On December 1, the Pentagon awarded a $430 million contract to defense industry giant Lockheed Martin for the production of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems—better known as HIMARS—and other support services necessary to “satisfy an urgent need to support the Army and various Foreign Military Sales partners.”
It’s the first contract for the production of new HIMARS since April—before the U.S. started sending the rocket launch system to Ukraine to help the country’s troops fight off the Russian invasion. The U.S. Department of Defense did not specify who the new HIMARS will be given to, and it’s not clear if more will be sent to Ukraine, where the system was hailed as a game-changer for the war this summer.
Frank Ledwidge, former military officer and author, told Newsweek: “I think that part of [the contract] is a funding for the 18 HIMARS that, as it was announced a month or so ago, are to be made for Ukraine.” He said that the approval of the contract doesn’t mean that these systems will be reaching Ukraine anytime soon.
“The current 20 HIMARS which have been delivered are all that Kyiv currently has,” Ledwidge said, adding, “That’s actually quite a small number considering the front is 800 to 1,000 kilometers (497 to 621 miles) long and that this is a very artillery-centered war, and HIMARS is a form of artillery.”
Does Ukraine Need More HIMARS?
Marina Miron, from the Defence Studies Department of the King’s College London, told Newsweek: “So far, Ukraine has received 20 HIMARS. Sixteen arrived mid-summer, and an additional four were provided in October 2022.
“HIMARS has been hailed by the media when they were delivered to the Ukrainian forces. However, despite the media attention, it remains dubious how far they came to be a war-changing weapon,” she said.
“The introduction of HIMARS to the battlefield has had its momentum, temporarily catching the Russians off-guard as they had to readjust their tactics to deal with the HIMARS threat. So, the effect was more psychological here, though it was temporary.”
According to Miron, HIMARS was just one of the many factors—but not the only one—that have helped Ukrainian forces in key operations like the one that made the Antonovsky Bridge near Kherson inoperable by Russian troops.
Ledwidge said that HIMARS were used “extensively” in Ukraine since the mid-summer and that the systems were particularly effective in hitting Russian logistics targets just behind the front lines.
“Those have been very effective [attacks] because what happens when you destroy or damage an artillery or ammunitions dump—which is what they’re called—is that you have a ‘mission kill’—meaning you stop a mission before it happens,” Ledwidge said.
However, both Miron and Ledwidge doubt that, right now, Ukraine needs more HIMARS to continue its counteroffensive in the occupied parts of its territory.
“Back in July 2022, Ukraine’s defense secretary insisted the Ukrainian forces needed some 100 HIMARS. This was before the Kherson offensive and retaking of Izyum and Lyman,” Miron said.
“However, the issue now, as well as back then, was the amount of MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) missiles the U.S. and its allies could deliver to Ukraine, given the firepower-intensive nature of the conflict.”
Miron said that it’s “impossible” to say whether Kyiv could benefit from counting more HIMARS in its military arsenal “as it seems that the need has shifted towards better air defense systems.” But it’s “certainly” better for Ukraine to have HIMARS than not to have them, Miron said, “especially considering the role of artillery in the war.”
The actual importance of potentially having more HIMARS in Ukraine’s arsenal would also depend on Kyiv’s capability to maintain and repair the systems, and on the specific targets Ukraine’s forces might choose to hit—which have to be chosen carefully given the spare stocks of the system. Kyiv having enough fuel to operate the HIMARS also needs to be factored in.
“All the above needs to be taken into consideration,” Miron said. “And certainly, there is always a danger that these systems might fall into the adversary’s hands with undesirable consequences. To add to the long list of caveats, there needs to be timely intelligence to make the best use of HIMARS. Right now, with power outages, delivery of timely intelligence on potential targets might prove to be difficult as communication lines with troops in the field would be severed by these outages.”
What Would Ukraine Need Instead?
“Ukrainians have been asking for months for something called ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile System], which is a long-range missile that can also be put on the back of one of these HIMARS trucks,” said Ledwidge.
“They want those to hold at-risk places in Crimea or even further into the Russian rear, which they would do because they are quite powerful as well as long range. The Americans have not yet decided to give the Ukrainians those,” Ledwidge said, adding that the U.S. is instead looking into giving Kyiv long-range precision bombs.
“I suspect the Americans are gradually increasing the capability of the very few systems the Ukrainians have, and will probably, I would think, eventually build up to these ATACMS, which are the most effective rounds they have.”
With ATACMS, which Lockheed Martin says have a maximum range of 300 kilometers (186 miles), Ukraine could “pick off far greater amounts of Russian logistics. They could attack convoys on the roads. They could attack more headquarters if they can find them,” Ledwidge said.
“The Ukrainians simply want and need as many systems as they can get. Twenty isn’t very many at all.”
Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian defense ministry and the Pentagon for a response.
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