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HIMARS: The Rocket Weapon Creating Chaos for Russia in Ukraine

M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) vehicles with 1st Battalion, 181st Field Artillery Regiment, Tennessee Army National Guard participating in Saber Strike 17 execute a fire mission at Bemoko Piskie, Poland, June 16, 2017. This year’s exercise includes integrated and synchronized deterrence-oriented training designed to improve interoperability and readiness of the 20 participating nations’ militaries. (U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

What is HIMARS? An Expert Explains –  The M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) is just what the name suggests: a mobile rocket launcher. Relatively lightweight, the system is capable of launching multiple rockets from its mounting on the back of a standard U.S. Army M1140 truck frame. The system carries a pod that can be equipped with six 227mm GMLRS rockets, or alternatively, with one 610mm ATACMS missile.   

The HIMARS is “protecting our soldiers with combat proven reliability,” Lockheed Martin, the systems designer, said on its website. “Adversaries around the globe are becoming more sophisticated. To protect soldiers, citizens and infrastructure, our customers require the most advanced tactical missile capabilities. The Lockheed Martin High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is a strategic capability, improving homeland and important asset defense while reducing overall mission costs.”

Multiple Rocket System on Wheels

The HIMARS is essentially a M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) on wheels.

Employing a shoot-and-scoot capability, the system enhances the crew’s ability to survive in a combat zone. “HIMARS can emplace,  fire, relocate and conduct reload in a matter of minutes,” Lockheed Martin said, “dramatically reducing an adversary’s ability to locate and target HIMARS.”

The HIMARS pod is actually identical to the MLRS pod. Developed in the 1990s, the HIMARS first saw action in the Middle East, where the U.S. was embroiled in two decades of conflict. The HIMARS made headlines in 2010 when an HIMARS launched rocket killed 12 civilians in Afghanistan during Operation Moshtarak. Use of the HIMARS was suspended while an investigation was conducted.

Initially, there were concerns that the rocket system had fallen short, hitting the wrong target. But a British officer argued that the rockets were on target, that the civilian deaths were attributable to the Taliban, who used civilians as human shields. Lockheed, of course, maintains that the system is highly accurate. “With a recognized and proven range up to 300km and a variety of future munitions in development that will offer extended range beyond 499 km, HIMARS delivers affordable, quick, long-range precision strikes.”

Highly Transportable

The HIMARS is highly transportable and deployable just about anywhere. The entire system, truck and all, can conveniently be loaded into the back of a C-130 Hercules at which point the system can then be flown in, even to remote airfields. The HIMARS saw heavy action in Iraq against ISIS; in 2015, the U.S. Army reported that it had fired over 400 HIMARS rockets at ISIS. 

By 2016, Lockheed was boasting that the system had crossed the 1 million operational hours threshold and had achieved a commendable 99 percent operational readiness rate. Since 2016, the operational hours have more than doubled. “The HIMARS solution is a highly reliable, combat proven, fielded system that has exceeded all performance requirements. There are more than 540 fielded systems worldwide that have accumulated over 2,000,000 operating hours,” Lockheed Martin said.

Currently, the weapons platform is seeing action in Ukraine; initially, the U.S. supplied Ukraine with four HIMARS systems. But as the system has proven successful against Russian invaders, the U.S. has continued supplying Ukraine with more HIMARS systems. Allegedly, eight Ukrainian HIMARS systems have destroyed 30 Russian command stations, plus ammunition storage facilities – although this is highly disputed. Today, Ukraine is operating as many as 16 HIMARS systems.

The system is one of the foreign-supplied weapons systems that is helping Ukraine thwart a much larger Russian force.

The Ukrainians have even created decoy HIMARS out of wood, to draw Russian fire. 

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.