The United States has announced that it will be sending yet another heavy weapon system to Ukraine amid its ongoing proxy war with Russia. After sending thousands of Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and over 100 M777 howitzers (including several sent by US allies Australia and Canada), the US is preparing to send the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), America’s latest multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS).
Rocket launchers were not a capability Ukraine was without at the beginning of this current conflict in late February. It had a large number of rocket launchers that have since been destroyed or captured by Russian forces and their allies. The HIMARS would at best help replace these losses, at worst provide false hope with a system that will overtax Ukraine’s already crumbling logistical efforts.
The Next “Wonder Weapon”
The Guardian in its article, “Himars: what are the advanced rockets US is sending Ukraine?,” would report:
Himars units carry one preloaded pod of six 227mm guided missiles (the M270 carries two pods), or one large pod loaded with an Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) tactical missile. The US will not supply Ukraine with the ATACMS, which has a range of 300km.
With a small crew, the Himars can remove a spent pod and load a fresh one in minutes, without other vehicles helping. The crews will require some training.
However, the Guardian fails to point out that while HIMARS vehicles can load additional ammunition themselves without supporting vehicles, a large number of transport trucks are required to bring ammunition to be loaded in the first place. This is just one of several issues going unreported about the use of HIMARS in Ukraine.
HIMARS: The Rest of the Story
A typical HIMARS battery includes 9 launchers supported by dozens of other vehicles including several off-road vehicles for command and fire control elements, 3 cargo trucks for the maintenance section, a cargo truck and 2 fuel tankers for the supply section, and as many as 12 cargo trucks for the ammunition section.
When the Guardian mentions “the crews will require some training,” it is omitted that the typical entry-level HIMARS operator in the US army receives at least 4 weeks of training, according to the US Army’s own website. These entry level operators would be then sent to a HIMARS battery commanded and manned by more experienced personnel possessing not only technical knowledge of operating the HIMARS themselves, but all the supporting elements required to find, fire on, and destroy targets in a coordinated manner all while moving across and surviving on the battlefield.
The Pentagon, in a recent press briefing, indicated that this 4 week training course would be cut to 3 weeks, calling into serious question the quality of the crews that will be manning the HIMARS in Ukraine.
The briefing also indicated the initial tranche of HIMARS would number only 4, less than half the typical battery (the smallest unit operating independently) employed by the US Army.
The Guardian would note, regarding the impact HIMARS might have on the battlefield in Ukraine, that:
Himars will give Ukraine’s forces the ability to strike further behind Russian lines, and at distances better protected from Russia’s own long-range weaponry.
The GPS-guided missiles the Himars shoots have a range about double that of the M777 howitzers that the US recently supplied to Ukraine forces.
At roughly 80km it generally puts Himars out of range of Russia’s own artillery, while placing the Russian batteries at risk.
Yet the 80km range of the HIMARS barely matches MLRS batteries Russia is employing in large numbers on the battlefield. The current US administration has refused to ship longer range missiles compatible with the HIMARS with ranges of up to 300km while Russia employs the formidable Iskander missile complex which matches or exceeds its US counterparts.
HIMARS is noted as using GPS-guided munitions. No mention is made by the Guardian of Russia’s extensive GPS-jamming on the battlefield in Ukraine. The Times in an article titled, “Russia takes battle into space and targets GPS in Ukraine,” would note:
“GPS jamming has become a common tool in Russia’s arsenal, and the Russian military has frequently jammed GPS signals in Ukraine since 2014,” the think-tank said. “Well before the invasion began [in February] Russia was actively jamming GPS signals throughout the area.”
General David Thompson, US Space Force vice chief of space operations, told NBC in April: “Ukraine may not be able to use GPS because there are jammers around that prevent them from receiving any usable signal.”
Thus, the one aspect of the HIMARS that supposedly gives it an edge over Russian MLRS, precision, may possibly be negated.
Russia also possesses the best anti-air defenses in the world, even according to US government-funded think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as noted in an article titled, “Russian Air and Missile Defense,” which states:
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union invested heavily in its air defense systems. As a result, Russia now possesses some of the most advanced air and missile defense systems in the world.
Throughout the current conflict in Ukraine, Russian air defenses have downed long-range rockets fired by existing Ukrainian MLRS. HIMARS launching only one or two rockets at a time at longer ranges would give Russian air defenses ample time to acquire targets and down the rockets before they reached their intended destination.
In order for Ukrainian HIMARS operators to overcome both Russian GPS jamming and its formidable air defenses, large numbers of rockets will be required to be fired in a single salvo to both saturate the target area with incoming rockets to increase the probability that jammed munitions will still come close to their targets, and to overwhelm Russian air defenses to ensure that at least some rockets reach their targets.
However, in order to do this, a large amount of ammunition will be required. Over a dozen trucks will be required to move the ammunition to a single battery to sustain this rate of fire creating a large physical footprint making it more likely Russia will find and target the battery with counter fire.
Russian air power and air defense afford it relative safety when deploying MLRS. Ukraine has little of either and was a contributing factor to the loss of its own MLRS over the course of this conflict. A lack of air power and air defenses denies Ukraine the luxury of setting up a HIMARS battery in the way the US usually does.
It is very clear that many of the weapon systems the US and its allies are passing on to Ukraine are simply systems they have in their inventories, not systems that are appropriate for the current battlefield. This is because US and other NATO weapon systems are designed under the assumption of having established air superiority and thus providing the protection needed to set up a HIMARS battery in relative safety.
Complications similar to those facing HIMARS deployment have surfaced with Ukraine’s use of M777 howitzers.
The US in places like Afghanistan and Iraq could deploy HIMARS and M777 howitzers in firebases – relatively permanent fortifications far out of reach of weapon systems deployed by the Taliban and other militant groups the US claimed it was fighting abroad. Placing these same systems in an environment where operators do not have adequate protection from aircraft and counter battery fire ensures they will make no difference, and in the case of the M777s provided to Ukraine, they have made no difference.
What HIMARS Excels at: Making Lockheed Martin Money
Despite these realities, the word “game changer” has been consistently used by the Western media, including the Guardian, to describe HIMARS. The Guardian would claim:
Some analysts have said Himars can be a “game-changer” in the war at a time when Ukraine forces appear to be struggling under Russian artillery fire.
But others say Himars will not suddenly turn the tables. “The Himars would even the playing field,” a senior US defence official said.
In reality, HIMARS will neither be a “game-changer” nor “even the playing field.” What they will do is make hundreds of millions of dollars for US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin who produces HIMARS.
One may wonder why the US Department of Defense does not inform Washington or the American public about the very serious limitations and even dangers of providing HIMARS to Ukraine (their use against civilian targets), until one realizes to what degree the Pentagon’s senior leadership is compromised.
One needs only to look as far as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III himself to understand the problem. Secretary Austin was on the board of directors of another US arms manufacturer, Raytheon, when selected as US Secretary of Defense. The New York Times in its article, “Biden’s Choice for Pentagon Faces Questions on Ties to Contractors,” would note:
“It’s important for the secretary of defense to bring to that role an independence of thoughts, and it’s deeply concerning when any nominee is coming straight from one of the major military contractors,” said Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, which pushes to reduce nuclear weapons and military spending.
He added “Raytheon, I would note, has an enormous financial stake in upcoming decisions by the Biden administration, the Congress, the secretary of defense.”
And indeed, not only will Lockheed Martin make millions backfilling HIMARS sent to Ukraine, Secretary Austin’s former employer Raytheon is already reaping millions from “decisions by the Biden administration, the Congress, the secretary of defense” regarding the torrent of arms being sent to Ukraine.
Defense News would note in its article, “US Army signs deal to backfill Stingers sent to Ukraine,” that:
The US Army has awarded a $624.6 million contract to Raytheon Technologies to build Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to restock its own supply after sending roughly 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine to bolster the nation’s defense against the Russian invasion.
The US decision to send HIMARS to Ukraine despite the limitations and risks is a microcosm of the entire conflict stretching back to 2014 when the United States assisted in overthrowing the elected government in Ukraine in the first place. From 2014 onward, the US client regime installed into power no longer served Ukrainian interests, and instead transformed Ukraine into a means of making profits for US interests while transforming the nation into a battering ram against US adversaries, namely Russia.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead this decision will undoubtedly reap profits for American arms manufacturers, while only further fueling conflict in Ukraine, and doing so at the cost of not only the Ukrainian people but also the American taxpayers.
Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.