Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) in Ukraine
The M142 HIMARS system allows for the launching of multiple, precision-guided rockets. Already, the U.S. had provided eight of the systems to Ukraine and on 08 July 2022 promised to send an additional four, for a total of 12 of the systems. On 06 June 2022, the British Defense Ministry announced that it would provide Ukraine with three long-range M270 MLRS systems. On 15 June 2022, Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht announced that Germany would transfer three M270 Mittleres Artillerie Raketen System (MARS) launchers and GMLRS ammunition from Bundeswehr stocks. "Russia doesn't get a veto over what we send to the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians didn't start this war, the Russians did. The Ukrainians didn't provoke this war. This war was unprovoked. The Russians can end this conflict anytime they want. If they are wary of escalation, all it takes is one man to say stop.... The Russians engaged in this further invasion of Ukraine completely unprovoked based on a set of fabricated, largely fabricated grievances against the Ukrainians, and a denial that Ukraine even deserves to exist. So, the onus is on Russia to de-escalate. They can de-escalate anytime they want. " Dr. Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, stated 01 June 2022.
On 31 May 2022 President Biden directed the drawdown of an additional $700 million in weapons and equipment from the Department of Defense Inventories. The capabilities in this package include High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS, and guided munitions with a range of up to 70 kilometers, five counter artillery radars and variioous other spare parts and equipment. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System responds to Ukraine's top priority ask. This system will provide Ukraine with additional precision in targeting at range. These are precision guided systems with extended range.
The HIMARS, and the guided munitions that go along with them will allow Ukraine to range any target they need for that fight inside Ukrainian territory. The Ukrainians have given assurances that they will use this system for defensive purposes only.
In anticipation of this potential decision by President Biden, the Department of Defense pre-positioned the HIMARS systems in Europe to ensure that they can be rapidly delivered to the Ukrainians. And put in place a plan so that the US could start training Ukrainian forces immediately, while ensuring they learn how to operate the system safely and effectively as well as to maintain the system.
The initial tranche of HIMARS Systems was four. There was three weeks at least of training. This initial tranche allowed for training familiarization, start to get the systems in the fight. It also provided information too and the Ukrainians too about how useful they are and how they're being used on the battlefield. That'll give an assessment and then an assessment about what additional systems or capabilities they might need. The US will be in a position to rapidly surge additional munitions as appropriate in the battlefield evolves.
Lighter and easier to deploy than the older M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System or MLRS, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) can fire the same munitions as the M270 MLRS. On the battlefield, the HIMARS can therefore supplement the MLRS.
In terms of range, the HIMARS can fire guided rockets (GMLRS) with a range of 15 to 84 kilometers. The system can also launch other long-range munitions such as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) that has a range of 165 kilometres and 300 kilometres for some versions. According to the Financial Times, the Ukrainians asked Washington to provide longer range ATACMS that can be used with HIMARS. But the request was denied by the Americans.
“We don’t want to take steps that widen the conflict and so some of the assurances that we’ve asked for in context of these particular systems are mindful of that, of not wanting these systems to be used to attack Russian territory,” Colin Kahl, US undersecretary of defence, told reporters. He added that the US discussed the types of munitions that would be provided with Ukrainian officials, but it was determined that the 70km GMLRS “could service any target that they needed, precisely”. The US, he said, would provide more munitions and HIMRAS systems as the fighting went on if the need arose.
“I think the Americans are concerned with the correct use of these weapons as they do not want them to be used in attacking targets deep in Russian territory, like Belgorod,” said Frank Ledwidge, a former British military intelligence officer and current lecturer at Portsmouth University. “They are also concerned with these systems falling in Russian hands due to the their sensitivity.”
HIMARS were developed for fast deployment. The system contains one pod to decrease its weight and is mounted on a truck instead of an armoured, tracked vehicle to increase its speed. This renders the system capable of shoot and scoot attacks. They can therefore be deployed in a short period of time, fire precise munitions at its target, and leave the area quickly to avoid being hit by enemy fire. The HIMARS is designed to carry a small crew of three and to be reloaded in three to five minutes. Logistically, this makes them easy to transport.
Mechanised artillery is fast, cheap, relatively low-tech and manoeuvrable to avoid counter artillery fire. But apart from guided munitions, artillery is not an accurate weapon. Weather conditions, target movement, bad calculations by the crew can affect accuracy, which makes the use of artillery a numbers game. The key to the game is a high rate of fire. Unguided munitions must be launched in massive amounts to cover an entire area.
“The Russians are firing massively to destroy as much as possible while the Ukrainians need to strike precisely to avoid destroying their country,” said Trinquand. Artillery is the lifeline of the Russian army in this war as their air forces lack of precision guided munitions and their stock of cruise missiles have dwindled after excessive use in the beginning of the war.
The Russian army has consistently used its firepower to hammer every town into submission before entering it. Experts believe the Russian army possesses a healthy stock of artillery shells and Moscow is capable of producing low-tech, unguided ammunition as all its components are available domestically, thus negating sanctions’ effects.
Russia’s Achilles heel however is its logistics chain. The country’s extensive railways are used to transport the equipment the army needs to the Ukrainian border. After arriving at the border however, the Russians did not possess enough trucks to transport their military equipment to the front lines. Given the transportation challenges, the security of the arms already transported and stored in depots behind the frontline in Ukraine are critical for the Russians.
HIMARS are critical because they can target Russian munition depots and logistics, preventing Russian artillery from supporting the Russian advance in the east. “The HIMARS is considered as an interdiction weaponry, it’s meant to stop supplies from reaching the front,” said Ledwidge. “Twelve ammunition dumps have already been destroyed, any sensible commander would transport the ammo depots 80 kilometres away from the front lines, which would put constraints on the artillery, but the Russians’ lack of trucks, as well as slowness and inefficiency has stopped them from doing that,” he noted. “In fact, these dumps are very easy to detect via drones or satellite because of their massive size,” he explained.
“These systems are very relevant in attacking behind Russian lines, pushing back ammunitions’ depots and the Russian architecture for their artillery and air defence networks, they already took down several Russian command and control posts, thus disrupting the Russian chain of command,” said Niklas Masuhr, a senior researcher at the Zurich-based Centre for Security Studies (CSS). “The Russians will have to be cautious about what to put close to the front,” he added. “These systems came in a perfect moment for the Ukrainians as the Russians are regrouping to launch more attacks in the Donbas.”
The incapacity of Russian air defences to detect and intercept HIMARS fire, as well as the shortage of Russian intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, namely drones, has been notable in the Ukraine conflict. “The Russian S400 air defence system was advertised as an anti-missile system as well, but it hasn’t been able to detect or stop the HIMARS,” said Ledwidge.
On Monday, July 11, a massive explosion rocked the Ukrainian town of Nova Kakhovka in the southern Kherson region in what Ukrainian military officials said was a strike on a Russian ammunition depot. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak attributed the success of the attack to the use of the US-supplied HIMARS system.
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