High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as Himars, have been instrumental for Ukraine
By James Kilner 23 July 2022 • 4:02pm
It was certainly a remarkable scene in Istanbul on Friday in the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace which overlooks the Bosphorus, the gateway to the Black Sea.
Here was one of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, the bullish Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, signing a grain export deal that lifted Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports – previously one of the Kremlin’s key “total war” strategies.
This was a genuine concession. It could even be seen as a humiliation. And the credit must go, again, to US long-range weapons.
High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as Himars, have been instrumental in forcing the Kremlin to the negotiating table these past few weeks.
Whether the grain export deal actually works out remains uncertain. On Saturday, Russia fired missiles at Odesa’s port, causing a fire and drawing widespread condemnation.
But the fact that Russia agreed to such a public compromise shows that the rocket systems are changing the balance of the war in Ukraine’s favour.
“The agreement to unblock Odesa would have been impossible without Himars,” said Gabrielius Lansbergis, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister. “It’s now very clear that the war will end earlier if we arm Ukraine faster.”
Just six days earlier, Mr Shoigu had been handing out medals to Russian soldiers fighting in Donbas and urging them to restart their offensive.
Except, the Russian army has stalled. In less than a month on the battlefield, Himars have destroyed dozens of Russian ammunition dumps once out of range of Ukraine’s artillery, forcing Moscow to reorganise their cumbersome supply lines. This has sucked momentum from what progress the Russian army had been grinding out in the Donbas. Himars have also battered Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Phillips O’Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies at St Andrews University, said the Himars may have taken out as many as 100 “high-value targets”.
“This has to be hurting the Russians badly,” he said.
Their success has fuelled calls for more Western weapons to be sent to Ukraine in the hope that they will force Vladimir Putin to negotiate a peace deal.
Himars are one of the most sophisticated artillery systems in the world and can land a shell on the front door of a house from 60 miles away. They can also fire at ships anchored offshore or sailing relatively slowly.
Ukraine’s military has been pounding Russian warships with Himars and other Western missile systems, such as the Harpoon.
One of its key victories was forcing the Russian navy to retreat from Snake Island at the start of July, key to controlling shipping lanes in and out of Ukraine. This retreat and the sinking of the Russian Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, in April made it impossible for the Kremlin to maintain its blockade of Odesa.
Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, described the lifting of Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports as an “important about-face”. He also said that Russian allies in Africa and Asia, who were facing potential famines, also pressured the Kremlin into allowing Ukrainian grain exports.
But it is the West’s weapons that have genuinely changed the momentum of the war. And there are more to come.
The US has hinted that it may give Ukraine F-16 fighter jets and there are more Himars, top-notch drones and other weapons heading to the Ukrainian military. Missiles, artillery and other kit are being sent to Ukraine from Western Europe, including Britain, which has been training Ukrainian infantry on its armoured vehicles.
“Our soldiers are skillfully fighting with the help of Himars,” said Kira Rudik, a Ukrainian MP, who has been lobbying for more weapons from the West. “And we will speak to invaders in the language of heavy weapons.”