What Is the M142 Himars That the US Is Supplying to Ukraine To Fight Russia?
The US is providing 4 of these rocket systems to Ukraine, which will be the focal point of a $700m support package.
The M142 Himars is back in the news after United States (US) President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday, 31 May, that his government will send these advanced missile systems to Ukraine in order to aid its military in its war against Russia.
Himars is short for "High Mobility Artillery Rocket System."
Before we get into the M142 Himars, a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) is a kind of rocket artillery system that consist of multiple launchers fixed to a single platform, from which rockets are fired using a GPS or an inertial navigation system.
The M142 Himars is a modernised, lighter, and more agile MLRS, that is, a better version of the M270 MLRS that the US and NATO have been using since the 1980s.
The US is reportedly providing four of these systems to Ukraine, and they will be focal point of a $700 million support package that was formally announced on Wednesday.
This will be 11th package of military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion that began on 24 February.
What's So Special About M142?
The M142 Himars has a range of about 50 miles (80 km) and its GPS-guided rockets have more accuracy than its Russian counterparts.
It also consists of a faster reload system and the launch systems can be moved quickly from one location to another, hence the "high mobility."
This rocket system will give the Ukrainian military the capability to strike Russian targets that are at distances protected by Russia's defence systems.
Russian supply depots could also be attacked with precision, thereby creating logistical issues for the military.
"These are precision guided systems with extended range. And so for high value targets that allow them to keep some of the pressure off of Ukrainian forces on the front, we think these systems will be very useful," Undersecretary for Defense Dr Colin H Kahl said, as reported by the BBC.
The M142 consists of one preloaded pod of six 227 mm guided missiles.
It can also be loaded with an Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) tactical missile, which has a range of 300 km. The US, however, will not provide that to Ukraine. The subsequent section explains why.
Why Is Biden Proceeding With Caution?
Joe Biden has asserted multiple times in the past that he does not seek a larger war involving NATO allies and Russia.
The fear of providing weapon systems like ATACMS to Ukraine is that they can be used (intentionally or accidentally) to strike targets on Russian soil.
These could include major Russian urban centres, military bases, and airfields from which attacks on Ukraine have been launched.
The Kremlin had made it clear that Ukrainian attacks on Russian soil with weapons provided by Western allies is tantamount to the West declaring war on Russia.
That is why Biden is being cautious.
"We are not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia," the US President said while announcing the delivery of M142 Himars to Ukraine.
Additionally, in a New York Times essay titled 'What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine,' he has promised that the US "will continue providing Ukraine with advanced weaponry, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, powerful artillery and precision rocket systems, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters and ammunition."
At the same time, however, he has clearly stated, "We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia."
That explains the care with which the US is sending high-tech modern weapons to Ukraine.
Even with respect to the M142 Himars, "[The] Ukrainians have given assurances they will not use these systems against Russian territory," a US official was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
'Adding Fuel to Fire': Moscow's Reaction
Naturally, Moscow has reacted with anger to Washington providing Kyiv with long-range missiles.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that the US was "intentionally adding fuel to the fire" with the M142 supplies.
"Such supplies do not contribute to the Ukrainian leadership's willingness to resume peace negotiations," he was quoted as saying by the BBC.
(With inputs from Reuters, BBC, and The Guardian.)
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