Saturday 13 November 2021

The MRL From Hell: Armenia’s Land Mattress

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 
Relatively little is known about Armenia's weapon industry since its inception in the mid-1990s. Despite the unveiling of several promising projects in the decades since, most of its designs were destined to never leave the drawing board or progress beyond prototype status due to a lack of funding and interest from the Armenian Army. Nonetheless, a number of designs that did ultimately see the light of day serve as a reminder that such an industry survives to some degree.

One such design is a tracked multiple rocket launcher (MRL) that by the virtue of its brazen appearance could have come straight out of a Mad Max movie. This imposing system is believed to have been designed to literally clear areas of anything that might hinder the advance of friendly ground forces, for which its 27 rocket tubes can be used with great effect. In this role, it relies on its large number of rockets and their heavy warhead to blanket cover entire areas rather than using accuracy or any type of advanced guidance.
Unfortunately very little is known regarding the service history of the system, the munitions it uses and the numbers ultimately produced by Armenia's defence industry. However, it is likely that both the launching system and the rocket type it uses are relatively basic in their design. The rockets themselves are likely around 200mm in diameter, fitted with a conventional warhead and capable of being effectively used to a range of several kilometres. Of course, a longer range is possible but would do much to further decrease the accuracy of the rockets.

Although one might be quick in drawing a comparison with this system and the Russian TOS-1(A) flamethrower MRL, the MRLs are in an different class entirely. Most notably, the TOS-1 fires thermobaric rockets while those of the Armenian system are likely fitted with a conventional warhead and are relatively DIY in their construction. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan employed the TOS-1(A) during the Nagorno-Karabakh War to great effect, with Armenia confirmed to have lost one example while Azerbaijan is reported to have lost several more (none of which can be confirmed through visual identification). [1]
The successful completion of this land mattress project required more than just the design and production of the rockets however. One of the challenges was to find a large enough carrier vehicle on which the 27 rocket tubes could be (safely) installed. Armenian engineers appear to have found their solution in the GM-123 chassis, a number of which were available for conversion after the decommissioning of most of the country's 2K11 Krug (NATO designation: SA-4 'Krug') surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. By removing the 2K11's huge 9M8 missiles, plenty of space became available for the installation of the rocket launcher pod. It appears that the erector mechanism of the Krug was retained. Of course, originally being designed to launch missiles almost vertically into the air, its elevation reach was certainly high enough for use as an MRL system as well.

A decommissioned 2K11 Krug on the outskirts of Stepanakert.

Interestingly, several 2K11 Krug SAM systems soldiered on long enough to take part in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. However, much like the 2K12 Kub also still officially in active service at the time, the 2K11 essentially played the role of object of abuse for target practice for the duration of the war. Although Armenia still maintained at least two sites of these aging systems, no attempt was made to put any of the systems to use during the war, which didn't stop Azerbaijan from striking a single 2K11 launcher and one associated 1S32 'Pat Hand' radar system however. [1]

With roughly half of its inventory of heavy weaponry lost during the Nagorno-Karbakh War, the Armenian military will likely call on its indigenous military industry for the reestablishment of at least some of its previous capabilities as well as the introduction of some direly needed novel capabilities such as loitering munitions. That said, having lost control over much of Nagorno-Karabakh, the very reason for operating a large standing army was lost along with it. Still, the sighting of a new type of light MRL design in June 2021 shows that new projects are certainly being undertaken. [2] The new light MRL project and others to follow are likely set to make a bigger impact than their predecessor covered here, yet the legacy of these systems will continue as one of the first serious attempts at designing an indigenous MRL.