US Department of State approves M142 HIMARS sale to Italy

Paolo Valpolini

In a move to improve its indirect fire capabilities Italy requested the US DoS the sale under the FMS scheme of a number of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launchers, the request having now been approved

On December 15, 2023 the US State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Italy of M142 HIMARS launchers and related equipment for an estimated cost of $400 million.

Currently the Italian Army operates an MLRS unit, the 5th “Superga” Artillery Regiment, located in north-eastern Italy, which operates as indirect fire support of the NATO Rapid Deployment Corps – Italy (NRDC-ITA), based in north-western Italy. The Italian Army organisation sees two divisional headquarters, the “Vittorio Veneto” based in Florence and the “Acqui” headquartered in Capua, north of Naples. These HQs do not have assigned forces but would receive their subordinate units on a task-based configuration, and are able to deploy as NATO, European Union or National HQ at their level as land component command or joint command in small joint operations as well as in full spectrum operations.

The aim of the Army with the acquisition of a HIMARS battalion is to be able to provide one of the divisions with a long range indirect fire support capability. According to the latest information the plan is to reorganise the 5th Regiment that will have two subordinate units, an MLRS battalion and a HIMARS battalion. This co-location will allow savings in terms of training and peacetime logistic footprint. When called to operate, ideally the tracked systems would be deployed at Corps level and wheeled ones at Division level, however operational considerations might well lead to the deployment of mixed formations. Another key fact is that the HIMARS can be easily deployed by air using the Italian Air Force C-130J transport aircraft, allowing what the US Army defines as HI-RAIN, for HIMARS Rapid Infiltration, in a contingency area of operations.

As for munitions, currently Italy operates the G-MLRS rocket, with a 70 km range, however it is acquiring G-MLRS ER, the extended range version that can attain targets at 150 km range, a 300 km range munition being also part of future acquisitions.

According to the US DoS document, the Italian request includes the provision of 21 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and one M31A2 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System Unitary (GMLRS-U) High Explosive (HE) Pods with Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System (IMPS). A package including support equipment including radios and other C2 and training devices is also part of the deal.

On 28 April 2023 the US DoD awarded Lockheed Martin a contract worth US$ 194,121,470 for the recapitalisation of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems into the M270A2 configuration, work to be completed by September 2027; this included the upgrade of British Army systems as well as of 21 Italian Army M270 tracked launchers. The upgrade includes the adoption of a new and more powerful 600 hp engine, but the key element is the adoption of the new Common Fire Control System, CFCS in short, which is the same in use on the M142 HIMARS and allows the firing of G-MLRS ER munitions as well as of Precision Strike Missiles, or PrSM. The latter is Lockheed Martin’s next generation long-range precision-strike missile that aims replacing the in-service MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), increasing the MLRS/HIMARS range from 300 to 500 km. In fact the 500 km limit was imposed by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987 by the United States and then Soviet Union. In 2019 both the US and Russia denounced that treaty, which is therefore not in force anymore, leaving the clearance for a further increase of the PrSM range. Each MLRS/HIMARS munition pod can host two PrSMs.

With the upgrade of its tracked launchers and the acquisition of the HIMARS the Italian Army will be in a position to eventually adopt also the longer range missile, considerably increasing its long fire capabilities.

File photo courtesy US DoD