This story was first published on June 17. It has been updated to further clarify information provided by Lockheed Martin. Qatar is authorized to buy HIMARS, but has yet to purchase systems.
PARIS — Lockheed Martin has restarted production lines for its highly mobile artillery rocket launcher and one of the tactical missiles used in the system at a time when the US Army in Europe has no dedicated rocket launchers.
But Lockheed isn't building new Highly-Mobile Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) for the Army. Instead it is waking up a production line put to sleep for a couple of years — following the end of US production for the Army and Marine Corps — to build new launchers for the United Arab Emirates, according to Lockheed's tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems vice president, Frank St. John.
The company also reopened its Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) production line to build more missiles for the US Army and other foreign customers, St. John said Wednesday at Eurosatory, one of the world's largest land warfare conferences.
Lockheed is looking for opportunities with customers abroad either wanting to upgrade HIMARS' predecessor — the M270 — already in the inventory or provide a solution to replace other systems. The company is also planning to upgrade HIMARS with a next-generation fire-control system, increased range and lethality, and more autonomy to name a few planned improvements.
"We think the market that we sold into 20 years ago is renewing itself because of obsolescence and issues on the old launchers as well as issues with the sub-munitions," St. John said, "so lots of opportunity."
Lockheed has talked with the Army about the possibility of the service buying some new HIMARS systems, but it has not decided whether more might be procured down the road.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the Army's commander in Europe, told Defense News in an interview last week in Poland during its national military exercise Anakonda, that "I have zero rocket launchers. I have no [Multiple Rocket Launcher System launch pods], no HIMARS, nothing. The only HIMARS we have is a National Guard unit that came over for the exercise."
Artillery and long-range fires capabilities fell by the wayside while the US Army focused on fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hodges explained, when less emphasis was placed on those capabilities in order to focus on brigades. "I can just tell you the fact that we went down to two brigades, two brigades total in Europe, with no fires brigade because Russia was our partner," he said.
Russia is no longer a partner and a conflict with the country would mean a need for a strong fires capability. But it's an uphill battle getting those requirements in Europe filled, according to Hodges, because convincing Congress to bring over a fires brigade to Europe as the Army shrinks would not be easy.
While the Army may not be buying new HIMARS systems anytime soon, Hodges said his command will be getting a fires brigade worth of equipment to be kept in Army Prepositioned Stock for rotational forces. "That will help address the concern in case of a crisis," he said. He estimates that will be put in place within the next three years.
European countries upgrading their fires capabilities could help to supplement the Army's gap.
Currently no European country has procured HIMARS. Jordan, Singapore and UAE are the foreign customers of that system and Qatar has been authorized to buy the system.
St. John said HIMARS has reached one million operational hours and has maintained 99 percent operational fleet readiness over those hours. Launched from HIMARS are both ATACMS and Guided MLRS (GMLRS) rockets, or Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rockets. Lockheed has produced 3,400 ATACMSs and 25,000 GMLRSs.
The Army has a road map to keep HIMARS in the field until 2050, St. John added.
As Lockheed ventures farther out into the international market space, St. John said, it will offer possible opportunities for increased industrial participation within the customer country. "Things like the command and control of the vehicle is something we can work with local partners. On the radio systems that go in the vehicle, almost every country wants their own indigenous radio system integrated, the support vehicles and even the chassis that the launcher is mounted on, these are all things that could be brought by local industry," he said.
When talking to customers abroad, St. John noted that almost every interested country "wants us to integrate this launcher on their truck system. ... The system is flexible and can be integrated on just about any truck."
Lockheed also announced at the Eurosatory exhibition that it had received a $332 million contract from the Army for the 11th production lot of GMLRS rockets.
The contract will build GMLRS alternative warhead rockets, GMLRS unitary rockets and reduced-range practice rockets for the Army and Marine Corps as well as Israel, Finland, Jordan and Singapore through foreign military sales.
The alternative warhead rocket was designed to comply with cluster munitions policy and the unitary rockets exceed the combat reliability rate, according to Lockheed.
The GMLRS was established as an international cooperation between five countries: the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. The customer base has grown to include Japan, Bahrain, Finland, Israel, Jordan, Singapore and the UAE.
"Within the region of conflict that is in the news, HIMARS has been employed, the munitions have been employed, everyone has noticed the ease of use, the reliability of the system, the effects on target, and so we are getting a lot of interest out of that region in the system," St. John said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.