“As easy as shelling peas,” says Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to Joe Biden's statement about deliveries of the HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine. According to Putin, “dozens” of foreign weapons have been destroyed.
For its part, official Kiev has never yet admitted to destroying foreign equipment and weapons. “Our air defense systems are destroying them (i.e. foreign weapons) as easy as shelling peas. Dozens of them have been destroyed,” Putin said on Saturday, June 4. This is how the Russian President commented on the breaking news that American HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems were coming to Ukraine. On June 3, Joe Biden promised that there would be no deliveries of artillery, but then the U.S. officially admitted that it was sending HIMARS multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine.
The U.S. officials swear that Kiev will not hit U.S. artillery “against targets on Russian territory.” However, “war is the way of deception,” so it is better to figure out in advance what to be wary of.
New military supply package
The M142 HIMARS is a multiple launch rocket system for ground-to-ground missiles mounted on a wheeled chassis. There is also a modification for launching surface-to-air anti-air missiles, but in practice it is not known about its wide application. The name stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
The M142 HIMARS is manufactured by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control (USA). This is the same weapons company that produces the “promoted” Javelin anti-tank missile system. The company says on its website that the HIMARS MRLS allows the use of “roving gun tactics,” which take minutes to deploy, fire, relocate and reload, “seriously reducing the enemy's ability to locate and engage the HIMARS.”
U.S. media reports that the HIMARS MLRS is the centerpiece of a new $700 million U.S. military supply package widely announced on May 30. The package also includes air surveillance radars, Javelin anti-tank missile systems, artillery ammunition, helicopters, military vehicles and spare parts.
According to the official website of Lockheed Martin, the HIMARS MLRS is “a long-range, mobile missile system that is interoperable with C2 systems.” The HIMARS can be transported to the battlefield in a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft.
Hercules is a military transport aircraft manufactured by the same Lockheed Martin, designed for medium- to long-range flights. It is the most common military transport aircraft in the world and is in service in the U.S. and NATO countries.
The HIMARS has a combat crew of only three soldiers. In total, according to Lockheed Martin, there are more than 540 HIMARS in service around the world. Since 2005, the first HIMARS have been in service with the U.S. Army.
The HIMARS launcher has only three servicemen. In total, according to Lockheed Martin, there are more than 540 HIMARS in service around the world. Since 2005, the first HIMARS have been in service with the U.S. Army.
Today this missile launcher is in service with such countries as the United States, Singapore, Jordan, Poland, Romania and the United Arab Emirates.
The range is its main issue, because it depends on what kind of missiles this system is equipped with. So, if the HIMARS is armed with six ground-to-ground missiles GMLRS (multiple launch rocket system with guided missiles), the range is 70 kilometers. The unit is capable of engaging 6 EG GMLRS-type missiles up to 150 kilometers, and one ATACMS missile (Army Tactical Missile System) up to 300 kilometers. If the HIMARS is equipped with two PrSM (Precision Strike Missile) missiles, the kill radius increases to 499 kilometers.
PrSMs have not yet been adopted by the U.S. Army but tests have shown that the high-precision missile has a speed of three times the speed of sound. Lockheed Martin successfully tested the PrSM in November 2021, with a maximum range of 499 kilometers. To be more precise, after launch, the command post lost contact with the missile after a distance of 499.2 kilometers. According to the plans announced, the U.S. Army will switch to a basic version of the PrSM beginning in fiscal year 2023. To be clear, the U.S. fiscal year starts in September, so in practice we are talking about a period starting in September 2022. Overall, the Pentagon plans to transition to the new missile type by 2027, with a total of 3,986 PrSM missiles to be purchased. Just words and only words…
Top U.S. officials now assure that Ukraine will not use HIMARS to hit targets on Russian territory. But given the fact that earlier U.S. President Joe Biden promised that there would be no deliveries of long-range artillery at all can we believe it? Only a day later, Biden said in a column for The New York Times that he had decided to supply long-range missile systems, explaining that he wanted to strengthen Ukraine's position in the peace talks. This is about future peace talks, in which, according to Biden, the parties' positions will depend on “the situation on the ground.”
Since then, U.S. spokespeople have changed the record. Now the mainstream is assurances that HIMARS MLRS will not be used for strikes against Russia. True, U.S. officials cannot give any guarantees. They do not talk at all about how they will be able to monitor whether or not the long-range missile systems are used to strike Russian territory.
Speaking at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, June 1, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken assured that Kiev would not use the U.S. HIMARS systems against Russia (“Ukraine has assured U.S. it will not use weapons systems against targets in Russia.”) On the same day, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Political Affairs Colin Kahl said that Ukraine would only use the missile system for defense (“Ukraine has given us guarantees that it will only use this system for defense purposes”), allegedly given by top Ukrainian officials. According to the U.S. media, the HIMARS to be supplied to Ukraine will be equipped with missiles with a range of up to 70 kilometers. Well, unnamed sources are good for “throwing in the trash,” because no one can ask them about it afterwards.
To sum up, the U.S. sent long-range missile systems for the needs of the AFU, but immediately denied any responsibility for their use.
It is the first step that costs
The main question is what does this mean in practice? So, let's assume that the AFU has deployed a HIMARS missile launcher in the city of Shostka, Sumy Region, which is 40 kilometers to the border with Bryansk Region. If HIMARS is equipped with a set of one ATACMS missile, then Russian regional centers such as Bryansk (167 km in a straight line), Kursk (184 km) and Orel (215 km) are in the engagement zone. If two missiles are loaded, the range increases to 499 kilometers, therefore Kaluga (348 km in a straight line), Tula (379 km), Voronezh (394 km) and even Podolsk near Moscow (479 km) would be in the engagement zone.
Taking into account the fact that the first two PrSM missiles are to enter service with the US Army in July 2023, we are still talking about a theoretical threat to such cities as Kaluga and Podolsk. On the other hand, the ATACMS operational-tactical missile system is in service right now, so if the HIMARS is transferred to Ukraine, there is a real missile threat to the Bryansk, Kursk and Orel regions. Or, for example, the Ukrainian command could deploy the HIMARS near Odessa and start shelling the ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Supplies of powerful long-range artillery from the United States are a signal to all other Western countries that heavy weapons can and should be supplied to the conflict zone. If now there are scandals because the German authorities, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, are slowing down the promised supplies of Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, then after the demonstration shipment of HIMARS, the process may move forward.
Of course, it is obvious that only four missile systems are too few to turn the tide of military operations. Although, if the task is to make a missile strike on the territory of the Russian Federation, this will be enough. Besides, if they manage to transport and use 4 MLRSs in combat conditions, then tomorrow the United States may start supplying HIMARS by the dozens. In this situation, the White House acts step by step, probing the reaction of the Kremlin according to the “not all at once” principle. If heavy artillery, tanks, helicopters, etc. go to Ukraine en masse, we should be prepared for a completely different heat of military conflict.