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HIMARS: The new U.S. rocket launchers in Ukraine are making the Russians furious. But can they win the war?

The High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System weapon has inspired Ukrainian soldiers and a catchy song. Can it live up to the hype?

Hear more from Joshua Keating about this story:

How much of a wonder weapon is the HIMARS? And might it really the turn the tide of the war?

What is a HIMARS?

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is more or less what it sounds like: A platform loaded with multiple rockets that can be fired in short succession. The HIMARS is a particularly sophisticated version, each carrying either one-half dozen guided rockets with a range of around 40 miles, or a single Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of almost 200 miles. By contrast, the M777 howitzer cannon, one of the most advanced U.S. artillery pieces on the battlefield in Ukraine, has a range of less than 20 miles.

The HIMARS’ payload is powerful enough to inflict damage on par with aerial bombardment.

Previous rocket launcher systems were known for being destructive but also crude and inaccurate. The biggest technical leap in recent years has been the development of the precision-guided rockets, which use GPS tracking to hit specific targets at great distances.

What’s the catch?

Nonetheless, HIMARS and other mobile rocket systems will now be a major priority for Russian artillery, airstrikes and drones. The Russian military does not yet appear able to use its electronic warfare capability to jam the HIMARS’ GPS systems, as they have with great effectiveness against Ukrainian drones, but that could change.

“The issue will become ammunition and the consumption rates,” Milley said on Wednesday. “We are looking at all of that very, very carefully on a day-to-day basis. … We think we’re OK right now.”

Rocket politics

Lavrov’s comment should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not clear that Russia ever abandoned the goals of taking as much Ukrainian territory as it possibly can. When asked about the comments, Austin quipped, “I’m sure that Ukrainian leadership will be pleased to hear Lavrov’s confirmation of the effectiveness” of the HIMARS.

The HIMARS is neither a miracle weapon nor the battlefield newcomer that will ultimately determine victory in this war. But for now, it’s fair to say that it’s shifting how both sides view what’s possible on the battlefield. And for many Ukrainians, that’s something to sing about.

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