Long relying on large collections of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs) as cheap, effective fire support weapons, the Soviet Army adopted the BM-30 "Smerch" ("Whirlwind") series in 1989 for its long-range, battlefield rocket projection needs. The type was formed from the chassis of the MAZ-543M (or MAZ-79111) series of 8x8 wheeled heavy military trucks and included a forward-set crew compartment (front-left) and a rear-mounted, trainable launcher unit containing twelve 300mm launch tubes. Able to fire rockets containing a variety of warheads (including chemical types), the Smerch saw widespread adoption with Soviet-supported and aligned nations and states from Armenia to Venezuela. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, the vehicles were passed on to successor states while local models has been maintained by the new Russian Army. While its footprint today remains evermore limited compared to its peak worldwide usage period, the vehicle still holds much battlefield value to its operators.
Russia manages a current (2015) stock of over 100 systems though the series has since been superseded on paper by the adoption of the more modern 9A52-4 "Tornado" line (detailed elsewhere on this site).
The Smerch series is a whole weapon system containing several key critical components for effective functioning. BM 9A52-2 is the 8-wheeled launch vehicle making up the heart of the system. It is a unit weighing nearly 44 tons (long) and features a length of 12 meters with a width of 3 meters and a height of 3 meters. It is powered by a single V-12 D12A-525A series diesel-fueled engine developing 525 horsepower located at the vehicle's front-right side. The hull is suspended across all eight vehicles allowing a cross-country capability. Road speeds reach 37 miles per hour with operational ranges out to 530 miles.
The launcher component of the launch vehicle sits over the rear section of the truck and features traverse and elevation controlling which means the vehicle can be parked facing any direction. The launch tubes are arranged in three groups of four tubes each with two groups set across from one another in a 2x2 arrangement. The remaining tubes are arranged in a single row across the top of the other eight - this helps to clear the lift controls and support structure found at the base of the launcher pack. Prior to firing, the vehicle must come to a complete stop and have its recoil legs lowered. The operating cabin for the launcher is featured aft of the driver's compartment and over/between the first and second axles. The Smerch can be made ready-to-fire in three minutes and displace (move to another location) in a little as two. Its twelve rocket payload can clear the launcher unit in 38 seconds while reloading takes approximately 20 minutes.
The TZM 9T234-2 serves as the reload vehicle / ammunition carrier and carries with it twelve 300mm rockets. 1K123 "Vivary" designates the accompanying Command Post (CP) component and the PM-2-70 MTO-V serves as the system's direct maintenance / support vehicle. 9A52 formally designates the BM-30 series and now includes the 9A52-4, a lighter-weight model featured on a KamAZ-6350 series truck with variable launcher packs supported (as such it is made more modular). 9A52-2T designates the export Smerch featuring a Tatra T816 series truck chassis.
Over the life of the BM-30's operational service, several rocket projectiles were developed beyond the standard 9M528 High-Explosive, Fragmentation (HI-FRAG) variant. This has come to include cluster-based munition/mine dispensers (anti-personnel, anti-tank types), HEAT (High-Explosive, Anti-Tank) rockets, and thermobaric (high temperature fuel-air bomb) rockets.
Despite its Cold War origins, the Smerch series was not used in combat until the 2014 during the Syrian Civil War by government forces against rebel groups. That same year, it was featured by Ukrainian government forces in their offensives against Russian-backed rebels in the Ukrainian east. While an unknown number of Syrian Army BM-30s remain in service, the Ukrainian Army was known to possess some near-100 systems at one point. Pakistan locally produces the BM-30 as the A-100E through its Supako Factory of Karachi. Some 36 vehicles have since entered service with the Pakistani Army. Neighboring India is another operator with 42 9A52-2T models in service.