Ukrainian troops using US-provided HIMARS system
“We actually have six,” said the head of this system, whose call sign is Kuzya. “We just haven’t had a chance to add the other three yet.”
After public frustration over Western delays in transferring promised heavy weapons, particularly multiple-launch rocket systems such as the HIMARS, the Ukrainians quickly put their new hardware to work more than four months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Kuzya and his comrades said their targets have so far focused on Russian command posts – warehouses where enemy officers and weapons were stationed.
Ukrainian officials say the new tranche of Western hardware is already making a difference on the battlefield – a testament to the importance of continued security assistance and the painful cost of slow deliveries as the Russian military slowly expands its control in the eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine. Artillery fire from French self-propelled howitzers stationed in the port city of Odessa reportedly forced the Russians to withdraw from the important Snake Island in the Black Sea on Thursday.
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HIMARS is the most advanced system supplied by the United States and has the longest range of Ukrainian land weapons, nearly 50 miles, allowing its forces to strike Russian military targets with precision without endangering its own civilians. in the occupied territories. Ukraine had been asking for the weapons for about two months before the transfer was approved – after Ukraine assured the Biden administration that it would not use them to launch cross-border attacks on Russia.
The Biden administration has promised to send four more HIMARS to Ukraine as part of an additional $450 million in aid announced last week. All four have been offered in Europe, and training on these systems has already begun with Ukrainian troops who will use them, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.
“What we were using before was much more ominous,” said the four-person squad gunner, whose role is to enter target coordinates. His call sign is Moroz, which translates to “freeze”.
HIMARS also brings more peace of mind, the soldiers said. With their old equipment, they avoided rocket trajectories that passed through population centers, limiting them to firing only through fields and forests, to avoid potentially injuring civilians, Moroz said.
“I have no doubt what we’re going to hit,” Moroz said. “I know the rocket will hit its target because it is directed by satellite.”
The system this unit previously used was the Soviet-era Uragan, a self-propelled multiple rocket launcher that had a maximum range of about 20 miles. It also had a margin of error of around half a mile and was targeted in coordination with a drone or reconnaissance team. The HIMARS is guided by satellite and deviates from its target coordinates by no more than one meter, the soldiers said.
They asked to be identified only by their call signs for security reasons. With the systems considered a priority target for the Russians, the families of the team members don’t even know they’re working with them. They must keep the HIMARS constantly moving because staying too long in one place risks discovering its location.
The launcher contains six rockets and is attached to a dark green truck chassis. Operations mostly take place at night – soldiers stand at a distance and count before shouting “fire!” There is a flash of light as each rocket takes off. Then they are ready to move within two minutes – and speed is imperative to keep HIMARS safe as the Russians can quickly identify the source of fire and return fire. The mobility is impressive – for a large vehicle, it can move up to 60 miles per hour, they said.
“We were also surprised that a weapon with such precision could fire so quietly,” Kuzya said.
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The unit eagerly awaited the arrival of the HIMARS for a month. Then they finally had a first-hand experience in a secret location outside Ukraine with American instructors for about two weeks. Rather than just let the Americans demonstrate, the Ukrainian troops asked them to explain what to do, to let the students try to adapt from there.
“They were like, ‘Oh [expletive]“, he says with a smile, wearing a bulletproof vest decorated with a skull and “Welcome to hell”.
The computer system is entirely in English, so at the time of training, interpreters explained the meaning of each button – all documented in a notebook that the soldiers consult regularly. But Google Translate is still needed on occasion.
Kuzya said it would be nice to have 50 HIMARS so Ukraine could deploy four in each direction of a vast front that stretches almost its entire eastern border with Russia. “Sputnik,” the unit commander, said it would have been better to have the equipment earlier – before forces from Moscow took control of most of the Luhansk region.
“I think it took too long to get them here,” he said. “If they had been here much sooner, I think we would have been through with this war by now.”
Anastasia Vlasova contributed to this report.