Artillery types

The artillery system capable of providing combat support in all conditions

The M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) has been the subject of a lot of press lately, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The lightweight rocket launcher, mounted on an XM1140A1 chassis, is capable of delivering responsive and deadly support in all weather conditions with impressive precision.

Development of a new rocket launch system

The M142 HIMARS was designed “to support early and forcible entry joint expeditionary operations with high volume destructive, suppressive, and counter-battery fires.” Developed in the late 1990s for use by the US Army, it is the wheeled version of the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

M142 HIMARS on static display during live-fire exercises in Crow Valley, Philippines. (Photo credit: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

The HIMARS has been built by a number of manufacturers over the years. Until 2010, the chassis was produced by BAE System Mobility & Protection Systems, after which production was taken over by Oshkosh Corporation. Since 2017, the launch system and the chassis are produced by Lockheed Martin missiles and fire control.

To date, approximately 414 units have been built.

M142 HIMARS specifications

The M142 HIMARS is made up of two different components, the launcher and a five-ton truck chassis from the U.S. Army’s Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs). Although large, it is not as large as other similar systems. Weighing 35,800 pounds when loaded and only seven meters long, it is small enough to be transported by a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

To operate, the HIMARS only requires a crew of three: the pilot, the gunner and the launcher leader.

M142 HIMARS being loaded onto an aircraft
M142 HIMARS being loaded onto an aircraft. (Photo credit: United States Air Force / Wikimedia Common / Public domain)

The HIMARS is equipped to carry six 227mm guided artillery rockets (M26, M30/M31), which lock onto targets through the use of GPS or infrared sensors, or one MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System missile (ATACMS). The pod the weapons are mounted in is identical to the twin pods equipped by the M270, giving it 50% of the firepower of its counterpart.

Given the variation in ammunition, the system has an effective targeting range of between 40 and 300 miles.

Use of the M142 HIMARS

The main (and first) country to equip the M142 HIMARS is the United States. In May 2005, the system was demonstrated to the US Army’s 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery. It has since seen its use extended to other areas of the military, as well as the Army National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps.

Other countries that have adopted HIMARS into their weapons catalog include Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Romania and Jordan, with others discussing the possibility of exploiting the system in the future.

Rocket launched from the M142 HIMARS
The M142 HIMARS fires the US Army’s MLRS during testing at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. (Photo credit: US Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain)

The HIMARS has been used in a handful of conflicts, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military has used the system in Iraq to prevent damage to buildings in urban battles, and it has played a key role in the Battle of Mosul in October 2016. While serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Moshtarak, two rockets fired from a HIMARS unit fell 300 meters from their target, killing 12 civilians. Use of the system was suspended while a review of the incident was completed.

HIMARS has been used in the Syrian Civil War, as well. The US military fired rockets into Syria in support of rebels in March 2016. A month later, it was announced that the US would deploy the system in Turkey, as part of the battle against ISIL.

Two Marines loading an M142 HIMARS
Cpl. Andrew Robold, launcher chief, Battery Q, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, loads ammunition onto an M142 HIMARS at Prospect Training Area. (Photo Credit: Cpl. Ali Azimi/Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms/ DVD / Public domain)

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In May 2022, President Joe Biden wrote a comment for The New York Times, in which he revealed that the US government would give Ukraine “more advanced rocket systems and munitions”. Although he did not specify the type of artillery, it was quickly confirmed to be four HIMARS, with the delivery of additional units to be discussed at a later date.

The HIMARS will only be equipped with the guided rockets, and it will take Ukrainian forces about three weeks to learn how to properly use and maintain the systems. They will be sent abroad as part of an extensive military aid program, which also includes four Mi-17 helicopters; 15 tactical vehicles; 1,000 javelins and 50 command throwing units; two air surveillance radars; five counter-artillery radars; 60,000 anti-armour weapons; 15,000 155mm artillery shells; and spare parts and equipment.