The US Department of Defense (Dod) has awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin for the development of a new Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) variant with an alternative warhead (AW).

Under the three year $79.4m engineering and manufacturing development programme contract, the company will refine the developmental system into a producible product and perform type qualification necessary for introducing the new warhead into service.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control business precision fires vice president Scott Arnold said the company is looking forward to work on AW programme and provide soldiers and marines with a precision-engagement capability that meets their evolving requirements.

"GMLRS has been a trusted weapon of choice in current combat operations in Afghanistan, and continues to exceed operational-readiness requirements," Arnold added.

The new AW will function as a drop-in replacement for the currently fielded dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) warhead to eliminate the use of sub-munitions on the battlefield.

The warhead is expected to be deployed in early 2016, followed by initial operational capability in December 2016.

The army has also selected Alliant Tech Systems (Atk) to develop an alternative GMLRS warhead following a live fire testing in February 2012.

During the testing, the warhead met performance and mission requirements and also demonstrated its ability to lower technical risk as well as compatibility with current weapon flight characteristics without modifications to the existing GMLRS system.

GMLRS is an all-weather, precision-strike artillery rocket capable of providing the warfighter with increased manoeuvrability, and can be fired from the MLRS M270 and M270A1 launchers as well as the high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) launcher.

Designed for use against both personnel and vehicles, the system can effectively engage moving ground targets with high explosive (HE) grenades.