SOVIET MLRS 1950–1960

RZSO BM-14 on the base truck ZIS-151. (BM for Boyevaya Mashina, ‘combat vehicle’) BM-14 (8U32) – 16-round model (two rows of 8), launcher mounted on the ZiS-151 truck. Entered service in 1952. Also known as BM-14-16.

140 mm turbojet high-explosive fragmentation projectile RTS-140 (M-14-RP):

1 – rocket chamber; 2 – powder charge; 3 – igniter; 4 – charge base; 5 – internal casing; 6 – bursting charge; 7 – detonator; 8 – detonator cap

RZSO BM-24 on the chassis of the ZIS-151 truck. The BM-24 (8U31) is a multiple rocket launcher designed in the Soviet Union. It is capable of launching 240mm rockets from 12 launch tubes. Versions of the BM-24 have been mounted on the ZIL-151 6×6 Truck chassis and the AT-S tracked artillery tractor, forming the BM-24T from the latter. Production began out of Automotive Factory no. 2 in 1947 Moscow.

240mm reactive projectile TRS-24F (M-24F):

1 – fuse; 2 – case; 3 – combat charge; 4 – solid fuel; 5 – engine

RZSO BMD-20F on the ZIS-151 chassis

BM-21 122mm multiple rocket launchers fitted with forty launch tubes came into service in 1987.

BM-21 122mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

The BM-21 was by far the best known and most widely deployed Soviet rocket launcher. Known as the Grad or Hail, the BM-21 could be fitted with twelve (Grad V), thirty-six (Grad 1) or standard forty (Grad) round launchers. Its job was to saturate enemy positions and weapons systems with a deluge of rockets.

The BM-21 was the natural successor to the Red Army’s wartime Katyusha rocket launchers known as boyevaya mashina (‘combat vehicle’), utilising the same system of firing a cluster of solid-fuel rockets from a 6×6 truck. However, the BM-21 dispensed with the open rack configuration used on the wartime BM-13 and BM-31 and the post-war BM-24 and BM-25 in favour of closed tubes.

Developed in the 1950s and mounted on the Ural-375 truck, this multiple 122mm rocket launcher first appeared publicly in November 1964. The truck was selected for its cross-country capabilities, and as with most Soviet wheeled vehicles it had a central tyre pressure control system to enhance its performance. For firing purposes the vehicle had to be parked obliquely so that the blast does not damage the unarmoured truck cab.

As it used a smaller calibre fin-stabilised rocket than any other system, the enclosed tube launcher could take forty rounds. Each rocket weighed around 46kg, and they could be fired in salvo, rippled or individually. Understandably, the effect on the target was devastating: with the warhead containing 19kg of high explosive, a battery target could be saturated with almost a ton of HE in around 30 seconds out to a range of 15km.

The only real drawback with the BM-21 was that it could take up to 15 minutes to reload. The Czechoslovak Army came up with a solution to this by developing a reload rack that could conduct reloading in less than two minutes. It consisted of a BM-21 launcher mounted on a Tatra 813 8×8 truck with the palletised reload behind the cab.

The subsequent Grad 1 and Grad V rockets become operational in the mid-1970s. The BM-21 first saw action in the 1969 Sino–Soviet border war, and subsequently was fired in anger during numerous wars around the world. Well over half a dozen countries have produced their own versions. Soviet motor rifle and tank divisions fielded rocket launcher battalions consisting of three battalions, each with twelve launchers. During the Soviet–Afghan War the Kabul regime employed the ancient 132mm BM-13, while the Soviets fielded the BM-21a forty tube and BM-21b twenty-six tube 122mm and the BM-22 220mm multiple rocket launchers.

BM-24 240mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

The BM-21’s predecessor, the 240mm BM-24, entered service in the early 1950s. The large 112kg rocket was spin-stabilised and, although packing a punch, had a shorter range at 11km. The open frame welded steel tube launcher had two rows of six rounds mounted on the ZIL-157 truck, which replaced the Zil-131 in 1966. A twelve-round tube launcher was also installed on the AT-S tracked artillery tractor. The BM-24 was used to support the motorised rifle divisions of the Soviet Army, but was eventually replaced by the BM-21. Most were sold off to the Arab states, while Israel captured enough from Egypt in 1967 to equip a battalion that saw action in the Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon War.

BM-25 250mm Multiple Rocket Launcher

During the 1960s the 250mm BM-25 was the largest multiple rocket system in service with the Soviet Army. The launcher had six rails and was carried either on a ZIL-157 truck or on the KrAZ-214 chassis. It came into service in the late 1950s and had a greater reach than the other systems, with a range of 30km. The BM-25 rocket launcher battalions were made up of three batteries, each deploying six launchers. Like the earlier BM-24, it was phased out in favour of the BM-21.

The BM-27 220mm rocket launcher first saw action against rebel guerrillas in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s.

BM-22/BM-27 220mm Uragan (BM 9P140) Multiple Rocket System

Known as the M1977 by NATO, the fifteen-round Uragan (‘hurricane’) went into service with the Soviet Army in 1975. Until the introduction of the Smerch, the Uragan was the largest system of its type in service. (The BM-24 240mm and BMD-20 200mm truck-mounted rocket systems had been retired many years before.) In some units it was also used to replace the shorter-range BM-21. The BM-27 first saw action against the Mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1984, but as American-supplied surface-to-air missiles began to curtail Soviet helicopter gunship operations from 1986–87, numbers were greatly enhanced. The Afghans dubbed it the BM-40, as they believed it had a 40km range.

The BM 9P 140 was mounted on a ZIL-135LM 8×8 chassis, which was also used with the FROG-7, greatly enhancing the launcher’s mobility. The launcher pod comprised an upper layer of four tubes, with two lower layers of six tubes each. Two engines were to the rear, while the unarmoured crew compartment was at the front. When firing, two stabilisers were lowered at the rear and steel shutters raised over the windscreen. A full salvo took just 20 seconds to fire. The launcher had to be traversed to the side and horizontal for reloading, which could take up to 30 minutes.

BM-21 122mm Prima (BM 9A 51) Multiple Rocket System

Like the Smerch, the Prima entered operational service in the late 1980s. It consisted of a 122mm launcher based on a 6×6 Ural-4320 truck chassis and was essentially an updated BM-21. The launcher comprised five layers, each of ten tubes, inside a rectangular box frame. It could fire all the standard BM-21 rockets.

The powerful BM-30 Smerch (‘tornado’) fires twelve 300mm rockets from a modified MAZ-543 truck chassis.

BM-30 300mm Smerch (BM 9A 52) Multiple Rocket System

The twelve-round 300mm Smerch (‘tornado’) multiple rocket system entered service in 1987. Its NATO reporting name was the M1983. The elevating launcher was mounted on a modified 8×8 MAZ-543M cross-country truck chassis. The slightly unusual rocket tube arrangement consisted of two separate banks of four, with four further tubes in a single row over the top. For stability before firing, two stabilisers positioned on either side between the rear two road wheels were lowered. The system could conduct either single round or salvo firing. The launcher was supported by a reload vehicle carrying twelve rockets and a crane. It was designed to destroy enemy artillery, missile and mortar batteries, as well as enemy strongpoints. The minimum range of the rocket was 20km, and its maximum range was 70km. Each brigade had four battalions, each with twelve launchers.

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