The U.S. Army Hurls Hundreds of Rockets at Islamic State
Artillery quietly enters the fight in Iraq
There are few instances where artillery can be considered a quiet addition to the battlefield. But as it turns out, the U.S. Army has hurled hundreds of rockets at Islamic State militants for months without much public attention.
On Nov. 22, the American-led coalition hit nearly 20 targets across Iraq. An official press release pointed out that Washington and her allies had hit staging areas, fighting positions, car bombs and more with both warplanes and rocket launchers.
“We have fired over 400 HIMARS rounds at ISIL targets, since the middle of summer,” a public affairs officer with the main American task force in Baghdad told War Is Boring in an email. HIMARS stands for the six-wheeled High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher.
In a fight where the definitions of “combat” and “boots on the ground” have become especially nebulous, the appearance of Army artillery is significant change in the character of the campaign. Of course, it is important to note, that despite the Pentagon deciding not to highlight the addition, the deployment hasn’t been a secret either.
“Sometimes these fires come from the air, by the way, and sometimes they come from some of our – from our artillery and our HIMARS systems that we’ve got on the ground here,” Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesperson for the American force fighting Islamic State, told reporters on Oct. 1.
Above – U.S. Army and UAE HIMARS train together in 2013. At top – Army HIMARS during a practice session. U.S. Army photos
The 227-millimeter rockets have enough range to keep the launchers far from the front lines. Carrying a 200-pound high explosive warhead and guided by GPS, the M-31 rocket can hit precise targets up to 43 miles away. Each HIMARS vehicle can shoot up to six rounds in rapid succession before needing to reload.
The trucks can also fire rockets filled with tiny bomblets or a single, larger Army Tactical Missile System missile. The Army is working on new warheads that will shred targets with a cloud of shrapnel.
In Iraq, the rockets’ accurate nature and ability to fall straight down onto a single target have been especially important. The round “strikes a target with pinpoint accuracy with minimal potential for collateral damage as it impacts a target at a 90-degree angle and has a relatively small blast radius for the effect achieved,” the public affairs official noted.
The Army designed the rockets in the 1970s to wipe out armor formations with a hail of small anti-tank grenades. Batteries of heavy, tracked Multiple Launch Rocket Systems would help stem any Soviet invasion into Germany.
Despite a good showing during the first Gulf War in 1991, the Army realized there was a need for greater precision and mobility. Using components from the M-2 Bradley armored vehicle, the M-270 launchers weigh more than 27 tons.
But at almost half the weight and with smaller overall dimensions, the HIMARS can fit into the ubiquitous C-130 transport aircraft. The launchers can go anywhere those four engine planes can land.
Since the first HIMARS entered since in 2005, the Army – and Marines – have made good use of these features in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For at least eight years, HIMARS crews worked closely with American commandos in remote areas of Afghanistan, according to a report by the Washington Post.
In May, specialized Air Force MC-130 transports practiced dropping off HIMARS launchers during a major training event – seen in the video above. Dubbed Emerald Warrior, the annual exercise focuses on scenarios involving American and foreign troops fighting insurgents and supporting local forces.
It is entirely possible that the Army artillerists are again working with special operators in Iraq. The troops have no doubt taken lessons from these previous deployments and practice sessions.
And some of the soldiers likely had experience in the region before deploying to Iraq. While we don’t know the specific unit, the public affairs officer said the troops came from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The 1st Battalion, 14th Artillery is the only active duty HIMARS contingent at the post.
Two years ago, troops from the battalion traveled to the United Arab Emirates to work with that country’s HIMARS units. In May, soldiers went to Kuwait to work with their rocket artillerymen as part of a regional counter-terrorism mission dubbed Operation Spartan Shield.
And with hundreds of rockets fired at Islamic State in the past five months or so, it’s safe to assume that the vehicles will continue to be an important, if oddly quiet part of the Pentagon’s battle plan.