180614 img topSome Details about the New Ukrainian Vilkha Precision-Guided MLRS Munition

 

On April 25, 2018, the new Ukrainian Vilkha Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) – a fully domestic technology designed and built for Ukraine’s armed services under the Government Defense Procurement Contract -- was successfully test-fired at a test and training facility outside Kherson, southern Ukraine. The Vilkha hit all its designated targets and thus reached another major milestone of its official trials and qualification program.

 

A promising result

 

The test launches, watched by a large audience of Ukrainian government officials and defense attaches of foreign embassies, were conducted to the 54 km range permitted by the boundaries of the testing range and target areas. The Vilkha MLRS rocket can reach a maximum range of 70 km, as evidenced by successful test launches conducted from other locations.

 

With the successful completion of the field test firing phase of the government trials and qualification program for the Vilkha, "the task set to the domestic defense industries and R&D institutions has been by and large fulfilled", as stated by a high ranking government official. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who attended the event, said that the long-anticipated precision missile attack capability provided by the Vilkha would improve significantly the operational effectiveness of Ukraine’s Military.

 

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The Vilkha MLRS is effectively a new system offering high-precision attack capability, which uses munitions similar in size and caliber to the Smerch MLRS.

 

The Vilkha MLRS Project is a collaboration of about a dozen and a half domestic companies who have contributed herein their proprietary technology solutions. First of all, this is the State Enterprise SE KB Luch R&D Company – prime contractor of the Project. Other key participants are the Pavlohrad Chemical Plant who developed and produced a new rocket propellant; the Artem Holding Company who is responsible for production of the rocket airframe; and the Orizon Navigation, who is responsible for the GNSS navigation equipment.

 

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As said by Oleh Korostelev, CEO and Designer General at SE KB Luch, “We have created a new precision attack weapon that is so far capable of the same ranges of 20 to 70 km as the Smerch MLRS, and we have launched a production line for the new rocket, all on our own, as we are now doing everything on our own. We are responsible for the rocket engine frame and nozzle system, tail group, warhead, fuse safety and arming device, guidance system, GNSS receiver, jet vanes, and fusers".

 

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Precise attack capability

 

The Vilkha, when compared to the Soviet-designed Smerch MLRS technology, is by an order of magnitude more precise, President Poroshenko has claimed. “Let me give you just one figure: the Vilkha rocket is 10-fold more accurate and, accordingly, 10-fold more effective than the legacy MLRS weapons that the Soviet Union used," Poroshenko said immediately after completion of the test launch session.

 

The Vilkha munition can deliver its warhead to a range of 70 km with a CEP of 30 m or less, and can achieve accuracies that approach zero meter CEP, as evidenced on many occasions by the results of earlier test launches.

 

How has this been achieved? The method of guidance used for MLRS rockets suggests that a rocket-propelled munition or a rocket should be put on a stabilized course at the initial phase of its flight, but trajectory corrections might be required at the terminal phase of flight. This is typically done with a pulse engine, which is needed to bring the rocket on the desired course while it is still boosting. The 8-m long rocket leaves the launcher tube at a speed as low as 30 m/s, which effectively precludes the possibility of aerodynamic guidance. This is where only jet force of a pulse engine can make the rocket keep on the desired path. After leaving the launcher tube, the rocket has its trajectory stabilized by means of 90 tiny expendable pulsejet motors arranged in several spiral lines around the guidance and control unit. Each pulse occurs in a millisecond, while a processor would do the calculations needed to control the orientation of the rocket while in flight.

 

The rocket is free flying unguided while in mid-course, and flight path control is again taken over by Vilkha’s guidance and control system in the terminal phase of flight. Once the rocket begins to descend, fore-body canards are extended. These are controlled by the rocket’s guidance system using inputs from GPS and installed inertial navigation sensors. Here the guidance function is performed using the conventional proportional guidance technique. The munition needs to be guided until impact.

 

Apart from its high accuracy, the Vilkha is advantageous over the Smerch MLRS in that, in the terminal phase of flight, multiple Vilkha rockets launched in a single salvo can be dispersed and guided independently of each other and toward different targets. Each rocket would defeat its designated target of known location preloaded into its “brain”. That's what makes it high-precision and “smart” to a degree. Twelve rockets launched simultaneously at a certain common angle would disperse within a ~1.5 km radius. The rockets can be fired individually or in ripples of two to 12. So, it can be argued that the Vilkha is a highly effective precision tactical weapon that could be useful in multiple combat scenarios.

 

Designed with a shoot-and-scoot capability, the Vilkha system would take 30 minutes to go from transport to ready-to-fire configuration, loading/re-loading included, and it can be transported when fully loaded (but reloading would typically take place a few kilometers away from the firing position to avoid counter-battery fire). The GPS and targeting data downloading operations would be performed while at the firing position.

 

An innovative solution proposed by Luch is to introduce an automatic launch system allowing a significantly shorter time for inputting target-specific ballistic and targeting data into each rocket and for pre-launch preparations.

 

The aiming in azimuth and elevation has been made much easier as well. The operator would aim and elevate launcher tubes using guidance displayed on a small, rugged screen. This eliminates the need for target bearing and similar weapon sighting techniques employed by the Smerch (although these are reserved as a back-up sighting option).

 

Reduced time of stay at a firing position enabled by the introduction of an automatic launch capability would improve the system’s survivability. A full salvo of 12 rockets takes 48 seconds, and the stowing time is 3-4 minutes.

 

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The Vilkha MLR weighs ~800 kg, of which ~500 kg consists of engine, ~250 kg of warhead, and ~70 kg of guidance and control kit. It is able to fly at 3.4M speed at the terminal phase of flight.

 

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Perspectives

 

The official trials and qualification program for the Vilkha MLRS is due for completion on July 30, with Approval for Service Use expected in August 2018.

 

Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister, General Ihor Pavlovsky stated that timely and due delivery of the Vilkha MLRS is of extremely high importance to the Ukrainian Military, as this would allow it to pursue two parallel approaches to technical modernization its Missile forces through the fielding of the newly developed Vilkha MLR systems on the one hand, and on the other, the upgrading of the already operational MLRS Smerch with new Vilkha guidance and control kits in order to achieve significant improvements in terms of the accuracy of guidance and terminal effectiveness.

 

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A new, modified version of the Vilkha rocket has been developed and will soon be ready to perform test launches to a range of 120 km. This longer-range capability has been achieved through reducing the weight of the warhead from 250 to 170 kg, matched with a higher engine thrust, without compromising the accuracy performance achieved in the 250-kg warhead original. The improved rocket will be able to reach low drag altitude around 30-40 km, allowing longer ranges to be achieved.

 

Besides, the Government requires that the currently used wheeled MLRS vehicles of non-Ukrainian origin be replaced with domestically manufactured platforms, and the same applies to the 300 mm launcher tubes for Vilkha rockets.

 

The high-precision Vilkha MLRS has been designed to possess a significant export potential, and this explains why a most spectacular test launch session was made open for attendance by the defense attaches from a number of foreign embassies.

 

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Regarding the State-owned Ukroboronprom defense industries holding company and the Ministry of Defense, the Vilkha is a good example of their ability to produce a new, high-tech weapon technology within an extremely tight timeframe. Only two years passed between first launches of full-size mock-up rockets in March 2016 and test salvo launches in April 2018. This is a great achievement indeed, given the complexity of the technological challenges being addressed. So it is urgent now that the high-precision Vilkha tactical MLRS, after it succeeds through the government trials and qualification process, be immediately put into full-rate production, because it is going to become a key component to Ukraine’s future enhanced “missile shield and sword” capability.

 

Serhiy ZGHURETS,

Defense Express

 

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Translation

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