Friday, 22 July 2022 — The van says…
This may seem like Kiev’s new toy, but many now think that Uncle Sam doesn’t trust the Ukrainians enough to let them play with it on their own.
In the face of a rampant Russia, a collapsing Ukraine and a West that simply cannot abandon its political path, western MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) units are being sent to the Ukraine if for no other reason than to shore up the headlines as nothing but bad news comes from Eastern Europe. This article will examine not only what these weapons platforms offer, but also the implications that they bring to bear, both in the Ukraine and elsewhere.
The System Itself
The M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) and M270 MLRS are multiple launch rocket systems that can trace their roots back to the Katyusha rocket launchers used to great effect by the Soviet military during the Second World War. A lot of technical advances have been made since then however, the systems and munitions being a far cry from those used in Operation Bagration.
There are two launch vehicles involved, the older M270 system being tracked unit whilst the newer M142 consists of an air-portable 6×6 truck with a three-man crew that has been adapted for military use with the pod containing rockets or missile being mounted on the rear of the chassis. This tracked version has a pod with a capacity of up to twelve rockets whilst the wheeled variant can contain six rockets or one missile, a variety of different munitions being compatible with both platforms.
A wide range of munitions have been available for use with the MLRS and HIMARS systems since their introduction in the eighties and nineties respectively, there being both missiles and rockets that have been produced specifically for use with them. The MGM-140 ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) projectiles have been fielded by the US and allies in limited numbers, there being a number of warheads available. The principal armament employed however is 227mm rockets, and these may be guided by inertial systems in the case of the older MLRS projectiles or with the GMLRS, they may be directed by GPS as well as by inertial guidance. Their range can be anything from ten to ninety miles and the payload can be high explosive (HE), the Alternate Warhead with tungsten fragments which is similar in purpose to HE fragmentation, or a whole range of different submunitions as the operation requires. This means that there is a whole gamut of different options to suit the operator’s specific requirements.
When weighing the characteristics of HIMARS against its Russian counterparts, it is important that we compare like with like, there being a number of differences between western and eastern equipment. Russian and Soviet systems were looked at in greater depth in this previous article.
This platform has gained great media attention since the start of hostilities and is the natural successor to the Katyusha that was used to devastating effect by the Soviets as they headed westwards towards Germany and Berlin, yet rather than being a precision weapon, Grad serves best in area denial, the inherent inaccuracy of the rockets serving to render the battlefield a death trap for unprotected personnel as well as being very useful against larger emplacements. The rockets used are far smaller that those of HIMARS with proportionately less destructive power, yet they are very simple and cheap to manufacture.
These rocket systems are far more comparable with both MLRS and HIMARS, with up to sixteen launch tubes being able to fire all of the 300mm rockets in a matter of a few seconds. There is some compatibility between the ordnance used in the two platforms, and with the aid of a drone that comes with the launch vehicle, GPS (or Glonass, which is Russian equivalent), similar accuracy can be achieved. The range of the Russian rockets does not equal that of the HIMARS, yet bearing in mind that the Russian Armed Forces are by doctrine defensive rather than offensive, this is to be expected. Russian rockets, just like their western counterparts also have a wide range of warheads to suit the circumstances of a given operation. Having looked at the systems side by side, we now need to see how they fare in the real world.
The use of the MLRS and HIMARS systems in the Ukraine is relatively recent, yet the Russians have been using their platforms to the fullest extent since the conflict began. Both have been proven accurate, yet Russian anti-aircraft fire has downed most of the American missiles before they were able to reach their targets. This may not have been top of the media billing, but for all the accuracy and destruction that a rocket can deliver, if it is not able to actually arrive at its target, it serves no purpose whatsoever. The objects the rockets have hit suffered considerable damage, yet these have been relatively few in relation to the number of projectiles fired, with some saying that to date, over five hundred have been expended. With the number of launchers still being so few, their effects are limited further, yet there is more to that than meets the eye.
Many will remember the attacks made by Ukrainian UAVs at the start of the conflict, yet after Russia had assessed the threat and how it ought to be dealt with, within a matter of weeks the drones were dead. The same applies to the new toys that the West is delivering to the Ukraine, Russian commanders evaluating their capabilities and use before applying remedial measures to counteract the dangers they present. A month has now passed since the first MLRS units were fielded and whilst some hits have been recorded, the strike rate of these will only go down as Russia adapts to their deployment.
The western systems in question are completely unlike the current Russian platforms as well as the Soviet ones that the Ukrainians still use, and with them requiring a totally different skillset to that of local soldiers, ‘foreign experts’ are said to be crewing these units. It is no secret that this conflict has been run from Washington since the outset, yet with unqualified troops on the ground and unsuitable politicians running Kiev, there have been numerous reports of these western systems operating completely autonomously from other operations in-country. Using intelligence gained from US satellites, western operators take their orders directly from commanders outside of the Ukrainian military structure, the US having so little trust in its useful idiots that it is now fighting Russia with Americans. Whether they are actually still officially in the military is an open question, but if any wind up KIA, the White House will have to come up with some pretty hairy excuses to avoid the backlash.
The Cost of Conflict
As discussed, the cost of Grad rockets is peanuts in comparison to larger ordnance, but with the Ukraine now employing the best of the West, the costs of this war are going to ascend accordingly. The ATACMS missiles are $1m each, but looking at the rockets used today, each HIMARS projectile comes in at $150k or nearly a million dollars if the whole pod is fired. This may be small change for the US, but for a country that is in freefall such as the Ukraine, this is simply unsustainable. If we consider just 12 HIMARS launchers with a full set of rockets, figures start to spiral. According to Wikipedia, at 2020 prices, a launcher costs $5.6m, but if the unit has a full six rockets on board, that comes in at way over six million dollars. Simple maths tell us that $78m dollars is what it costs for a dozen launchers to be armed, yet with so few actually doing the damage that Kiev wants, that’s a lot of dough for not a lot of destruction. This may seems stupid on the face of it, but as with everything that involves the US, it is the wheels within wheels that makes Washington’s world go round.
Big Bangs for even Bigger Bucks
The Lockheed-Martin corporation played a huge role in the M270 MLRS system before it ended and is the only manufacturer of the M142 HIMARS platform, meaning that as these units are shipped to the Ukraine, they make big money. Whilst not all units are coming from the US, there is still enough money coming in to make this a very profitable venture indeed for both company and shareholder. Whilst the M270 is an older model and now out of production, its rockets, as well as the complete HIMARS setup are all cash in the bank for a company that has seen incredible earnings through previous conflicts. The fact that these systems have been chosen is hardly surprising when we consider the immense sums of money that the corporation spends on lobbying and campaign funding to both sides of the house. The donations that it makes not only fund the parties themselves, but also certain influential lawmakers whose voices carry sway in both domestic and foreign affairs, and the arming of the Ukraine with US-manufactured arms is presently very high on their list of priorities. The idea of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) may sound far fetched, but put very crudely indeed, the dead duck of the Ukraine is the goose that laid the golden egg for Lockheed-Martin.
Against the headwind of a Ukrainian war machine that is collapsing before our eyes, the western media is desperate for something positive to wave under their reader’s noses, and just like in the last year of the Second World War, nothing gives people hope like a Wunderwaffe to turn the tide. Reporters have begun to wax lyrical concerning what these weapons can do without ever telling their gullible audiences what they are actually achieving. For the most part, Russian defenses have eliminated these rockets before they reached their intended targets, yet video clips of macho military vehicles churning up the mud and firing rockets into the blue beyond have viewers believing that expensive fireworks will eventually make gas station prices cheaper.
It was the Soviets that pioneered the idea of rocket warfare and the Russians have perfected their use alongside that of artillery in the last five months. In contrast, both of these western missile systems have previously proven themselves on behalf of the US in the past, yet against a peer opponent, they are not as effective as media and government alike would have us believe.
Despite all the hype surrounding Kiev’s new toys, it’s not Kiev that has control over them, a penniless beggar state being destroyed by a Russia that has proven itself to be more than up to the task of fighting a war that is no longer the proxy conflict it once was.
In a war where the Ukraine hasn’t got a cent to spare and an American MIC that never spares on costs, the capitalist warhawks in Washington are feasting on the corpse of the very nation they are claiming to save…