In the months of fighting with the Russians, US-donated HIMARS have proven their worth as the war became its ultimate marketing platform. However, even though Ukrainians have retrieved hundreds of weapons and combat vehicles left by the Russians, they know how important HIMARS is in this war.

Back in August, Russia even claimed they were able to defeat HIMARS with pyramidal radar deflectors, but this was quickly debunked by Defense Expert Girish Linganna.

“In Ukraine, reports suggest troops are using Guided MLRS that adds on the use of GPS coordinates of the target and the inertial navigation system. This has devastated the Russians in Kherson, who have tried to move their supplies closer to civilian centers. This precision targeting in urban setup is where HIMARS shines.”

“They have deployed pyramidal radar deflectors. Although the Ukrainian soldiers can spot their targets with the naked eye, the missile system using radars and satellite imagery (also using specialized radars) cannot, by its design, locate a target. The system sees the entire stretch as one flat surface. Russians exploit a technical flaw in how HIMARS works to protect their supply line. “

All of that sounds pretty good, except HIMARS is not radar guided. It gets its GPS coordinates and in flight course corrections from overhead space satellites.

And now that the HIMARS has become the ultimate game-changer in this war, Ukraine is asking for the US to remove the ban its the cluster munitions Ukraine is allowed to use with the system. The Biden administration reportedly has “concerns” around Ukraine’s new request since some of the cluster munitions they’d like to use were banned by more than 100 countries. According to National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby, they would like to further evaluate this request to see the consequences of allowing these bombs to come into play.

“According to our own policy, we have concerns about the use of those kinds of munitions.”

Another person close to the administration anonymously told Politico, “It’s not a no, it’s not something that’s moving right now.”

Cluster bomb
Cluster bomb (Source: Ukumar17/Wikimedia)

Cluster munitions, also known as cluster bombs, are air-dropped or ground-launched weapons that contain multiple explosive submunitions. They are designed to disperse numerous bomblets over an area in order to destroy multiple military targets and disrupt enemy operations. The use of these weapons has been heavily criticized by human rights organizations due to their high risk of collateral damage and long-term environmental impact.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), being a modern US Army artillery system, is designed for precision fires on high-value targets at a range of up to 300 kilometers using cluster munitions. HIMARS is mounted on a six-wheeled armored chassis and can be fired from a variety of locations including fixed emplacements, mobile launchers, and helicopters. It uses rocket pods with 6 guided rockets that carry submunitions to engage both point and area targets such as small groups of vehicles, swarms of infantry or light armor forces, supply dumps, and bunkers.

When deployed the HIMARS’s multiple rocket launcher opens fire at its target releasing several cluster munitions which spread out in the air before descending onto the target area, providing wide coverage to attack trucks, supply depots and parked aircraft.. Each cluster munition released consists of numerous individual bomblets which are designed to pepper its targets with shrapnel rather than blow it to smithereens with explosives. This makes it deadly against lightly armored vehicles, personnel concentrations, and even fortifications like bunkers or concrete buildings making it an effective battlefield weapon against hardened targets not easily destroyed by other means like direct-fire artillery shells or conventional bombs.

(Source: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Flickr)

Due to the nature of their use, cluster munitions have come under heavy criticism from international humanitarian organizations who have condemned them for their potential indiscriminate nature when used in populated areas since they can cause widespread civilian deaths or injuries if not used properly, leading 110 states to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions banning their use altogether in compliance with international law.  The US is not a signatory and pretty much ignores pressure to sign on to it.  Some of the reasoning is that a hand grenade functions much like a bomblet from a Cluster Bomb. It’s an explosive fragmentation device.

However, Ukraine has requested permission from the Biden administration for export approval for such weapons for the purpose of self-defense against Russian aggression along their borders despite their own participation in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. “The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) was born out of a collective determination to address the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm to civilians caused by cluster munitions. States Parties are committed to the full universalization of the Convention and to promote its norms, as well as to fully implement it. Its implementation contributes to advancing the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the promotion of international peace and security, human rights, and international humanitarian law.”

There is evidence already that Russia has used cluster munitions in civilian areas in Ukraine. This morning the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that Russia used cluster munitions in the center of Hirnyk village in Donetsk Oblast. Two civilians were killed and 10 more were injured.

An expended Russian cluster bomb, possibly the 220 mm 9M27K series cluster munitions fired as rockets from the Urugan launcher system.

Ukraine has previously used its own stock of cluster munitions to drive Russian forces from their positions in towns and villages.  We wrote about that previously here,

Given this situation, it remains unclear what action the Biden administration will ultimately take regarding Ukraine’s request although they have stated they do not support transferring such weapons without guarantees that they would be used properly according to international law thus ensuring maximum safety for civilians in conflict zones where they may be employed. Ultimately it is up to each country’s government to decide how best to use these powerful yet potentially dangerous weapons while respecting international rules and regulations concerning them so as not to create further civilian casualties due to their usage during wartime conflicts.