Why are US HIMARS missiles the key to Ukraine’s success in the war?

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OOn New Year’s Day, Ukraine used American missiles to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of Russian soldiers on its borders. (Russian officials said 63 servicemen were killed in the strike, while Ukrainian officials put the death toll in the hundreds.) It was one of Ukraine’s deadliest attacks on Russian forces during the war.

Officials from both countries say the attack used HIMARS missiles, which are satellite-guided weapons with a range of about 50 miles.

The United States first delivered long-range HIMARS missiles to Ukraine in June; they offered almost twice the range of the weapons previously used by Kiev.

Here’s what you need to know about the HIMARS missiles and why they were so important to Ukraine’s war operations.

What are HIMARS missiles?

Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, HIMARS stands for High Mobility Artillery Missile System.

“HIMARS is one of the most advanced missile artillery systems in the world; It has a longer range than anything the Ukrainians had, so when they replaced it, they were able to hit targets behind the front lines deeper and more accurately,” said Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at CSIS.

They are considered most effective at attacking stationary targets such as infrastructure and troops in a concentrated area.

HIMARS missiles have become an integral part of Ukraine’s defensive and offensive capabilities in the war against Russia, experts say. “HIMARS has liberated strategically important cities and territories in Ukraine that would not have happened otherwise… This is an incredible record,” said George Barros, an analyst in the Russia and Ukraine portfolio at the Human Rights Institute. the study of war.

How did Ukraine use HIMARS missiles against Russia?

HIMARS missiles have been particularly effective in countering the Russian offensive in the Donbass by allowing Ukraine to attack Russian supply and ammunition depots.

They also played a decisive role in forcing Russia to withdraw from Kherson. “This was possible only because the Ukrainians had an advanced strike capability that would destroy these bridges. “I think that without KHIMARS, Ukrainians would not have liberated Kherson,” says Barros.

Before the New Year offensive, HIMARS missiles were mainly used to target Russian infrastructure. “The difference with the recent strike is that they hit an area with a large Russian military presence, so the casualties were very high,” Williams said. “So far we have seen HIMARS used to target Russian logistics, weapons and artillery stockpiles.”

The role of the United States in the supply of HIMARS to Ukraine

The US has given Ukraine at least 20 HIMARS missile launchers. Their June arms delivery announcement was part of a $700 million military aid package.

US authorities say there are restrictions on HIMARS missiles delivered to Ukraine. They cannot shoot ATACMS missiles with a range of about 200 miles. The US also asked the Ukrainians to guarantee that HIMARS will not be fired into Russian territory.

Experts say such restrictions are a way to prevent US support for Ukraine from escalating into a US-Russia conflict.

Some are calling for the US to continue restricting the types of weapons that can be supplied to Ukraine. “The United States must refrain from encouraging or facilitating Ukraine’s efforts to completely withdraw Russian forces from all of its territory, including Crimea. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is going to do even more reckless things, including the possibility of using nuclear weapons,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior official at the National Security Council in Europe during the Obama administration, according to the Wall Street Journal. .

But according to Williams, the idea that American weapons used to strike targets inside Russia, rather than indigenous systems, can be considered progressive is wrong. “I don’t think it’s an individual case, but it seems like a line [Biden] the mayor’s office crossed it out,” he says.

As the war continues, Ukraine’s access to effective weapons will be critical in shaping its response to Russian aggression. Even with HIMARS, they ask their Western Allies to give them tanks too; The United States refused.

Barros fears that arms restrictions will hamper Ukraine’s effective countermeasures. “We will not enter the third world war with Russia by sending Ukrainian weapons [and]… by sending long-range artillery at them,” he says.

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write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com.

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