This week, Kyiv launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive.
The Ukrainian military is now sporting more Western weapon systems than ever, and Kyiv hopes they will make the difference on the ground and bend Russian resistance.
Up until now, the Ukrainian military has had great success with most of the weapon systems provided by the West. Among the scores of weapon systems, two stand out.
HIMARS and MLRS
The U.S. military has sent its Ukrainian counterpart 20 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
At the same time, it has ordered another 18 copies of the long-range weapon system that will be delivered to Ukraine over the next few years.
In addition, NATO countries, including the United Kingdom, Norway, and Germany, have provided about 15 M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) to Ukraine; the M270 is an older cousin of the M142 HIMARS.
The two weapon systems have systematically destroyed most major Russian command and control posts, transportation infrastructure, air defense systems, and troop concentration within a 50-mile radius from the frontlines.
To be sure, the M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS have been game-changing weapons, but the Ukrainians had to adapt them to the peculiarities of the battlefield. For example, the M31 GMLRS munitions aren’t optimal for taking out bridges, such as the key Antonivsky Bridge in the south. To bypass the inherent restrictions of the only precision-guided munitions in their arsenal, the Ukrainians targeted the roads on top of the bridges instead of trying to take out the whole bridge. And when the Russians sent in repair crews, the Ukrainians took them and their equipment out.
Ukrainian M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS have been mainly using the M31 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, a munition with a range of almost 45 miles. About 13 feet long, the M31 GMLRS has a warhead of 200 pounds and is propelled by a solid-fuel rocket motor. It can hit targets with extraordinary precision because of the use of an internal GPS signal. The munition can be fired by both the newer M142 HIMARS and its older M270 MLRS cousin. The U.S. military has provided thousands of these munitions to Ukraine.
Although Pentagon officials have said that through the M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS and their precision-guided munitions, the Ukrainian forces can reach “any target they need for that fight inside Ukrainian territory,” that isn’t completely accurate.
Indeed, there are several Russian targets within that range, but there are many more outside. Most importantly, the ones that are outside the range are the most important. Following the Ukrainian military’s highly effective long-range fires campaign of last summer (the Ukrainians had hit more than 400 high-value targets), the Russian forces have taken all their major logistical functions beyond that 45-mile mark.
U.S. recalcitrance to provide Ukraine with munitions that have a longer range, such as the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, which has a range of almost 200 miles, stems from concern about Kyiv’s intentions. The Ukrainian leadership has shown a desire to strike targets within Russia, something that the U.S. and most NATO countries consider to be too aggressive. The M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS provided to Ukraine have been altered to prevent them from firing longer-range munitions.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive has brought a new phase in the war. To prevail, the Ukrainian military will need every help it can get, including longer-range munitions.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.