Video Above: Pentagon Sends Critical MLRS Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to Ukraine
NATO and the US are revving up for a long-term war in Ukraine as ministers from within a group of 50 countries expressed a collective resolve to continue support to Ukraine in the form of weapons, technology and ammunition. Following the fourth “Ukraine Defense Contact Group” meeting held virtually, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was clear that international consensus regarding support to Ukraine remained as strong as ever, as the war continues to evolve into a high-casualty, protracted fight.
Austin explained that this means that the US and its allies will not only fast-track urgently needed weapons in the short term but will also focus upon sustainment and necessary long-term planning to maintain the effort.
“We're not working just to provide security assistance in the short term. One key theme of today's discussion was ensuring that Ukraine can sustain the fight to defend itself and its citizens. So we're even more focused on Ukraine's near-term needs -- as we're even more focused on Ukraine's near-term needs, “We're also looking ahead to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that it will need for deterrence and self-defense over the longer term,” Austin said.
Following the deliberate Russian shift to the Eastern Donbas region in April, fighting has been both intense and protracted, with advances measured in “literally hundreds of meters.” Describing the ongoing fighting as a “high cost war or attrition” and “artillery fight,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley described small Russian gains as very costly and moving very slow
“So for 90 days, the Russian advances have amounted to maybe six to 10 miles, something of that range. It's not very much. It's very intense, a lot of violence, tens of thousands of artillery rounds every 24-hour period, lots of casualties on both sides, lots of destruction of -- of villages and -- and -- and so on. But in terms of actual ground gain, very, very little by the Russians, relative to all of Ukraine,” Milley said. “The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain.”
In addition to slow moving direct or head-on progress in urban and rural areas of Eastern Ukraine, Russian forces are also vulnerable behind their own battle lines due to advanced Ukrainian tactics, countermeasures and ambushes.
“Russians are challenged not only to their front, with the Ukrainian conventional forces, but they're also challenged in their rear areas. Their rear areas are not secure, for sure, and the Ukrainians have very effective resistance networks set up,” Milley said.
This may mean hit-and-run types of dispersed ambush tactics like those they have used with great effectiveness before, Ukrainian special operations raids and reconnaissance missions or successful long-range rocket strikes. Given the importance of logistics when it comes to sustaining any kind of advance, Ukrainians would likely benefit greatly if Russian supply lines were vulnerable or subject to regular attack.
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High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems - HIMARS
While they undoubtedly arrived later than some Ukrainians may have hoped for, US and NATO-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems are inflicting substantial damage upon Russian targets in the ongoing war in Ukraine, as the weapons open up new tactical possibilities.
“The Ukrainians are effectively employing these HIMARS, with strikes against Russian command and control nodes, their logistical networks, their field artillery near defense sites and many other targets,” Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters following the fourth multinational meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
Longer range ground fired rockets, such as HIMARS, have been desperately needed because they have the range to target Russian supply lines, troop installation and, perhaps of greatest importance, mobile Russian rocket and missile launchers. Since there is no air superiority, and conventional artillery can typically only travel 30km, longer-range rockets such as HIMARS perhaps offer the only possible way to stop indiscriminate Russian rocket and missile attacks on civilian areas. With an ability to travel as far as 80km, or much more in some cases, HIMARS can target and destroy otherwise out of reach targets.
“These strikes are steadily degrading the Russian ability to supply their troops, command and control of their forces, and carry out their illegal war of aggression,” Milley added.
So far, roughly 12 of the more than 20 HIMARS systems committed to Ukraine by the US and its allies have arrived, and Ukrainians are responding quickly to allied provided training on the systems. .
“The fact that the Ukrainians were able to quickly deploy these systems speaks highly of their ability, their ingenuity, their artillery ability, their gunner capability, their determination, and their will to fight,” Milley said.
Of equal or greater significance, Milley said the US and its allies have transferred hundreds of GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) to Ukraine. These weapons, in use since roughly 2007, are land-fired, GPS-guided precision rockets able to pinpoint and destroy specific targets at ranges out to 80km.
This not only enables range but also brings precision into the equation, something which could help target and destroy Russian supply lines, ammunition depots, equipment storages or even forces themselves. A stand-off range of this kind is critical for the Ukrainians to be able to blunt, stop or just slow down Russian advances on the ground or long-range missile and rocket attacks. An ability to attack with precision at 80km enables Ukrainian forces to attack from beyond striking range of most standard Russian artillery, something of particular relevance in a conflict of fires such as this one.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.