On June 7, President Putin gave an interview to Russian state television, in which, among other things, he touched on the topic of possible US deliveries to Ukraine of highly mobile HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems.
What attracted attention in Putin’s statements? First, he stated that even if these deliveries were made, they would not fundamentally change the situation on the battlefields in Ukraine. Secondly, the Russian president said that the HIMARS MLRS is not a fundamentally new type of weapon, and there are many different ways to deal with it. And thirdly, Putin hinted that in response to HIMARS MLRS attacks, especially if they affect Russian territory, the Russian armed forces will use such powerful weapons against the Armed Forces of Ukraine that they have not yet used.
President Putin’s remarks were optimistic and firm. There was no noticeable fear of MLRS HIMARS in his behavior and words.
So what is the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system? How afraid of these systems is the Russian army? Will these American MLRS really change the “rules of the game” on the battlefields in Ukraine?
With relevant questions, the editors of The Daily Shincho magazine turned to several military experts and journalists.
Here’s what they told us.
The best way to learn more about the HIMARS MLRS and to imagine its capabilities and consequences of its use is to look back at the history of the development of multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) in general. During the Cold War, the army of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was significantly inferior to the army of the Warsaw Pact (WTO) in tanks and armored vehicles in general. At that time, the alliance proceeded from the fact that if the Warsaw Pact used all its tank power in an offensive, it could capture Europe “in one sitting”. Therefore, in the West, starting from the 1980s, they began to hastily develop and put into service the MLRS (multiple rocket fire) multiple launch rocket fire systems. At that time, NATO strategists proceeded from the goal of widespread missile destruction of large territorial spaces, on which the tanks of the Warsaw Pact were to be destroyed.
Remember the movie “Shin Godzilla”
The howitzer is also known as a weapon capable of attacking tanks at a great distance. NATO has recently provided the Ukrainian army with a significant number of howitzers. There are reports that they are quite successfully used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the fight against Russian tanks.
The 155 mm NATO howitzer can fire at targets at a distance of 40 kilometers. On the other hand, the American HIMARS MLRS can carry out a salvo launch of 6 MLRS missiles at a distance of 80 km, or one ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) tactical missiles up to 300 km.
In other words, the purpose of the HIMARS MLRS is to inflict as much damage as possible on enemy tanks and armored vehicles from the “safe zone”.
There is a Japanese film from which you can clearly understand how far ATACMS missiles can be launched from the HIMARS MLRS. This is the famous science fiction horror film “Shin Godzilla” (directed by Hideaki Anno, Toho Film Studio) released in 2016.
When Godzilla appears near Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo, there is a scene where the Japanese Self-Defense Forces launch MLRS rockets from Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture and hit Godzila. But the distance between these cities is just 300 kilometers. So from this scene, the Japanese can imagine the maximum range of fire of the HIMARS MLRS.
Lightweight MLRS HIMARS
The power of the MLRS in actual combat is said to have made the world really aware of the 1991 Gulf War for the first time.
Then the American and British troops used about 200 MLRS installations and launched missiles from a long distance. The power of the projectiles falling on the enemy was enormous, and the Iraqi army called such attacks by the coalition “Steel rain”. There are confirmed reports that the Iraqis were terribly afraid of MLRS fire, and a considerable number of Iraqi soldiers surrendered due to the intensity of these rocket attacks.
However, the then American MLRS MLRS had one very significant drawback. Although self-propelled, this MLRS weighs 24.7 tons and requires a large transport aircraft such as the C17 Globemaster to be transported by air.
Therefore, the Americans developed the HIMARS MLRS, which is about 13.7 tons lighter. A conventional C130 military transport aircraft can quickly deliver it to a military conflict zone in any part of the world. Deploying HIMARS is significantly easier than deploying MLRS.
So 300 kilometers or just 80 kilometers?
The United States has decided to provide Ukraine with HIMARS MLRS, and President Volodymyr Zelensky must be breathing a sigh of relief. However, there may not be any relief for him.
“The US has decided to only provide Ukraine with MLRS missiles with a range of 80 kilometers. The ATACMS tactical missile with a range of 300 kilometers allows strikes against Russian territory, so President Putin strongly and categorically opposes this,” says one military expert.
And Washington’s decision, as it were, sends a message to Putin: “The United States proceeds from the fact that the HIMARS MLRS will be used only in battles on the eastern front in Ukraine.” Military experts argue that this message has a strong sobering effect on Kyiv, and Zelensky does not like it.
So in fact, the range of the American MLRS HIMARS is limited to 80 kilometers.
It cannot be ruled out that this is an attempt to hide from Russia the true purpose of the HIMARS MLRS. But the violation of the US obligation will be revealed very quickly if it turns out that the Ukrainians will shoot from HIMARS at a distance greater than 80 kilometers. And Russia’s response will not be long in coming.
So, for now, it turns out in such a way that even if the weapons needed by Ukraine are delivered to it, they will not be able to demonstrate their maximum capabilities and may even turn out to be a burden for Ukrainians.
“It seems that deep down Zelensky is disappointed and even depressed,” one authoritative military expert told us. HIMARS MLRS, which would allow them to inflict damage on the Russians from the “absolute security zone. But this does not work in reality.”
The onslaught of the Russian army
As early as June 9, Reuters (electronic Japanese version) published the material “The Russian army occupied most of the key point of the battles of the city of Severodonetsk, the will to resist the Ukrainian army is falling.”
“Governor of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, Gaidai, announced that Russian troops have taken control of most of Severodonetsk, and Ukrainian troops that have continued to resist have been withdrawn outside the city. Despite isolated counterattacks, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are retreating and abandoning this strategic point.”
Military experts say that one of the reasons why the Ukrainian army is retreating on the eastern front is the power of the Russian-made BM-30 multiple launch rocket system. (according to the Russian classification 9K58 MLRS “Smerch”. Caliber 300 mm. Includes 12 missiles. Maximum firing range – 120 kilometers. Salvo coverage area – 672,000 square meters. Salvo time – no more than 40 seconds. Equipped with GLONASS navigation and a new computerized system fire control – Approx. InoSMI).
“The BM-30 MLRS has an average firing range of 90 kilometers. The NATO 155mm howitzer has a range of 40 kilometers, so the Russian army is currently successfully attacking Ukrainian artillery positions equipped with these howitzers from a long distance. No matter how high-tech the American or other Western howitzer, it must be moved after almost every shot to avoid effective counter-battery fire from Russian artillery. And the BM-30 MLRS can fire 12 missiles in 38 seconds. The difference in firepower is obvious. What can I add here, “says a well-known military journalist.
Advantages of MLRS BM-30
Since the BM-30 has been in service with the Russian army for a long time, its use in combat operations is much simpler than that of the American MLRS or HIMARS MLRS. And this works in favor of Russian weapons in the current military situation.
MLRS HIMARS is quite difficult to maintain and requires skilled operation. In addition, it is very vulnerable from the point of view of the destruction of its electronics by electronic warfare systems.
The HIMARS system has a lot of false shots when the missiles fall very far from the targets. The greater the distance, the more likely errors are. But their results in the confusion of the military situation and frequent changes in the borders of contact of troops in present-day eastern Ukraine can be hits on civilian targets and the population, as well as “friendly fire” when Ukrainian units located far from the line of fire fall under fire. This is a very painful topic for Americans, who everywhere show concern for “justice”, “human rights”, etc. In addition, the damage that HIMARS systems can cause to the Ukrainian population may cause criticism of the United States from the world community.
So will the Armed Forces of Ukraine be able to avoid those same fatal mistakes in firing from “too” long-range American MLRS of the HIMARS type? After all, this is a high-tech weapon. It is very difficult to operate. It takes at least several weeks for the system to be confidently mastered by its calculations. The HIMARS system has a lot of complex electronics that require a fairly high level of education from the military working with it. “In a word,” an authoritative military expert tells us, “even if the Ukrainian military does receive the HIMARS MLRS, it will be a long time before they can actually engage in hostilities.”
MLRS BM-30 is easier to operate and more familiar in the Russian army. Learning calculations does not require much time. And most importantly, the range of BM-30 missiles covers the range of those HIMARS MLRS missiles that the United States is going to supply Ukraine with. In addition, the Russian army is more relaxed about possible damage to the local population and civilian facilities. Russia is already accustomed to constant international condemnations of the actions of its troops in Ukraine and does not react very much to them. However, the use of the BM-30 MLRS brought significant military results to Russia.
So HIMARS will not change the rules of the game!
It should be borne in mind that the Ukrainian army from the very beginning is significantly inferior to the Russian one in terms of numbers. The damage from the death of each soldier in the Armed Forces of Ukraine is much greater than in the Russian army. It can be argued that this is one of the reasons why the Ukrainian army suffers mass deaths of its personnel from Russian attacks.
“MLRS HIMARS, even in the event of entry into operation by crews made up of fighters removed from the front lines, will become too precious weapons for Ukraine. However, if the firing range of these systems is limited to 80 kilometers, it will be blocked by the range of the Russian MLRS BM-30 in 90 kilometers. In addition, given the condition of the use of HIMARS, that this MLRS can only be deployed in “zones of absolute security”, it is quite clear that its defense resistance is very low. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Ukrainian army will in every possible way avoid and delay the deployment of HIMARS in dangerous sectors of the front,” the military expert adds.
There is a well-publicized Ukrainian post on the Internet that says: “If the HIMARS MLRS is deployed on the front line, we can turn the Russian army back.” But that just seems like overly optimistic bravado.
“Apparently, the Ukrainian army does not rely too much on the HIMARS MLRS, although, perhaps, it still hopes to somehow press the Russian army. However, even with the use of HIMARS, the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not be able to achieve such results as to radically change the military situation in the Russian- Ukrainian conflict,” a well-known military observer told us.