Pimping Their Ride

Christmas came early this year to Ukrainian fighting forces in the form of four M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems). They arrived in the embattled nation late last month as part of a $700 million military aid package courtesy of Uncle Sam.

As soldiers do, the young Ukrainian men operating this equipment wasted no time customizing their new rides. Up went some flimsy paper images of scantily clad women carefully torn from a favorite magazine. In the vicinity, other essentials could be found…rosary beads, a spare dog tag chain, and one of those dangly air fresheners shaped like a pine tree.

Home sweet home. I like how they placed the pin-up in a protective plastic holder. Image Credit: Anastasia Vlasova

On the outside of the vehicle, they have proudly stenciled three small black skulls, one for each successful kill. Kuzya, the call sign for the weapons systems chief, says, “We actually have six; we just haven’t had a chance to add the other three yet.” I haven’t seen any photos of the skulls, but something tells me they likely resemble the “Punisher” skulls popularized by Task Unit Bruiser in Iraq. At least, that’s how I like to imagine it.

The coveted rocket launcher is parked under a tightly grouped clump of trees down the end of a dirt road far into the Ukrainian countryside. The men operating this machine are quickly becoming experts at hiding it from Russian drones. With only four on the ground now, they can’t afford to lose one.

Kuzya says that their targets have focused on Russian command and control centers. These were located in warehouses packed with enemy officers and a weapons cache.

The Ukrainians Are Quite Appreciative

Image courtesy of Twitter and @oleksiireznikov

Oleksii Reznikov is the Ukrainian Minister of Defense and is supremely grateful to the United States. On the Fourth of July, he Tweeted, “Happy Independence Day to the American people. Ukraine will always remember your support in our struggle for freedom.” He specifically thanked his counterpart, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for, as he referred to the HIMARS, “these powerful tools.” He noted it would be a hot summer for the Russian occupiers…the last one for some of them. That Reznikov sure does know how to turn a phrase.

The HIMARS is the most advanced weapons system the US has shared with Ukraine to date. The warfighters like it because it enables precise strikes on targets up to 50 miles away without putting their own citizens in harm’s way. They had asked for the rocket launchers for months before the Biden administration approved their transfer. Which, incidentally, was conditional on the fact that the Ukrainians did not use them to launch strikes across the border into Russia. No need to do that. They have their hands full with what is going on inside their own nation.

Before we sent this weapons system, Ukrainian fighters had to make do with thy Soviet-era Uragan; a self-propelled multiple rocket launching system with a maximum range of 20 miles. That’s not too bad, but the margin of error on those things is about half a mile either way. One bad shot could ruin someone’s entire day. Uragans used recon teams and drones to find and establish targets. Their new HIMARS uses satellites to perform the same task, and most rounds will deviate from the targeted coordinates is about one meter. That’s a vast improvement in accuracy—a real game-changer.

Shoot and Scoot

Their new American-sent weapon holds six rockets and conducts its operations mostly at night to keep the valuable equipment hidden as much as possible. Once all the rounds are on their way, the unit can be on the move again in about two minutes. This speed is essential because once the enemy finds out where the shots were fired, they will target that area if possible. The HIMARS “shoot and scoot” abilities, along with its 60 mph top speed, allows it to be long gone before that can happen.

A member of a Ukrainian HIMARS crew conceals his identity while behind the wheel of the mobile rocket launching system somewhere in Eastern Ukraine. Image Credit: Anastasia Vlasova

Although the units are very much in action, there are still a few bumps in the proverbial road from time to time. The computer system is all in English. During training, interpreters had to explain what everything meant. Now that they are gone, Google Translate is still needed from time to time.