The Biden Administration is stepping up its military aid and donation to Ukraine as it makes preparations to send the Ukrainian Government both High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). These weapons may be game-changers in the battle to take control of the entire Donbas region.
This comes after the US Government had passed a $40 billion military aid budget for Ukraine intended to further bolster Biden’s capability to help Ukraine in a faster manner. $20 billion is reported to be allotted for direct military assistance so that Ukraine will have a steady stream of weapons and ammunition to keep their efforts against the Russians continue. $5 billion to address the global food shortage due to Russia blocking Ukraine’s ability to ship out grain from the Black Sea. $8 billion for general economic support and $1 billion to help Ukrainian refugees. The US government may also opt to send Patriot air defense missile systems to Ukraine if they want.
If sent to Ukraine, senior Ukrainian officials and President Zelensky himself would be extremely pleased as they have been requesting this weaponry for the past couple of months as they had little answer for the Russian bombing across Ukraine. Both the MLRS and the HIMARS are capable of firing rockets at distant targets, giving Ukraine the ability to operate against Russian units at stand-off ranges.
This is notably a significant shift from the administration’s earlier sentiments on the topic, as the White House was seemingly holding back sending these rocket systems to Ukraine as they could be used to launch strikes directly on mainland Russia, an act the Kremlin would interpret this as an act of war by the US and potentially widen the conflict.
More so, if they did not assume that the US was behind the hypothetical attack, giving the Ukrainians to strike targets from a distance may just prolong the conflict even more as they try to out shell each other. Furthermore, Moscow already considers weapon shipments to Ukraine as hostile and is actively trying to attack these shipments in route. Thus, the mere fact that the US is sending weapons to Ukraine, especially HIMARS and MLRS, can be interpreted as a significant escalation by Russia as these weapons pose a far greater destructive power than the M777 howitzers the US has sent earlier.
It can be presumed that these systems are being given to Ukraine with the express understanding that their rockets will not be fired into Russian territory.
The US has reportedly been careful about the weapons they’re sending to Ukraine, so they are continually looking for options that provide “the biggest band for the buck.”
“With this in mind, we want to defeat the enemy and liberate our territories as soon as possible,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said, adding that Ukraine is willing to buy these weapons such as the MLRS, missiles, and other munitions they need off of other countries.
Why do the Ukrainians Sorely Need the MLRS and HIMARS?
The Ukrainians need either or both the MLRS and HIMARS because of increased range against the Russians without sacrificing precision. Both systems would enable Ukrainian troops to bring fires down on Russian units and positions at a distance safe from counter-battery fire. Their range also means they are able to be dispersed while still able to concentrate their fire on locations where the Russians attempt offensive operations. Finally, their mobility allows these system to rapidly move to cover and avoid detection by drones and aircraft.
First, let’s discuss what the MLRS has to offer. The M270 MLRS is a tracked, armored, self-propped multiple rocket launcher that has been in service with the US military since 1983. Utilizing the chassis of the Bradley IFV, it fires a multitude of 227mm surface-to-surface rockets (including precision-guided types), which can reach a varied distance per missile type. The system can fire 12 Guided MLRS (GMLRS) or Extended Range (ER) GMLRS rockets, four Precision Strike Missiles (PrSM), or two Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS).
The most basic rocket/missile variant, the M26, can fire missiles up to 19.9 miles away (32 km), the M26A1/A2 can reach 28 miles away (45 km), and the M30/31 variant can reach 43.5 miles away (70 km). One M270 can be loaded with two pods, firing 24 rockets or two ATACMS missiles.
The M142 HIMARS is the wheeled version of the M270. It is also a rocket and missile system made by Lockheed Martin, and it uses an M1140 FMTV light military truck chassis instead of a tracked chassis. The rear of the truck can be fitted with six rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS surface-to-surface missile. At a much lighter weight than the M270 (in fact, two times lighter), it is more mobile and can easily be transported by a C-130. Much like the M270, the rockets it can fire can reach up to 43.5 miles away. ATACMS missiles can reach targets up to 186 miles out (300 kilometers).
Some of the rockets it can fire are the following:
- M26, M26A2Er Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM)
- M30 GMLRS DPICM, M31, M31A1
- m31A2 GMLRS Unitary (GMLRS-U), M30A1
- M30A2 GMLRS Alternative Warhead (GMLRS AW)
- XM404, XM403 ER GMLRS RS Unitary
- M28A1, M28A2 Low-Cost Reduced Range Practice Rocket (LCRRPR).
That being said, Ukraine will surely be thankful to the US if it does push through with its plans to provide them with MRLS or HIMARS, increasing their precision and lethality in a critical juncture of the fighting where Russia continues to lose ground. Currently, the US is the single largest military supporter of Ukraine, having donated billions worth of weapons and economic assistance to the European country.