Why It’s Hard to Double GMLRS Production
Ukraine could use more of the devastating artillery rockets, but Lockheed says tooling, labor, and supply-chain problems prevent big leaps in production.
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama—Ukraine has eagerly used the heavy artillery rockets known as GMLRS, and it’s not alone in wanting the weapon stocked in national arsenals. But Lockheed Martin can’t make the long-range precision munitions any faster until it gets more machine tools, skilled labor, and parts, a company representative said this week.
Lockheed is currently at its full annual production capacity of 10,000 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, rockets, said Becky Withrow, Lockheed’s director of business development for tactical missiles in an interview Tuesday during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium.
The company is adding tooling and testing machines so that it can make 14,000 of the rockets in 2024, Withrow said. But doubling annual production would likely take two or more years, she said.
She said the biggest stumbling block is the availability of machine tooling and testing equipment. It’s also hard to find workers for the production lines, many of which are located far from population centers, she said. The company is only running one shift producing the missiles, Withrow said, but it has the capacity to temporarily do a second shift.
Finally, there are supply-chain problems, Withrow said. Certain components for GMLRS rockets are also needed for other missiles; she noted that there are only two rocket-motor manufacturers in the United States. She also said that one GMLRS subcontractor also makes components for another in-demand missile—the anti-tank Javelin—and increasing production for one would mean taking workers away from the other.
The U.S. Army is buying 5,910 GMLRS munitions in 2023, and has requested authority from Congress to buy a further 5,016 rockets in 2024. The service is pursuing authorization for multi-year buys of the missiles, Director of Army Budget Maj. Gen. Mark Bennett told reporters on March 16, echoing comments by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. Such purchases save money and spur industry to boost production, Bill LaPlante, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, has said.
International interest is also high, Withrow said, particularly in countries near Russia who’ve seen the weapon’s effectiveness in Ukraine. In November, the State Department approved Finland’s request to buy $535 million worth of GMLRS and related equipment. In February, State approved Poland’s request to buy $10 billion worth of GMLRs, GMLRS launchers, and related equipment.
Ukraine has used the U.S-supplied missile to devastating effect against Russian forces. Fired by MLRS launchers and HIMARS self-propelled launchers, the missiles have been particularly useful against Russian ammunition dumps and supply lines, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in September. Without GMLRS, Ukraine’s casualties would be “significantly greater,” a report by the Royal United Services Institute think tank saidstated.
The missiles can fly 70 kilometers or more to put a 200-pound warhead within a few meters of their target.