hand over know-how concerning ammunition production.
After the contract is inked, the Bundeswehr can receive the first five GMARS rocket launchers in 2025 for military trials. Referring to Germany’s desire to replace the five donated MARS II rocket launchers rapidly, Bromberg stated that if the Germans desired additional capabilities in the interim, they could request a direct purchase of HIMARS systems from the US government and use them as a stopgap.
Bromberg stated that the US HIMARS ammunition would be compatible with all versions of GMARS manufactured by Rheinmetall. Germany has already been granted permission to launch US missiles from older systems [MARS II]. Therefore, the transition will be natural, as Lockheed Martin will introduce a new discharge device for US ammunition.
In addition, Poland seeks to acquire know-how and production of HIMARS rocket launchers, especially ammunition. The newly ordered HIMARS missile launchers will likely be mounted on the Polish Jelcz chassis and outfitted with the Topaz fire control/combat system. The extent of Poland’s involvement in HIMARS is unknown, particularly in its essential components – rocket ammunition and launchers. In May of this year, Polish Minister of Defence Mariusz Blaszczak stated that Warsaw seeks coproduction, launchers, and missiles for HIMARS in Poland.