- US-made high-mobility artillery rocket systems helped Ukraine turn the tide against Russia.
- The success of HIMARS is likely to increase demand for the weapon – Taiwan already wants to buy more.
The US military is looking for companies capable of building up to 100 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers per year.
The military’s official request for information comes as Ukraine uses its new US-supplied M142 high-mobility artillery rocket systems to carry out devastating strikes against Russian forces.
Interestingly, the military sets a five-year schedule that calls for nearly 500 new HIMARS, which are currently being built by Lockheed Martin. Over the 2024 to 2028 financial years, the Army plans a minimum of 24 new launchers per year and a maximum of 96, i.e. a total of 120 to 480 over five years.
“Total quantities for HIMARS include all potential variants,” the military said. “Additional support efforts include, but are not limited to: Recurring Production, Obsolescence, Engineering Changes, System Engineering and Program Management (SEPM), Integrated Logistics Support (ILS), Parts spare parts, training on new equipment and other support equipment.”
The construction of these new HIMARS depends on funding, congressional policy, and changes in the international situation and military technology. “The information provided may be used by the military to develop its acquisition strategy,” noted Redstone Arsenal, which issued the request for information.
Adding 480 new launchers would nearly double HIMARS’ global supply.
The US Army has 363 and the Marine Corps another 47. The army said in 2021 – before Russia attacked Ukraine – that it would seek to increase its strength to 547 HIMARS. Romania has 18 HIMARS and US approval to purchase up to 54. Singapore has 18 launchers and Jordan 12.
Next to Ukraine, perhaps the most notable buyer would be Taiwan, which now plans to order 29 HIMARS.
Taiwan originally planned to order just 11 HIMARS along with 40 M109A6 Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzers, but now wants to cancel the Paladin order in favor of more HIMARS, which have a longer firing range. The Taiwanese military believes that HIMARS would be more effective in countering an amphibious landing.
Indeed, given the publicity HIMARS made during the Ukrainian War – where the weapon was called a “game changer” – its cachet alone will likely boost sales.
The HIMARS is designed to be a lightweight, truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher, alongside the heavier armored M270 multiple rocket launcher system. While HIMARS can fire the army’s long-range tactical missile system, Ukrainian vehicles are armed with a Guided Multiple Launch System pod, which can fire six GPS-guided rockets up to 50 miles.
Ukraine has used HIMARS for pinpoint strikes to destroy Russian targets such as munitions dumps, command posts and even bridges.
The long range of HIMARS is particularly appreciated by Ukrainian forces. When Russia launched its attack in February, the Soviet-era artillery used by the Ukrainian army was overtaken by new Russian weapons such as the BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher, which has a firing range of 45 miles.
This allowed Russian artillery to destroy Ukrainian guns while remaining out of range of counterfire. Because HIMARS is truck-mounted, it can also use shooting and scooter tactics to move quickly after firing.
But increasing the production of HIMARS would not be easy. COVID-19 and other supply chain issues have created supply backlogs in the civilian and military worlds. At the best of times, increasing weapons manufacturing capacity is difficult – even expanding old-fashioned unguided 155mm howitzer production lines can take more than a year.
Manufacturers may be reluctant to invest for fear that shifts in Pentagon priorities and congressional funding will tie them up with idle capacity. Exports of HIMARS and other weapons to other countries are also hostage to ever-fluid global politics and the byzantine process of US foreign military sales.
Nevertheless, HIMARS seems likely to become a sought-after weapon. If there is enough demand, the US defense industry will build more.
Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine and other publications. He holds a master’s degree in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.