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American HIMARS in the Ukrainian Armed Forces: a year of combat use against Russian invaders

American HIMARS in the Ukrainian Armed Forces: a year of combat use against Russian invaders

Саня Козацький Саня Козацький
Armed Forces of Ukraine Artillery MLRS Ukraine War with Russia

American HIMARS appeared in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine in June 2022. For more than a year, the Ukrainian military has been launching precision munitions from these MRLs against Russian invaders.

Militarnyi explains how HIMARS has changed the course of hostilities in 2022 and how these weapons helped in the offensive of the Ukrainian forces this year.

We will also consider the role of American high-precision rocket launchers in the destruction of logistics and military equipment by Russian invaders.

Currently, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have 20 M142 HIMARS MRLs, which inflict significant losses on the invaders.

It should be noted that, in addition to HIMARS, other Western multiple rocket launchers of 227 mm caliber are also in service with the Ukrainian army.

The UK has handed over to Ukraine the M270 MLRS, Germany – MARS II (this is the German version of the M270), and France – LRU, this is an upgraded version of the M270 for the use of М31 GMLRS rockets.

How did HIMARS appear in the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

On June 1, 2022, the United States approved a $700 million military assistance package for Ukraine, which included four M142 HIMARS rocket artillery systems and ammunition for them.

Later, the Pentagon reported that the transfer to Ukraine of several such systems is just the beginning, and further weapons will be added.

Then the United States reported that it would double the number of HIMARS rocket artillery systems for Ukraine. Four more MRLs were included in the next American aid package.

Ukrainian gunners began training with these systems in early June 2022. The course lasted three weeks. During it, the military was trained to use and maintain American launchers.

On June 23, 2022, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, stated that the HIMARS rocket missile systems had already arrived in Ukraine.

A few days later, the Ukrainian Ground Forces reported that the HIMARS, which the United States transferred to the Defense Forces of Ukraine, were already operating on the front line and striking at the Russian invasion troops.

Subsequently, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, showcased a photo of high-precision rocket artillery systems that Ukraine received from the United States.

HIMARS engagement in the Russian-Ukrainian war

The Ukrainian military immediately began to actively use modern long-range rocket artillery systems obtained from partners.

This helped break the logistics and supply routes of the invaders. Strikes were carried out on the headquarters and control posts of the enemy in different directions.

The Russian barracks with personnel and ammunition depots fell under HIMARS strikes, as did buildings where the Russians hid and repaired their damaged military equipment.

Since 2014, the Russian invaders have been creating dozens of depots and storage facilities for ammunition and fuel in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas.

With the appearance of HIMARS in Ukraine, most Russian ammunition depots, supply points, and logistics networks fell within the range of these and other precision rocket systems.

First comments about HIMARS of the Ukrainian military

M142 HIMARS crews in early July 2022 told American journalists about the results of the MRL in the first week after its arrival in Ukraine.

A crew member of one of the four first Ukrainian HIMARS, Ukrainian military “Lieutenant Koval,” told The Wall Street Journal about the first use of the MRL. The military said that the headquarters of the Russian army in Izium, Kharkiv region, was affected. The invaders set it up in one of the city’s schools. According to Ukrainian intelligence, 17 Russian soldiers were killed, including a colonel and two majors. Another 20 invaders were injured.

A few days later, the same crew fired on the barracks, where a large number of Russian troops were stationed.

During the third strike on the invaders, all four HIMARS, which at that time were in the Armed Forces, worked simultaneously. They fired 24 missiles at Russian positions in one area.

The fourth attack was on an ammunition depot in the city of Zymohiria in the Luhansk region.

According to another Ukrainian military with the call sign “Moroz,” the real probable circular error when hitting the HIMARS rocket was less than a meter, wrote The Washington Post.

Ukrainian crews use HIMARS mainly at night to minimize the possibility of detection by Russian reconnaissance drones. Entering target coordinates and launching takes less than a minute. Each MRL operates from a separate position. The vehicles, at high speed, leave the position in a few minutes, right after firing.

Allied comments

A senior official of the U.S. Department of Defense at the end of June 2022, immediately after the first engagement of the M142 HIMARS by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, stressed that the Ukrainian military used “very well” the weapons systems supplied to them by the United States, allies, and partners.

“As you probably noticed on social media, Ukrainians show that they have HIMARS in their country. Today [ed. – June 27] in the morning, I will not go into details, but everything indicates that they use them very well,” said the Pentagon spokesman.

And already in July, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, General Milley, noted in a telephone conversation the effectiveness of Ukrainian rocket artillery systems, in particular the use of American-made М142 HIMARS.

After that, the Ukrainian gunners increased the use of American launchers at the front, destroying various military targets of the invaders.

In particular, in the occupied Kadiivka (former Stakhanov) of the Luhansk region, the Ukrainian military destroyed the location of the Rosgvardiya soldiers.

HIMARS during the liberation of Kherson region in 2022

The Defense Forces of Ukraine attacked bridges across the Dnipro River to destroy Russian logistics on the right bank of the Kherson region and the temporarily occupied regions of the Mykolaiv region. The largest of them was the Antonovsky road bridge in Kherson.

For precision strikes on the transport structure, which the Russians used to transport personnel and ammunition of the troops, in particular, the Ukranian military used GMLRS series guided rockets of 227mm caliber, which can be used with the М142 HIMARS and M270.

One such strike in August 2022 was caught on video. The camera recorded that the Russian air defense tried to shoot down rockets, but failed – despite these tries, they hit the bridge.

And during the offensive of the Armed Forces in the Kherson region in late August, 2022, the HIMARS crews operated continuously for 37 hours. The Ukrainian officer told the Wall Street Journal about this.

Then four launchers of the M142 MRL hit 120 targets in a day and a half without rest. That allowed Ukrainian forces to break through the line of defense of the Russians in the Kherson region and reach new frontiers.

WSJ journalists also published a photo of one of the HIMARS, on whose cockpit the military painted 69 skulls, each of which meant a confirmed destroyed target.

Russian propaganda about the destruction of HIMARS

Immediately after the Armed Forces of Ukraine launched the HIMARS, Russian propaganda began to declare their destruction.

In July 2022, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said that Russian invasion troops had not destroyed a single HIMARS rocket launcher in Ukraine.

РСЗВ M142 HIMARS військових України. Липень 2022. Україна. Кадр з відео Юрія Бутусова

He also stressed that the ability of Ukrainians to quickly deploy HIMARS systems speaks of their skills, ingenuity, professional abilities, determination, and their will to fight the aggressor.

Later, the Russians announced the destruction of six HIMARS MRLs at once but did not provide any evidence. This statement of the invaders was denied by a high-ranking representative of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

In addition, the Russians have repeatedly stated that their air defense allegedly shot down rocket-propelled precision projectiles of the GMLRS series, but the invaders also did not release evidence of these events. At the same time, a video published on the web showed Russian air defenses trying to intercept rockets.

The Russians even stated the need to develop a specialized anti-aircraft missile system (SAM) to counter strikes from HIMARS.

M142 HIMARS during the Ukrainian offensive in 2023

During the 2023 offensive campaign, the Armed Forces of Ukraine began to increasingly use HIMARS and, presumably, M270 for counter-battery warfare.

This is evidenced by the many videos that have recently been published on social media by the Ukrainian military.

Уражені дві російські реактивні установки БМ-21 "Град". Червень 2023. Україна. Кадр з відео Володимира Зеленського

American precision-guided rocket-propelled ammunition allows to accurately hit Russian self-propelled artillery installations, MLRS, and reconnaissance equipment, in particular, radar and SAM. Most likely, for this purpose, M30A1 rockets are used, which contain thousands of tungsten elements that, during detonation, affect equipment and manpower.

In this way, the Ukrainian military destroyed the Russian Pantsir-S1 SAM on the outskirts of Bakhmut in May 2023.

The destruction of the air defense system was followed by a powerful detonation of ammunition.

Ukrainian gunners also hit the Russian self-propelled launcher of the Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile system near the city of Popasna, in the Donetsk region.

In June 2023, the Ukrainian military destroyed with GMLRS-guided rockets the Russian Msta-S ACS battery on the outskirts of the village of Yalinske in the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region, which is now under occupation.

Ukrainian HIMARS also hit four more Russian Msta-S self-propelled guns in the Donetsk region.

Direct hits by GMLRS-guided rockets destroyed three Russian self-propelled howitzers. They caught fire as well as the ammunition. One more self-propelled gun was disabled due to a close hit by a HIMARS rocket near it.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine also hit the Russian Tor-M2 self-propelled air defense system in the occupied part of the Kherson region.

Ukrainian aerial reconnaissance found the Russian anti-aircraft system on the left bank of the Dnipro River. A well-aimed artillery strike then put the enemy SAM out of action.

President Volodymyr Zelensky in early July 2023 published a video of the operation of Ukrainian М142 HIMARS against the artillery of Russian invasion forces in Ukraine.

The video recorded the defeat of four Russian BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers. After being struck, some 122mm rockets, which were loaded into the installations, exploded.

The enemy 2S7 Pion/Malka 203mm self-propelled gun was also hit.

Уражена російська 203-мм самохідна гармата 2С7 «Пион/Малка». Червень 2023. Україна. Кадр з відео Володимира Зеленського

During the counter-battery warfare, the Ukrainian military hit a 2S19 Msta-S 152-mm self-propelled howitzer.

What is HIMARS?

The American М142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) can be used as a multiple rocket launcher with ammunition of different ranges and as a tactical ballistic missile system.

Each launcher carries six GMLRS series precision rockets or one MGM-140 ATACMS short-range tactical ballistic missile to destroy important enemy ground military targets up to 300 km away.

Типи ракет для РСЗВ M270 та M142

HIMARS is designed to defeat areas of concentration of artillery systems, SAM, cargo transport, combat vehicles, and armored personnel carriers, as well as to provide fire support to friendly units.

GMLRS rockets are a series of American guided rocket ammunition. These projectiles are classified as precision ones. They have an effective range of 15 to 84 kilometers.

Currently, 20 of the American-made M142 HIMARS rocket artillery systems are in service with Ukraine. Ukraine is also negotiating with Washington to get HIMARS systems that have already been used. This will help accelerate the supply of these weapons.

Within a few years, the United States will provide Ukraine with 18 more HIMARS along with ammunition. These will be new launchers that will be manufactured by industry rather than withdrawn from American stockpiles.

Now the United States is focused on providing Ukrainian forces with the necessary number of GMLRS rockets.

Ukraine will also receive high-precision GLSDB missiles, which can be used with the M142. Thus, the Armed Forces will become the first operators of these weapons.

Structurally, a GLSDB is a GBU-39 small guided bomb weighing 130 kilograms, which is connected to a solid rocket engine from a М26 rocket. When the engine detaches, the wings of the bombs open in the air, which provides a significantly longer range.

Авіабомба GBU-39

These precision-guided rounds were created in cooperation with Boeing and SAAB. They have been developing since 2019.

The use of a rocket engine provides a range of approximately 150 kilometers. The weapon uses GPS and an inertial navigation system.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked the United States to provide ATACMS ballistic missiles to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which can strike targets at a distance of about 300 km depending on the modification.

However, the position of the Joe Biden administration was that they could not give Ukraine ATACMS long-range missiles due to the fact that they lack in the American army.

Ракета комплексу ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System). Фото: Міноборони США

However, at the end of June 2023, American and European officials reported that the United States had come close to making a decision to provide Ukraine with ATACMS long-range missiles, according to The Wall Street Journal. Such a decision requires approval at the highest level.

Conclusions

Ukrainian strikes from HIMARS and M270 significantly complicated the ability of the Russians to supply their invasion troops both in the East and in the South of Ukraine. The invaders were forced to move their depots and logistics centers more than 100 kilometers from the front line so that they would not be hit by Ukrainian precision weapons, which were transferred by the United States and other European allies. This complicated the logistics for Russians in the East and South.

The destruction of a large number of enemy air defense systems and artillery systems using GMLRS rockets weakened the enemy’s ability to resist Ukrainian offensive actions and the use of other Ukrainian precision weapons, in particular cruise missiles and the use of reconnaissance drones over Russian positions in the rear.

With the introduction of HIMARS and M270 GLSDB missiles in the Ukrainian arsenal, which, with high accuracy, are able to hit enemy targets at a range of up to 150 km, the Ukrainian army can more effectively strike enemy targets at a greater distance.

If the United States does provide Ukraine with ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles with a range of about 300 km, this will allow Ukrainian forces to strike at the depots and logistics centers of the Russian invasion army on the rear territories.

Armed Forces of Ukraine Artillery MLRS Ukraine War with Russia