PARIS — Lockheed Martin and Rheinmetall are partnering to offer a European-made rocket launcher based on Lockheed’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) system to Germany and its neighbors.
The GMARS system is envisioned as a wheeled artillery system replacing Berlin’s aging MARS 2 multiple launch rocket systems, Howard Bromberg, vice president and deputy for strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin’s air and missile defense business line, said June 21 in an exclusive interview with Defense News. The weapon would integrate a Rheinmetall chassis and a Lockheed Martin loader component, he explained.
The ongoing war in Ukraine against Russian forces has demonstrated the demand for new rocket artillery on the continent, he said at the Paris Air Show outside of the city. “Everybody is discussing what their future rocket artillery requirements are.”
Germany specifically has been in discussions with Rheinmetall and Lockheed Martin to find a replacement for its MARS 2 systems, a portion of which has been donated to Ukraine over the past year, and the rest of which are quickly aging. A memorandum of understanding between the two companies was signed in April.
“They want to backfill those [donated systems] quickly, and then move on to a modernized rocket artillery force,” Bromberg said.
As of June 21, Germany has provided five MARS 2 rocket launchers with associated ammunition to Ukraine, according to documents published by the Ministry of Defense.
Thirty-four systems remain in the Bundeswehr’s current inventory, a department spokesperson told Defense News in a June 22 email. However, the spokesperson could not comment upon the operational readiness of the rocket launchers.
“Preparations for the replacement are underway,” the spokesperson said.
The GMARS solution proposed by the two companies – with the G denoting Germany – would be similar to HIMARS, but with a much larger chassis, provided by Rheinmetall, and a double loadout capability with two rocket pods instead of one, Bromberg said.
The chassis would be based on Rheinmetall’s protected, off-the-shelf HX 8x8 to maximize both parts’ commonality and interoperability with the existing, and growing, HX fleet, a Rheinmetall spokesperson said in a June 23 email. It would be built in Vienna and measure about 12 meters long, although the dimensions are still being finalized, they said. A HIMARS truck measures about 7 meters long.
Lockheed’s launcher-loader component would then be integrated onto the back of the truck, with overall integration efforts taking place in Germany.
“It’ll be our entrée into the European market with a European-produced version of rocket artillery … that can be offered throughout Europe,” Bromberg said.
Some components of the system would have to be procured from the United States through so-called combined foreign military sales and direct commercial sales, he noted. The Rheinmetall truck would be procured via direct commercial sale, he added.
The industry pair is also in conversation with German weapons maker Diehl for additional elements to be made locally, per Bromberg. “We’re in industry discussions right now about what can be produced or assembled in Europe, in terms of rockets,” he said.
Rheinmetall is interested in providing rocket motors, “which is a very viable option,” Bromberg said. Meanwhile, Diehl could provide some of the warheads along with Lockheed components. Those discussions haven’t ended yet, but Lockheed and Diehl are “well on our way to establishing what that relation is,” he noted.
Once under contract, the initial five GMARS systems could be delivered for testing and acceptance as early as 2025. “Then, if the Germans wanted to have additional capability in the interim, they could request from the U.S. government to buy straight HIMARS, and then use that for a stopgap,” Bromberg said.
Rheinmetall could have the chassis ready for integration within months of a contract signature, the company spokesperson said.
Should Germany choose to support its production, GMARS will feature about 80 percent commonality with the HIMARS munitions packages and logistics chain, Bromberg noted. It will require three personnel to operate, the same as HIMARS.
“We know that our HIMARS munitions will fire off anything GMARS that we do with Rheinmetall,” Bromberg said. “We know Germany has already been approved to fire these rockets on their older systems. So this will be a natural transition, as we present a new launcher to fire our munitions.”
Either weapon could prove more appealing to different countries based on their armed forces’ needs – the HIMARS is C-130 transportable and is sized to operate on very small roads and capable of traversing bridges with weight restrictions. Meanwhile, other nations might prioritize the double rocket load of the GMARS. “It’s a personal desire, based upon what you think your threats are and how you want to operate,” said Bromberg.
European nations including France and Germany currently operate variants of the M270 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), a tracked vehicle which has also been used by Ukraine over the past year. But now, many operators are interested in a wheeled artillery system, Bromberg said.
A raft of these nations and other allies have either procured or expressed interest in buying Lockheed’s HIMARS system as a result. Poland was recently approved to receive up to 18 new HIMARS systems along with other equipment in a joint $10 billion FMS sale, and Warsaw expressed a desire to procure up to 500 launchers for more than 80 batteries.
Meanwhile, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have all inked a deal for HIMARS with Lockheed Martin in the past seven months, while Romania became the first European HIMARS customer when it signed a contract in 2018 for 54 launchers.
Correction: This story was updated to correct a list of countries that have recently opted for HIMARS. The Netherlands was approved by Washington for a sale, but ended up buying from Israel’s Elbit so far.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.