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HIMARS Rockets Alone Won’t Win the War for Ukraine

HIMARS
HIMARS graphic from Lockheed Martin.

HIMARS Is An Important Piece, But Not All That Is Needed For Ukraine – The war in Ukraine has been fought to a bloody standstill. After Russia’s plan to blitzkrieg their way in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson, Mariupol, and other cities failed with heavy losses in troops and equipment, their tactics changed. 

They concentrated their Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) in the east and would saturate small areas of terrain with concentrated artillery and missile strikes (about 5,000-6,000 rounds per day) and edged slowly forward as they sought to take Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts that comprise the Donbas.

Artillery, The God of War

Since the days of Peter the Great, who Russian President Vladimir Putin compares himself to, and through World War II, the Russians have traditionally used that same tactic of massive, indiscriminate artillery fire. Stalin once called artillery “The God of War.”

In Ukraine, they have attacked civilian population centers, civilian infrastructure, hospitals, medical treatment facilities, schools, and government buildings. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the shelling, with many far from the frontlines.

According to Ukrainian officials, they have used more than half of their cruise and precision-guided weapons. This means they have been resorting to more of the massed, more inaccurate, artillery fire. 

But the war changed again once the US introduced the HIMARS missile system and the British sent M270 MLRS systems in different aid packages. Both systems use the same ammunition, and the accuracy of the weapons is far beyond anything that the Ukrainian or Russian armed forces have. This allowed the Ukrainian military to effectively stop the Russian advances, destroying artillery positions, ammunition dumps, and headquarters elements. HIMARS has a range of 50 miles.

However, the Ukrainians asked for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), some of which have a range of 186 miles. But Washington denied that request. 

“We don’t want to take steps that widen the conflict, and so some of the assurances that we’ve asked for in 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.

Back in July, US Army General Mark Hertling (ret) said that the HIMARS system has been a “game changer” against Russia, adding that Moscow’s forces are now “in dire shape.” 

But is HIMARS a true game changer? Yes and no. The HIMARS systems have been hitting well above their weight and have been highly effective. This is why the Russian Ministry of Defense is trying to use propaganda, constantly claiming to destroy HIMARS launchers. 

But with the few (16) HIMARS systems supplied by the US and just six of the US-made M270s given by the UK, they are not going to win Ukraine the war. 

Many More HIMARS and M270s Are Needed By Ukraine:

The relatively paltry number of precision missile systems supplied to Ukraine has allowed Kyiv to grind the war to a standstill but is a far lower number than they’ll need if they are to retake the territory seized by Russia.

Oleksii Reznikov, minister of defense of Ukraine, said back in July that the HIMARS had “significantly slowed the Russian advance, but the country needed more. 

“We would need at least 100 [HIMARS to retake Ukrainian territory], I think. That would become a game-changer on the battlefield,” he said. 

“We are using HIMARS systems precisely, like…surgery, because we will not use the Russian strategy of, how we call, meat grinder,” he added, referring to the imprecise Russian shelling that has led to hundreds of civilian casualties.

What Else is Needed By Ukraine: 

HIMARS alone won’t win the war with Russia. They need other artillery systems, which are replacing obsolescent Soviet-era artillery guns with less range. Those legacy systems have nearly run out of ammunition. 

The US M777 155mm howitzer, French CAESAR, German PzH 2000, and other systems are coming in, which gives the Ukrainians better and replenishable firepower. The US is also sending 16 105mm howitzers and 36,000 rounds of ammunition. The UK military sent 19 L-119 105mm howitzers. 

Also needed is more self-propelled artillery; we’ve mentioned several times that the US has plenty of M-109 155mm self-propelled artillery systems in depot storage in Germany. These, plus M1A1 tanks, which are outdated but more than a match for the current crop of Russian armor, would be needed for a counteroffensive. 

HIMARS

Marines with Romeo Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, fire rockets from a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) on Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, June 1, 2013. Marines with 5/11 are deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz / Released)

Ukraine needs more drones, although the ones they have are being used significantly. They have the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, and the US has sent the Phoenix Ghost drone as well as the Switchblade, a kamikaze drone with a small explosive warhead that can be flown into the target. More is needed. 

So, is HIMARS a true game changer? If the US can get the Ukrainian 100 or more of them, in conjunction with other needs, the answer is yes.

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 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

Written By

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 PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Goran

    September 3, 2022 at 11:38 am

    Liberating the entire Ukraine from the Russian military is possible only by inflicting immense civilian casualties in areas where most of the population identify as Russian. The damage to infrastructure would have to be devastating as well. Considering these two factors, the Ukrainian endgame should not be the victory at the battlefield, but forcing Russia to accept some sort of a compromise. A peace agreement Ukraine should strive for should revolve around two elements, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and a high level of autonomy for predominantly Russian populated areas of the country. That’s fair and that’s possible without further bloodshed. However, I doubt Putin would agree to that and the free world has no other option but to continue assisting Ukrainians by providing defensive capabilities. Emphasis on defensive.

  2. speedster

    September 3, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    The best suggestion I can come up with or Ukraine, is to adopt the tactic that Napoleon used to win so many battles. In that event there might be no need for another 100 HIMARS.
    What Napoleon did so successfully ,even beating superior numbers, was to focus his forces on a small part of the enemy echelon.
    This strategy is confirmed by the discovery of the famous Italian economist, Pareto, his 80/20 principle asserts that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all causes or inputs, for any given event. In business, a goal of the 80/20 rule is to identify inputs that are potentially the most productive, and make them the priority.

  3. Jacksonian Libertarian

    September 3, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    Clearly the King of Battle (dumb artillery) has been demoted to Private by smart weapons like HIMARS.

    Combat Power rule of thumb: 1 smart weapon = 500 dumb weapons

    The Fact that HIMARS, despite the tiny numbers supplied, is having such a huge affect on the battlefield. Demonstrates the uselessness of the logistics draining dumb artillery.

    What is needed isn’t more HIMARS, but other smart weapons like the Talon 2.75in laser guided missiles with their 5km+ range, and easy adaptation to pickup trucks. The huge numbers of 2.75in rockets in the West’s inventories, and the APKWS laser guidance kits, make these ideal for the Ukrainian military. The accuracy of these missiles is 17in across their entire range, which is much further than the 5km stated here. The laser guidance, high speed, and accuracy of these missiles makes them good for air defense as well as ground attack. The numerous warheads and fusing options also make this system extremely flexible for any conceivable tactical situation.

    The “mature precision strike regime” is here to stay, adapt or die.

  4. Old Desert Coyote

    September 6, 2022 at 9:45 am

    To day the CIA released satellite images of trains loaded with 152 mm Artillery rounds and 122 mm artillery rockets leaving NORTH KOREA bound for Russian Military forces in the Ukraine. This leads one to ask where is the support for the Russians from Peking, and just why the industrial giant of Russia having to buy weapons from the military midget of NORTH KOREA????

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