President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky he would approve the sale of MGM-190 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) tactical ballistic missiles to Ukraine in the wake of intense pressure. ATACMS missiles are fired from a conventional tracked M-270 MLRS and can be concealed from enemy view due to the fact its container looks like a conventional rocket system.
“The two things on the top of their wish list are ATACMS and F-16s, which have strong symbolic meaning for the Ukrainians,” Mark F. Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Time magazine.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said until now that it would not provide ATACMS missiles to Ukraine out of fear of escalating the war. Ukraine wants the missiles because they would place virtually all Russian troop formations on Ukrainian soil within range. The U.S. provided Ukraine with HIMARS rockets last year that can reach up to 50 miles and are guided by GPS, which Russia has figured out how to jam in certain cases.
ATACMS Unlikely to Change Territorial Control
The missile would put Crimea and large swaths of Russian territory in Ukraine’s crosshairs due to its approximately 190-mile range. Such a weapon would have as much of a strategic impact as Germany’s use of the V-2 against Britain during World War II, the War of the Cities during the Iran-Iraq War, or Russia’s use of its Iskander missiles during the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
Ukrainians have claimed the ATACMS is crucial to its offensive along its 600-mile front with Russian forces.
Such weapons have a greater propaganda value than they have in terms of control on the ground. Ukraine has made modest territorial gains against Russia in certain sectors along the front.
Ukraine Needs Air Dominance Over Russia
Russia’s dominance of the air remains Ukraine’s greatest problem. Coalition forces made quick work of Iraqi defenses that relied on similar Soviet doctrine due to airpower as B-52s and F-16s dropped tons of ordnance on entrenched defenders.
A weapons system like the F/A-18G Growler would make life harder for Russia because it would be useful in suppressing Russian air defenses that could support F-16s in dropping ordnance on Russian troops.
Western intelligence estimates suggest that Ukraine only a has few more weeks to accomplish the objectives of its summer offensive before winter sets in.
“There’s still a reasonable amount of time, probably about 30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left,” Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley said recently. “Then the rains will come in; it will become very muddy, and it will be very difficult to maneuver.”
Once winter sets in the weather will become cold, bitter, and muddy. Ukraine made serious gains last year in mid-November after it recaptured Kherson from Russian occupiers. This year, winter likely would be an advantage for the Russian defenders in their effort to consolidate their front lines.
Administration officials tell news outlets they do not see the ATACMS as a silver bullet that will break the stalemate. Russia has repeatedly shown resilience and refused to disengage.
HIMARS attacks against Russia’s Kerch Strait bridge, linking Crimea with the Russian mainland, have only had propaganda value as the Russians have repeatedly repaired it.
Russia Unlikely to Retreat Facing ATACMS
The idea that one single weapons system like the ATACMS will magically make the Russians run for cover and leave Ukraine is silly. Wars are won based on control of territory. Little will change until Ukraine can gain control of its skies and gain air superiority over the Russian invaders.
Politicians are terrible military strategists. Winning in Ukraine should focus on the suppression and neutralization of Russian air defenses and the Russian air force as a factor. The Biden administration likely will not allow the Ukrainians to target Russian airfields inside Russia, which means the Russian Air Force will continue to pose a problem.
Airpower combined with boots on the ground wins wars as every conflict over the past century has shown. One cannot prevail without the other. ATACMS minus advancing armor and infantry, and expanded territorial control on the part of Ukraine, means the stalemate will continue because all signs show that Vladimir Putin has no intent of giving up.
About the Author
John Rossomando is a defense and counterterrorism analyst and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.