Russian forces use guided rockets

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The BM-30 Smerch, recognizable by the distinctive chassis of the MAZ-530M. The Tornado-S is a deep upgrade of this system. (Russian MoD)

Evidence is emerging from the conflict in Ukraine that appears to show Russian forces using guided rockets – the 9M544 and 9M549 – with videos and photographs of the remains of these types appearing on social media.

The 9M544 and 9M549 would be the last guided rockets fired from the Russian Tornado-S system. According to official information, these have a range of 120 km and a circular error probable (CEP) of 5 to 10 m. Images of rocket fragments with guidance and control unit code 9B706 have appeared in areas where the 9K515 Tornado-S Multiple Rocket Launch System (MRL) has been active.

Guided rockets achieved increased range and accuracy over earlier types by fitting the nose module with aerodynamic cruciform rudders and integrating the 9B706 control system with on-board radio-electronic equipment. The 9B706 uses the CH398M Strap-On Inertial Navigation System (SINS), which receives data from angular rate and linear acceleration sensors. This, along with the GLONASS modules (also integrated into the 9B706 Control System Unit), provides a real-time data stream to generate an optimal near-ballistic flight path for the 9M544 and 9M549 rockets.

In addition, the apogee of the rocket is in the upper layers of the stratosphere, which reduces drag and promotes increased range.

The marked increase in accuracy over earlier rocket types – for example, the 9M55K (HE Frag) and 9M528 (HE Frag – delayed parachute) rockets, which have standard electronic time devices and a CEP of 150 m – is mainly due to the combination of the CH938M SINS and GLONASS.

The Tornado-S is a deep upgrade of the BM-30 Smerch MRL system, which it will eventually replace. The BM-30 is a family of 300mm MRLs, designed to provide indirect fires in depth and in support of large combined arms operations. The family is based on a common chassis – a modified MAZ-543M 8 × 8 off-road truck – which provides off-road mobility. It is designed for independent operations and can conduct so-called “shoot and spin” tactics.

Externally, the Tornado-S launcher looks almost identical to the basic BM-30 Smerch 9A52-2, but for a GLONASS receiver mounted on the front left part of the crew compartment. Additionally, beyond this external differentiator, enhanced mission systems include an automated digital fire control system (FCS), which allows the launcher to automatically aim at target coordinates received through the combat management system. The crew can also undertake the fire mission from the cab of the truck, instead of the position at the rear left of the launcher. The external post remains however, and is believed to be a manual backup in case of emergency.

Russia deploys the Tornado-S system, or complex, in brigades of four battalions. A battalion consists of three batteries with four launchers each. Each launcher is accompanied by a 9T234-2 trans load vehicle based on the MAZ-543A 8×8 chassis, which carries 12 rounds and is equipped with a crane.

In addition to the 12 launchers, the Tornado-S battalion includes the battalion and battery 1K 123 Vivary FCS and command and control units (C2), which are housed in a fully enclosed K4310 box mounted on a KamAZ-4310 6 × 6 truck chassis. Each of them has its own generator set and a secure data and radio communications system that will support VHF communications up to 50 km and HF communications up to 350 km. Vivary FCS elements can undertake automated or non-automated command and control of a Smerch-equipped MRL brigade.

The command and staff vehicle (CSV) used by the brigade commander and the brigade staff is also based on the KamAZ-4310 6 × 6. For the conflict in Ukraine, this vehicle has can -be replaced by the unified C2 system MP32M1, based on the KamAZ-43114 three-axle truck chassis equipped with the K4.5350 shelter. All brigade-level CSVs are equipped with GLONASS / NAVSTAR receivers, other elements of the complex include the 1B44 weather station on an unarmored ZIL-131 6 × 6 chassis, the PM-2 maintenance and repair unit -70 MTO-V also mounted on the ZIL-131, and the IT12M-2M surveying vehicle which uses a GAZ-66 4×4 truck chassis.

A lighter version of the Tornado-S launch vehicle, the 9A52-4 (6-round) MRL, is a slim version of the original 9A52 and 9A52-2. Featuring six launch tubes instead of 12, it is mounted on a four-axle 8×8 Kamaz-63501 truck chassis and is designed to be air-transportable and operated with a short crew. This version is believed to be in development and although many media refer to the Tornado-S deployed in Ukraine as the 9A52-4, there is no evidence yet that this variant has been deployed.

In addition to guided rockets, the Tornado-S can fire 9M55K rockets which carry 73 HE frag 9N235 or 9N210 bomblets, the MOTIV-3F top attack rocket 9M55K1 anti-armour parachute, the anti-tank mine lay 9M55K4, the thermobaric fuel the aerial explosive 9M55S and the 9M55K7, which has a high-explosive anti-tank warhead, among others. These rockets also have extended range versions that allow them to engage targets at a distance of 90 km.

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