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MLRS / Lockheed

I recall watching some of the earliest firings of the Army’s Multiple-Launch Rocket System on a test range at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill nearly 30 years ago. The tracked vehicles “ripple fired” multiple rounds 20 miles downrange. It made a lot of noise and came pretty close to its targets, which generally were intended to be tanks and other armor spread out across a battlefield. It was the dirt equivalent of carpeting bombing.

But just as the Air Force was able to make dumb bombs smart by linking GPS guidance systems to moveable tail fins, the MLRS has gone to school as well. Firing a barrage of rockets at a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan might kill the bad guys, but it would kill far more civilians. So MLRS rockets now sport GPS guidance, just like their airborne siblings.

MLRS smart rocket / Lockheed

Each rocket hits within three feet of its aim point. “One round, one kill capability,” is how manufacturer Lockheed Martin puts it. “The 70-kilometer sniper” is what soldiers say. More than 1,500 of the rounds have been fired in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yesterday’s New York Times reported the success the smart rockets are having in Afghanistan:

…residents say that the Taliban have been stunned by fast-paced raids on their leaders and bases. In particular they talk with awe of a powerful new rocket that has been fired from the Kandahar air base into Panjwai and other areas for the last two or three weeks, hitting Taliban compounds with remarkable accuracy.

Of course, as Slate notes this morning, pinpointing those Taliban compounds remains the critical link in the kill chain.