On Tuesday, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine reached its 100-day mark, the United States government announced that it would provide Ukrainian troops fighting on the country’s southeastern and eastern fronts with powerful new artillery systems, as well as radar systems and a A number of other systems will send weapons as the war deepens into brutal slaughter to drive Russia out of Donbass and surrounding areas.
The four M142 HIMARS, highly mobile artillery rocket systems and associated munitions, in this case the Unitary Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System or GMLRS, will complement the shorter-range howitzers that the US, France, Britain and Germany have sent to Ukraine recently months and allows the Ukrainian armed forces to better keep the Russian military at a distance.
President Biden announced the new weapons and aid package in a New York Times op-ed, saying the US would “send more advanced missile systems and ammunition that will allow them to more accurately hit key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine” without to expressly mention which weapons would be used. In a June 1 press conference, Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl announced that the HIMARS package, capable of hitting targets over 70 kilometers away, will include five countersurveillance radars and two airborne surveillance radars.
For their part, Russian officials have claimed the new weapons package is a provocation from the West. “We believe that the United States is deliberately and diligently ‘pouring fuel on the fire,'” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday, claiming “such supplies do not contribute to the Ukrainian leadership’s willingness to resume peace talks.” The Washington Post.
We see a dramatically different war than when the invasion began
The HIMARS were high on Ukraine’s wish list, even more so than the fighter jets they demanded at the start of the war. That’s because, as Rita Konaev, associate director of analysis at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, told Vox, the battlefield has changed dramatically as Russia shifted and reorganized its resources to expand in the Donbass region battle. That means a move away from urban environments, where poor planning on the part of Russia weakened its offensive and Ukrainian troops familiar with the territory had the advantage.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that neither side is winning the war,” Konaev said. In contrast to the fast-moving early weeks of the invasion, when outsiders were enthralled by the idea of rowdy Ukrainian forces dealing blow after blow to larger, better-equipped Russian forces. But the battle for Donbass has become “a mile-a-day war,” she said, a back-and-forth battle for territory more akin to World War I than the fast-paced campaigns of February and March.
“This phase of the war is over,” Konaev said. “This phase is more gradual, piecemeal.” Due to the radical change in the nature of the battlefield, the weapons on offer must also change dramatically.
“I think the impetus for sending the HIMARS is twofold,” she told Vox. First, she said, the new weapon systems offer “greater standoff capabilities” — the ability to keep two forces apart on the battlefield — about twice that of the howitzer. Second, HIMARS represent “a massive improvement in firepower,” she told Vox, adding that when deployed strategically, the “impact is similar to the lethality of an airstrike.”
The Russian military has its own MLRS, but as John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum and author of Associated Soldiers said Vox, “our weapons have a longer range and are more accurate” than the systems designed by the Soviet Union.
But as of now — without the advanced weapons systems the US has promised Ukraine — Russia has some clear advantages on the battlefield, Konaev said.
“It’s not that Russia has gotten any better,” she said, “it’s just a concentrated force [in an area] friendlier to Russian strengths.” Since the fighting is taking place much closer to Russia’s territory, “there are shorter supply lines and limited airstrikes that are used more effectively – they can do those quick operations and get back to base,” with a lower risk, higher calculus Profit.
“In the Donbas, the fighting is at a greater distance,” Spencer explained. Right now, Ukrainian troops are “really handicapped in terms of range,” he told Vox. “If you know where a target is, you have to be able to reach it.” In other words, Ukraine may have the information about where a key Russian target is, but a howitzer just can’t get there without Ukrainian troops one expose to increased risk.
“At this moment in the war, it makes the most sense,” Spencer said of deploying the HIMARS.
Here’s how HIMARS could help shift Ukraine’s advantage
However, the new systems will not immediately win the war for Ukraine. “I do not believe that [HIMARS] will make changes overnight,” Spencer told Vox, but once on the battlefield, the four systems could help Ukrainian troops “regain momentum,” he said. Konaev agreed, telling Vox, “We won’t see the effects for at least another month.”
Although the Pentagon declined to disclose whether the systems had already been shipped to Ukraine, citing “operational security reasons,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth: “We have pre-positioned the HIMARS systems in Europe to ensure they can be delivered quickly.”
After the weapons reach Ukrainian troops, it will take about three weeks for them to be trained on the systems before being used on the battlefield against Russian forces. That moment didn’t seem to be coming soon enough on Friday, when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in a meeting with Chechen Republic chief Ramzan Kadyrov, threatened to “speed up” Russia’s “military special operation.” According to a briefing by the Institute for the Study of War, Shoigu didn’t provide any specifics, but she estimates that Russian forces are unlikely to be able to launch more advanced operations given the huge investment in equipment and troops it would require .
However, Ukrainian casualties are piling up, with between 60 and 100 soldiers dying every day, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech last week. And Russia has ramped up its scorched-earth tactics in the Donbas, ravaging cities like Severodonetsk and thwarting evacuations and supplies in a nightmarish repetition of its siege of Mariupol.
“The Russian assemblage of fighters [in the Donbas has] has briefly picked up momentum,” Spencer told Vox, though he predicted that bringing the HIMARS to the battlefield “will result in more dead Russian generals” – resulting in an increasingly disorganized Russian force. “The road to victory unravels.”
Both Spencer and Konaev told Vox that intelligence on the Ukrainian side will play a crucial role in territorial gains or defeats by Russian forces, as has been the case so far in the war. “The most important impact was intelligence,” Konaev said, giving Ukrainian forces “the ability to protect themselves and forestall attacks on supply lines.” Radar systems will supplement this information, with air surveillance radars and HIMARS interfering with Russia’s ability to command air dominance.
But for now, softening the shelling from the Russian side could have a much bigger impact on the battlefield — and on the safety of civilians. “Russian artillery did the most damage,” explained Konaev, who leveled cities like Maruiopul and Severodonetsk, and the combination of counter-artillery radar and longer-range mobile weapons will hopefully prevent Russia from “ruling the debris,” like Spencer to put it – to claim victory by subduing and destroying population centers.
The future of war may involve other weapons, but more of the same grind
Biden’s comment reiterated his position throughout the war – that the US and NATO do not seek war with Russia and that the US will continue to arm Ukraine because it is the right thing to do, but it’s still not entirely clear, at least from the op -ed how far this will go. Given how grueling and grueling the war is now, the field seems open regarding additional weapons that the US will supply, which, as Kahl pointed out in his press conference Wednesday, could include more HIMARS.
Whatever additional resources are on the way, the summer is likely to be just as grueling, bloody, and devastating as the past few weeks, a recent Politico article confirms. Even if Ukraine is able to activate the offensive and start retaking land, it will happen slowly – bit by bit, position by position and village by village, said Serhiy Haidai, the head of the military government in Luhansk , one of the regions that form the Donbass. Until then, the Russian forces are raining down artillery and making incremental advances; as Haidai told Politico, “They destroy everything and then move through the ruins.”