More, Please

As we provide Ukraine with increasingly powerful weapons systems, we are mindful of how they will be used. According to the BBC, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) we have sent to Ukraine has a maximum effective range of approximately 50 miles. They have been used to good effect to destroy enemy command and control centers and supply depots. This cuts off the Russians from what they need to move forward with an attack. It’s a good strategy and has worked well so far for the Ukrainians.

Ukrainian President Zelensky (center) on a working trip to the Kharkiv Region. Image from the office of the President of Ukraine.

Having successfully pushed the Russians back and regaining some of their lost territories, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is asking the world for still more powerful weapons to help his forces get the job done. He has been trying to get the Germans to send him Leopard tanks for months, but with no success. So instead, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has pledged 50 Dingo armored personnel carriers to Ukraine in addition to two Medium Artillery Rocket Systems and 200 rounds to use with them. Better than a sharp stick in the eye, but not precisely the main battle tanks.

More recently, Zelensky has approached President Biden and Washington, asking them for a longer-range missile system capable of striking targets almost 200 miles away. Specifically, he would like the United States to provide Ukraine with the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

The ATACMS Army Tactical Missile System. Image Credit: US Army and Wikimedia Commons 

The MGM-140 ATACMS (or attack ’ems) has a maximum effective range of 190 miles, more than triple the range of missiles currently used in the HIMARS systems in Ukraine. In addition, it can be launched by the American M270 tracked Multiple Launch Rocket System platforms (as shown in the photo above) or HIMARS.

Vital Stats: 

  • Length – 13 feet
  • Mass – 3,690 lbs
  • Diameter – 24 inches
  • Wingspan – 55 inches
  • Flight Ceiling – 160,000 feet
  • Propulsion – Solid propellant rocket
  • Maximum Speed – Greater than Mach 3
  • Guidance – GPS-aided inertial navigation
  • Warhead – 500 lbs high explosive
  • Cost – Approximately $100,000 each

Reports from The Wall Street Journal state that they have viewed documents from Kyiv to Washington explaining the type of weaponry they require to succeed in their counteroffensive against Russia. The ATACMS is on the list, but so are 28 other types of weapons and munitions. These include more Harpoon anti-ship missiles, tanks, drones, artillery systems, and 2,000 missiles to be used in HIMARS.

WSJ relays that the requests come after the publication of a statement written recently by senior Ukrainian military officers. The statement supposedly emphasizes their need for longer-range missile systems, mentioning the ATACMS by name. In a classic Washinton non-answer, a senior US State Department official noted the most recent two military aid packages we sent them and said we would “continue to give them the support they need to succeed on the battlefield.” That’s definitely not a “thumbs up” on the longer-range missiles.

The hesitancy reaches the whole way up to the White House. President Biden has previously indicated his concerns that US long-range weapons may be used to fire across Ukrainian borders and into Russia. He has indicated to Russian President Putin that he does not want to provide weapons that might escalate the war and that our national goal is to see Russia leave Ukraine. Specifically, he has been quoted as saying more than once, “We’re trying to avoid World War III.” 

A short video showing multiple ATACMS launches. Courtesy of YouTube and Defence Shorts

Longer ranged missiles would give Ukraine the tactical option of striking targets in Crimea, which would likely be viewed by the Kremlin as a major provocation. One that Washington would just as soon avoid. The New York Times reports that Biden’s senior aides have advised him that the tactical benefit from long-range missiles would not be significant and not worth the risk that they may be used to launch attacks on Russian soil.

That genie seems to have already been released from the bottle. The Washington Post reports that Friday, Ukraine allegedly launched strikes against the Russian 3rd Motorized Rifle Division, which at the time was located near the Russian town of Valuki, nine miles north of the Russian – Ukrainian border. According to Russian officials, one civilian was reportedly killed, and there was a temporary disruption to the local electrical grid.

We have seen this before, Russia blames the attack on Ukraine, and Kyiv denies any responsibility for launching the attack.

One can’t help but wonder that if these attacks on the Motherland continue, they may have the effect of “poking the bear” one too many times.