The HIMARS artillery systems have become the ‘stars’ of the Russian-Ukrainian war since end of June when they first arrived in Ukraine.
The specialists say: “HIMARS is the sniper rifle in the world of MRLS”. They have only been in the service of the Ukrainian army for a little over two months, but they have already succeeded in significantly changing the course of the war, as we can see from the recent confident counteroffensive of Ukrainian troops.
We have decided to collect the most interesting facts about the use of HIMARS on Ukrainian battlefields. Without complicated military terms, we will figure out what makes these launchers so successful.
HIMARS, or M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System
What is HIMARS?
HIMARS, or M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, is a light multiple rocket launcher. It was developed in the late 1990s for the U.S. Army on a wheeled chassis as a system with increased mobility compared to the tracked M270 MLRS, with which it has a unified launcher and ammunition arsenal.
M270 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) was created back during the Cold War (in the late 1970s and early 1980s) as a heavy (tracked) passable system for full-fledged combined arms combat within the doctrines of that period. The conflicts of the late 1980s and 1990s showed that it was necessary to develop a new system, which would be more mobile, faster, could be transported by air and would not weigh as much.
M270 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System)
So, it came to the development of a new lightweight system. In essence, they took a medium U.S. Army truck (M1140), put one MLRS package on it, and got the HIMARS.
The launcher can carry either six GPS guided GMLRS missiles (up to 90 km) or one ATACMS short range surface-to-surface guided missile with a range of up to 300 km.
In addition to the United States and now Ukraine, the following countries currently have HIMARS in service: Romania, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Jordan. Their sales to Poland and Taiwan have also been approved, and in addition, Estonia has confirmed that it will purchase up to six systems from the United States.
HIMARS have previously been used in Afghanistan, where the US used them against the Taliban in Kandahar province, as well as against the forces of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq during the battle for Mosul.
Currently, 12 M270 MLRS units and their analogues as well as 16 HIMARS units are in use in Ukraine. According to experts, there is no fundamental difference between them. However, the advantage of the HIMARS released in 2021 is that they are new and have not been used before, and that they are more mobile. But let’s talk about HIMARS’ advantages further.
HIMARS in Ukraine
On June 23, it was announced that first four HIMARSs arrived in Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, Ukraine announced the destruction of a Russian military base in Izyum, Kharkiv region, which, according to Kyiv, resulted in the deaths of at least 40 soldiers. Another strike on the same night reportedly killed the commander of an elite Russian airborne paratrooper regiment (Russia did not comment on the deaths of its servicemen). These were the first HIMARS casualties in the war in Ukraine, DW reports.
And already on June 27, a U.S. defense official said that Ukrainians are employing HIMARS “very well”.
“HIMARS have already made a HUGE difference on the battlefield. More of them as well as U.S. ammunition and equipment will increase our strength and help to demilitarize the terrorist state,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov wrote on Twitter on July 9.
On July 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that Washington would deliver four more HIMARS to Kyiv, so the total number of these MLRS sent to Ukraine rose to 16.
Many experts and officials note that HIMARS have become game changers in this war. With their help, Ukrainians could change their tactics. Now, having high-precision weapons, they began to aim at the most important facilities of the Russian army. Still without a quantitative advantage in artillery, they slowly began to gain a technical advantage.
What advantages do HIMARS give to the Armed Forces of Ukraine?
Ukrainian experts note the very high performance and efficiency of HIMARS. These launchers allow the Ukrainian military to inflict confident, accurate fire strikes at a distance of up to 70 km from the front line – with high accuracy, reliability and at the right time and exactly at the required target. And at the same time, they remain difficult to reach by Russian weapons.
HIMARS have been giving the AFU the opportunity:
All of these factors combine to ensure that the advantage and initiative has begun to go to the Ukrainian forces, which are still inferior to the Russians in the number of personnel and equipment.
Moreover, Ukrainian intelligence works at a high level, so there are more than enough enemy’s military targets detected. So, there is a lot of work to do for HIMARS!
Important goals damaged/destroyed with HIMARS
Every day we get news about the AFU to have destroyed new military objects of the Russian army. Let’s look at the practical results of the work of HIMARS on the Ukrainian battlefields.
A HIMARS working in the Zaporizhzhia region
Using the situations in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions as an example, we can see how HIMARS can change the course of military operations within an entire region. Thus, HIMARS and their effectiveness have become one of the prerequisites for a successful Ukrainian offensive.
Moreover, in early September, military experts began to note that on the southern front, HIMARS, among other things, began to be used for frontline functions. It means that HIMARS hit not only targets far behind enemy lines, such as ammunition depots etc., but also infantry and objects on the contact line. This has never happened before, and this fact also says a lot: that the Ukrainians are starting to use HIMARS for counteroffensive operations.
No wonder that Russia said that the M270 MLRS and M142 HIMARS were the most dangerous and capable weapons available to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and that it was vital for Russian forces to wipe them out at source. On July 18, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu issued an order about “the priority defeat of the enemy’s long-range missile and artillery weapons with high-precision weapons”. In essence, a war against HIMARS was declared.
The General Staff of the Russian armed forces reports bravely almost every day about other annihilated HIMARS units. Thus, at the beginning of September, according to Russian Defense Ministry reports, the Russians allegedly have destroyed 44 HIMARS units, although in fact Ukraine has only 16 of them in service!
On August 17 Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov stated that the AFU have not lost a single HIMARS system, and all Russian claims about the destruction of these rocket systems are fiction. Meanwhile, Ukrainian military experts say no defense against HIMARS ammunition currently exists.
So, what are the secrets of the invincibility of the ‘legendary’ HIMARS?
Which is evident from the name of the system. Due to their increased mobility and lightness, they can much easier and faster be thrown from one direction to another. And they can be transported on their own, which means you generally do not need special transport to move them like in case with some tracked launchers.
HIMARS operate on a „shoot and walk away” basis. The system is operated by three crew members and takes five minutes to reload. The mobility allows a quick exit from the launch site to protect the crew and the system from enemy return fire. “It is hard to hit back at a HIMARS once it has fired on you, because it can move almost immediately,” experts say. So, Russians have a lot of problems with ‘catching’ them.
The fact that HIMARS are made on basis of a truck gives a wonderful opportunity to camouflage them. On one hand, if a civilian sees such a unit on the road, he can easily confuse it with a truck or other unit. On the other hand, Ukrainians can use real trucks for the enemy to think these are HIMARS!
And the AFU are actively using the letter advantage. We’ve told you recently that Ukraine lures expensive Russian missiles with decoys of HIMARS.
Can Russians really be cheated so easily? Experts note that the thing is that the Russian military has problems with target reconnaissance and often uses Orlan UAVs to identify the locations of HIMARS. These drones were not created for reconnaissance purposes, they were created to correct strikes. The quality of video they provide is quite sufficient for correction. But for reconnaissance purposes you need better resolution and a better camera. The Orlan doesn’t have one. Therefore, with such video quality it will be quite easy to deceive the Russian side, especially if you make a high-quality moulage, strongly resembling a HIMARS. And then the Russian military destroys the moulage, and they absolutely seriously believe that they have destroyed another HIMARS.
This brilliant tactic well known from many previous wars are now being successfully used by the Ukrainians – this is where the Russians get the fantastic figures of ‘destroyed’ HIMARS from!
How many more HIMARS do we need to win the war?
President Zelensky insists the system is vital to Ukraine’s efforts, writing on Facebook that “HIMARS and other precision weapons are turning the course of war in our favor”.
HIMARS could change the course of the war if the Ukrainian military had significantly more of them, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry believes. Many Western experts are of the same opinion.
They point out that putting of HIMARS into action is not an easy task. The stuff needs to be trained to use it. You have to have enough spare parts, a steady supply of ammunition, you have to develop tactics for effective use. So, it will be a slow and steady build-up of these weapons systems. But the main thing is that it will be and is already happening!
Ukrainian defence secretary Oleksii Reznikov says Ukraine needs 50 more HIMARS systems to stop Russian forces advancing, and 100 more to launch a successful counter-offensive.
At the same time, Ukrainian experts stress that for the Ukrainian army it is not only and not so much the number of launchers, but the provision with enough ammunition for these launchers and their range of fire that is important. And in the latest U.S. deliveries we can see not so much new launchers as new missiles. According to available information, the AFU has now GMLRS missiles with a range of up to 85 km.
“Having 16 or so HIMARS launchers will be fine. As long as there is a tonne of ammunition to go with them. But the missile manufacturers are under a lot of pressure to keep up supplies,” Western experts say, according to BBC.
A great advantage is that the U.S has recently sent Ukraine its super-precise artillery shells Excalibur with GPS guidance, which are capable of hitting target at a distance of 40.5 kilometers.
Meanwhile, it would be very useful for the AFU to receive missiles with a range of up to 150 km. Then the Ukrainian military would be able to operate much more confidently. Obtaining long-range ATACMS ballistic missiles would make it possible to hit large targets (buildings, industrial centers, etc.) much more effectively. So, for Ukrainians in this war, 150 km is the next frontier. The AFU needs several thousand of such missiles, Ukrainian experts say.
Why haven’t they been provided to Ukraine yet? This is more of a political question, which largely rests with Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who believes that once the ATACMS missiles are handed over to Ukraine, there will definitely be an escalation. However, both Democrats and Republicans are in favor of giving Ukraine more long-range missiles.
On our part, we would like to ask: What more escalation do Western officials expect? How much more could it be? And what else can Russia frighten us with?
You can see for yourself that the great technical characteristics of HIMARS in combination with high professionalism, creativity and unconventional thinking of the Ukrainian military which are highly rated by Western experts have very good results on the battlefield.
So, we are just asking the Western partners to provide Ukraine with as many HIMARS launchers and long-range missiles for them as needed to make the Ukrainian counteroffensive (which has already entered its active phase) most successful and least bloody. We need them NOW.