Artillery price

US HIMARS rocket artillery going to Ukraine would be a game changer

HIMARS: Why Russia will hate this military platform if it is in UkraineUkrainian artillery played a decisive role in repelling Russia’s failed campaign to capture kyiv in the first weeks of the war –by some assessments, destroying more Russian armored vehicles than anti-tank missiles. It is arguably of even greater importance in Russia’s new campaign in eastern Ukraine, where a fierce battle of attrition is unfolding between heavily entrenched forces.

While the United States is delivering 90 towed M777 field howitzers to Ukraine, it is apparently also supplying another powerful form of artillery: Multiple Rocket Launch Systems (MRLS).

In an interview with Ukrainian PravdaUS Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said that thanks to US military aid, Ukraine “already has several rocket launcher systems”, although these have not been specifically listed under extended assistance programs.

When pressed on the discrepancy, she made it “absolutely clear” that “we already provide MLRS systems. And it wasn’t just us.

The implication is apparently that the US MRLS transfers had been kept secret until this interview. Nuland’s reference to “it wasn’t just us” probably refers to transfers of at least 20 Czech RM-70 systems and at least 20 similar Polish BM-21 rocket launchers.

Although the quantity, type and even presence in Ukraine remains unclear, many believe that the US-supplied MRLS is the M142 HIMARS, developed as a more deployable lightweight complement to the 27.5-ton M270 MRLS of the United States. ‘army. Indeed, in an address earlier in April, Pres. Zelensky specifically requested M270 or HIMARS systems. However, it is also possible that Nuland was referring to US stocks of Soviet launchers used for training.

Rocket launcher on a diet

During World War II, several rocket launchers, which had existed for centuries before, matured into a formidable complement to traditional artillery. Compared to howitzers, MRLS can release a large number of rounds in a short time that lands over a wider area, but with lower accuracy and durability. Larger caliber MRLS also have better potential to deliver very long range fire than cannon artillery.

Ukrainian started the war with three types of MRLs developed by the Soviets: about 200 BM-21 Grad which provide frontline artillery support, and about 75 BM-27 Uragan and BM-30 Smerch systems which fire much larger 220 and 300 millimeter rockets over greater distances. Since April 27, the pictures confirm Ukraine lost at least 12 Grads and three Uragans but capture at least 22 Grads and 2 Uragans of Russian forces.

In the 1980s, the US military finally sought to match Soviet enthusiasm for MRLS by deploying the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System based on the tracked armored hull of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. To compensate for the inherent low accuracy of MRLS, its 227 millimeter M26 rockets (maximum range of 20 miles) were designed to release 644 dual-purpose (anti-tank/anti-personnel) cluster bombs over a wide area, rather than a single large one. warhead. Later, the M26A1 and A2 rockets had “only” 518 DPICM submunitions, but the range extended to 28 miles.

The M270 carried twelve M26s in two modules, but these modules could alternatively carry a powerful ATACMS missile with a range of 80 miles (later extended to 186 miles) to hit deep targets like air defense units, munitions and depots fuel, headquarters and airbases.

The M270 proved effective in the 1991 Gulf War, but they were difficult to maintain, supply and transport to theater. Thus, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) was developed in the 1990s to serve as a lightweight alternative that could be rapidly deployed across the world.

Based on the hull of a 6×6 FMTV truck, the 18-ton M142 uses the same rockets and fire control system (FCS) as the M270 but mounts only a single six-round pod. Seemingly a downgrade in firepower, new rocket types (see below) allow rocket strikes with less emphasis on volume. The mostly soft-skinned M142 retains an armored cabin for its crew of three (or two, in a pinch) and uses a more easily usable diesel engine.

Vitally, one M142 can fit in a C-130 transport plane, or three on a C-17 cargo plane; and they can be off the ramp ready to fire in 15 minutes.

The M142/M270 FCS can receive firing coordinates from higher headquarters and forward observers via data link and execute a firing mission in 16 seconds, posing a threat even to fleeting targets of opportunity. They can both shoot and dash quickly to evade enemy counterattacks.

Cheaper precision firepower

Although the M270 was a bestial “map grid square suppression system”, its extensive destructive capability made it difficult to use in counter-insurgency wars fought near population centers. Moreover, cluster bombs were politically and materially dangerous, because high misfire rates caused thousands of dangerous unexploded ordnance to remain behind after the fighting, costing the lives of American civilians and servicemen.

Meanwhile, the long-range ATACMS, while powerful, was too expensive (about $800,000 per shot) for routine use. By 2015, only 3,700 had been built, of which 650 were laid off.

However, rocket artillery evolved significantly with the introduction of the GPS-guided GMRLS M30 and M31 rockets costing $110,000 per shot.

Their range of 43 miles still far exceeded that of traditional howitzer artillery, and these could land less than 2 meters on average from the target, accurate enough to use individual unstacked M31 rounds very effectively.

Beginning in 2014, the U.S. Army and Marines deployed HIMARS to Iraq and Afghanistan to launch rapid precision attacks against ISIS and Taliban targets, arguably making a significant contribution to defeating the forces of IS in the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, as well as repel a massive attack by Syrian and Russian mercenaries in 2018.

Currently, the army has five HIMARS battalions in the 17and18e, and 75and Field artillery brigades, several batteries of which are integrated into the new Multi-Domain Workgroup Units. There are 12 other HIMARS battalions in eight National Guard brigades, while the Marine Corps maintains two HIMARS battalions in the 11and and 14and naval regiments.

Each battalion has 18 launch vehicles, each supported by two ammunition supply vehicles with trailers, and a target acquisition platoon deploying AN/TPQ-47 Firefinder radars on flatbed Humvees to detect the point of origin of enemy artillery firing up to 60 kilometers. Since 2014, Ukraine has received many counter-battery radars and Humvee transporters of the United States and used them successfully in combat, so this capability could be easily integrated into new HIMARS units.

Foreign HIMARS operators already include Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Romania. Future HIMARS operators definitely include Polandprobably Hungary and Taiwan, and potentially the Philippines and Sweden.

HIMARS has also been tested as an anti-ship weapon with mixed results and was even modified to fire from the deck of a ship. This is intriguing, because in March Ukraine used rocket artillery in Odessa to attack the Russian patrol boat. Vasily Bykov, although causing limited, if any, damage. HIMARS may therefore have coastal defense potential, although Russia may keep its ships out of range after the sinking of his flagship cruiser Moscow land-based missiles.

HIMARS has also been tested to launch AIM-120 medium-range anti-aircraft missiles; although this capability has not been deployed operationally, it is an example of how the launcher could be adapted to new roles. Ukraine would certainly like to strengthen its medium-range air defenses, since most of the aid has been short range systems.

However, even using HIMARS in a conventional manner involves challenges for Ukraine, as HIMARS uses different ammunition and requires Ukrainian crews to master the operation and maintenance of new, unfamiliar systems.

A standard US Marine aircrew training course for HIMARS takes 13 days of training, not including breaks. But specialists like the machine gunner and the platoon leader need additional weeks of training. However, some interpret Nuland’s statement to mean that the Ukrainians trained to operate HIMARS (presumably outside of Ukraine) for weeks while the delivery was being staged.

To ATACMS or not to ATACMS?

One question is whether Ukrainian HIMARS come with MGM-168 ATACMS missiles, and if so, whether these will come with any strings attached. The ATACMS’ range of 186 miles means it could potentially hit targets deeper into Russian territory than Ukraine’s Tochka ballistic missiles. Already it remains unclear whether Ukrainian missiles are responsible for the destruction of oil depots on Russian soil.

This makes ATACMS more potentially escalating than other heavy weaponry offered by Ukraine’s allies, not only in Moscow’s perception, but if Ukraine uses it to strike targets deeper in Russia. In addition, the United States is developing an ATACMS successor called the precision missile (PrSM) with a range of 300 to 500 miles.

Thus, there is a good chance that Washington will stop before supplying ATACMS to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Poland and Romania, are receive ATACMS missiles; Washington could restrict those transferred to Ukraine.

Even without ATACMS, HIMARS systems using the GMLRS guided munitions will greatly improve kyiv’s ability to destroy Russian artillery and logistics from a standoff – a capability it needs given Russia’s reliance on artillery and Ukraine’s lack of penetrating air power.

Russian forces will in turn attempt to locate and destroy the largely unarmored M142s, including using Orion and Forepost-R drones. Ukraine’s ability to pass useful and timely targeting data to HIMARS batteries, fire quickly to avoid retaliatory fire, and otherwise keep it concealed will determine their success in the field.

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications such as national interest, BNC News,, war is boring and 19fortyfive, where he is the editor of Defense-in-Depth. He holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University and served in the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter.