What is Himars and how will the US rocket system affect the Ukraine war?

Precision munitions have a range of about 80 kilometres and could strike Russian supply lines

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The US has announced it will send advanced missile systems to Ukraine, but the jury is out on whether they will be a game-changer in Kyiv's war with Russia.

The new weapon is the Himars multiple launch rocket system, or MLRS — a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch several precision-guided missiles.

Both Ukraine and Russia already operate MLRS, but the Himars has superior range and precision.

President Joe Biden wrote in The New York Times that the advanced rockets will enable the Ukrainians “to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine”.

Yet the US plans to limit the range of the missiles it gives Ukraine to avoid them being used to hit targets deep inside Russia.

What is Himars?

The M142 Himars system (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) is a modernised, lighter and more agile wheel-mounted version of the track-mounted M270 MLRS developed in the 1970s for US and allied forces.

The Himars being sent to Ukraine will have a range of about 80 kilometres and the Ukrainian military has vowed not to launch the rockets at Russia.

“The Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Himars carry one preloaded pod of six 227mm guided missiles — the M270 carries two pods — or one large pod loaded with an ATACMS tactical missile.

With a small crew, the Himars can remove a spent pod and load a fresh one in minutes, without other vehicles helping. Ukrainian crews manning the system will require some training in its use.

The US military already has Himars units in Europe, and Nato allies Poland and Romania have also acquired the systems. It was not immediately clear how many Himars the US will send to Ukraine.

Why are they valuable?

The MLRS will give Ukrainian forces the ability to strike farther behind Russian lines and from greater distances, providing protection from Russia's own long-range weaponry.

The GPS-guided missiles the Himars shoots from its six-pack pod have a range about double that of the M777 howitzers that the US recently supplied to Ukrainian forces.

This could threaten Russian supply depots amid the western belief that Moscow's forces are suffering extensive logistical problems.

The US will not supply Ukraine with the ATACMS, which has a range of 300km.

Some analysts say Himars would be a game-changer at a time when Ukraine appears to be struggling under Russian artillery fire. But others say Himars will not suddenly turn the tables in the three-month war.

A western official told reporters that the Himars “outperforms the other systems that Russia is fielding in the battle space”.

“That weapon system will enable counter-battery fire to be able to go after Russian artillery in a deeper and more effective way … By having that reach of 80km, you can get into those Russian supply lines,” the official said.

“What this Himars is going to do is going to enable the Ukrainians to affect those logistics in depth, and that's going to be a real complication for Russian forces.”

AFP contributed to this report

Updated: June 01, 2022, 4:21 PM