Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Sending More Rockets As HIMARS Achieves ‘Rock Star’ Status
U.S.-supplied rocket artillery systems gain a cult pop-culture following in Ukraine as they are used to pound Russian positions.
Ukraine is set to receive another batch of ammunition for the high-mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, it has used to pound high-value Russian targets in recent weeks. The new shipment of guided rocket rounds, which can also be fired by Ukraine's NATO-donated M270 tracked launchers is part of the latest $550 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine announced by the Pentagon on Aug. 1.
In what is the seventh authorized drawdown of U.S. weapon stocks since August 2021, Ukraine will receive 75,000 rounds of 155 mm artillery ammunition and an unspecified amount of "additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS)," according to a Pentagon press release.
So enamored is the Ukraine Ministry of Defense with its U.S.-supplied rocket artillery that it released a video of HIMARS highlights set to the Metallica song “Enter Sandman.” Riffing on the song’s lyrics, the Ukrainian MoD said in a social media post “Exit light. Enter HIMARS. Exit Russians” who “already sleep with one eye open.”
This new aid deal is a significant contribution that will keep ammunition for weapons that are, by all accounts, having a profound impact on the battlefield, in Ukrainian hands. However, as M31 GMLRS rockets are being expended at a high rate in the east and south of Ukraine, concerns are growing as to the stockpiles of these weapons and the ability of the U.S. and NATO to keep up with Ukraine's wartime demand for them. The War Zone did a deep dive on this issue that you can read in full here.
So far, the U.S. has donated or promised about $8.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine under the Biden administration. The total rises to $10 billion if all security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea is included, according to the Defense Department.
“To meet its evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities,” DoD said in an Aug. 1 statement.
Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov took to social media to thank the U.S. for its latest aid package. He said the additional artillery ammunition is an “investment in the security of NATO’s easter flank and support for democracy” in the European Union.
“Our artillerymen are ready to turn night into day to expel the Russian invaders,” Reznikov said.
The GMLRS rounds fired by HIMARS and the tracked M270 launcher are expensive but highly effective weapons for Ukraine. As The War Zone’s own Editor in Chief Tyler Rogoway recently pointed out in a series of tweets, each guided rocket, which can be fired by either system, costs about $168,000. But each shot provides what boils down to air support on demand against static or semi-static targets anywhere within a 43-mile radius of each launcher. The same can be said for giving Ukraine the ability to make pinpoint strikes on high-value targets that have a huge impact on the war. No air force needed, just the weapon, the launcher, and its trained crew. So, while each round is pricey, their comparative value is extremely high. We also laid out the relative effectiveness of HIMARS as a precision weapon before they arrived in Ukraine in this in-depth analysis.
Reznikov on Aug. 1 confirmed that four more HIMARS trucks have landed in Ukraine, bringing the total number of systems in the country to 16. “We have proven to be smart operators of this weapon,” Reznikov tweeted. “The sound of the HIMARS volley has become a top hit of this summer at the front lines!”
Indeed, the weapon has achieved cult status, supplanting both the deified FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank guided missile, dubbed “Saint Javelin” and the Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle as the iconic weapon of the now 160-day-long war in Ukraine. HIMARS has been used to such dramatic effect against Russian ammunition depots, logistics hubs, bridges, and supply lines in eastern Ukraine that it has captured the country’s imagination.
Even Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense has leaned into the cult of HIMARS, posting pop art illustrations, videos and other media promoting the weapon’s lethality while goading Russian forces that are in its crosshairs daily. Prior to the video with the Metallica soundtrack, the Ukraine MoD went so far as to say that HIMARS “has a Ukrainian heart beating inside of it.’ The post is accompanied by a personified launcher, wearing blue jeans and a yellow button-down shirt but with GMLRS rocket pods for a head and strapped to its arms.
Not to be discounted, the U.S. aid package also includes those 75,000 rounds of ammunition for Ukraine’s NATO-donated 155mm artillery systems. While not as advanced a weapon as HIMARS, when equipped with the M982 Excalibur guided 155mm artillery round, gun crews can hit targets with precision instead of having to mass artillery fire on target areas, as the Russians often do. The latest Pentagon aid announcement did not specify if the latest cache of 155mm ammunition included guided rounds, but Excalibur rounds have been provided in past aid packages.
To counter the public relations coup HIMARS has achieved — not least because it has proven very effective on the battlefield — Russian troops have repeatedly claimed to have destroyed the rocket-launching trucks and other Western-supplied artillery systems. However, the evidence they supply, such as the photos below of what is not a HIMARS, is routinely suspect.
In another attempt, Russian forces posted a video of a precision strike missile hitting what it claimed were HIMARS. But the video, posted to Telegram, seems to show a strike on an upper floor of a large building, an unlikely place to find the 21-foot, 36,000-pound HIMARS launcher.
Both HIMARS and the M270 weapon systems have helped changed the calculus in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has devolved into a largely stalled artillery slugfest. These new weapons have allowed Ukraine to halt Russian westward progression and the frontline maps have changed little in weeks, as the latest map of the front from the U.K. Ministry of Defense shows.
Before we get to more details about the past few days of fighting in Ukraine, readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.
The first shipment of grain since the Russian invasion began in February left the port of Odesa on Aug. 1 in the belly of the Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni. Loaded with 26,000 tons of corn, the ship was allowed passage through the Black Sea and Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait on its way to Lebanon under an agreement between Ukraine, Turkey, the United Nations and Russia.
Videos and images of the ship were posted to social media as it made its way south and west. Some 22 million tons of Ukrainian grain is bottled up in Black Sea ports that have been blockaded by the Russian Navy.
While it still largely controls sea lanes around the northern Black Sea, the Russian Navy continues to suffer setbacks at the hands of Ukrainian forces. On July 31, Ukrainian forces, or those working on their behalf, struck the Sevastopol headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The strike led to the cancellation of Navy Day activities which are a huge deal in Russian naval towns around the globe. It was the latest in a series of embarrassing setbacks the fleet has suffered in the five-month war, including the sinking of the flagship Moskva, the U.K. MoD pointed out in its latest intelligence assessment of the war.
“Following the reports of canceled parades, it is unlikely that the Black Sea Fleet can manage high profile public events alongside its wartime activities,” the U.K. MoD said.
Video emerged on Aug. 2 of Russian troops fleeing in disarray from a Ukrainian attack on the Brylevka rail station in the southern region of Kherson.
Retired three-star general and former commander of U.S. Army Europe Ben Hodges pointed out that none of the troops in the video appear to be carrying their weapons, indicating poor discipline and training.
What could be the first, although very zoomed-out, view of the mysterious and elusive Phoenix Ghost suicide drone popped up online over the weekend. The U.S. has donated or promised hundreds of the loitering munitions to Ukraine but has not said anything about their design or capability other than they operate similarly to AeroVironment Switchblade loitering munitions. The new video carries a logo in the bottom left corner that features a skull and anchor suspended from a parachute with a scorpion superimposed. Under the logo are the words “Phoenix Ghost.” It is unclear whether this is any sort of official logo for the weapon, which with a torrent of first-hand images and video pouring forth from the war in Ukraine, has still not been positively identified.
Ukrainian paratroopers in Kherson were recently seen with Husky mine-resistant, armor-protected (MRAP) tactical vehicles armed with .50-caliber Browning heavy machine guns.
The Ukrainian Army continues to use other iconic weapons donated by NATO forces. As seen in the below video, they are still employing FGM-148 Javelin ATGMS and T-72 tanks donated by Poland early in the war.
The Ukrainian Army also recently showcased the FlyEye recon drones Poland donated hunting Russian equipment and positions like a Tor surface-to-air missile transporter erector launcher, or TLAR.
Ukraine is now littered with all manner of dangerous unexploded bomblets, artillery shells, and antipersonnel mines that pose a threat to both sides of the conflict and the civilian population caught between them. Recently, several reports have appeared online of what appear to be Soviet-era PFM-1 “butterfly mines.” It is unclear which side dispersed the mines, which can be scattered from aircraft, artillery shells, and mortars. The small plastic-encased explosives flutter to the earth where they then explode when stepped on. The soldier in the below video decided to throw a brick at one to detonate it in what seems to be an unwise bit of explosive ordnance disposal.
We will continue to update this post until we state otherwise.
Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com