It is Rocket Science: Q&A with a Lockheed Martin Rocket Launch System Engineer

Fifty thousand of anything is a lot.

After two decades of production, Lockheed Martin delivered the 50,000th Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rocket to the customer on Nov. 24. Known as the “70-kilometer sniper rifle,” GMLRS is an all-weather, precision-guided rocket that increases accuracy, reducing the number of rockets needed to defeat targets.

While the GMLRS program team has adapted to many changes over the years, one thing that has remained the same is the culture. In fact, several of the program’s “founding fathers,” who have since retired, still have lunch with the team where car problems, house maintenance issues and family moments are on the menu for discussion.

Meet Jim Duppstadt. Jim is an engineer in the design group who joined the team in 2007 and one of the many talented people working on the GMLRS program, and he joined us for a few questions about it.

What are some specific memories you have from working on the GMLRS program?

It’s constant problem solving. The team solved many highly technical problems and many more practical problems. One example is the detent system that holds the rocket in the tube for transportation and shipping, even if the truck is speeding and bouncing down a very rough road. But then it must release the rocket as soon as the motor ignites. The rocket thrust is less than the transportation loads, so that was a challenge. And it had to fit inside an existing tube. We had to do quite a bit of work to adapt it, and it was satisfying to meet the technical challenge.

What are some other challenges the GMLRS program had to overcome, and how did you overcome those challenges?

One of our outstanding recent challenges has been ramping up the delivery rate to 10,000 rockets per year, more than three times as many as we were supplying two years ago. This acceleration in deliveries has required significant interaction and cooperation with our internal and external team members to accomplish. Our suppliers have had to add machines and tooling, and our assembly line has had to employ significant ingenuity to adapt to the faster paced environment without compromising the quality of the product.

What does it mean to the program to be able to celebrate 50,000? Why is it so significant?

GMLRS, and its predecessor MLRS, have been in production for about 40 years. In that time there have been many changes to the customer’s needs and desires. The team’s ability to evolve and adapt to these changes to missions and roles have maintained the utility of the GMLRS system and make it something that our customer still wants and needs. The fact that we have delivered 50,000 units is evidence of this longevity and usefulness.

What would you say the culture is like on the GMLRS team?

The program is too big to know everyone, but because we are in our own building, you know that anyone you see has similar goals to your own with respect to accomplishing their job and making GMLRS successful. That means that when you pass a new person in the hallway you already know something important about them. Thus, there are no strangers on the GMLRS team.

When there’s a new person, he or she is assigned a “big brother” or “big sister” to show them around, where the lunchroom is, etc. And there’s also a weekly email roundup asking to send in family photos along with a question of the week. This week’s was, “What food were you forced to eat as a kid and still refuse to eat as an adult?” My answer would be green bean casserole. The Pilgrims did not eat green bean casserole.

What’s your favorite thing about working on the GMLRS program?

The way that all groups and disciplines respect each other and work together. Often the lines between the groups get a little blurred as we all work toward a common goal. Everyone on the program who reads those words will be surprised to hear this because it is second nature, and no one realizes that we do it or tries to cause it. It just happens.