Homar – Key Asset in the Arsenal of the Polish Armed Forces’ Artillery Component

26 października 2017, 12:35
Two rockets that form the ordnance package for the HIMARS system: GMLRS (top) i ATACMS (bottom). Image Credit: J. Sabak/Defence24.pl.
HIMARS is an advanced derivative development of the M270 MLRS system. Both solutions differ in the number of launch pods - M270 features 2 of these, while a single one is applied in HIMARS. The chassis for both systems also features discriminate traction solution. Image Credit: Cpl. Kihyun Kwon, 210th FA Bde, PAO
Image Credit: Amanda Kim Stairrett/US Army.
HIMARS system, on which the Homar solution is to be based, would be capable of being transported via airlift. Image Credit: Sgt. Eliverto V Larios/US Army.

Throughout the upcoming weeks, decisions are expected to be made with regards to configuration of the Homar (lobster) rocket artillery system. The configuration would define the form that is to be taken by the fourth artillery system belonging to the crustacean family in the inventory of the Polish Armed Forces, accompanying the 155 mm Krab (crab) and 120 mm Rak (crayfish) tube artillery and WR-40 Langusta (crawfish/rock lobster) rocket artillery systems. The new artillery platform is being created by a PGZ-led consortium, with Lockheed Martin acting as the foreign partner.

The negotiation taking place in the United States of America, involving the representatives of the Polish Ministry of Defence and the PGZ Group, has ultimately specified the final arrangements related to the crucial technical issues concerning the Homar system. The issue that is still to be resolved at the governmental level, is the business dimension of the ambitious programme that had a priority ascribed within the 2013-2022 Technical Modernization Plan pursued by the Polish Armed Forces, as well as within the 2016 Strategic Defence Review.

It is worth to recall the fact that WR-300 Homar programme (rocket launcher with a range of 300 kilometres), that is to become a major element of the “Polish Claws” deterrence programme, has been known to the military planners since the late 2012. At the time it was ambitiously assumed that the first deliveries would take place after the year 2015. It was assumed that 3 squadron-level fire modules would be required, 18 launchers each, meaning that 56 systems including two training platforms would be required, with the latter examples required to train the crews.

The aforesaid plan was being, frequently, modified at the ministerial level. Not only was the above happening due to the changes made to the Modernization Plan, but also due to the new beliefs related to the procedures in line with which this armament system would be acquired. Finally, 410/MON decision of 2014 determined that procurement would take place along the path of purchase with tailoring the system to local requirements, which initiated the process in which the procedure was approved, and the terms of reference, national security impact and assessment of the conceptual design would be examined. The above made it possible to formulate, in the beginning of 2015, the official invitation sent to the parties, requesting them to participate in negotiation.

HSW S.A.-led consortium became the main player in the programme, also involving the Grudziądz-based Military Armament Works [WZU], Mesko S.A. and WB Electronics companies. HSW S.A. has received the invitation letter to take part in negotiation on 3rd March.

Anticipating the selection of a foreign partner, significant in political and military dimension (as recovery of the Polish rocket artillery component’s capabilities was at stake, with that component being virtually non-existent with withdrawal of the Tochka system taking place during the previous decade), expansive analytical and conceptual research was carried out.

The ultimate Homar programme implementation scheme, involving the Polish industry, was created once PGZ Group became a part of the consortium, taking the lead in July 2016. The solution as such was supported by good economic condition and reputation of the company that was considered to be capable of being a carrier for a programme which would be so costly and convoluted. HSW S.A. acts as the consortium’s technological leader. The consortium also involves the Grudziądz-based WZU facility, Mesko S.A. and WB Electronics companies, it was, furthermore, joined by the Rosomak company, responsible for the form and configuration of the command and reconnaissance vehicles. 

HIMARS is an advanced derivative development of the M270 MLRS system. Both solutions differ in the number of launch pods - M270 features 2 of these, while a single one is applied in HIMARS. The chassis for both systems also features discriminate traction solution. Image Credit: Cpl. Kihyun Kwon, 210th FA Bde, PAO

The new shape of the group of companies working on the programme resulted in submission of the preliminary offer, with its ultimate variant submitted in April 2017. Within the said offer PGZ S.A. has indicated three potential foreign partners: Lockheed Martin, Israeli IAI and IMI companies and the Turkish Roketsan. The latter entity wanted to join the procurement at that stage, which was approved by the Polish Ministry of Defence.

At the beginning of July 2017 recommendation that finally shaped the programme was issued, indicating LM as the partner in the Homar programme. The aforesaid partner offered the Poles to access the technology of the “precise and capable” HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) solution, being a lighter derivative of the heavy MLRS system. Both solutions are based on identical solution, with different number of launch containers and chassis. HIMARS has been used operationally since 2005 and launches, similarly to MLRS, two primary types of ordnance.

GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) rockets, with a range of 80 km, are the first one - the rockets are launched from six-rocket launchers. This ordnance is most frequently used with the MLRS/HIMARS platforms. Meanwhile, the second missile – ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) – with a range of up to 300 km, is a tactical missile offering significant deterrence potential, which is quite important for the politicians and the military making the selection in the Homar programme.

Read more:Macierewicz: Poland to get 160 HIMARS-Based Homar Rocket Systems

Both solutions, according to the preliminary assumption made within the Homar programme, make it possible to utilize the Polish rocket-systems design experience and Polish technical solutions, including the Topaz automated C4ISR unit, as well as the carrier chassis developed by the Jelcz facility.

Following the recommendations issued in July this year, the procurement process was accelerated. Before the agreement is signed at the MoD, business details are to be refined. The technical portion of negotiation is fairly advanced as of now. Moreover, detailed decisions with regards to chassis configuration for the HIMARS system must also precede any further steps taken afterwards. This should be done and arranged in collaboration with the Lockheed Martin company, delivering the launchers.

The fact that the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD already has proven procedures remain available that allow the body to supervise these works, contributes to the easiness with which the process would take place, even though the agreement has not been formally signed yet. Moreover, the PGZ Group has already made a decision to fund the manufacturing for the first two carrier platforms.

The first chassis to be integrated with the new system is to be delivered in mid-2018. According to the latest arrangements the integration of the first chassis with the launcher would take place in the United States of America, at the manufacturer’s facility, with the first test launches of the GMLRS and ATACMS effectors scheduled to take place within the White Sands range in 2019. This procurement mode does not require a full test firing programme to be conducted. The only testing that is required to be done is required on the grounds of the Polish safety regulations.

The second example of the Homar system would be integrated at the HSW S.A. facility, on the basis of a launcher delivered by LM. Currently no knowledge is available as to the time-shift that is expected in creation of this example which, according to the Polish nomenclature, would be referred to as the prototype no. 2 of the Homar system.

HIMARS system, on which the Homar solution is to be based, would be capable of being transported via airlift. Image Credit: Sgt. Eliverto V Larios/US Army.

Both, Polish and American, platforms are to undergo a qualification tests programme in 2019. At the end of that year the Armed Forces are expected to receive the launchers. So far, at least according to the Technical Modernization Plan that is valid now (2013-2022) a schedule is in place, in line with which 2 out of 3 Homar units would be delivered before 2022.

HSW S.A and Jelcz, besides the launcher itself, would be required to deliver rocket carriers (without a decision made whether 8x8 or 6x6 platform would be used - the former option is used in case of the Regina and Rak units, the latter is used by the US forces, and makes the unit’s components similar among themselves, which consequently poses a problem for the potential adversary who struggles to interpret satellite or aerial reconnaissance data), along with MMSD (Mobile Command Station Module) vehicles, that to be used to accommodate and host command staff work in field conditions.

The issues related to command vehicles, at the level of squadron commander and squadron chief of staff, are being resolved at the level of the PGZ Group. Same applies to the remaining elements of the Squadron Fire Modules (DMO). Following the test programme both prototypes, even though they would have full value, and even though they would not differ from the series manufactured combat systems, would be utilized for training purposes later on. Most probably, the Artillery and Armament Training Centre in Thorn is going to receive them afterwards.

Within the framework of the Homar programme the consortium has not been tasked with resolving of the reconnaissance issues, with a reference to the reconnaissance assets with which Homar would operate, contrary to topographic and general firing positions reconnaissance vehicles, included in the work assigned.

Transfer of technology is a separate issue. It is not currently discussed within the Polish public sphere. Here we are referring to the technologies included in the missiles/rockets and their subsystems and elements. This concerns both the “hot” portion of the effector (engines and fuels, works on which which would be delegated to Mesko), as well as the electronics, including guidance units (that are to be dealt with by the WZU facility).

The decisions within that scope shall take into account the quantitative shape of the missile lots, with division of the batches into combat, training and learning varieties. The steps taken will also depend on the assumed operational lifetime for the Homar system, intensity of the exercises, including live-fire exercises, manufacturing and technological expertise exhibited by the Polish industrial partners dealing with the missiles and electronics, and so on.

Two rockets that form the ordnance package for the HIMARS system: GMLRS (top) i ATACMS (bottom). Image Credit: J. Sabak/Defence24.pl.

From the Polish point of view, a broad transfer of missile technology would be most beneficial, allowing to use the acquired abilities to modernize and further develop own solutions. It shall be assumed that cooperation would cover the GMLRS missiles primarily, as they remain the most commonly used ordnance in case of the MLRS/HIMARS systems.

It remains an open question whether the Poles, participating in the GMLRS ER (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System Extended Range) development programme now, with range extended to around 150 km, would ultimately have access to the newly developed technology. The FY2018 budgetary bill of the US DoD assumes that development and qualification of the GMLRS ER missiles would last around 36 months.

Considering the significant role played by the GMLRS effector in the MLRS/HIMARS systems, accessing the GMRS ER technologies would be of advantage, both from the point of view regarding the operational capabilities of the Armed Forces, as well as within the industrial dimension. This is especially pronounced, as the Polish Ministry of Defence has made declarations, suggesting that the Strategic Defence Review is to lead towards decisions to procure more Homar systems, after the first Squadron Fire Modules are delivered. It is to early to wonder about the access we would get to the LRPF (Long Range Precision Fires) missiles – the successor of the ATACMS solution – that would be tailored for launching from the very same launcher.

BMS system was, in a preliminary manner, taken into account within the Homar’s configuration, but relevant decisions need to be made by the Armed Forces first. Similar situation exists within the scope of datalinks, with the information provided directly from the DB110 reconnaissance pods carried by the Polish F-16 jets, or, optionally, from satellite sources. The issue related to integration of reconnaissance assets, including radars, UAVs and C4ISR systems, will have a relevant influence on the success of the Homar programme, with the said programme also creating a challenge for the Armed Forces. Meeting the requirements formed is not an issue which should be worrying for the industrial partners or the foreign supplier.

Polish Army will have to restore capabilities tied to a peculiar type of military units - rocket branch. The Army needs to develop proper planning and decision-making mechanisms for that purpose, also properly defining the units structure, providing the units with human resources, logistics, training and funding. The military also shall properly station the units that would use the Homar system. It is a long-term and outreaching development.

Luna-M and Tochka rocket systems have been withdrawn several years ago (with 4 Tochka launchers being operated at the last stage). Homar is going to become, finally, their functional successor.  The Armed Forces, as well as the industry, are going to face a number of challenges. As a result, deterrence and precision strike capability against single-point targets shall be obtained at distances exceeding 300 kilometres. This would, significantly, increase the capability of the Polish military to act against newly emerging threats, also posed by artillery and rocket launchers of the potential adversary.

Jerzy Reszczyński

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