Ukraine keeps handy a long list of weapons it wants from its foreign allies—a list that Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov consults at regular meetings of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a virtual confab of dozens of top military officials.
At the top of that list is an American-made mobile rocket launcher—the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, made by Lockheed Martin.
Now it looks like Kyiv might finally get its truck-mounted HIMARS. The administration of U.S. president Joe Biden plans to sign off on the transfer next week, CNN reported.
It’s not hard to see why the Ukrainians have been so adamant about getting the launchers. Despite Russia’s lopsided losses after three months of intensive fighting, the Russian army still can concentrate a lot more firepower than the Ukrainian army can do.
The Russian army rolled into Ukraine with no fewer than 4,700 artillery pieces at its disposal. The Ukrainian army had just 1,800.
That imbalance is obvious in the Russians’ current offensive across a small pocket of Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. For two weeks, the best remaining Russian battalions have been pushing north from the town of Popasna, aiming to drive 25 miles north across the salient and cut off the city of Severodonetsk and its thousands-strong Ukrainian garrison.
The Russians have managed to advance halfway across the salient, “due in part to concentrating artillery units,” the U.K. Defense Ministry stated.
Ukraine needs more and better artillery—not only to bombard Russian troops, but also to prevent Russian guns from bombarding Ukrainian troops. Artillery shooting at artillery in order to destroy or at least disrupt it. A practice called “counterbattery.”
HIMARS is high-end artillery. It’s not for no reason the U.S. Marine Corps is replacing many of its M-777 howitzers with new HIMARS. Coincidentally, Ukraine is getting 100 of the redundant M777s.
The wheeled HIMARS is more mobile than a towed howitzer is. Where a skilled M777 crew might shoot five rounds a minute out to 19 miles, a HIMARS crew can fire six rockets in just a few seconds out to a distance of between 20 and 40 miles, depending on the exact ammo type. There are guided and unguided rockets.
Because it can shoot a lot, fast and potentially a long distance, a HIMARS is ideal for counterbattery. The crew can drive away before the enemy has a chance to shoot back with its own countercounterbattery fire.
It’s unclear how many HIMARS the U.S. government might give to Ukraine, and how quickly. The Army has 375 HIMARS. The Marine Corps has 40. The president through his “drawdown” authority can take launchers from the Army and Marines and give them to Ukraine.
The more HIMARS Ukraine gets, the fewer the United States has … until Lockheed Martin makes more. Lockheed builds around 30 HIMARS annually. If the Pentagon is willing to accept modest risk for a year, then 30 might be the right number of launchers to give away.