Himars sniper rockets shift balance in Ukraine, experts say

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Washington (AFP) – US-made precision rockets have given Ukrainian forces a major boost on the battlefield since their introduction in June, tipping the balance against the Russians and possibly forcing Moscow to suspend its offensive, officials said. experts.

Since mid-June, using Himar missile systems, Ukraine has destroyed more than 20 major Russian ammunition depots and command posts that were previously too far behind the front lines to be reached by traditional artillery.

Videos posted on social media showed spectacular sustained flares at munitions dumps in Lugansk, Nova Kakhovka and elsewhere under Russian control, attesting to the power and precision of US missiles.

“The occupiers have already understood very well what modern artillery is. They will have no safe rear anywhere on our territory,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But experts also warn that new weapons are no panacea and the country needs more weapons and radar systems to use in combination to defeat the Russians.

Christopher Dougherty, a defense analyst at the Center for New American Security in Washington, said Himars’ success was as good as one could have hoped.

Still, he said, “The thing in itself, it’s not a game-changer.”

Precision Advantage

The M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is an agile wheel-mounted launcher of 227 mm GPS-guided missiles with a range of approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles).

The Himar missile system that the United States supplied to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is highly mobile, making it harder for the Russians to find and destroy them. FADEL SENÉ AFP

Unlike other multiple rocket launcher systems that both sides used during the war, Himars missiles can be precisely aimed at targets, meaning they can be used sparingly and reliably.

The first four launchers, which can carry 6 rockets at a time, were delivered in June; now the Ukrainians have 12, with hundreds of rockets to use between them.

They have more advantages than accuracy. The rockets fly low enough and fast enough that Russian air defenses cannot easily intercept them. Because the vehicles are so mobile, it is difficult for the Russians to find and target them.

“Himars is changing the character of combat in Ukraine. It allows the Ukrainians to target the Russians from greater range and in areas that have been denied to them due to Russian air defense systems,” said Mick Ryan, Australian general and military retired. analyst, wrote this week on Twitter.

It’s not just Himars; since June, Ukraine has had powerful high-precision artillery from other allies, such as the French howitzer Caesar, and last week the United States announced that it would supply 1,000 new artillery shells to precision guidance.

Ryan said Ukraine uses them against Russia’s weak spots: the tendency to stockpile ammunition near railroad depots and in towns relatively close to the front.

While this increases the risk of Ukrainians hitting population centers, precision targeting helps reduce civilian casualties.

Dougherty said he was surprised the Russians hadn’t anticipated the Himars.

“It’s not like a secret that these things were going to show up,” he said. “This is another example in which the Russians have been very slow to adapt to what are, frankly, rather obvious battlefield issues.”

Shortage of Russian trucks

Eventually the Russians will adapt and disperse their supply depots, and move much further from the front lines, analysts said.

But this will make their logistics on the battlefield more difficult.

“Every time you distribute something, it takes more trucks to get the same amount of stuff to the people who need it,” Dougherty said.

On top of that, he said, the Russian army’s truck fleet has been greatly reduced by the war.

Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, said the Himars are not an end in themselves, but part of a larger strategy to damage Russian logistics and to repel its air defences.

This would leave the front line artillery which is the mainstay of the Russian offensive less protected from the Ukrainian air and ground forces.

Longer-range missiles?

Meanwhile, Kyiv is lobbying Washington for ATACMS missiles that can be launched by Himars and have a range of 300 kilometers.

“At all levels, our authorities are negotiating with US representatives on the need to provide us with longer-range Himars missiles,” Fedir Venislavskyi, a senior Ukrainian lawmaker, said Wednesday.

So far, the White House has refused, fearing that such weapons could be used by Ukraine against targets on Russian territory.

This, President Joe Biden’s administration fears, risks dragging the United States and NATO directly into a war with Russia.

Dougherty said the US really doesn’t have a lot of ATACMS in stock and production stopped years ago.

O’Brien said that in addition to the Himars, Ukraine badly needed more protection against Russian air attacks.

“Getting Ukraine more and better anti-air capabilities should be as high a priority as getting better range weapons,” O’Brien wrote on Twitter.

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