The Philippine Army and the M142 HIMARS MLRS Acquisition Plan

The Philippine Army aspires to get its own advanced Multiple-Launched Rocket System for its own use, as having such a platform helps augment other artillery units that the organization has in its inventory, whereby a certain type of this system sought success in a conflict that took place in the Eastern part of Europe. 

This aspiration comes as just one of many things that the Armed Forces of the Philippines see into interest as it puts up its Horizon 3 acquisition lineup.

HIMARS, Philippine Army, United States Army, Balikatan 2023, Multiple-Launched Rocket System
A U.S. Army HIMARS unit, being guided by troops into the position as part of the Exercise Balikatan 2023.
Via Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS).

As the recent iterations of the Exercise Balikatan took place recently, so does the ever-increasing sight of the military hardwares deployed by participating United States troops as they take part in the exercise, whereby they showcase the firepower that they possess before an ally like the Philippines, whose capabilities are also increasing no thanks to the ongoing AFP Modernization Program as pushed by the top leadership within the Philippine Military.

Such daily occurrence of live-fire exercise of the U.S. military weaponry gives insight into the capabilities that are to the liking of the Philippine military top brass that are worth considering for the firepower that it needs to take as part of the government's push into external defense, whereby artillery units like a Multiple-Launched Rocket System or MLRS plays a role into this approach, in a manner that is likely equated to the BrahMos shore-based anti-ship missiles of the Philippine Marine Corps or the SPYDER Ground-Based Air Defense System of the Philippine Air Force.

From a speech that took place during the 125th Anniversary Ceremony of the Philippine Army's Artillery Regiment and as reported by Naval News, General Romeo Brawner highlighted the leadership's interest of getting both the HIMARS Multiple-Launched Rocket Systems or MLRS (as depicted on an image above), and India's BrahMos shore-based anti-ship missiles that their Philippine Marine Corps compatriots also have, as these military assets fall under the MLRS and Land-based Missile Systems acquisition projects, respectively.

It also highlights the Army's desire for having its own batteries of ground-based air defense systems, as having such platforms will help the Philippine Army defending its units from aerial threats without relying too much on the Philippine Air Force Ground-Based Air Defense Systems that may probably get deployed somewhere else much more important like a critical government or service infrastructure that serve the people. Also, it has acknowledged the current developments of the Army Artillery Regiment, specifically their 12 units of ATMOS 2000 Self-Propelled Howitzer platforms from Israel.

The report overall provides a full picture of what the Philippine Army envisions itself amidst an ever-changing threat against the national sovereignty and the Philippine society that heavily relies on it, as the government's attention to national security now reflects into legislation, with proposals include amendments on the procurement provision of the current Revised AFP Modernization Program, and the Self Reliance Defense Posture-oriented Philippine Defense Industry Development Act.

The legislation comes alongside the country's shift of focus from internal security to external defense, as the government successfully manages its successes in dealing with matters relating with the former, enabling the leadership within the Armed Forces of the Philippines to shift their focus into the latter, which is now more-concerning as country as aggressive as China exerts its show of risky maneuvers like the recent resupply mission on the BRP Sierra Madre within the West Philippine Sea.

With the looming threat in the country's external defense issues gets growing each day, it is just appropriate to all the branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines trying to get hands on whatever sophisticated military hardware the defense industrial market offers, as these tools came as an essential necessity for the country to secure its national sovereignty, while cooperating with like-minded allies and partners like Japan, Australia, and the United States.

Lockheed Martin, Missiles, American Defense Company, HIMARS, Philippine Army
One of its core businesses that focuses more on missile defense and tactical systems.
Image Source.

When the discussion made here most of the time talks about a US-based defense industry like Lockheed Martin, what comes on the mind first is about the aircraft it produces and usually being fully marketed to a country like the Philippines. This usually includes C-130 of multiple variants and the recent C-130J-30 variant that the Philippine Air Force aims to get, the S-70i Blackhawk Helicopters that this said same military branch gets, and the F-16 Multirole Fighter jets.

But the business line of Lockheed Martin as a company goes beyond just producing military aircraft intended for different air forces from across the globe, subjecting to the export approval imposed by the United States government, but also they also produce multiple variants of missile defense and rocket systems for any interesting armed forces to buy and use. Like the military aircraft sold, these assets also come to this same export approval imposed by the United States government through DSCA arms sale approvals.

It is with this business line that Lockheed Martin produces a wide variety of products to use, such as the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System or ATCMS, a conventional surface-to-surface weapons system that is capable to eliminate targets like radar sites, logistics sites, command-and-control complexes, and helicopter forward operating bases. The said weapon system played a significant role during the Operation Desert Storm in 1991, used in violence against Iraqi military positions.

One thing to highlight in the wide array of products that Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control division is their involvement in the SPIKE-NLOS missile development, as they teamed with an Israeli Defense Firm, Rafael Advanced Systems, Ltd. to make the concept regarding the missile's design a reality. Case in note, the Philippine Navy possesses such type of munition as it comes as a package suite for both the Leonardo AW-159 Antisubmarine Helicopters and the Nestor Acero-class Fast Attack Interdiction Crafts-Missile vessels, itself a derivative of the Shaldag Mk. V fast attack craft.

Another thing to highlight in the product line of the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Division is their involvement in the development and production of the world-renowned Javelin anti-tank missile system that the United States forces showcased and live-fired with Philippine troops during the conduct of Exercise Balikatan 2023 that took place earlier in April 2023. The Philippine Army is actually considering into having such type of systems in its inventory, seeing its success in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.

Of course, things will not be complete without the main topic of this discussion, which is in relation to the development of the HIMARS or the high-mobility artillery rocket system, as what it stands for, as this is one of many products that the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Division has invested time and resources regarding its development, making it one of many successful military systems in-use today.

As one of the renowned United States-based military and defense industry is the one behind this successful military system that is widely employed within the United States Armed Forces and other militaries across the globe such as Poland, Romania, and Ukraine, its success can get more understandable as we will take deeper down into its development history.

HIMARS, Philippine Army, United States Marine Corps, Palawan, Puerto Princesa City
Two units of HIMARS Multiple-Launched Rocket System in position after being unloaded in an airbase in Palawan. 
Retrieved via Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

Like any other inventions and weapons system functions, a military equipment will not be as a successful one as it is today without understanding further the rationale or the purpose on why such a weapons system like the HIMARS gets developed and became one of the mainstay artillery platforms of the United States Armed Forces of today, and is in inventories of varying armed forces of different countries that has mentioned.

The HIMARS system we know today started in a development in 1996 by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, in which multiple tests and trials have made to perfect the design according to the specifications set by the United States Armed Forces during the period under the advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) program. While the development took place in the 1990s, its concept actually traces back a decade prior, by the leadership within the United States Army.

The concept that what is now became the HIMARS system being employed in the United States Armed Forces started in the 1980s, as the army needs a lightweight multiple-launch rocket system or MLRS for its needs. Even before the first successful HIMARS test took place in 1996, a mockup design of the HIMARS first fabricated in 1991 by utilizing a 5-ton Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles truck chassis, a design framework still in use today.

After the successful test, four prototypes were designed and presented before the United States Army unit, specifically the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Field Artillery Brigade of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It is also in this same year, in 1998, that one of the prototype launchers successfully fires its munitions while showing its full flexibility and feasibility by getting itself fitted inside a C-130 military transporter, showing its advantage of being a fully portable rocket artillery platform.

Since the successful tests that have made on the newly developed HIMARS Multiple-Launch Rocket System during that period, Lockheed Martin has awarded by the United States Army to start a ‘Low-Rate Initial Production’ of this new artillery system in 2003, whereby the said military service branch bought at least 89 launcher units for this system, while the United States Marine Corps bought at least four (4) launcher units where they began integrating it into their training exercises two years later.

It was with its introduction to the United States Armed Forces that the HIMARS Multiple-Launch Rocket System that we know today becomes a mainstay platform for its troops, having the capability of delivering such immense firepower that is now showcasing its worth in the battlegrounds that currently taking place in the Eastern parts of Europe, especially in Ukraine.

As this type of multiple-launch rocket system serving actively in a long time within the United States Armed Forces since its inception in the 1990s, it is better to highlight the operational actions that the HIMARS launchers participated recently, especially in discussing it deeper in detail like its recent live fire launches in the Philippines during bilateral exercises that prompt the Philippine Army into considering it for their own use.

HIMARS, Philippine Army, United States Army, Balikatan Exercises 2023
A HIMARS Launcher with its munition took off during a live fire exercise during Exercise Balikatan 2023.
Image taken by Sergeant Samuel Fletcher of the United States Marine Corps.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS as it is called, always comes with ways that will showcase its firepower capabilities, as it is in its design to saturate enemy targets with continuous bombardments of rocket artillery, while attaining its flexibility and mobility that stands to its abbreviation. The system’s show of immense firepower capabilities comes in at least two (2) instances that are about to be discussed in this article, with one being a bilateral exercise, while the other being an actual combat.

The first one comes with the multiple bilateral exercises that the United States Armed Forces have with their counterparts within the Armed Forces of the Philippines, such as the annually conducted Balikatan Exercises (see image above) and the recently conducted Marine Aviation Support Activity Exercises or MASA 23, whereby the former showcases its capability of mobility by getting it onboard a military such as a C-130 Cargo Aircraft that the Philippine Air Force currently have in its inventory and has plans to get more.

To take some notes, the HIMARS Launchers deployed by the United States Military in the 2023 Balikatan Exercise took part in the Sinking Exercises, in which it also involves the Philippine Army’s ATMOS 2000 Self-Propelled Howitzer Guns, a Jose Rizal-class Frigate, and both aircraft from the Philippine Air Force and and the United States Marine Corps, as they sank a decommissioned World War 2-era vessel. The said vessel, once known as the BRP Pangasinan, was a Miguel Malvar-class Patrol Corvette that once served in the United States Navy as the PCE-891 Patrol Craft.

It is through the first-ever Sinking Exercises that both the United States Military, and counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines conducted, that the former used its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers as a platform for anti-ship operations. This comes as there are other platforms that are far more effective in sinking a target enemy warship outright, such as the BrahMos coastal missile systems sought by both the Philippine Army and the Philippine Marine Corps (the latter actually bought them), and the SSM-700K C-Star anti-ship missiles found aboard the Jose Rizal-class Frigates and soon, the HDC-3100 Corvettes.

While the HIMARS Launchers are less effective in targeting and sinking ships during the conduct of the Balikatan Exercises, its capabilities came into its full function when used by defenders in the conflict that currently taking place in the Eastern part of Europe in the area that borders Russia, whereby the launchers and the munitions that came with it provided significant gains to the Ukrainian defenders in targeting enemy positions as part of its ongoing war effort and the defense of their country.

Being a game changing platform amidst the ongoing conflict that takes place in Eastern Europe, plus the presentation of its firepower before the Philippine government and military officials during the Exercise Balikatan 2023, gives that push that convinces the leadership to consider the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) for its use, although this setup may also come alongside other rocket artillery options that the Philippine Army considers like the K239 Chunmoo and Elbit PULS (Lynx) systems.

As the leadership within the Philippine Army considering and possibly even pushing the acquisition of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS for its own use as part of the government’s push for investing into external defense, let us discuss the specifications that came with this rocket system that the United States Armed Forces uses, comparing to other assets that this service branch once opted for like the K-136 Kooryong Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

HIMARS, United States Marine Corps, Philippine Army
A HIMARS Launcher disembark from a C-130J Military Cargo Aircraft, showcasing its capability of getting in an aircraft for deployment. 
Image Source.

As the Philippine Army opts to have more modern Multiple-Launch Rocket System or MLRS into its own hands aside from having both its towed artillery and the ATMOS 2000 Self-Propelled Howitzer platforms that it currently possess, the understanding of HIMARS’ specifications also comes as the mentioned service branch considered other platforms like the K-136 Kooryong MLRS from South Korea before getting to this point of considering the HIMARS as a preferred platform.

Speaking of comparing the K-136 Kooryong and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), it is clear from here that the latter comes with more modern subcomponents onboard and better firepower capabilities compared to the former, as the HIMARS came from development into its first production in the early 2000s as compared to the South Korean MLRS platform that have served their military since the 1980s and may eventually get replaced by far more modern platforms like the K239 Chunmoo.

Regarding its specifications in-detail, the HIMARS Launcher truck alone weighs at around 10,886 kilograms or 10.88 tons, with its maximum road speed of around 85 kilometers per hour as its engine comes with either a Caterpillar 3115 ATAAC 6.6-liter diesel engine or a Caterpillar C7 engine coupled to a 7-speed automatic Allison 3700SP transmission. The said launcher truck comes usually as a FMTV or a family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, itself being a 6x6 wheeled army truck that served as one of the mainstay cargo vehicles of the United States Military.

The launcher comes with two configurations. First is the usual six (6) canisters that comes on a typical HIMARS Multiple-Launch Rocket System configuration with its munition coming with a rocket weight of 307 kilograms, its warhead being at 120 kilograms, and its caliber being at 227mm with an overall munition weight in six canisters coming at around 2,562 kilograms or 2.56 tons that adds to the weight of the launcher truck if fully loaded. 

The second configuration is that the HIMARS Launchers have the capacity of carrying at least a single MGM-140 ATACMS warhead, as this munition comes with an extra firepower option for a HIMARS user to consider and with the ATACMS missile can get launched in only two launcher options available, with the other platform being the M270 MLRS of the United States Armed Forces.

With the different firing option also comes varying firing ranges that the HIMARS has in offering a potential end-user like the Philippine Army, as the conventional six (6) rockets that came with the launcher has the capacity of 45 kilometers for the ER-MLRS rocket (also used by the M270 MLRS as its primary munition), 70-75 kilometers for a guided rocket system known as the GMLRS produced by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Control, and the 300 kilometer range that comes with the MGM-140 ATACMS system.

Its firepower capability, plus its additional feature of getting delivered by a cargo aircraft like the C-130s that the Philippine Air Force currently has in its fleet and has plans in the future, makes the HIMARS a suitable option that the leadership within the Philippine Army to consider, whilst having an expensive price tag that limits the number of batteries that the organization may get while considering other options such as South Korea’s better option to the K-136 Kooryong it offers, which is the K-239 Chunmoo MLRS.

K239 Chunmoo, Elbit Lynx PULS, Philippine Army, HIMARS
The Philippine Army also checks on other types of MLRS, such as South Korea’s K239 Chunmoo MLRS for its rocket artillery options.
Image Source.

As the government gears itself into external defense, it is at no doubt that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, including the troops in the Philippine Army, are gearing themselves up into this new primary mission provided to the entire military as counterinsurgency threats have gone down and more military hardware under the current Revised AFP Modernization Program are getting considered as tensions in the Indo-Pacific region brews up.

And with this gearing up also involves increasing involvement of the United States Armed Forces and their presence becoming more common with bilateral exercises and additional sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, whereby they are now showcasing their best of military weaponry that the Philippine Armed Forces may consider, with the Philippine Army getting its eyes on the likes of the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or better known as HIMARS.

Both the FGM-148 Javelin and the HIMARS are products of Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control Division, a part of Lockheed Martin company itself that specializes more on missiles and rocket technology that bears fruitful results, especially that both of the systems are actively in-use by Ukrainian defenders. This may count as another pitch of the U.S. based defense industry for the Philippine Armed Forces to consider, coming alongside C-130J Hercules Aircraft, F-16 Multirole Fighter Jets, and the S-70i Sikorsky Blackhawk Helicopters that the Philippine Air Force received.

Its reputable performance both within the United States Armed Forces and outside that actively uses the platform makes it viable for the Philippine Army to consider it alongside India’s BrahMos missile system, whereby this rocket artillery system comes as more modern and more sophisticated than the previously considered K-136 Kooryong Multiple-Launch Rocket System from South Korea, as there is an information that these assets may no longer pursued in favor of the likes of HIMARS and similarly modern MLRS solutions like the Elbit Lynx PULS and the K239 Chunmoo (image above).

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS comes with two options that the end-user may choose to get such capability, one of which being a capability of carrying and launching a single MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System or the ATACMS Ground-to-ground missile munition, sufficient to destroy a ground target at a range of 300 kilometers that the likes of the BrahMos missiles that the Philippine Army also considers is capable of. 

With the BrahMos missiles also being sought by the leadership, the HIMARS systems that the service branch may get will be the conventional one, with six rocket canisters filled with either a GMLRS or a ER-MLRS munitions solution that are both products of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Division and may come as a package alongside the HIMARS Launchers provided, its truck design being a mainstay cargo vehicle within the United States Military..

To sum it up, the Philippine Army’s plan of having HIMARS in its inventory comes as a big boost in its firepower capability shall the plan pushes through, especially that the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines is now gearing itself up to uphold territorial defense and such systems now come as an essential part of that effort of making sure that the country has the minimum credible deterrence it needs. 

(c) 2023 PDA.

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