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ATACMS: The Long-Range Missiles Ukraine Wants to Fight Russia

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

Less than two hours before I began typing these words, I wrote a separate article for 19FortyFive noting that this month will mark the 9th anniversary of Putin’s annexation of Crimea. From there, I went into the main crux of my article, noting something that was considered unthinkable by the soothsayers in the halls of Congress and the Pentagon alike just a few short weeks ago is suddenly being given some credibility: the prospect of Ukraine finally retaking Crimea. Among the aspects I discussed were a Ukrainian combined arms offensive as postulated by retired Australian Defense Forces Major General Mick Ryan, and (2) Ukraine’s presumptive use of personnel such as such as their elite Air Assault Forces and equipment such as the MiG-29 Fulcrum jet fighter and Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship in such a hypothetical liberation campaign. But I also touched briefly upon a weapons system that is so far conspicuously absent from Ukraine’s arsenal that many experts consider essential for the prospect of Ukraine recapturing Crimea from Russian clutches: US-made ATACMS missiles.

ATACMS History and Specifications

So then, what’s so goshdarn special about ATACMS? Well, for one thing, as noted by Alexandra Brzozowski, Global Europe & Defence Editor of EURACTIV:, the system has a range of roughly 297 kilometers (184.5 miles). This would go a long way in bolstering the Ukrainian Armed Forces standoff attack capabilities.

The MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) was initially designed in 1986 and entered in official operational service with the U.S. Army in 1991. According to the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin: “ATACMS is a long-range guided missile that gives operational commanders the immediate firepower to win the deep battle. Each ATACMS missile is packaged in a MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket System] look-alike launch pod and is fired from the MLRS Family of Launchers…The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) is a conventional surface-to-surface artillery weapon system capable of striking targets well beyond the range of existing Army cannons, rockets and other missiles. ATACMS missiles are fired from the MLRS M270 and M270A1 weapons platform. ATACMS was very successful in Operation Desert Storm.”

Other specifications include a weight of 3,690 pounds, a length of 13 feet, a diameter of 24 inches, a wingspan of 55 inches, a flight ceiling of 160,000 feet, and a max speed of Mach 3 (2,283.6 miles per hour). 

Okay, So What’s the Holdup?

Yet the Biden Administration has so far declined to provide ATACMS to Ukraine; never bloody well mind that other key American allies such as South Korea, Poland, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Qatar and Bahrain already have them. Poland shares a border with Russia, and Lord knows that Poland has its own history of negative run-ins with Russia. I can hear the excuse already: “Well, y’see, Poland is a NATO ally, while Ukraine isn’t, and we don’t want to risk aggravating the Russians further.

(SARCASM MODE ENGAGED) Well, hell, by that rationale, perhaps we should stop selling the missiles to Bahrain, out of fear of upsetting Iran. Sheesh, since Joe Biden is so ga-ga about wanting to revive the JCPOA, maybe we could cut off Bahrain from any further ATACMS-related assistance (spare parts, technical advice, etc.) to sweeten a new deal with Tehran. (SARCASM MODE DISENGAGED)

And oh, by the way, Iran and Russia have become increasingly cozy as of late.

A Question of Political Willpower 

That’s what it boils down to.

The intransigence on ATACMS is just one facet of a bigger picture problem, as noted by Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) President Clifford D. May in an op-ed published in the 28 February 2023 edition of The Washington Times, titled “Dear President Biden: War in Ukraine isn’t just about Ukraine”:

“An important point: If you will the ends, you must will the means. Or to put it in the vernacular: If you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk…For the past year, you’ve been providing the Ukrainians enough weapons to prevent them from losing but not enough to give them a real chance to drive out the invaders. Why not ask such military experts as retired Army Gen. Jack Keane what’s necessary to get the job done as fast as possible?… Mr. President, the world we bequeath to our children and grandchildren will either be led by America or dominated by tyrants who despise America. There is no alternative. Ukraine is one battle in a wider war already underway…That’s the challenge you face. Some people don’t think you’re up to it. I’ve written this letter because I dearly want you to prove them wrong.”

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS)

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. The Al U Know

    March 3, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    The thing with Poland being a NATO ally is only one part.
    Poland is a NATO ally….not at war with Russia. Same with Bahrain.

    The Russian-Ukraine War is a messy pool of death and trench warfare destruction where the USA still sits on the side. Holding onto its assumptions.

    Assumption #1.
    It can sit on the side and save troops, its troops, from further risk.
    Sanctions will do the trick. In a decade Russia will either be a collection of Chinese vasal states, or still together but equally as starved as North Korea. The Economist predicts Russia’s economy will grow ever so slightly while the UK’s will decline. For a time.
    This assumption may prove true, in the end, but who cares if AFU is the bear-trap, right! Even if a higher calibur ‘bullet’ like ATACMS would rip the bear apart. Sooner.

    Win the long game, win the New Cold War.
    Then fight all comers, be that China or whomever else.

    Assumption #2
    On the flip side the USA is still worried about poking the bear, even though it is in the bloody fighting pit below.

    Older, weaker. ATACMS could stike deeper at the vital heart. Heck even HIMARs could have hit deeper but its range and numbers was purposely limited. And so Ukraine uses Soviet era drones and off the shelf drones.

    But a half-century staring down potential military behavioural strategy tells some of the US Army brass that this ‘lunge’ could miss. M. Milley, D. Davis and others (some of the other writers here) what I’m assuming are West Point by the book,the old book, military voices assume Russia will rabidly rage with some of its nukes. Or that it is more wiley than Wiley E. Coyote. Hence Crazy Ivan. Pull a rabbit out of the hat. A sub with a nuclear drone. Where is it now? Shahed drones, kalibur. Su-57, T-14 Armata.

    HIMARs, in such small numbers is not the bringer of Russia’s apocalyptic rapture that the USA wanted.
    How many ATACMS will be needed to tip the scales in a decisive manner?
    Failure will mean a lot of collateral. Like a lot more slogging it out in Ukraine. More escalation into bringing F-16s, Tornados and such.

    A little drizzle is not a downpour and will not break a levee. It just leaves things wet and annoyingly damp. A leftist Brazilian government is helping the Iranian Navy go futher into what was once thought of as America’s backyard. India is collaborating on Martian exploration tech, on the heels of putting the Lords of War of both Russia/the West together for a miltary expo. Good ol’ times, like being all chumy in everybody’s favorite colony of Syria.

    This doesn’t take into account the ‘peacemaker’ that is China. Security and money. No strings attached…Ok. Afghanistan. Burkina Faso. Uganda. South Africa. Hooks in you, hooks in me.

    Apathy and false promises.

    So, if we take this back to the beginning the Western rationale looks all the more clearer.
    Poland is a part of the club. And Ukraine is a 3rd world country.

    Birds of a feather flock together.

    -From the Al U Know

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