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ATACMS: The Weapon Ukraine Could Hit Russia With from 186 Miles Away

ATACMS like Ukraine wants firing back in 2006. Image Credit: U.S. Army.
ATACMS firing back in 2006. Image Credit: U.S. Army.

What Difference Would US ATACMS In Ukraine Make? Are They Already There? – The HIMARS missile system given to Ukraine in military aid packages by the United States has been used very effectively since its first appearance on the battlefield. As 19fortyfive reported earlier, US Army General Mark Hertling (ret) said that the HIMARS system had been a “game changer” against the Russian forces in the invasion of Ukraine. 

Ukraine fires Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) from HIMARS, which have successfully targeted key Russian military targets such as command posts and ammunition depots. These GMLRS have a range of about 50 miles.

However, Kyiv has asked for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of about 186 miles. 

But thus far, Washington has declined this request. “We don’t want to take steps that widen the conflict, and so some of the assurances that we’ve asked for in the context of these particular systems are mindful of that, of not wanting these systems to be used to attack Russian territory,” Colin Kahl, US undersecretary of defense said.

“We have provided them with hundreds and hundreds of these precision-guided systems, and the Ukrainians have been using them to extraordinary effect on the battlefield,” Kahl said.

“It’s our assessment that the most relevant munitions for the current fight are the GMLRS. We have prioritized getting the Ukrainians the GMLRS they need, not only to hold in the east but may generate some momentum elsewhere in the country.

General Characteristics of the ATACMS and Why Ukraine Wants Them: 

The ATACMS performs the mission of giving the US military a weapon between conventional artillery, GMLRS missiles, and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles. While listed as a ballistic missile, that isn’t entirely accurate.

Although it travels on a ballistic arc, the ATACMS, on its downward trajectory, performs a series of rapid moves, turns, and course corrections that make it hard to track and harder to intercept.

The US Army characterizes the ATACMS as a maneuvering missile.

It can be fired from either the HIMARS or the M270 MLRS.

Mass: 3,690 pounds (1,670 kg)
Length: 13 feet (4.0 m)
Diameter: 24 inches (610 mm)
Maximum firing range: 190 mi (300 km)
Wingspan: 55 inches (1.4 m)
Flight ceiling: 160,000 ft (50 km)
Maximum speed: In excess of Mach 3 (0.6 mi/s; 1.0 km/s)
Guidance system: GPS-aided inertial navigation guidance 

Russia Threatens Further Action If ATACMS Are Used: 

In a July 20 interview, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the territorial scope of Russia’s “special military operation” would expand if Ukraine received long-range weapons from the West. Lavrov highlighted the West’s provision of HIMARS artillery to Ukraine as a cause for this expansion. Lavrov’s assertation that if Ukraine got the ATACMS, this would necessitate Russia to expand the scope of its invasion.


A rocket fires from an HIMARS launcher during a live fire certification for A and B batteries, 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade (Airborne) Feb. 17, Fort Bragg, N.C.

One line of thought suggests that this would indicate that Russia might seek to push a further 300 kilometers into Ukrainian territory to negate the range of the ATACMS.

This follows the Moscow playbook where they quickly threaten an escalation if Washington were to send the long-range missiles to Kyiv. 

Andrei Morochko, a spokesman for the so-called “People’s Militia” of the LNR, which is a proxy for Moscow, echoed Lavrov’s threats and stated that after the Russian capture of Lysychansk that Russia and its separatist proxies would need to advance 300 kilometers deeper into Ukrainian territory to “secure” its borders fully.

Do the Ukrainians Already Have ATACMS?

The recent events in Crimea have resulted in conflicting storylines by the Ukraine Defense Ministry. When the Saki airfield was heavily damaged, with at least nine aircraft destroyed, which was half the combat aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet’s 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment, a Ukrainian official said that a “device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used,” leading many to believe it was a drone or perhaps a US Harpoon anti-ship missile

Later, Ukrainian Defense Secretary Oleksii Reznikov said to the Washington Post that the attacks in Crimea resulted from a cadre of saboteurs, a “resistance force,” that were trained and led by Ukrainian Special Forces, targeting ammunition depots, fuel warehouses, and Russian command centers. 

But several US special operators were convinced that this wasn’t sabotaged, citing the size of the craters would require 500 pounds of C4 explosives. Many believe, and it has already been rumored, that the Ukrainians have already taken possession of ATACMS. 

Although Washington has declined to send ATACMS to Ukraine, many of the US allies have them. Among the known operators of the ATACMS are Australia, Bahrain, Greece, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA. One of our allies, thorough covertly or clandestine US military aid, could have given the Ukrainians some of the missiles.

How Would the ATACMS Be Used By Ukraine:

If Ukraine does indeed have ATACMS, how would the military use them? The operations in Crimea with the Saki airfield and the ammunition depot are prime examples of taking out important Russian targets far behind the front lines without resorting to hitting targets inside Russia. Washington refers to Crimea as still part of Ukraine. 

Major Russian command and control centers that are beyond the range of GMLRS could then be targeted. And Russian naval vessels of the Black Sea Fleet at anchor in Sevastopol would then be in range. 

ATACMS could aid the survivability of the Ukrainian Air Force pilots by targeting Russian air defense batteries and parked aircraft. And as we’ve already seen in Kherson, with the GMLRS weapons, they could target and destroy major bridges that the Russians use in resupply operations.  

Expert Biography: Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. A proven military analyst, he served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. In addition to writing for and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.